Rev. Dr. John Yates
I spend a considerable part of my time in ministry talking and praying with leaders; pastors, leaders in parachurch organisations, a few politicians, business people and so on. I find that in every case their lives mirror tendencies in many of the outstanding leaders in the Bible, a paradoxical combination of holiness and imperfection.
Why did God the Father send Moses and Elijah, rather than, for example, Abraham and Isaiah, to talk with Jesus in glory on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:30-31)? They do represent the Law and the Prophets, and in that sense the whole Old Testament, and they were men familiar with the cloud of God’s glory (Ex 19:20; 2 Ki 2:11), but I think there is a more fundamental reason for their presence. They were conversing with Jesus about his “exodus which he was about to accomplish from Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). But neither of these men completed their earthly ministry according to their divine call; Moses never entered the Promised Land and Elijah ran away in fear from Queen Jezebel (Num 20:12; 1 Ki 19:3). They were icons of God’s faithfulness in taking them up to glory, despite their failures. They were images of grace made perfect in weakness. This is a regular pattern in scripture.
David loved the Lord intensely (Ps 18:1), but from the time of his adultery with Bathsheba his life was a misery. Solomon is the wisest of humans (1 Ki 4:30) but ends life as an idolater (1 Ki 11:4). Peter became leader of the apostolic Church but lost sight of the gospel and had to be confronted and corrected publicly by Paul (Gal 2:11-14). Barnabas is “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” but has an aggressive falling out with Paul over a relative (Acts 11:24; 15:39). John, the author of Revelation, worships angels twice and needs to be rebuked by them on both occasions (19:10; 22:9). We do not know the names of the leaders of the churches in Galatia, Pergamum, Laodicea etc. but by the way the Lord rebukes their congregations they plainly weren’t perfect pastors!
When we stop concentrating on our favourite biblical leaders and take in a broader sweep all our inbuilt personal and cultural prejudices to mythologise leadership is shattered. Leaders are sinners like us all who need grace. As in all things Christian we must approach “Leadership in the Bible” through the lens of the cross. A mature Church love its leaders by accepting their limits and prays for them as they are not as they idealise them to be. When Paul wanted to shut the mouths of his critics he didn’t appeal to his brilliant theology or apostolic pedigree; “From now on, don’t let anyone trouble me with these things. For I bear on my body the scars that show I belong to Jesus.” (Gal 6:17). The suffering S/Servant is the final word in leadership, biblical and beyond, this is its true glory.