Some Essential Characteristics of Spiritual Leadership - #1

Dr. Brian Allison

The book By His Grace To His Glory commemorates the jubilee, the 60th anniversary, of Toronto Baptist Seminary. The book traces the history of the seminary from its inception. In this work, among other items, are brief biographical sketches of the graduates who entered the pastorate or missionary service in Canada, the United States, or foreign lands. It is gratifying to realize how God has been pleased to use so many men and women, in different ways, to expand His kingdom. One biographical sketch is of Dr. Ray Reed, my predecessor at Unionville Baptist Church. Concerning him, it reads, "His special concern has been to train pastors with a shepherd's heart for men's souls..." (p. 47). The shepherd's heart marks and must characterize true spiritual leadership. In this connection, the apostle Paul wrote, "For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed – God is witness – nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us" (1 Th. 2:5-8).

Recall that in the second chapter of 1 Thessalonians, the apostle Paul is dealing with the matter of the Gospel ministry. Unfortunately he was put in a position in which he had to defend himself. He had been unjustly charged with having wrong motives and questionable conduct and behaviour. Paul addresses the issue of his motives in verses 3 and 4 of this passage. He addresses the issue of his conduct and behaviour in verses 5 to 12. Our focus in this paper will be on the matter of behaviour and conduct, addressing, in particular, the question: What kind of behaviour and conduct ought to characterize spiritual leaders? Keep in mind that these verses are relevant and applicable not only to pastors, evangelists, and missionaries, but also to everyone who would assume some kind of spiritual leadership in the church (e.g. Sunday school teacher, Junior church leader, missions chairperson, etc.).

Honest speech

There are five characteristics, according to 1 Thessalonian 2:5-8, that ought to exemplify spiritual leaders. First, a spiritual leader should not be manipulative or conniving in speech – "For we never came with flattering speech" (1:5a). A spiritual leader should never use insincere, deceptive speech in order to achieve self-advantage or some personal goal. When we talk about flattery, we are referring to insincere praise. According to the Scriptures, flattery is reprehensible, simply because it indicates a dishonest heart. The Scriptures identify flattery as evil or wicked behaviour. For instance, Psalm 5:8-10 reads, "O LORD, lead me in Thy righteousness because of my foes; make Thy way straight before me. There is nothing reliable in what they say; their inward part is destruction itself; their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue. Hold them guilty, O God; by their own devices let them fall! In the multitude of their transgressions thrust them out, for they are rebellious against Thee." In fact, one of the main strategies of the adulteress is that of flattery. Thus Proverbs 2:16 reads, "To deliver you from the strange woman, from the adulteress who flatters with her words;" also Proverbs 7:5 reads, "That they may keep you from an adulteress, from the foreigner who flatters with her words;" again, Proverbs 7:21 states, "With her many persuasions she entices him; with her flattering lips she seduces him."

Flattery is destructive. Proverbs 26:28 reads, "A lying tongue hates those it crushes, and a flattering mouth works ruin." Consider further Proverbs 28:23, "He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with the tongue." Typically, it is better to rebuke someone for his wrongdoing than to insincerely praise him and allow him to continue in his waywardness. Generally speaking, it is better to make a person feel guilty, by exposing his or her sin, than to make a person feel secure, by pretending that nothing is wrong, or by overlooking the problem, through a cover up of flattery. This past summer I had the opportunity to sit under the preaching of one of my friends; and at one point in his message, he said something very questionable; it made me cringe. I felt that his statement was dishonouring to the Lord. After the service, he asked me whether his preaching had gone well, and what I thought. I affirmed his preaching because I did not want to hurt or offend him. I compromised. I failed to speak the truth in love, and I did a disservice to my Christian brother.

Again, the apostle Paul could say, "For we never came with flattering speech;" or, to put it positively, "Our speech was honest; it was up front, it was not self-serving." The Spirit rebuked me for my failure to rebuke my Christian brother, and for engaging in a form of flattery. Spiritual leaders are not to flatter, they are not to engage in insincere praise, in order to make someone feel good or in order to win "brownie points" or to avoid the tough activity of confrontation for the sake of the betterment and growth of the hearer.

