Leaders Influence Hope

by Evertt Huffard

The reasons I have been invited to consult with church leaders could be anything from feeling overwhelmed by a crisis to being puzzled by an inability to move forward. The motivation to bring in someone to assist the leaders proves to be even more varied and complex depending on personality, experience, culture, age, professional experience, and views of what it means to be a leader. Here are some observations on the last item–how the definition of a leader impacts the level of hope for a church to move forward.

1. Leaders in a church are different. In my ministry with church leaders in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and throughout the USA, I have observed how culture can impose a much greater influence on our expectations of leaders in the church than the Word of God. I’m encouraged when leaders in the church ask me to help them be different. They are exhausted managing the business of the church and want to do more shepherding of the people who God has entrusted to them.

Cultural expectations of leaders involve power, control, and politics while disciples of Christ can expect leaders to be servants (Matt. 20:25-27; Lk. 22:26). Cultural assumptions of followers involve rights, meeting needs, and being served while disciples of Christ value obedience, imitation, and respect (1 Th. 5: 12-13; Heb. 13:7, 17).

2. Leaders in the church work as a team, rather than isolated players competing for influence. Paul had little doubt about the necessity of a plurality of elders for churches to mature into the body of Christ and he was always working in partnership with someone. I see hope when elders invite me to find ways to address the behaviors of an elder who demands his way or refuses to value a partnership with the ministry team.

Where I see elders and ministers working together, supporting each other, and sharing common values and goals, I know there is hope to dream again and to overcome challenges. However, where the elders lack trust among themselves or seldom invite the preacher to their meetings, cultural assumptions of power and control drain the joy and energy out of the church. Likewise, a preacher can dominate the agenda and drive the church, with the best of intentions, but will look behind and see no one following. A piercing question I have found to reveal the level of teamwork is: In what way do each of you assist the others in their ministry? I know NBA teams win games on assists—not just the 3-point shots and fancy layups.

3. Leaders in the church who work according to spiritual gifts, rather than a governing body, engender greater hope. I believe the best instructions for the value and use of spiritual gifts in the church will be found in Romans 12:1-8. The seven spiritual gifts Paul identifies are absolute necessities for a healthy church. When leaders elevate one or two of these gifts above any of the others, they devalue the work of the Spirit among them and disrupt growth. They influence hope only when we all work according to their gifts. It empowers followers of Christ to serve according to their gifts when they see the elders, deacons, and ministers using their gifts.

I often ask: Does every elder do the same thing? The overwhelming majority of the time I get a “yes.” Every elder takes turns chairing the meetings, giving announcements, etc.—regardless of whether he does any one of them well. It can’t be brotherly love to make the elder who is the most uncomfortable speaking in public give one of the most difficult announcements of the year in the assembly while the most gifted speaker among the elders sits through the painful ordeal. When elders (and everyone else!) serve according to their gifts it economizes their energy and brings joy in service.

By God’s grace I have been trusted enough by elders, ministers, and ministry teams to be invited into their world to bring clarity, hope, and discover the next steps forward. There is always hope when these leaders live in tension with the cultural expectations of leaders, work as a team, and use their spiritual gifts to the honor of God. I am a grateful witness to the presence and power of God among his people everywhere.


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