Faith in Focus

Can every member be a leader?


Joe works on building sites as a labourer. He is married and has four children with the eldest already left school. Although he was baptised, his church attendance fell away in his late teens and early married life, Joe left most of the church-going to his wife and children. While on the whole Joe was always generous and kind to family and friends alike, his heavy drinking with his work mates often made life extremely difficult for his whole family.

Not long ago Joe started to come to church more regularly. He even joined one of the home Bible study groups. When he discusses his work at these little gatherings its clear that some of the things that go on there, such as the language used or the heavy drinking are inconsistent with his rediscovered understanding of Christianity. Sometimes Joe talks about the union he is involved with. He supports the union even though he is aware that others don't for good reasons. He explains that he doesn't agree with everything the union does.

It has become clear that Joe seems to separate his work life from his involvement in church activities. He is attracted to the gospel and the local church community but somehow he seems to equate these with personal spirituality and morality. Joe sees work, the union, work mates, the pub as being completely separate from his life in the Christian community. What is Christian leadership for Joe?

How can Joe be helped to discover that the grace of God is meant to be the centre of his life and not just some church-going corner of it?

Paul works in the world of computers. He is a data processing manager working for a large government department. The work is demanding and absorbing. Paul has recently been promoted and now carries responsibility for decisions about which systems to use and what to spend large amounts of public money on.

The demands of his work and his young family mean that there are times when Paul has little energy for family or church activities. He is not free to take up leadership positions in the life of the church. Can we still speak of Paul as a Christian leader? Many of Paul's other friends are in more people-oriented jobs, are more involved in church activities and they find it hard to understand Paul's devotion and commitment to his all-absorbing world of computer technology. How is Paul's life connected to matters of faith? How is it doing anything for people? What does it have to do with Christian leadership in society?

Perhaps we can begin to answer these questions by thinking about what it means to be a leader. A leader isn't necessarily the one who chairs a meeting, or who does the most talking, or who has a recognised position, such as a managing director of a large firm or a member of parliament. Anyone can be a leader if he or she has influence and is effective in changing people's thinking and acting.

For example at a church session meeting the chairman of session may be the titular leader, but any member of session who speaks up is able to exercise leadership, by influencing and even directing discussion, thoughts and outcomes.

That's the kind of leadership I'm thinking about when talking about leadership in society.

Now when we consider the question "can every member be a leader?" we first need to ask ourselves the question "does the Christian have any command or mandate from the Bible to apply Christian leadership in society? " In other words: What are our responsibilities as Christians in society and what are the Biblical principles that guide us?

There are some who would deny the Christian any role at all other than perhaps to proclaim the gospel and bring in converts. Those who make this claim come from both the secular and Christian sectors.

I recently read about a New York doctor who worked for the health department in the venereal diseases division. The doctor had a 17-year-old girl in his surgery as a patient for the second time in five months. As the girl left his surgery, after treatment, the doctor said "I'll see you in two weeks to see how the treatment is going; in the meantime, behave." For this fatherly advice the doctor received an official reprimand for violating the privacy of the girl by suggesting the need for moral behaviour.

Now at another time and place such advice may have passed unnoticed or may even have been well received but the incident is an indication that our society has reached the point where moral advice is by and large unwanted.

This was brought home to me personally on one occasion in Melbourne as I stood with other pro-life protesters in front of an abortion clinic. One person drove past and shouted "why don't you lot get proper jobs!!". He obviously didn't appreciate our perspective on morality either! Itís not as if all our laws are that helpful either. I believe there was a law passed recently that prohibits vilifying homosexuals. Not that a Christian should vilify anyone as such, but an occasional long arm of that particular law might even prosecute those who out of personal conviction speak out publicly against homosexual practice. We also have the no-fault divorce laws, laws against the use of corporal punishment, all contributing towards an amoral environment where moral advice from a Christian perspective is not always welcome in the community.

As if that's not bad enough, some Christians would also deny moral involvement in society by the church. This is most frequently done by denying the validity of God's law. There are some who say that the law just doesn't speak to us anymore as a basis of operation in the Christian life. They think that because we are no longer under the condemnation of the law it has nothing more to say as if law and grace were mutually exclusive.

