CHAPTER 1: A LEADER IS A THEOLOGIAN

I recently read an article in which the writer listed things that a pastor should never say publicly to his congregation. Among the items on the list was this, “I am no theologian”. The author points out that a pastor who says those words has no reason to preach in a church because he is supposed to be the theologian of his local church. That is a good point. Christian leaders must have proper theological training to lead God’s people. While he doesn’t have to be a Biblical scholar, he needs to have a good grasp of the fundamentals of the faith. Without such knowledge, the leader will not inspire people to follow his lead. Worse, the leader can lead his flock astray.

 

Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Seminary in the USA, underscored the need for what he calls “convictional leadership” in his book of the same title. He said, “If our leaders are not passionately driven by the right beliefs, we are headed for disaster.”[1]

 

An effective Christian leader is humbled by the weighty responsibility of feeding, encouraging, and protecting the flock of God. He realizes that without God’s strength, he will falter and stumble. Thus, he seeks wisdom from above even as he diligently studies the Word of God.

 

A Leader Is A Serious Student Of The Bible

 

The prince of preachers CH Spurgeon once shared this story: Lord Bacon tells of a certain bishop who used to bathe regularly twice every day, and on being asked why he bathed thus often, replied, “Because I cannot conveniently do it three times.” If those who love the Scriptures were asked why they read the Bible so often, they might honestly reply, “because we cannot find time to read it oftener.”[2]

 

A leader is beset by many responsibilities and an effective leader even more so. His time is a scarce commodity as myriads of “important” things vie for his attention. One of the things that are so easy to sacrifice is a private and in-depth study of the Scriptures. Cheap substitutes are more readily available than ever before because of the internet. One of the chief vices of pastors today is just to skim the internet to prepare a sermon, instead of spending hours trying to understand what the text is saying. One news website published an article whose title sums up the concerns of not a few-- “Did your pastor steal Sunday’s sermon?”

 

The plague of plagiarism is just a symptom of the neglect of many leaders today to go back to the source of godly wisdom, the Bible. Without constant immersion to what God has revealed, a leader’s message will become stale. Worse, a leader may slowly drift into error to the detriment of the souls of his people and his soul. Without a clear logos from their leader, the flock will gradually weaken and be easy picking for the tempter.

 

Why study the Scriptures? Because it is the inerrant revelation of God of Himself and His will for us. The classic passage about this is 2 Timothy 3:16:17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work”.

 

The case of Joshua in the Old Testament is instructive. His task was to lead a budding nation to war and conquest as they enter the Promised Land. The much revered (and at times despised) leader of the people, Moses, just passed away, and Joshua took over the top job. Success means conquering the land for the new nation, but failure could mean the annihilation of his entire people. This was the situation of Joshua right after Moses died. Yahweh encouraged Joshua for the task ahead. One of the things God told him was this: This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success (Joshua 1:8). For Joshua to effectively accomplish his mission, constant contact with the Scriptures was a pre-requisite.

 

Today, the same advice is relevant to all Christian leaders. Your success depends in no small degree, on our closeness to the Word of God. How are you to do this? First, have a systematic plan to read the Bible. There are many resources out there that can get you started on reading the Bible systematically if you are not yet doing so. For example, right now, I am following a balanced Bible reading plan that cycles between the books of the Old Testament and the New Testament so that I can read the Bible in one year. In addition to this, I read half a chapter of the NT in my morning devotions while my wife and I read part of the Old Testament consecutively before praying at night. You can find your system so that you are exposed to the Bible regularly. Nothing will sharpen your logos more than constant dipping in the authoritative source of our message.

 

Second, read spiritual books regularly. An effective leader is typically a voracious reader. In my case, I always keep a book handy wherever I go. It’s incredible how much one can read while waiting in line in the bank or for a flight in an airport. The advent of e-books is a huge blessing for me since I can now lug hundreds of books and reading materials on my tablet/phone/computer. In the last few months, I also discovered audiobooks. Through such services as Scribd, one can have access to fantastic Christian books for a monthly fee that is less than that of Netflix. I realize, of course, that this may not be for all people. My point is simply, make books a regular companion.

 

The apostle Paul, towards the end of his fruitful life, wrote the following words to his disciple Timothy: “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments” (2Ti 4:13). We will never know what those books and parchments were (perhaps in heaven?). But we can surely learn from this great leader of the faith. While languishing in a Roman prison facing certain death, Paul wanted to read books!

 

Without regular immersion to the Word, the well of our logos will run dry. If you are a pastor, this may become a reality as your sermons become repetitive, predictable, and boring. Pretty soon, your people will lose interest, and their spiritual growth will be stunted.

 

A Leader Has Rock Solid Convictions

 

Today’s Christian leaders are being confronted with unique challenges, just as every generation has faced theirs. In some sense, the same old ills bedevil us—pride, materialism, love of pleasure, and rebellion against God. But their manifestation is different in each generation. In the early part of the 21st century, rapid advances in information technology coupled with ease of access to the internet have facilitated the spread of worldly philosophies and evil in general to all corners of the world. Blessedly, the same information highway has helped advance the kingdom of God. However, without spiritual enlightenment, much of the world will not be able to resist the allurements of sin transmitted through fiber optics.

