To build churches of a high standard, we need leaders who have a high standard. Jesus said, “Follow Me” (Luke 9:23). And Paul said “Follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 3:17). In those words of the apostle Paul, we see what the Holy Spirit expects every elder to be able to say to everyone in his church.
Many elders say, “Don’t follow me, but follow Christ”. That sounds very humble. But it is only an excuse to cover up their defeated life; and it is totally contrary to the teaching of the Holy Spirit. As a leader, your life and speech should be so exemplary, that you should be able to say to everyone in your church “Follow me, as I follow Christ”. Before Paul’s conversion, he was a total failure. Yet God changed him and made him a great example for others to follow, even though he was not perfect (See Philippians 3:12–14). Even the best Christian in the world is not perfect but only pressing on to perfection. So, even if there has been much failure in your life, in the past, God can still make you a godly leader for others to follow.
Here are seven characteristics that you should seek to have, as a leader of God’s people:
1. You should always be humble and approachable. Jesus was humble and approachable (Matthew 11: 29). People could approach Him anywhere and at any time. A Nicodemus could visit Him in His home late at night; and anyone could talk to Jesus at any time anywhere. Jesus’ humility made Him eager to preach the gospel to the poor (as we read in Luke 4:18). Paul was a humble man who was quick to acknowledge his mistakes and to apologise for them immediately (Acts 23:1–5). As an elder, you too should make no distinction between the rich and the poor in your church. You should have no “superior airs” about you and you must be quick to apologise for your mistakes. And you must always remain an ordinary brother.
2. You should never ask anyone for money – either for yourself or for your ministry – and you should have a simple life-style. If you do receive any freely-offered gifts (as Paul occasionally did) you should receive them only from people who are wealthier than you – and never from anyone poorer than you. Jesus never asked anyone for money, either for Himself or for His ministry. And He accepted gifts only from those who were wealthier than him (Luke 8:3). Jesus and Paul had simple lifestyles. You should have the same attitude that Jesus and Paul had, towards money and material things.
3. You should have a testimony as a godly man. You should be known in your church as an upright man with a passion for holiness – one who does not seek your own in anything. People must know you as one who has control over your tongue (James 1:26; Ephesians 4:26–31), and one who is merciful to those who have failed (Hebrews 5:2). You should also have a testimony of total purity towards all women – young and old (1 Timothy 5:2). This is the aroma of godliness that there should be, around your life.
4. You should have brought up your children to love the Lord. The Holy Spirit has said that only such men should be appointed as elders, whose children are believers and obedient (1 Timothy 3:4, 5; Titus 1:6). Our children know us better than others, because they see us all the time at home. And if they see us living in a godly way at home, they too will follow the Lord (See Proverbs22:6). This is not an easy task. But you can trust the Lord to help you. So seek His help to teach your children to love the Lord and to be respectful to all people.
5. You should preach the whole counsel of God fearlessly. You should proclaim everything written in the New Testament – every commandment and every promise – without seeking to please any man (Acts 20:27; Galatians 1:10). You should seek for the anointing of the Holy Spirit continuously, so that your messages can be both challenging and encouraging.
6. You should have a passion to build your church as a true expression of Christ’s Body. Jesus came to earth to save people from all sin and then to build them up as His Body, that would manifest His life (Matthew 16:18). Paul’s passion was to plant such local churches everywhere that would function as Christ’s Body (Ephesians 4:15, 16). That should be your passion too. Paul worked hard to build such churches – and you should also work hard to do the same (Colossians 1:28, 29).
7. You should seek to raise up at least a few in your church who share your vision and your spirit. As an elder, you should be concerned about the testimony of the Lord being preserved in purity in the next generation in your church. Jesus raised up 11 disciples who imbibed His spirit and lived by His standards to carry on His work. Paul raised up Timothy and Titus, who lived by his spirit of humility and selflessness to carry on his work (Philippians 2:19–21; 2 Corinthians 7:13–15). You should also seek the Lord’s help to raise up a few in your church who will share your vision and your passion.
So, pray that the Lord will anoint you with His Holy Spirit continuously and enable you to have all the qualities listed above, so that you can be an example for everyone in your church to follow.