Honest heart

Second, a spiritual leader should not beguile – "For we never came...with a pretext for greed" (2:5b). That is, Paul did not come to these believers in a sly, crafty way, endeavouring to mislead, in order to achieve self-advantage or some personal goal. He did not come with the spirit of a Jacob, who beguiled Isaac, in order to secure the blessing by stealing it from Esau. He did not come in falsehood. The desire for money, possessions, and wealth may cause one to beguile others; he may succumb to a 'pretext for greed'. Spiritual leaders are not to pretend or maneuver to be something or someone other than what they are simply for the sake of satisfying or gratifying their carnal lusts. More particularly, they are not to present a false front, a deceptive appearance, designed to conceal a covetous spirit.

Needless to say, greed should never motivate a spiritual leader. One should never have an excessive desire for what he or she does not have, nor an excessive desire for that which belongs to another. 1 Peter 5:2 addresses a word to spiritual leaders in this connection, "Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness."

So Paul affirmed that he neither spoke deceptively to these believers, nor behaved deceptively towards them. And he appealed to their own knowledge as proof of the truth of his claims – "For we never came with flattering speech, as you know" (2:5a). Now think about those words for a moment. Paul's life was an open book. He was willing to subject his life to the scrutiny and judgement of others in order to verify the propriety of his behaviour and conduct. And knowing that only God sees the real motives of the heart, he appealed to God's own knowledge as proof of his moral integrity, of being free from covetousness – "nor with a pretext for greed – God is witness (2:5b). I find such words utterly staggering – that the apostle Paul could say that both his heart and behaviour were, practically speaking, impeccable. What do you think about that? Could your life pass the test of being an open book? Could you say, without reservation or hesitation, "Scrutinize my life; you won't find anything for which to condemn me, neither in what I say, nor in what I desire"? Could you say that, my friend? Could I say that? Could your life be subject to the fires of the scrutiny of public examination?

Humble disposition

Third, a spiritual leader should not seek fame and recognition – "Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others" (2:6a). The apostle was not a glory seeker. There is always the lurking danger of being a glory seeker because of a natural need in each of us. Requiring approval and affirmation seems to be part of our make up. We want people to say that we're 'OK'. Furthermore, pride itself fuels this drive to seek glory, the desire to be in the spotlight or to have centre stage. The carnal need for approval and the inherent dynamic of pride is a deadly combination. This past week the Emmy Awards aired. The following night, the Canadian Country Music Awards aired. The Gemini Awards are coming up. These award events are ego-feeding mills; they are opportunities to vigorously stoke egos. Recently, my wife and I watched a special hosted by Barbara Walters. She was interviewing some high-profile celebrities, and Jim Carey was one guest. At one point in the interview, Walters used the statement, "Having finally made it..." What do you mean 'Having finally made it'? Because Jim Carey had cashed a cheque that he had previously wrote to himself (when he was poor) for 10 million dollars, and because he now can demand 20 million dollars to make a film, he apparently has 'finally made it'. What a sad commentary on our society's values – that success and effectiveness is measured in terms of wealth, status, and fame, rather than in terms of moral character, godly pursuit, and benevolent service.

So, a spiritual leader is not to seek fame and recognition. Pride is the soul's plague. Jesus calls us to a self-denying life, a life of humility, and that runs contrary to the values of this fallen world. Having said that, let me say that there is a time and place for recognizing and showing respect for people because of their status or position. Romans 13:7 says, "Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor." We find similar language in 1 Peter 2:17, "Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king." There is a time and place for showing respect and esteem. But as servants of Christ, we should not strive to receive that respect and esteem, saying, "I don't get any respect." Is that how you feel? Do you say, for instance, "I have done this job for years and I don't get any recognition." My friend, why do you want recognition? You may say, "Well, I want people to appreciate me." What does that say about your heart? Can you not be content with the fact that the Lord sees your good works and takes note of them, and that His smile is upon you? Do you need any more than that? A pastor friend of mine said something to me a number of years ago that I have never forgotten, which continues to ring in my heart and instruct me. I was teaching on one occasion in his church. In the congregation sat a couple who seemed to show a lack of appreciation for my lesson; and I thought to myself, "They don't even like me." After the lesson, I said to the pastor (no doubt, wanting him to bind up my wound by saying something that would make me feel good), "I think so and so did not appreciate my lesson, and that they don't even like me." Do you know what his encouraging, comforting response was? "Get used to it!" They were cutting words, but I have never forgotten them; and they have continued to sustain me in the face of rejection and resistance. The lessons in the school of humility can be hard.

