What do you see as the most important disciplines in the New Testament? Prayer, of course. In Acts we see the apostles “continually devoted” to prayer, a term used on multiple occasions. In some circles sharing the gospel is treated as a discipline, something that all believers should do. Then there is the general piety we practice – the regular fellowshipping of believers, abstaining from sexual immorality, keeping one’s self unstained, etc. These are all very real and very important.
But many of us who have been believers for decades might consider these almost too basic to rehash. How many times do persons who pray regularly need to hear the injunction to keep on praying. The refreshing is good but the instruction might seem redundant. The same applies to sharing redemption with the lost and the other disciplines we might be tempted to take for granted.
These are all good and proper. It is not my goal to minimize anything. What I would like to pursue here is the discipline behind the disciplines. That is, what frame of mind would best describe the mature believer? What is it about the leader in the church which separates him or her from the rest and provides opportunity for ministry?
Now by “leader” I do not mean just the professional – the pastor or paid staff or missionary. These callings are built upon the basics to be explored here. By “leader” I mean those who have a clear ministry in the church, a ministry which is respected by all. You know these people. They build strong Christ-centered relationships. They encourage, they challenge, they serve well, and they show a fruit that often makes us envy their maturity. No, they are not perfect but they are mature and have rich life.
There are two things about these people which stand out. The first is a requirement of elders and identifies the mature believer. It is a requirement for elders because it needs to be found in people who are not elders in advance of being granted that ministry. That is faithfulness. I Corinthians 4:2. “In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.” (NASB) Other translations use the term “faithful” instead. The Greek term is πιστός and the term is generally translated “faithful.”
Two passages cover the qualifications for an elder — 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9. These passages list the overall qualifications. Among them is only one skill – able to teach. The remainder are character traits. It might be easy to see these things as behavior lists instead of character traits. That tendency hints at another problem.
One might be faithful to one’s wife out of duty. That is faithfulness and it pleasing to God. But when one is faithful out of a mature character, that represents the more mature individual. The same principle applies to training our children. We might set up a family study time again out of duty and again that is a good thing which is pleasing to God. But, as we have all observed, those children who come out of homes with a love for serving the Lord generally come out of relationships which reflect the grace of God.
I would describe these, and the other character traits, as representing fidelity to God’s character. There is an unselfishness which seeks not to simply follow through on actions but to infuse God’s character into these actions.
That might seem to be a broad use of the term “faithful” for a specific purpose. Using it so generally might seem to remove its depth. On the other hand the term is used frequently in the New Testament to describe Christ, His work on our behalf, the Word, and so forth. We can see πιστός as a pretext, a term used to reflect God’s character in all areas of life.
The second principle in the New Testament that I understand as core for leadership is grace. The Greek term is χάρις. It is the doctrine which defines Christianity. It has been at times turned into something that Christians thought they might manage, having the ability to remove χάρις from others, or grant it in special cases, for advancing various agendas.
There is much more to grace than doctrine (though this doctrine is highly important). Grace is a highly relational expression. We usually define it as “unmerited favor” but I think we need to define it a bit more precisely. What usually accompanies grace is mercy. Showing mercy is showing favor. Because of this I would separate that common definition and say that “unmerited” is grace and “favor” is mercy.
Grace is not simply what God does for us that is special. It is the motivation behind His actions. We might say that it is ἀγάπη (charity/love) in action. Grace always results in action. Sometimes it is in physically doing something and at other times it is seen patience and kindness.
Think about the young believer in church. They ask questions that seem so simple for the rest of us. But these questions represent the desire to grow and mature in Christ. Gracious behavior, showing grace to the young believer, might be seen in allowing the person to ask questions, helping these people find answers to hard questions, and being patient with the growth process.
A lack of grace says “that’s wrong” and leaves a person frustrated. It drives young believers from church life. It curtails involvement when people will not listen and help. Developing grace to others expresses the character of God to all around us. Again, with reference to the leadership principles listed, we know that the best teachers are those who are properly gracious to their students. The best parents, properly gracious to their children and spouses. And so forth. Grace is a relational practice.
Grace and faithfulness reflect God’s character in ways that duty cannot. They are not automatic or intuitive, belong to no individual or personality, and may be developed in the life of any person. They are maturity. May we seek to develop the disciplines of character ahead of the disciplines of activity.