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7 Characteristics of Disciplemaking Leaders: #3 – Leading by Example

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This post is a continuation of the series Reaching the Missing Generation: Characteristics of Healthy Disciplemaking Ministries outlined here.

The command to follow the example of church leaders comes up a number of times in scripture.

Church members in general were called to follow the example of their leader:

Philippians 3:17
17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.

 

2 Thessalonians 3:7a
7a For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example.

And church leaders were called to be good examples for those under their care:

1 Peter 5:2-3
2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

 

Titus 2:7
7 In everything set them an example by doing what is good.

 

1 Timothy 4:12
12 Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.

That brings us to the third characteristic common among healthy disciplemaking leaders:

Leadership Characteristic #3 – Disciplemaking Leaders Set a Good Example for Others

A third common characteristic found among healthy disciplemaking leaders is their dedication to setting a good example for others – especially those under their care.

In a healthy disciplemaking ministry, standards for leadership are high. That begins with leaders setting high standards for themselves.

High standards aren’t self-imposed without biblical basis either. A quick look at the qualifications for elders and deacons (i.e. ministers) in 1 Timothy 3:1-13  and Titus 1:5-9 reveals that having high standards for leaders in the church was part of God’s design from the beginning.

God requires more from leaders because He expects them to model faithfulness for the rest of the church.

Healthy disciplemaking leaders understand the importance of exemplification. They model for others how to follow Jesus day-to-day, and the health of their faith community rests largely upon their example.

As we shall see this doesn’t mean leaders have to be perfect – far from it – but it does mean leaders must set an example of what faithfulness looks like, imperfections and all.

Three key areas need to be addressed:

1) Disciplemaking leaders set an example of loving God, the church and the lost.

When we love God we seek to honor Him with our hearts and lives. That means we seek to align our attitude and character with that of His Son. That inner heart shift manifests itself in the form of outward words and deeds.

When we love the church, we fulfill those “one another” passages we read often in various parts of the New Testament – the commands to encourage, forgive, teach, serve, be patient with, submit to, fellowship and be unified with one another.

When we love the lost, we have a genuine concern for their wellbeing and standing with God. We adopt the purpose of Jesus as outlined in Luke 19:10:

Luke 19:10
10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

In sum, to love God, love the church and love the lost is what it means to be Christ-like.

Of course no one will be like Jesus 100% of the time, but when leaders struggle in any one of the areas outlined above it hurts their ability to model faithfulness as Jesus wills them to.

Those lapses into unfaithfulness all of us have bring opportunity too – the opportunity to lead out of weakness. Before we discuss that, however, let’s discuss something less difficult – leading out of strength.

2) Disciplemaking leaders lead out of strength.

In Philippians 3:17 and 2 Thessalonians 3:7 quoted above, the apostle Paul pointed to the good example he’d set for the churches in Philippi and Thessalonica respectively as one they should follow.

But he only cited his own example as one worthy of following because he’d set a good one in that area – he was leading from strength.

A lot of the leaders I interact with feel funny about citing themselves as a good example for anything and that it’s near blasphemous think otherwise.

Many believe it’s prideful and arrogant to tell others to follow their example and that they’re being humble by not doing so. The truth is they aren’t being humble so much as they’re being unfaithful!

What was God’s intention in setting high standards for church leaders? For them to exemplify faithfulness for others!

God actually expects church leaders to set a good example for those under their care. Biblically, serving as a good example for others is a normal expectation for being in church leadership.

Some may reason that it’s no stretch for the apostle Paul or other biblical writers/characters to be good examples of faithfulness for others, “But not me!” they think.

After all, I’m just a nobody!

Consider James 5:17:

James 5:17a
17a Elijah was a human being, even as we are …

James is making an important point in this verse. Elijah was one of the greatest prophets of God to ever live.

He performed numerous miracles and his work and life literally shaped history, yet James says that this great man was simply that – a man – just like us.

It’s important to remember the people we read about in the scriptures were people just like we are – no more, no less. The difference between us and them is not capacity or potential – often, it’s simply faithfulness.

