Christlikeness − not abilities…

By Not Known

On 27 September, a good number of churches in our region will be commemorating the 110th anniversary of the birth of the Rev Dr John Sung Shang Chieh (宋尚节 1901-1944).  Regarded by some to be the greatest preacher of the 20th century, Dr Sung’s short earthly ministry of 15 years brought about revivals in churches stretching all the way from China through the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia, to as far as Indonesia. 

At one meeting during the 1931 Nanchang revival in China, a bright and capable but very proud church district superintendent asked Dr Sung: “…you said that some leaders in our work would betray Christ as Judas did.  What advice would you give us, so that we would not be that leader?” 

Dr Sung replied like a flash – “Don’t be a leader!”  

Was Dr Sung against Paul’s godly advice to Timothy that aspiration to church leadership was “a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1)?  No, he wasn’t.  Dr Sung had discerned leadership to be the district superintendent’s temptation and his retort was aimed at bringing about the latter’s repentance.    

When most of us think leadership, we tend to think only in terms of downward leadership, i.e. leading subordinates for whom we are responsible.  But the hardest (and most significant in terms of consequence) of all leadership tasks is personal leadership where one leads from the inward, from the inside out of the person, as one leads him/herself.  And for the Christian, leading inward must mean leading from above – from God. 

If we are not able to manage, steward and lead ourselves, how can we lead others effectively?   And if we are not willing for God to lead us by transformation through His word and the Spirit, how can we manage, steward and lead ourselves according to His will.

While in many of our churches, elders and deacons are selected according to abilities, education, personality or professional achievement; the criteria found in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 have been linked much more to character − Christlikeness.  True, we need those of us dealing with finances, administration and so on, to possess some basic competence.  But before anything else, we need men and women who will place God first and reflect Christ in their lives to lead His people. 

This has been the consistent emphasis in Scripture (see also Titus 1:6-9, 1 Peter 5:1-4, Acts 6:1-7, 20:28-35).  And many a congregation has to learn it the hard way when they depart from God’s word and take after the standard of the world when they select their leadership.   

How then can we be used by God as people leading after His heart?  How then can we even choose elders and deacons in the way that pleases Him?  Or do we really rather please ourselves? 

Joseph Teng