Commentary by Walter Albritton


January 15, 2006


Effective Leadership Requires that We Walk like We Talk


1 Timothy 3


Key Verse: They must hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.  – 1 Timothy 3:9


          Jesus was a good leader because his conduct was consistent with his preaching. He called his disciples into servanthood and he washed their feet. He backed up his preaching with integrity in his own life.

          Paul saw this about his Lord and did his best to imitate Christ’s lifestyle.  His walk also was consistent with his talk. As the young church began to grow, Paul realized the need for leaders who practiced what they preached and taught.

          So in his First Letter to Timothy, Paul explains that the conduct of church leaders will greatly influence the church body. The behavior of the leaders will either undermine or encourage their fellow church members. Phony, hypocritical leaders are soon exposed and will cause others, especially the immature, to give up on the church.

          Elders (called bishops in the beginning) and deacons were expected to live by ethical standards that commanded the respect of others. These standards, outlined in today’s lesson, were necessary if the church was to attract outsiders with an authentic message of truth. Paul raised the bar for leaders because he knew people would not follow them unless their lives were consistent with their testimony.

          The love of money is sometimes the downfall of church leaders. So Paul warns that neither elders nor deacons should be lovers of money or greedy for money. Greed can lead to the misuse of funds and ruin the ministry of church leaders. Wise leaders will be careful not to handle money in such a way that greed can gain a foothold in their minds. 

          The use of alcohol has ruined the reputation of many gifted church leaders, both lay and clergy. A pastor friend of mine was found out to be a problem drinker. Years later his church members did not remember his love of Christ or his excellent sermons. They remembered that he kept his whiskey in the lower right-hand drawer of his desk. His preaching meant nothing to them because they had lost respect for his character.

          Some are quick to say that drinking alcohol is not a sin; millions of Christians in America, Europe and other countries drink beer and wine and see nothing wrong with doing it. Actually Paul did not recommend total abstinence; he warns leaders against overindulgence and drunkenness.

          Conservatives offer an argument that has much merit: the best way to guard against indulging in too much wine is not to drink it at all. For many people, if not most, one drink leads to another, and another, until the result is drunkenness. This ruins the testimony of church leaders and is too high a price to pay for the loss of one’s influence.

          Our attitudes about standards can lead us to quarrel about them. If we disagree, we must do it with respect and gentleness, for Paul insists that church leaders should not be quarrelsome. That is one standard we can easily overlook if we think we are right about everything! It helps us all to remember that we can be wrong now and then. I know it helps me.

          As we study Paul’s list of standards it seems clear that he had not attempted to give us a definitive, inclusive list. Rather what Paul calls for is integrity. Paul knows it is the jewel in Christian living. He wants Timothy and us to see that the future of the church depends upon its having leaders who are men and women of the highest integrity. Without it, there is no successful leadership no matter how many leadership “skills” one may possess.

          Business and civic leadership trainer Margaret Thorsborne helps us understand what we mean by integrity:

          I sit in the second pew from the front at the funeral of Bill Brown, my father-in-law, holding hands with my sons and listening to my husband struggling to stay composed as he speaks about the sort of father Bill had been. My husband's siblings and their wives, husbands and children are here too, mourning the loss of a much-loved 86-year-old who had died after a long spell in a nursing home.

“I glance back and, through my tears, see a large number of men, all looking a bit more grizzled and stooped than the last time I saw them. I finally realize that these are the men who worked with and for Bill in his time as a senior public servant. One of them comes forward to speak of Bill's work life.

“Bill's passing and funeral did not make the papers. He was not a public figure---he was what is known as a quiet achiever. But the story told that morning about his vision for his work, his values, intelligence, commitment, grace, humor, compassion, humility, the way he lead, his influence in his field and the legacy it left, was testament to the worthiness of his life. His children were right to be so proud. He was, indeed, a man of integrity.”

It can be sobering and helpful to try to imagine how our family members will feel about us after our death. Is there any of us who does not want to be remembered as a person of integrity? If that is true then we should make it our aim so to live. Only then can we become church leaders God can use to strengthen his church.

          We who serve Christ do well to meditate on three words Paul uses: “be above reproach.” We betray our Lord when our lifestyle allows people, especially children and youth, to lose respect for us. We are not expected to be perfect. We are expected to be consistent, to walk like we talk and to value integrity.

          If we aim with all our hearts to live “above reproach,” there is a good chance the Lord will bless our efforts and make us good examples and effective leaders for his Body, the Church of the living God. No one without such a goal should presume to be a leader of the people of God.

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