If we’re leaders in the church, God wants us to be faithful just as many before us were faithful, and to point to our own lives as examples where they align with God’s will.

We must always remain humble, but humility and leading out of strength are not mutually exclusive of one another. It’s important church leaders be willing to lead out of strength where applicable.

One must also learn to lead out of weakness. That brings us to point 3:

3) Disciplemaking leaders lead out of weakness.

How many leaders do you know who like being thought of as weak?

One of my biggest struggles in life has been a deep-seated sense of insecurity. This insecurity causes me to want to project an image of strength and competence as I want to be viewed as someone who’s strong and special. That’s because I think that makes me more lovable, and I don’t naturally feel worthy of love. I know in my head this isn’t true and have to fight against that lie, but I confess it’s a struggle and some days are better than others.

I also struggle with basing my self-worth on my performance, and greatly fear the rejection of the people around me. So great is my fear of that rejection that I’ve often placed my want of the acceptance from people before my desire for pleasing God. When I do feel rejected by someone, my default response is to be very hateful toward them either directly to their face, by gossiping behind their back, or both. I have a reputation among some for being mean-spirited and angry because of how I’ve acted, and, to be perfectly honest,  that’s because deep down I’m actually mean-spirited and angry. My heart is ugly – I know this, and to be clear I’m not okay with it! It’s caused damage to myself and others in my years of ministry and I regret that, but these things have been a constant struggle for me.

The reason these particular sins are such big issues for me is because I grew up being sexually abused. The garbage I carry around is typical for those who experience early childhood trauma of that kind, but sin is sin regardless of the cause, and my job isn’t to make excuses – it’s to confess and repent.

All that to say I serve in church leadership, but I still have major issues, have to constantly check my motives and invite accountability from the people around me.

I’ve just given you a glimpse into the darker parts of my heart. I would have been unwilling to do this a few years ago because I (thought I) was protecting myself from rejection by constantly projecting an air of strength. After all, what will happen when people see you’re ugly and dirty inside? They’ll stop loving you. They won’t listen to or follow you. They’ll reject you.

But I’ve found the opposite to be true.

When church leaders project the image they’re always strong, they build relational walls between themselves and others.

But when church leaders give themselves permission to be human, they break down relational walls between themselves and others.

People like Superman – love him even, but they don’t relate to him.

Superman is impressive – very impressive. He may swoop in every now and then to save the day, but you’re never going to be buddy-buddy with a guy like that, and only children believe they’ll ever actually be like Superman. As they grow up they learn that’s simply a fantasy – they’ll never be Superman, mainly because Superman isn’t real.

Attention church leader: you are not Superman.

Heck, you’re not even Batman.

You’re just man, and man is weak.

When church leaders learn to admit they’re weak and confess sin, it simply makes them human. And that’s really important, because they’re working with humans.

You know what’s really important for followers of Jesus to be familiar with in addition to confession (the human ones anyway)? Repentance.

An old mentor of mine had a saying:

You live on repentance road.

What he meant was repentance isn’t a one-time thing when you decide to follow Jesus.

Yes, you repent initially when first committing your life to Christ, but repentance isn’t a “one and done” kind of thing. It’s something that’s ongoing, something that never really ends, and that’s why it’s good to think of it more like being on a road than as a moment in time.

When we live on repentance road, we are constantly evaluating ourselves and constantly seeking to identify weaknesses in our walk with God.

When we identify a sin or weakness, we confess it to our brothers and sisters, but we also must work to repent.

This is another important aspect of leading from weakness: in addition to modelling confession, leaders must also model repentance. By your example, you’re showing those you’re shepherding how to deal with sin, and repentance is essential.

There’s no shame in this, because every human seeking to follow Jesus is walking on repentance road.

So what does leading from weakness look like?

Simple.

Confess sin. Repent. Repeat.

It really is that simple.

When we put our weakness on display and deal with it in the way God commands, we teach others to do the same. In doing so, we display God’s strength.

2 Corinthians 12:9
“… My power is made perfect in weakness.”

-Jesus

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