The Necessity of Godly Leadership

For the church to be of any benefit to this passing world, it must possess godly leadership. The men who occupy the office of elder (ruling elder or teaching elder/pastor) in our churches are to be men who reflect the gospel with exemplary lives. In fact, nothing destroys a church quicker than unholy men at its helm and nothing grants it more strength than godly men leading even as they follow Christ.


The Church Needs Leaders

At the outset, it is important to note that the church needs leaders. Even more particularly, it needs officers. The necessity of officers may be discerned from the titles that Scripture ascribes to these men, as Edward Reynolds noted over four hundred years ago.[1] Elders are called overseers of the flock (Acts 20:28), stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1-2), shepherds (1 Pet. 5:3), and ambassadors entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:20). They are preachers sent to proclaim the good news (Rom. 10:14) and teachers of the deep things of God (Gal. 6:6). They are planters and builders (Mark 4:1-9; Eph. 4:12). Taking all these metaphorical expressions into account, Reynolds commented:

[These] expressions import services of absolute necessity in states and families. There are mutual and reciprocal duties enjoined by God upon them and the people, they to watch over the flock, and these to love honor esteem and encourage them. If they be not necessary (officers) in the church, why should there lie upon them so severe a charge? Why should there be due unto them so great a respect?

Further evidence is provided by the labors of the apostles themselves in appointing ministers and ordaining men to the office of elder (Acts 14:23). Paul instructs Timothy and Titus to follow the same course of action (2 Tim. 2:2; Titus 1:5). In addition, elders are implored to uphold their office (Col. 4:17; 1 Pet. 5:1-3) and the New Testament writers exhort congregations to encourage, support, and obey their leaders (Gal. 6:6, 1 Tim. 5:18, Heb. 13:17). As Reynolds noted, all this instruction about duty and responsibility implies that the office of elder is “necessary to the good and interest of the church.”[2]


The Church Needs Godly Leaders

But the church doesn’t just need elders; it needs godly elders. The church doesn’t just need leadership; it needs godly leadership. With this office being so necessary to the church, men who carry this mantle do well to approach it with fear and trembling. Paul’s warning and exhortation to Timothy—“Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching,” (1 Tim. 4:16)—cannot be ignored without great harm befalling the church.

As leaders in the church, our lives must match our doctrine. Let us not undo our preaching by our living. How many barriers already naturally arise in the hearts of our people to the gospel preached? May our living not add yet another.

The challenge of the ages lies before us. Elders in the church are charged to plead with people—by the truth and grace of Christ—to repent of their treasured sins, die to themselves, carry their cross, follow Christ by faith, and be reconciled to God. We preach this message, teach this truth, and pray for souls to this end. But if our lives contradict our lips with ears closed, hearts harden, and backs turned, we cannot expect others to follow our teaching when our lives deny its truth and power.

Not only does it undermine the listening ear and watchful eye of our people, but it steels strength from our own labors. A leader who neglects holiness may go about his work, but seldom will he be serious in doing so. For the kingdom to prosper on earth, as it is in heaven, requires godly men who not only describe Christ and debate the tenants of Christ, but who also dwell in and delight in Christ. It is to such men that Paul says, “persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourselves and your hearers” (2 Tim. 4:16).


Characteristics of Godly Leadership

Is it not the minister of God who loves the gospel, knows its sweetness and power, delights in Christ, worships Him more than just publicly, and has his eyes set on heaven, that often experiences the most fruitful blessings upon his labors? Of course, this may not always be the case, and God in His sovereignty can determine to use the wicked for his purposes. But as Samuel Miller once said, “There is a power in consistent holiness, which belongs to nothing else beneath the throne of God.”[3] Those who know and pursue Christ will prove the most able guides. Their prayers will be effectual, preaching impassioned, labors tireless, and leadership servant-hearted. Christ will be often upon their lips because he fills their hearts. But where sin has taken up residence in a leader, where repentance is neglected, clouds darken the soul. And the labor for Christ naturally diminishes in power and effect. Christ’s person and purposes become secondary, passionate preaching dissipates, concerted prayer is hindered, and shepherding becomes at best a chore and at worst self-seeking.

But godly leadership knows Christ and looks to him. And the sheep notice; they often follow and imitate what they see. They will not find these things in leaders with eyes set upon earth and they are literally dying for men to show them the way to heaven. The church needs leaders who lift their eyes higher. In godly leaders, they observe men who don’t just read and study the Word to instruct others, but find the Word to be food for their own souls. They see men who don’t just pray as part of their public duty, but whose countenance reveals intimate knowledge of the Lord. They witness fellow pilgrims who are in earnest for lost sinners and find their chief joys in kingdom pursuits; who think nothing of their own kingdom, weep for the sinner, plead with the unregenerate, and long to see the saint grow in maturity.

Our churches need godly leaders who preach not to tickle ears or to satisfy the critical listener, but aim at heart-change. Oh for men who dare to be courageous for the sake of Christ, not shrinking in the face of challenge or melting when confronted with difficulty. The church demands servants who gladly embrace the reality that their lives are to be poured out as a drink offering for the sake of those under their spiritual care (Phil. 2:17). Let us write down as a rule: no man can obey and serve God too much and no elder can love God or His people too much. The church needs godly leadership.

As leaders in the church, our charge and responsibility are great. As the apostle exclaimed, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16). Let us always remember that we are also sheep with an ever-faithful and good Shepherd (John 10). What he has called us to, he will equip and sustain us for. And the labor is worth all the cost we expend. Maybe none have said it more ably than Reynolds when he said:

Consider the weight and greatness of that Crown of Righteousness and glory which the Chief Shepherd reserves for all those who willingly and with a ready mind feed the flock of God. They who turn many to righteousness shall shine as stars forever and ever (1 Pet. 5:4; Dan. 12:3). What a glorious testimony will it be before the throne of Christ at the last day, when so many souls shall stand forth and say, “This was the hand which snatched us out of the fire, this tongue was to us a tree of life, his reproofs and convictions awakened us, his exhortations persuaded us, his consolations revived us, his wisdom counseled us, his example guided us unto this glory!” Some are apt to charge clergymen with ambitious pursuance of dignities and preferments; behold here a preferment worthy the climbing after, a dignity worthy to be contented for, an apostolical ambition, as St. Paul’s expression imports (Rom. 15:20).[4]


[1] Edward Reynolds, The Pastoral Office, Opened in a Visitation Sermon Preached at Ipswich (October 10, 1662), 11.

[2] Ibid., 18.

[3] Quoted in James M. Garretson, An Able and Faithful Ministry: Samuel Miller and the Pastoral Office (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), 47–48.

[4] Reynolds, 44–45.