I know that 1 Timothy 3:1 says that ‘Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.‘, so what I am about to say, may seem controversial and to contradict scripture (which is not my intention).
Nonetheless, my advice to anyone whose personal ambition is to be a Christian leader, is to forget it unless you are sure that it is God’s will and that God has called you.
I lead a home fellowship in my church, and when I interact with my peers (i.e. fellow home fellowship leaders), I get the feeling that they may be burnt out.
Perhaps the reason for their burn-out is that they have very difficult members in their fellowship to manage, however, I also do get the impression that they may not be cut out to be leaders in the first place.
And why did they agree to become leaders in the first place, you might ask? Perhaps due to vainglory and self-ambition in their hearts? Perhaps after being introduced to charismatic leaders of mega-churches like Joel Osteen and Joseph Prince, they aspire to be like them, and hope that someday, they would also lead a great, big church, and have thousands of followers on Facebook, clinging on to their every word?
You might then ask me. Well, doesn’t 1 Timothy 3:1 suggest that we should ALL aspire for leadership positions?
No, not really. Here, I think Paul was commending individuals who would be appointed to this office, and not advocating that all individuals apply for the position.
You see, in today’s bookstores, there are countless of books to teach individuals how to shamelessly self-promote themselves for coveted jobs and positions. However, in the early church, there was no such thing.
Indeed, leadership positions in the early church were not filled up through people sending in their resumes and attending panel interviews, or even through networking (and relationships and ‘guanxi’). Rather, individuals were appointed under the discretion and direction of the Holy Spirit. We see this principle in Acts 13:2 (NIV):
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
Consequently, if someone were to share with me that his/her personal ambition was to be a Christian leader, I would ask, “Has God called you? If God has called you, then you need to do absolutely nothing in addition to what He is now already asking You to do, and which I trust you have been obedient in doing.”
In other words, if God is calling you to a specific leadership position, it should be God and not you, who makes it all happen.
Here is my personal (albeit rather lengthy) true-life experience of how I ended up in leadership.
It first started when I was 17, in junior college, and when I tried to play a prank on a classmate by getting people to vote for him to become the class representative. The prank backfired, and I ended up being voted instead to be the class representative.
At university, I attended the orientation session of my biochemistry freshman class, and I did this only because the organisers promised to give past year examination papers to those who attended the meeting. I was minding my own business at the meeting, when the chairman of the meeting pointed at me and a couple of others, and said, “Please step forward to the stage. We need a class representative for this freshman class, and we would like you to be considered this position.”
All those who were made to step forward (including myself) were asked to give a short speech as to why they might make a good class representative.
Everyone who stepped forward complied with the request, and hastily tried to put together some of their good qualities, so as to support their nomination as class representative. Everyone, of course, except me.
When it came to my turn to speak, I took the microphone, and while standing in front of everybody, said, “Look, I’m really not interested in this, and think I would make a terrible class representative. So, please, I beg of you, do not vote me as your class representative. Thank you for your non-consideration.”
I then unceremonious took my seat amidst a chorus of ‘boos’.
The chairman wasn’t amused (I thought my last sentence was witty), but nevertheless, carried on with the proceedings and requested all nominees (including myself) to leave the auditorium so that a secret vote could be taken.
When all nominees returned to the auditorium, I was told that I had won the vote, almost unanimously!
After the meeting had closed, the committee (comprising of seniors) spoke to me in private, during which I told them that it was ridiculous that I was voted into office, and I flatly refused to take up the job. However, the committee were adamant that I should at least try it out for a period of time. Eventually, I gave in.
I thought that I’d last for only a couple of months; instead, I ended up being class representative to my more than a hundred-member Biochemistry class until the day I graduated (and even enjoying the experience).
Close to the same timing of this event, the seniors from the Microbiology faculty, who were Christians, went around looking for the Christians among the freshman, and invited them for a welcome tea session.
Again, I attended the welcome tea session with an ulterior motive, and that was to make friends with the seniors, so that I could seek their help, if I ever needed it.
The seniors, however, had an agenda for the welcome tea, and that was to set up a Christian fellowship among the freshman, and thus to continue an existing tradition within the faculty (of having a Christian fellowship among the freshman).
During the welcome tea, a number of Christian freshman agreed to be members to this fellowship, and eventually, I was asked if I could lead it (the seniors had heard that I had been appointed as the class representative for the biochemistry class).