But the law of God is given to the church to apply not only to situations of personal morality but also for the government of the church and to restrain evil in society. The Christian who seeks to bring God's law to bear in the civil sphere is in fact exercising Godly leadership in society

  1. The law of God as a means of grace to society.

Those who deny the validity of God's law reduce its use to only one thing; a revealer of sin. However they overlook its two other important uses, which are that the law (as revealer of sin) drives us to repentance and faith in Christ, and then becomes a means of grace not only to the believer and his family and church but to society at large. Look at Boaz as an example. A man who truly appreciated the graciousness of God's law to the extent that he was concerned to keep the law of gleaning. By doing so he was a blessing to an outsider, in particular, Ruth the Moabitess who was at that point as far as Boaz was concerned, outside the covenant community of God. Little did Boaz know that God had already planted the seed of faith in Ruth's heart and that obedient law-abiding Boaz would be instrumental in Ruth's incorporation into the household of faith. As a lawful man Boaz was able to contribute in a very positive way outside his immediate sphere.

As citizens of God's Kingdom we also have much to contribute. The redeemed society exists of those who accepts the conditions of the kingdom and who live in accordance with God's will. We understand that when men and women repent of their sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for their salvation they enter the spiritual kingdom of God and come under the rule of God. As they live by that rule, they have, (according to the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast in Matthew 13) a positive impact on the world. What does a mustard seed do? It grows into a huge tree. What does yeast do? It leavens the whole lump. That's how the kingdom of God operates in the world, it grows, it influences it restrains evil. Therefore the covenant God makes with his people is a covenant of grace and that grace is for us to possess and use in order that we might be gracious to the household of faith and to society at large. Israel in her covenant relationship with God was meant to be a light unto the nations. So too, is the church. It is meant to be according to Christ, as salt which seasons in society. He describes the church as the salt of the earth and the light of the world! (Matt.5: 13 & 14) As Christians, we are to be the preserving agent in a world that is suffering from the rottenness of sin. If we conform with the world, and have nothing to say to the world, we lose our saltiness and when that happens we become worthless and as Jesus says "good for nothing." Jesus wants us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Thus the law of God is a means of grace to society. Christians lead and bless when they abide by God's law.

2. We were created to lead.

That fact is made clear in the dominion mandate originally stated in Genesis 1:28 where God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and increase in number, till the earth and subdue it. This was God's original design. Man in communion with God was to have total control over creation. But because of the entrance of sin into the world, there was massive failure, and creation and man were suddenly at enmity with God and under God's judgement. But from God's perspective it isn't a matter of giving up. It is a matter of overcoming; and subduing the power of evil and Satan in the world until God is all in all. (1 Cor. 15:28)

Hence, the original creation mandate continued but this time through a people whom God had separated out from the sinful mass of humanity still opposed to God. Those special people taken out were, as we know; Adam, Noah, Abraham, Israel, the prophets, the remnant, the apostles, the Church, with Christ, the Son of God as the centre of God's plan of salvation and as the head of the church. Yes, the dominion mandate is still with us, only since the fall it takes on the added dimension of having to work with a fallen and broken world and a sinful humanity at enmity with God.

Kenneth Gentry, author of a little book "the Greatness of the Great Commission" draws interesting parallels between the Great Commission and the original dominion mandate; parallels which may help us to understand more fully our social responsibilities in the world.

Both the dominion mandate and the great commission are announced at the completion of God's work in the world. When God had finished the work of creating...Genesis states that God finished His work. Then the dominion mandate to fill and subdue the earth was given. Similarly, when Christ completed his saving work on the cross he said "it is finished". Shortly after that he gave His disciples the Great Commission to disciple the nations.

Thus both the dominion mandate and the Great Commission come from the same authority; God. Both engage the same task; to subdue the earth for God's glory. Both need the same source of power; the Holy Spirit. The object; to claim the whole world for God and his glory, to make the world his subject. Both the dominion mandate and the great commission tell us that God still wants us to have that dominion, which is leadership under his authority.

Our threefold task of "prophet, priest and king" add another dimension. According to 1 Peter 2:9 we share the offices of Christ in the sense that we are members of Christ and we share his anointing in order to;

a) confess his name,

b) present ourselves to him as a living sacrifice of thanks and...

c) to strive with a good conscience against sin and the devil in this life and afterward to reign with Christ over all creation for all eternity. (To use the wording of Heidelberg Catechism Lord's day 12) We have something to say and do in society! Enough said? Can every member be a leader? I don't think there is any doubt that God wants us to be leaders in society.

3. Some practical implications

a) Getting things right at home.

The first priority should be to order one's own life according to God's pattern because unless you are living as a consistent Christian yourself you are going to have little impact on the lives of others. In the earlier part of the 20th century the social gospel movement more or less failed because it was based upon the vain hope of establishing a Christian society without people experiencing the prior necessity of the new birth."

Jesus condemns any religious system which doesn't produce changed lives among its own adherents. That was the major problem of the Jewish leaders in Jesus day.

