At least once a week, I’m asked if I know of any seminary graduates or pastors available to pastor a small or medium-sized church. This week I was asked this question three times. The reality is about to hit the Malaysian church hard. For most churches that still have pastors, retirement is just around the corner. There was a golden age for the church in Malaysia when many of the leaders in our churches today were reached as university students in the late 70s and early 80s. Out of that gospel-centered student movement came many young pastors who have provided leadership during the recent decades.
My friend, Mac Pier, who has been travelling around the world meeting with church leaders, recently told me that the average age of a Christian in Malaysia is 55! That should be alarming news for the church. It should be a wakeup call! The church only perpetuates itself when it has ongoing perpetuation of leaders. It is the brilliance of the New Testament church that it consistently and persistently developed leaders for the church. When the average age of our church leaders is in the 60s, it is a sign that the church needs to develop leaders.
Let’s be clear regarding what we mean by “leaders” in our church. I’m not necessarily talking about clergy, full-time pastors, or church leaders with lofty titles. I’m also not talking about board members chosen because of business prowess or professional status. In the New Testament, church leaders are those who exhibit the character of a Christian and are able to teach others (see 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1). Church leaders aren’t intended to be the bosses or some kind of Christian version of a witch doctor. The calling to be a leader is a calling to be a servant, a servant to Christ and his church. Paul writes that being a leader in the church is an honourable calling.
As we look at the New Testament church, we see an emphasis on identifying and equipping leaders in the church. Jesus spent more time pouring into a few selected leaders than trying to gain a large following. These leaders chosen by Jesus continued this practice, always aware that it was not their status or position that made them stand out, but it was that they had been transformed by Jesus (Acts 4:13). Paul and his coworkers continue the practice of identifying and equipping leaders in the churches. Paul even circled back to a city where he’d been stoned and left for dead in order to identify leaders in the new church there (see Acts 14).
In the New Testament, the only skill required for leaders in the church is the ability to teach/instruct (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:9). In Ephesians we see the primary task of church leaders is the equipping of the saints in the church for ministry (4:12). We have too few leaders in our churches who are equipped with the ability to teach in the church. In Titus we are told that it is not merely teaching or holding the attention of a congregation, but the ability to teach and correct in sound doctrine (1:9).
What is your church’s plan for identifying and equipping leaders of every generation? What is your church doing to develop the best pool of potential leaders in every age group? What is your church doing to produce leaders who are able to teach and correct sound doctrine? At the most basic level, every church needs to raise the bar of discipleship in the church (informal equipping). For more advanced training there are a number of possibilities. Seminaries and Bible colleges are vital to the training of vocational and bivocational pastors (formal equipping). For something in between, Gospel City Network in relationship with Redeemer City to City is offering the Incubator Training, designed for church planters and church elders. For more about the Incubator see this. As leaders (both recognized and unrecognized) in our churches, we must take seriously our role of identifying and equipping more leaders in our churches.