I said ‘yes’, not because I really wanted the job, but because no one else wanted it, and I figured that if there was no leader, there would be no fellowship. And if there was no fellowship, I reasoned that perhaps God might hold me accountable.
On saying ‘yes’, the seniors gathered around me to lay hands on me and bless and ‘anoint’ me. I was the leader of this fellowship for two years, until the time I graduated.
Now, by the time I had graduated from university, I could see a pattern in my life, of time and time again being roped into leadership position, and oftentimes, when I wasn’t even seeking for it.
To date, I’ve been in my present church for three years, and I don’t mean to boast, but by my second year of being here, I was asked to attend a training to be a home fellowship leader. Indeed, being invited to the training wasn’t something I gloated over, instead, I just saw as a pattern in my life repeating itself all over again.
After completing the training, there were no home fellowships under my zonal pastor’s charge that required a leader (that is, all of the home fellowships had existing leaders). So, I left things as they were — my zonal pastor’s only request to me was that I attended the training, which I had hereby fulfilled, and since there were no home fellowships that needed my acare, as far as I was concerned, that was the end of the whole matter.
At the same time, I took an interest in joining a particular ministry within church, and I started seeking God as to whether it was His will for me to join that ministry.
Eventually, I felt led to ask God for a ‘fleece’. It was the beginning of the month, and I told God that while I continued to seek His face, if there was no opening to become a home fellowship by the end of the month, I would take it that I had His permission to join the other ministry that I was interested in joining.
Two weeks later, on a Sunday morning and before the church service, I was walking towards church when I ran into one of the pastors in the church, who recognised me because I had attended the leaders training. We made small conversation and he asked me whether I was serving in any ministry in church. I told him that I was not, but was contemplating joining a particular ministry. On hearing my interest, he wanted to guide me how to sign up for the ministry, and so led me to the church counter to fill up a ministry enrolment form. Amazingly, when we reached the counter, no ministry enrolment form was available, although it was early on Sunday morning, before any of the services had been held. The pastor looked puzzled by the lack of forms, but not to be deterred, he told me to return to the counter after the service, and to request the workers at the counter for a form. I did not follow through with this pastor’s suggestion, though, because I found it very unusual that all the ministry enrolment forms seemed to have run out, especially so early during the day, and sensed that perhaps the Lord may be behind the missing forms.
Another two weeks passed, and it was now the last day of the month (the exact deadline that I had given the Lord). Amazingly, at noon, my zonal pastor called me to tell me that there was a cell nearby where I lived that needed a leader because the current one was stepping down, and whether I would be interested in becoming the leader. Typically, I would hesitate on such a request, but I needed no further prodding here and said “yes” immediately. Because of the extraordinary sequence of events, there was no doubt in my mind that there was the Lord’s will.
I have now been the leader of this home fellowship for almost a year — and to God be all glory — the fellowship has been running smoothly since the time I joined.
Perhaps there might be some lessons to glean from my experience:
Firstly, I am not ambitious by nature, and it has not been my design or desire to lead. I lead because the events in my life have shaped up in such a way, that there is little doubt in mind that God has called me to be a leader. Indeed, I believe that He has appointed me to be a leader even before I was born (mediate on Jeremiah 1:5 [NIV] — “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.“)
I trust that if He has appointed me, surely He will train me and give me the resources needed to carry out my duties well. Above all, He will surely open the doors for me, someplace, someday, to serve as a leader. Consequently, I cannot accept it when I hear of Christian workers jockeying or fighting for power and positions, as a non-believer working for a worldly corporation would do.
In the second last paragraph of Galatians 5, we see a list of acts of the sinful nature, and “selfish ambition” and “envy” are two items that are included in the list. The same paragraph warns that people (and this includes believers) “who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (verse 21).
I do sometimes wonder if this is the reason why the Lord has called me into leadership; that is, although I have many other shortcomings in my life, I am not tempted by selfish ambition or envy for titles and power.
Consequently, to those who harbour the ambition of being a Christian leader, I would say this to them, “Are you able to distinguish whether it is your own selfish ambition that you wish to fulfil, or are you able to recognise, through little clues in your life that pop up every now, that the Lord has called you?”
I would then add that unless the Lord has called one into leadership, forget it, and focus on serving the Lord in other ministries.