So obviously our own houses must be in order first, spiritually and in other ways. Spiritually because as Christ says, a tree is recognised by its fruit. Make a tree good and its fruit will be good. (Matthew 12:33) And materially because in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 it says, " Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that in your daily life you may win the respect of outsiders."

1 Timothy 5:8 also says if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith, he is worse than an unbeliever. I think we can look at this in both a spiritual and physical sense. The Bible clearly outlines the spiritual responsibility of parents in the training of their children in many passages such as Deuteronomy 4:9-19, Proverbs 13:24 and Ephesians 6:1-4. It is also true that where a head of the house fails to provide materially for his family through sinful negligence he lacks the most precious of all the spiritual fruits, he lacks love. So getting things right in the home is foundational for leadership in society...and in a democratic society such as ours there is ample opportunity for the Christian to have a very good influence because in a democratic society Christians have a voice along with any one else. But if that voice is not used or is marred by personal problems or family problems then other voices will hold sway and the Christian influence will be diminished. So things have got to be right at home first.

b) Our Christian responsibilities towards society.

1. The Christian should study the Scriptures in order to know God's view on specific issues that arise. The Word of God must be our controlling authority.

2. According to Romans 13 and 1 Timothy 2:2 the Christian is responsible to honour and pray for those in authority.

3. The Christian is also responsible to obey the civil laws and authority. Again Romans 13.

4. The Christian is called to practice justice and mercy. That means if you are an employer, do right by your employees. Help those who are poor, oppressed, weak and so-on. Matthew 25:31-46 reminds us that we shall be judged on the basis of whether we have fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, taken in the homeless, clothed the naked, cared for the sick and the imprisoned. If you are an employee do right by your boss and earn your keep. No loafing! Ephesians 4:28 says, "he who has been stealing must steal no longer but must work, doing something useful with his hands, that he may have something to share with those in need".

5. Have your say and cast your vote. The Christian living in a democracy who deliberately doesn't vote neglects his responsibility towards a just and fair society. Remember evil increases when good men remain silent!

6. The Christian should voice his concerns in personal conversation, letters, articles, letters to the editor as he or she has the opportunity.

7. Be informed. In order to be able to voice our concerns effectively we need to know what is going on around us in society: Drugs, crime, slums, poverty, migrants, disease, harsh tax measures, political corruption. As individuals we can't deal with all of these but we need to ask ourselves what specific area would I be able to give my attention to?

8. The Christian may support and even work on behalf of someone else, such as another Christian politician. Support your Christian School, support the CHP.

9. I believe that it is appropriate for Christians to join in on peaceful protests, such as demonstrations against abortion or other obvious evils in society.

10. Use the law to your advantage. In Victoria some years ago, some socialist government bureaucrats tried to close down a small Christian school. The school engaged a good lawyer, won the case and was saved. Use the law, good outcomes provide precedents for future cases.

11. Use your work skills and work place to promote God's rule. Christians ought to see whatever vocation they are in as a calling and seek to use that vocation to honour God and be an influence for Christian values in society through that calling. For example, for Paul, the data processing manager, it may be the choice between integrity and giving in to pressure on how the public money should be spent on expensive computer hardware, staff perks and so on. We often complain about governmental waste of taxpayers funds. Christians in responsible positions can help curb that waste. For Joe his own work ethic and practises on the building site can have a powerful seasoning influence on his work mates. Refusing that second drink, asking a mate not to blaspheme and so on.

12. Evangelise. The Christian must actively promote the faith and be involved in overt evangelism on behalf of the church, because unless there are a significant number of Christians in any society, it will be difficult to have much influence and virtually impossible to get into a position of leadership. . We need to have a strong Christian voice in this country. In Saudi Arabia which has a tiny Christian minority, Christians are barely allowed to speak and do not share equal rights with Muslim.It shows us that unless a significant number of people in any society are believers and accept God's word as the norm for their lives then the teachings of Jesus and the laws of God are going to be difficult to apply. Therefore...evangelise because the Christian who remains silent as evil prevails and even escalates around him, will ultimately be living more and more isolated and marginalised in his little ivory tower. Then they will come to get him! Dittrich Bonhoeffer once said, "When they came to get the Jews, I kept silent, for I am not a Jew. When they came to get the Slavs I kept silent for I am not a Slav. When they came to get the Gypsies I kept silent for I am not a gypsy. When they came to get me no one could speak out for me because there was no-one left."

Mr Hans Vaatstra is the Minister of the Reformed Church of Dunedin.

Back to the Article Index 


Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / gmilne@ihug.co.nz / revised July 2000 / Copyright 2000