3 Primary Traits Every Church Leader Should Exhibit

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As this blog focuses on the four pillars of church growth, leadership, creativity, and vision, my sermon from this past Sunday is abnormally applicable to you—my audience. I preached 1 Timothy 5:17–25 about biblical leadership, and I gleaned three traits that we church leaders should seek to exhibit.


1 Timothy 5:17–25 paints a beautiful portrait of leaders who are honored and effective, protected and accountable, and they bear fruit now and forevermore.


  1. Church Leaders Should Serve Well and be Held in Honor (vv. 17–18)


1 Timothy 5:17–18 says, 17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”


There are many important things to break apart here. Let’s take them one at a time.


A. Clarification of Who is to Lead a Healthy New Testament Church (v. 17)


Healthy New Testament churches are pastor led (1 Timothy 5:17) and deacon served (Acts 6:1–7). Always form your belief on how things should be structured by looking at the Bible.


Note the beginning words of verse 17, the elders who rule.


Note the word “rule” here in verse 17. It is the spiritual calling of those who are given leadership within the church to rule the church. More accurately, from a grammatical standpoint, it means “to give direction.”


B. The Work of Preaching and Teaching (v. 17)


1 Timothy 5:17b says, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.


Notice how the ministry of the church and the ministry of the Word are brought closely together by the Apostle Paul. A Jesus-centered church is always under the Word of God. Therefore, the ministry of the Word and the direction of the church belong together.


C. Respect and Support (v. 17)


1 Timothy 5:17a says, Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor . . .


This means at least two things: (1) We are to respect those who are entrusted with leadership. This principle is shown throughout the Bible. 1 Thessalonians 5:12 says, We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you,


We owe respect to those with responsibility. This is true, according to 1 Timothy 2, to those in the secular world as well. This is, historically, why church members refer to their pastor with their title. This is why it encourages and blesses me when someone calls me “Pastor” or “Pastor Jeremy,” because it follows the example set in 1 Timothy 5:12.


(2) When it says that “those who rule well be considered worthy of double honor,” it is communicating that pastors who serve well should not only be respected, but also supported. Paul quotes two Scriptures (v. 18) that speak about this very directly: For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”


The Bible compares pastors to oxen treading out grain and farm laborers bailing out the straw. The analogies are significant because they both say the same obvious thing. Pastors should expect to work hard. Both oxen and farmers work hard. Lay leaders work hard during a full week, then give hours to the ministry of the church on top of that. Therefore, those who are entrusted with pastoral responsibility and the privilege of being supported by the congregation should work as hard as possible.


Anyone going into pastoral ministry should extend himself and work hard. The church that calls him should pay him for his work. That pattern is clear in the Bible. In the Old Testament, priests were supported by the people of God so they could give themselves to the work to which God called them, on behalf of the people (2 Chronicles 31:4).


Paul himself received payment from churches he planted and visited, though at times he supported himself as a tentmaker (Acts 18:3). Paul makes it clear that those who serve the church should receive a living from the church. It is stated again in 1 Corinthians 9:14, where Paul says, In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.


Some churches have given such an emphasis to the priesthood of all believers that they have lost sight of God’s particular call to pastoral ministry. Let me just ask this question, and then I’ll answer it: Is it right to hire a pastor? Yes.


Ministry comes from God’s people under the leadership of those who are called by God and recognized by the church to devote themselves to this work. Our primary investments are always in people.


  1. Church Leaders Should be Protected and Held Accountable (vv. 19–20)


1 Timothy 5:19–20 says, 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.


There are two points here that are both important: Good leaders need protection from bad people, and good people need protection from bad leaders.


A. Good Leaders Need Protection from Bad People


Godly leaders will always be under the attack of the enemy. We all are. Satan is the accuser of all of us. Where a person is put in a position by a congregation and asked to take the lead, and entrusted with leadership, you can be certain that Satan sharpens his arrows and points them in that direction. That is why we all need the belt of truth as the first part of the Christian armor (Ephesians 6:14). Otherwise, Satan would more easily get us.


Paul was constantly berated by jerks in the churches he served. 1 Corinthians 4:3 is an example of this, But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.


Jesus dealt with this, too. He was slandered and falsely accused. Matthew 11:19a says, The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard. The rumor mill stated that Jesus was a glutton and a drunkard. Mark 3:22 explains that rumors went around that Jesus was demon-possessed.


The pattern with slander is always the same. Someone comes up with some story or false statement. It gets passed around. Then, the next hundred people say, “Where there’s smoke there’s fire.” The next time you hear that phrase, remember what they said about Jesus. Satan loves to work havoc in the church through gossip, slander, and lies. Because of this, pastors must work hard to restrain gossip, slander, and lies.


I reiterate 1 Timothy 5:19, Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.


Satan works havoc in churches regarding promoting rumors and untruths, as well as convincing people to believe the evil and not the good. It happens over lunches, texts, side conversations in Community Groups, and via private Facebook messages. Let us commit in our hearts that we won’t promote rumors and untruths, and that we’d be willing to believe the good and not just the evil.


B. Good People Need Protection from Bad Leaders


This is the entire issue of accountability. 1 Timothy 5:20 says, As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.


Paul is clearly talking about a church leader who harms the church by his sin. Paul says that the leadership of the church should not hide it, but should instead be open and honest about the sin before the congregation.


  1. Church Leaders Should Bear Healthy Fruit Now and Forevermore (vv. 24–25)


1 Timothy 5:24–25 says, 24 The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.


All people in a church, laypeople and pastors alike, serve in the light of the coming judgment of God. God sees all things and knows all things and hears all things. He forgets no things. Nothing is hidden from the Lord.


Paul explains that some people live in sin while others live in secret sin. Isn’t that true? Some people are obviously living a lifestyle that is not godly. Others hide it and it eventually comes out. The end of verse 24 says, the sins of others appear later.


Timothy must learn to discern between the appearance and the reality. People are not always what they appear on the surface. That is why we should exercise caution in appointing people to positions of leadership. That’s the whole point of verse 22a, Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands . . .. What he is talking about is commissioning a person to leadership. One mustn’t be too quick to do that.


Instead, get to know the character of people over time. Over time, you will find that character emerges. Sometimes, you will see good that was hidden for a while. Other times, you will see things that weren’t obvious from the beginning. When it is followed, it’ll keep the church healthy and protect the church from dysfunction.


1 Timothy 5:25 says, So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden. What he is saying here is that some good works are immediately recognized, but other good works are ministries that remain quiet and hidden. They’re things that people do that most others don’t know about. The God who sees and judges secret evil is the same God who sees and rewards hidden good.


I wonder if the reason that Paul ends here is because in a healthy church, leaders are often thanked. The person who does the most hidden job in the church, most of us don’t even know. There may be things that you do for the cause of Christ that only you and maybe a couple of other people know about.


Paul wants us to remember that God sees what other people have missed. Jesus said that even a cup of cold water given in His name will not go without reward (Matthew 10:42). The judgment of God that should bring fear to carry secret sins should bring comfort and joy to those whose good works are hidden from view. That is beautiful. Ultimate concealment is impossible.


If you have not received the honor that is due or the protection that you should have been given, remember the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom you belong.


When Jesus was called a drunkard and a glutton (Luke 7:34), and was called a demon-possessed man (Mark 3:22), He was not protected, but was instead condemned. That is the world in which we live.


Here is some great news, though: The world never has the last word, but God does. Philippians 2:9–10 says, 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,


Through Jesus’ death, there is forgiveness of sins. Through Jesus’ resurrection, there is power to live a godly life. Christ who died and Christ who lives holds these gifts in His hands as He offers Himself to us today.

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