 

Scores of evangelical groups have wavered and even totally abandoned historic doctrinal positions such as the inerrancy of Scriptures, salvation by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, and the reality of the supernatural. Post-modernistic relativism shapes the beliefs of numerous people as the distinction between right and wrong blurs.

 

In the area of morality, there is a concerted effort to redefine gender and marriage. In several affluent countries of the world, gay marriage is now legal. Just last week, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalize gay marriage. To hold on to Biblical beliefs on the distinctiveness of the male and female gender and heterosexual marriage is slowly becoming a minority view in not a few cultures. The Philippines has resisted the bandwagon of moral decline, at least so far. However, no one can tell what may happen in the future as more and more countries abandon traditional beliefs on sexuality and marriage. Leaders must be able to anticipate cultural shifts and forewarn his people of what is coming.

 

On a broader scale, religious cults of various shapes and sizes have multiplied. The Christian leader must be steeped in Biblical doctrines if he/she can help guide the people he/she leads to right beliefs and actions.

 

Now is not the time for vacillation. Leaders with convictions are sorely needed.

 

In my case, it’s been a great source of blessing that I have been exposed early in my Christian life to reformed theology. The doctrines of the grace as handed down from Augustine to the Reformers and modern-day Christians have been a bedrock of my convictions.

 

I encourage you to dig deep into what you believe in. Do not be content with the wishy-washy doctrinal beliefs of many Christians today. Our age is allergic to doctrines. Perhaps because of the inroads of post-modernism and relativism, people are afraid to stand on what they believe in. As evangelicals, we believe in the one true God who has revealed Himself in the Scriptures.

 

The greatest leaders in the Bible were fully convinced of the teachings they hold. Even under intense pressure from their enemies, they stood firm in what they know to be God’s truth. Elijah confronted the false prophets of Baal in the most unfavorable environment. Daniel and his three buddies withstood the mighty Babylonian empire without compromising their beliefs. In the New Testament, the apostles were willing to be jailed, beaten, and even killed for the sake of the “good news”. Why? Because they loved their God, and they had not an iota of doubt on the divine truths they received.

 

A Leader Knows How To Handle Theological Knowledge

 

To balance growth in knowledge in theology, the Christian leader must be mindful of the dangers of possessing such a vast amount of knowledge. Paul warned the Corinthians that a type of ““knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor 8:1). The context of Paul’s words was that certain people in the church know that Christians could eat any kind of food. However, they were using this knowledge to belittle those who did not have the same level of awareness.

 

A leader is privileged to have more excellent knowledge than the typical member of an organization. This situation is expected if he is a diligent student of the Scriptures and is the resident theologian of the group he/she leads. Sadly, there are Christians who use theology as a hammer to smack people they do not agree with. Social media has become a virtual battlefield with so-called “keyboard theologians” bashing each other over minutiae of religion.

 

According to Kim Cash Tate, “Social media enlivens our carnal nature. We enjoy quick satisfaction. Emotion wants an outlet. Complaints must be heard. Anger needs to be expressed. And contrary views must be vigorously opposed, because that’s what the flesh enjoys as well — superiority. It will mow down another’s views — succinctly if on Twitter — while elevating its own, earning a satisfying flurry of shares and retweets”[3].

 

For those who confess adherence to the so-called doctrines of grace (or Reformed Theology), this is especially disgusting. The essence of Reformed teaching is the sovereignty of God and the nothingness of humans who must depend on the unmerited favor of God. Pride is, therefore, the very antithesis of the doctrines of grace.

 

Besides, a leader gets to know confidential and privileged information. He/she must resist the temptation to use such knowledge to gain an unfair advantage or even to put down others. For example, in the process of counseling, pastors may become aware of certain information about the counselee or some other person. One of the essential qualities of a leader is that he knows how to keep his mouth shut!

 

When I was a new convert, I attended my first Christian camp for college students with much excitement. As part of the camp, we were paired with a more mature Christian, and I freely shared my burdens to my “mentor”. Then later in the camp, my mentor spoke in one of the plenary sessions, and he used what I shared with him in confidence as an illustration. I felt like cold water was poured on me, and I felt betrayed. It was a lesson I never forgot. Leaders have to guard any information entrusted to them zealously. 

Perhaps this is the reason why the wise man said that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7). Without such fear of God, knowledge will not be used wisely. In contrast, a God-fearing person will be humbled by the things he knows and will seek the good of others.

 

Discussion Guide

1. Show from the Bible the necessity of growing in theological knowledge.

2. Why should the Bible be the ultimate authority of your doctrines?

3. How will you handle doctrinal differences inside your church or organization?

4. Identify ways

 

Notes:

[1] Mohler, p19

 

[2] http://www.spurgeon.us/mind_and_heart/quotes/b2.htm#study  Accessed 5/26/19

 

[3] Kim Cash Tate, A Social Media Heart Check, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/a-social-media-heart-check  Accessed 5/27/19

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