The apostle Paul could have demanded a certain kind of response in light of his apostolic position and status. He could have demanded respect in light of his giftedness – "Even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority" (2:6b). But he relinquished his God-given rights for the sake of the ministry. We read in 1 Corinthians 9:1-8,11-15, which serves as sufficient commentary on this point, "Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. My defence to those who examine me is this: Do we not have a right to eat and drink? Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard, and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things?...If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you? If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share with the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. But I have used none of these things. And I am not writing these things that it might be done so in my case; for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one." In other words Paul is saying, "We gave up our legitimate rights for the sake of the ministry for your spiritual good."


Fourth, a spiritual leader should be tenderhearted – "But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children" (2:7). Though the image of a mother may not be initially flattering to a man, true manliness is revealed in gentleness, in which one is willing to give up his rights, having the courage to be humble, especially in a society that teaches a man to be tough and rugged. Now, gentleness does not exclude the qualities of tenacity and resolve. Paul was firm and direct. But Paul was not coercive and bullish; no, in his gentleness, he would appeal, he would entreat, even though he had the power and authority to demand. Notice the language in 2 Corinthians 10:1,2, "Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ – I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent! I ask that when I am present I may not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some, who regard us as if we walked according to the flesh." Again, 1 Corinthians 4:18-20 reads, "Now some have become arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, as the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant, but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in words, but in power. What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod or with love and a spirit of gentleness?" Well, you might say that these words are tough talk; and Paul was prepared to back them up. Thus we read, "For we rejoice when we ourselves are weak but you are strong; this we also pray for, that you be made complete. For this reason I am writing these things while absent, in order that when present I may not use severity, in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me, for building up and not for tearing down" (2 Cor. 13:9,10). And yet, he suspected that God would humble him when he actually would visit these Corinthian believers. Notice 2 Corinthians 12: 21, "I am afraid that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they have practiced." As a spiritual leader, are you tenderhearted? Or are you demanding and harsh? Now, we may be direct and firm, but we should not be demanding and harsh, taking matters into our own hands?

Loving disposition

Fifth, a spiritual leader should be loving – "Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us" (2:8). There is an obvious connection between verses 7 and 8; Paul first talks about being tenderhearted, being gentle, and that is simply a particular expression of love. Paul here again refers to his motives, that is, what propelled him, what determined his behaviour, conduct, and ministry. And here he reveals why he was willing to approach and entreat these Thessalonian believers in a certain way, that is, why he was willing to treat them kindly, gently, and honestly. The reason was that he loved them, and thus he wanted the best for them.

Notice the sequence in verse 8. These believers were precious and highly valued by Paul – "Because you had become very dear [original Greek - 'beloved'] to us." As a result, Paul had strong warm feelings toward these believers – "Having thus a fond affection for you." Consequently, Paul had rendered selfless ministry on their behalf – "we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives." A good attitude leads to strong affections and results in effective action. Paul had a loving attitude towards these believers. Therefore he had warm feelings toward them. Consequently, he engaged in sacrificial service for their sakes. Note particularly that affections are the impetus and power of the heart by which one will be committed to, and will sacrifice for, others.

Often our ministries are very ineffective because our hearts are cold. Admittedly, we may have difficulty, at times, in being affectionately disposed towards people who have angular, or even obnoxious, personalities. We cannot create these affections, we cannot manufacture them; they are either there or they are not. Now, though we cannot manufacture or create affections, we can adjust our attitude. We may not be able to directly influence our feelings, but we can directly influence our attitude, which directly influences our affections. For instance, we need to refuse to entertain negative thoughts about an irritating brother or a frustrating sister. It has to be a self-conscious undertaking. We need to push out of our minds any negative thinking that the devil can use to turn our hearts against a fellow brother or sister. Further, we need to allow the Word of God to shape our thinking so that we begin to think God's thoughts after Him, and endeavour to view people as God would. Further we need to confess our bad attitudes; we need to confess that we struggle with dislike and isolated hatred. We need to confess it because it is sin; and we need to remind ourselves that even that obnoxious brother or sister is one for whom Christ died, and that we all, in some way, are ugly and unattractive, but that Christ is progressively sanctifying each of His own. We need to see fellow believers as God's own children.

Love is the great motivator. Love summed up the character of the apostle Paul's ministry. He was a pastor "with a shepherd's heart for men's souls." He was able to put up with trying situations and with difficult people because of love. Love guarantees a successful, effective, and fruitful ministry.