In the midst of everything going on in our world today, one distressing observation is unavoidable: there is a stunning lack of leadership in our culture. Government officials craft proclamations containing advisories and expectations that won’t be enforced, but do a decent job of protecting themselves from political liability. Business leaders are collectively waiting for someone else to blaze the trail through this crisis because explaining “an abundance of caution” to stockholders seems easier than being the first to do anything. In the midst of this culture of caution and lack of leadership, even some pastors seem content to relinquish their leadership responsibilities to civil authorities who want control of everything but culpability for nothing.
This lack of compelling leadership is part of the reason why Western Civilization finds itself on the brink of implosion. A culture that is led by public opinion will eventually become dominated by those who can dictate what the public thinks. Much like Israel in the time of the judges—when there is no authority to follow—everyone will do what is right in their own sight until that becomes so disastrous that someone will be given all the power to clean up the mess.
It seems as though we are past the point of stemming the culture tides of deconstruction to preserve the moorings of civilization as we know it, but only the Lord knows for sure. What we do know is that no matter what happens in the culture around us, the church must remain faithful to Christ, and for that to happen we will need leaders. The need for shepherds after God’s own heart—rather than leaders carefully modeled after worldly paradigms of leadership—has never been more clear. The church needs gifted, godly, and grace-empowered men to shepherd the flock of God.
What will godly leadership look like in a post-pandemic world experiencing the tremors of seismic shifts in cultural foundations? There are certainly many characteristics of godly leadership to which we could point (cf. Mark 10:35-45), not to mention the character qualifications of a godly leader that are biblically required (cf. 1 Tim 3). But, there are three particular demands that will be place on the leaders of the church in this age.
For starters, the church needs leaders who are courageous. We need men whose fear of the Lord is so holy that the fears of this world do not derail the decision they make on behalf of their people. As Joshua stood on the brink of the promised land bearing the newly bestowed burden of leading God’s people, he needed to be reminded of the courage producing promises of God:
Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go (Josh 1:6–7, ESV).
The church needs men who, like Joshua, have a courage steeled by the promises and precepts of God. Specifically, shepherds need the courage to make hard decisions, because the failure to make decisions when necessary amounts to a failure in leadership. The Lord has delegated authority to elders within the church so that they can use it for the benefit of the congregation, which is why they must be courageous enough to make hard choices. Along with the boldness to make hard choices, they must have the courage to be wrong. No leader wants to make the wrong decision, but a paralyzing fear of making a mistake may be the biggest mistake a leader can make. Good leaders must be willing to make good second decisions after they have realized and admitted that their initial decision wasn’t helpful. Along the way, leaders need the courage to not worry about public perception. The fear of man will be the downfall of many leaders who aren’t courageous enough to care more about what God thinks than what other people think.
In addition to courage, the church needs leaders with conviction. Godly courage is not driven hubris and communicated through bravado, it is the result of settled convictions about the Word of God. Biblical bravery is always convinced that the Scriptures are sufficient. When Paul arrived in Thessalonica to preach the Word in the midst of a hostile world, he did so with total conviction:
For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake (1 Thess 1:4–5, ESV).
Paul’s conviction about the truth controlled his message and constrained his life, and that is what made him such a faithful leader. A commitment to the truth is not only what guides a godly leader, it is also what he uses to lead. Christ-like leaders do not lord authority over people, they use the authority that God has provided to shape the convictions of God’s people with biblical truth. In other words, biblical leaders are always communicating the biblical truths that inform their leadership decisions.
In addition to courage and conviction, the church will need leaders with patience. Impatient shepherds produce unstable sheep because you cannot calm the fears of a flock unless you are waiting on the Lord. If there is anything that this season of ministry has proven it is that patience is an undervalued characteristic in leaders. Usually we think of leaders as individuals who get things done, but more often than not the best leaders are the ones who keep doing the right thing even when it doesn’t seem like it is getting anything done. In the long run, steady leadership that keeps plodding in the direction of faithfulness will always outpace flashy vision-casting perpetually makes an initial short-term splash. Godly leaders are patient because God is patient.
In particular, effective shepherds must be patient with the other leaders that God has providentially placed around them. Elders are never going to agree on every detail of ministry and loving patience is what will help them to navigate their differing opinions. They must do this because effective ministry requires patience with the sheep:
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all (1 Thess 5:14, ESV).
In ministry, you have to be patient with people because the goal is to present them complete in Christ at the final judgment (cf. Col 1:28-29), which means you shouldn’t expect perfection now. Long-suffering patience with people while the Lord uses the truth in their heart is indispensable.
The church needs leaders, which is exactly what God has promised to provide his New Covenant people. In Jeremiah 3:15 the Lord promised, “I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” If the shepherds that God has provided are going to reflect the heart of God and feed the people of God, they will need courage, conviction, and patience.
Paul Shirley is a graduate of The Expositors Seminary and has served as the pastor of Grace Community Church in Wilmington, Delaware since 2011.