So far in our series, we have looked at many areas of leadership, from discerning a call, being a great follower, and what the leadership roles are for. Now, as we continue looking at the biblical qualifications for all ministry leaders, we will set our attention on the spiritual calling qualifications for leadership. If I were to divide this category in half, I would say we will look at the “spiritual” qualifications in this post and the “calling” qualifications in the next (though they tend to blend together).
In the last post, we looked at the spiritual qualifications for Christian leadership. Those are foundational. Until those are met, none of the other qualifications can be truly fulfilled in their lives. However, once a person has met the spiritual qualifications, it is time to begin testing them for the other qualifications of someone truly called by God for a leadership role. That is where we turn our attention in this post.
Qualification 1: Desires the Role of Overseer (1 Timothy 3:1)
The first thing Paul makes note of in his letter to Timothy is that someone who is being looked at to become an overseer in the church (which I believe applies to any level of spiritual leadership), is that they have a desire to become a spiritual leader in the first place.
God can be forceful when necessary and can demand people obey Him when He speaks. However, I do not see a biblical example of anyone stepping into spiritual leadership before God’s calling on their lives was matched by their own, personal desire. I am not saying people called to lead will automatically have the desire at first. Simply that if God is going to call and appoint someone, He will work in their hearts first, to give them the desire and aptitude to lead.
Your Desire Determines Your Passion.
Just imagine if God appointed someone to ministry leadership who truly did not want to be there. Everything they did in that role would be done grudgingly and half-heartedly. It is impossible to be passionate when you are forced into doing something you don’t want to do.
Though this sounds like it should be obvious and simple to follow, the problem often arises when a church has a need for leadership with no obvious choice to fill the role. When that happens, the church finds itself stuck with making a choice between an unqualified person who wants the job or appointing someone to the job who, although they are spiritually qualified, does not want to be there.
We must make sure, as we look to ordain and/or follow leaders in ministry, that their desire is truly for the job.
Qualification 2: Not Under Compulsion, but Willing (1 Peter 5:2)
Peter adds to the need for desire, when he says the person should serve in the leadership role “willingly,” and “not under compulsion” (1 Peter 5:2). This is because when someone is forced into a job they do not want, it becomes the fastest route to burnout. Sadly, from what I have seen in ministry when someone is pushed into ministry against their will, the burnout can cost them more than just their job. It often destroys their faith as well.
This goes back to the last post, where I discussed the fact that I was placed into ministry too early, simply because there was an “urgent need” for a youth pastor in the church. Though I had a desire to be in ministry and was already in Bible college studying to be a pastor, I stepped into that job (and really, even joined that church) due to pressure from my friends and the church leadership. What I found was, the weight of the expectations put on me in that job were oftentimes crushing, leading me to sometimes doubt my calling, and at times, even my faith.
Fear of Being Out Front
As we identify people who are qualified spiritually and even show a desire to grow into leadership, we must also be aware of any hesitancy or fear they have in stepping out. Though they may have complete faith in the Gospel and show excellence in the Christian life, if there is a fear of leadership within them, it will become a doorway to the enemy to bring condemnation and shame when things do not go smoothly or successfully.
Instead of pushing these people into leadership against their will, we must move them to the front slowly, giving them smaller opportunities to use their gifts and explore their calling to lead others. If someone is truly called to ministry, every small opportunity and experience will build within them more faith (and more willingness) to take the bigger leaps into a leadership role when the time comes.
My Journey Into Evangelism
When people look at me now, they see someone who is comfortable standing on a platform in front of thousands, preaching the gospel, leading people to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior, with demonstrations of healing and deliverance along the way.
That, however, was not always the case. The first time another minister invited me to join them for an outreach in a juvenile detention center (youth prison), I was afraid of what it would entail. I did want to go with them, but I didn’t want to be the one praying with people, and I certainly didn’t want to be the one preaching. Thankfully, my friend coached me on how to pray with people, and while he led the service completely, I was given the opportunity to pray with one young man, and lead him to Christ for the first time ever. This first small step led to many more small steps to becoming the minister I am today.
My point is, we cannot compel people to lead, but we can give them opportunities that will build them up until they are ready and willing to lead on their own.
Qualification 3: Not Leading For Personal Gain (1 Peter 5:2)
On the other side of the “willingness” coin, we have those who are overly zealous to step into leadership because of the personal benefits they hope to derive from it. I will not repeat what we have discussed in an earlier post about those who want to lead out of a desire for power, status, and wealth. However, it needs to be said that someone who is truly qualified for biblical leadership will do so out of a heart of service for others, rather than for the benefit of themselves.
Every leader in scripture who had personal gain as a motive finished in failure or rejection. You see this in men like Gehazi, the servant of Elijah who chased Namaan for payment (2 Kings 5:19-27); or in Balaam, the prophet who accepted money to curse Israel for a pagan King (Numbers 22). Some examples even let their greed turn them away from truly following Jesus, as they sought their own benefits. Just look at Judas Iscariot, who sold Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-16).
If a person’s desire to lead God’s people is based on anything other than a heart to serve, they are not qualified for the job.
Qualification 4: Identifies as God’s Steward of the Whole Church (Titus 1:7)
The final “calling” qualification in the list is tied to this, a servant’s heart. Paul tells Titus that an overseer in the church is “God’s steward.” What this means is that as a leader over the church they have a vision for the whole church, rather than their own pet projects or the small areas they are comfortable in.
While it is true that many people are called to minister to a smaller section of God’s people, whether it is a youth pastor whose role is to lead the youth group, or the choir director, who oversees the praise and worship teams. When God calls someone to the highest levels of leadership in the body of Christ (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, overseer, elder, bishop, etc.), they cannot build a vision that serves any less than the whole church. They must be a father or mother to the entire ministry.
“You love my pastor. Why don’t you love me?”
This was a question I was recently asked in one of our village churches, as I was dealing with a sinful division arising around some of our local leadership in Uganda. As I was explaining to the church members that the outside pastor who brought this division was wrong and had been dealt with, I was also expressing my affirmation of the work their own pastor was doing, so that they could be confident in their leaders. Multiple times in the conversation I expressed to them that as the apostolic overseer of our ministry, “I love and support your pastor, and I trust them completely.”
However, as I explained how I am trying to train and equip the pastors of Sozo Ministries’ churches, one elderly woman in the church was perplexed by what she saw as my willingness to ignore her as an individual member of the church. She wanted to know why I did not love her with the same pastoral care I was giving to her pastor.
I had to take the time to explain that God had appointed certain levels of leadership within our ministry, each with its own sphere of influence. At the local church level, the pastors are the highest authority, tasked with the personal, daily care of the congregations. However, my role as the apostolic leader for the entire ministry requires me to be more focused on pastoring and caring for our church leaders, rather than every church member.
I told her that as much as I love their local church, and would happily be there every week, if possible, this would require me to neglect the rest of the ministry I am called to lead. Instead, it is through my love and leadership to her pastors that I am able to love her and every other member of our network of churches the same.
If someone is going to fulfill the “calling qualifications” for leadership, they must have a God-given desire for the role and be free from fear of man and failure. They must have a willing heart, desiring to serve for the sake of others, rather than for any personal gain, and this desire must encompass the whole of the church, rather than the areas they are comfortable in. The calling to ministry leadership is not small. We must, therefore, be willing to follow the Lord’s visions completely, even when it is difficult and draining. Anything else will fall short of His calling to lead.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Anthony Scott Ingram.