Monday, January 28, 2013

No Privilege in Leadership (1 Timothy 4:11-16)

[11] Command and teach these things. [12] Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. [13] Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. [14] Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. [15] Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. [16] Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

This passage is often quoted in a way that probably violates the intention with which Paul wrote it. As a person who was called upon by churches at a very young age to serve in a variety of capacities, I know I was often directed to it. The idea most people lend this text is: “You are called by God! Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t know what you are doing! Embrace the authority you have been given!”

The truth be told, we often don’t know what we are doing. This is true even when we are old and experienced, but it is certainly true when we are young, immature, and haven’t done much of anything to inform our decisions and actions. It is perhaps most applicable when a person is fresh out of seminary and holds a degree in their hand that tells them they have all the answers that an ivory tower can give.

I don’t think that this passage is implying any sort of special dispensation or power associated with a call to church leadership. It is mandating a responsibility.

Paul tells Timothy to work hard at being a leader. He is to teach—not what he thinks or knows as some special intelligence—but rather what he has learned and continues to learn from scripture. He is to be an example of a follower of Jesus, not a higher level of Christianity. He is to keep a close watch on the behavior and beliefs of… himself.

This passage strikes me more as a reminder for young leaders that they need to take their responsibility very seriously, that they need to be led themselves, and that they need to remain accountable to people. And while we are at it, this passage is just as applicable to old leaders, maybe more so. In fact, the theology of privileged, holier, church leadership may be one of the biggest problems with Western Christianity today.

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