I’ll admit it: I’m one of those guys that if I didn’t believe so strongly in gathering together as a church then I could be completely content spending Sundays in nature “connecting with God”…just me and him, and the ant crawling by. Fortunately there are other days in the week to get alone into nature; unfortunately I don’t get the pleasure of doing that as much as I would like.
Last week, however, I forced an excursion. Waking up and staring at my ceiling, I had a single thought in mind: I need to get out and get alone, just me, my Bible, my notebook, and God. And so I did.
After a brief stop at Mickey-D’s for a 1030am coffee, I drove into the country to a Civil War state historical site and found myself among the trees and wildflowers with picnic tables aplenty. Just me, my Bible, God, and the two workers from the state who were there to mow grass and weedeat—but they didn’t bother me.
Over the last year and a half, I’ve been trucking my way through a Doctorate of Ministry in church revitalization. Needless to say, I have spent many-an-hour with my nose in leadership books. They all basically say the same thing in various ways with talk about vision and enthusiasm and team building and communication. Sadly, though most of these books claim to be about church leadership and claim to have a Christian focus, they lack much (if any) emphasis on 1 Timothy, Titus, and 1 Peter—all letters that have significant segments about church leadership. They do, however, like to talk a lot about Moses and Jethro and Nehemiah.
I’m not saying that there aren’t things to learn from these men, but it just seems odd that so many books on church leadership ignore the biblical passages directly addressing church leadership. But I digress…
Not only have I been reading so many things, I have been praying over and over, “Lord, raise up men to be leaders in the church. Lord, raise up men to be leaders in the church.”
Part of my needing to get away for a day had to do with frustration—frustration at all the books that said so much while saying so little, and frustration that I had seen little-to-no movement in those prayers finding answers.
So as I sat at the picnic table, thumbing the pages of my Bible, I longed for something to read to help alleviate that dissatisfaction. I didn’t go out with a plan…I was just hoping for inspiration.
I thought about continuing in John, as that had been a part of my daily devotions. No. I thought maybe Philippians, for it is a very encouraging book. No. I thought maybe Ephesians, because it has so much related to church life and even a little section on church leadership. No.
None of those felt right for the moment. Then I finally decided on 1 Timothy.
Opening up my Bible and my notebook I started reading, praying, and writing. It didn’t take long to begin to see some things—most of which I had noticed before, just maybe not in quite the same way. Paul gave Timothy instructions concerning true teaching and false teaching. True teaching aims for love; not a wishy-washy anything goes lovin’ feeling, but a love rooted in truth, purity, and faith (1:5). Then Paul made a statement that cuts across the grain of much of our cultural church thinking. Jesus came to save sinners (we love that) of whom I’m the worst (that’s good for you to think about yourself Paul, as long as I don’t have to think that about myself), but I received mercy so Jesus could demonstrate his patience and make my life an example for others (wait a minute…isn’t it so I can go to heaven and be happy? What is this example thing—that means I gotta live differently. I’m not sure I’m down with that).
Saved to be an example.
Imitate me as I imitate Christ, as Paul wrote elsewhere. Am I living a life worthy of imitation?—that’s a good introspective thought, official “church leader” or not.
And then I went into chapter two. Paul wrote, “So, then, this is my very first command: God’s people should make petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings on behalf of all people…. So this is what I want: the men should pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, with no anger or disputing” (2:1, 8). Paul said first command, or perhaps primary command above all else. The latter idea certainly would not be out of place with the apostle who said to pray without ceasing at all times (Ephesians 6 and 1 Thessalonians 5).
I paused here with that thought in my head: primary command…
Prayer is one of the (if not the) most basic thing(s) God calls us to as followers of Jesus. The Bible teaches us over and over that prayer is vitally important, and yet so often we (I) neglect it and simply offer to God a few scrap minutes of poorly thought words.
Not only this, but even as Paul commanded all of God’s people to pray he honed in specifically on the men in 2:8…the men should pray in every place. They’re to lift up hands—yes a mark of surrender, but also dependence, love, and devotion (think a boy running hands in the air to meet his father who just walked in the front door). And do this in a spirit of peace and unity.
Only after this did Paul get to the part where he talked about church leadership: “If someone is eager for the work of overseeing God’s people, the task they seek is a fine one” (3:1). He went on, as he spoke of both overseers and deacons, to focus on the necessity of character above all else.
“So that in me…King Jesus could demonstrate the full scale of his patience, and make me a pattern for those who were going to believe in him” (1:16). A life worthy of imitation in Christ demands proven character. Very much noted.
I read on, but it took another couple of days after this to truly get to the real heart of what I think God wanted me to see in that moment. I was still outside but for a different purpose and at a different place—jogging at the community track; yet I was still alone on a nice sunny afternoon.
As I jogged, I thought and prayed and chewed more on 1 Timothy. Then the order of things started to sink in. Paul said he wanted the men in all the churches to pray, and then he said if someone desired to be an overseer to check their character.
Prayer then leaders—but not as I had been thinking, praying for leaders to rise up. That’s when it hit that I had been praying and working for the wrong thing. Yeah, the church needs leaders. More than that (foundational to that), the church needs men devoted to prayer.
Pray for God to raise up men of prayer, and from that find the leaders.
I know this isn’t just about praying for men of prayer, but it’s about calling them to pray, encouraging them, teaching them (where needed), and giving opportunity to come together to pray for the church, for their families, for our town, and for our own growth in character. However, this has given me a different focus now.
We need leaders, but let’s deal with the root first.
We need men of prayer.