A guide for elders.
With the Holy Spirit’s guidance, the following list of eight practices will develop and grow the character of Christ in the heart of a Christian leader. The elders of the church should use a list like this to ensure they are following Christ as the head of the church.
Be Transformed in the Presence of Christ.
The most important principle for all Christian leadership is to lead out of spiritual transformation. This transformation happens as we spend quality time in the presences of Jesus. The rest of this list describes how we can do this. However, in order for these practices to work, we must first intentionally seek the presence of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Brother Lawerence’s little book Practicing the Presence of God can be a good help for developing this practice.
Spend regular time in silence and solitude.
In his book The Way of the Heart, Henri Nouwen said that without silence and solitude it is nearly impossible to live a spiritual life. In order to really know what is happening in our own souls we need the time and space to be still in the presence of God. The practice of silence and solitude is the only way to achieve this level of stillness before God. It often takes a few days of silence and solitude before all the noise and worries that bounce around in our heads settle enough to hear God clearly. When we reach this place of clarity, we often hear God speak to our deepest spiritual and relational needs. I know of no practice as spiritually valuable as quieting one’s self before God. Moses, Elijah, Daniel, John, and Jesus (and many others) all practiced some form of silence and solitude in the presence of God. In my opinion, it is essential for knowing and doing the will of God.
Learn to take a Sabbath rest.
The Sabbath is a gift from God for our good. Taking one 24-hour period each week to cease from striving and to enjoy God and others will provide the stability and strength needed to lead God’s people. Leadership is tiring and leaders have a tendency to overwork. When we work ourselves to the bone, we will naturally end up depressed because our bodies are not designed for such ceaseless activity. Instead of resting from our work, the Sabbath allows us to work from our rest. It creates a rhythm of life that ensures we get sufficient rest for both mind and body. This allows us to do our best work with full physical and emotional energy. The Sabbath also allows us time for laughter, play, and relationship – things that greatly reduce stress in our lives. An overly stressed leader is a bad leader. A well-rested leader is more able to be fully attentive to the work of God.
Meditate on the Word.
Don’t just read your Bible as if it were one more thing on your to-do list. Read the Bible for heart transformation. Read the same passage over and over, each time working it deeper into your soul. There are various practices that can help you meditate. Memorizing scripture is a great way to take the word with you so you can “chew” on it wherever you are. Lectio Divina is a time-honored practice for entering into the text and allowing the text to enter into you. Find a way of reading scripture that really challenges your worldview, your assumptions, and the attitudes of your heart. In reading this way, you will be transformed.
Let scripture lead your prayers.
When our prayers are guided by scripture, they take on a different tone. I like to use the Psalms as a prayer book, but there are passages all through the Bible that make for good prayers. Some people find that practicing fixed-hour prayer is a helpful practice. This doesn’t mean that you are praying for a whole hour. It means that at certain times (hours) of the day, you repeat meaningful prayers either from scripture or church tradition. Praying these prayers from the heart at regular times is a great way to remain aware of God’s presence throughout the day. Daniel prayed three times each day. Some prefer morning and evening prayers. Some traditions praise God seven times a day, a practice taken from Psalm 119:164. Whatever practice you choose, allow the Bible to be your guide in prayer. Praying along with scripture will shape your other times of prayer as your heart is transformed by the Word.
Develop a habit of continual learning.
This might be the most overlooked aspect of the character of Christ. Following Jesus means being his disciple – a disciple is someone who is learning as he follows a master. I believe that all leaders are readers. They should have an attitude of growing in wisdom every day. In what areas do you need to learn and grow? Maybe you would benefit from learning about leadership, or biblical interpretation, or relationships, etc. – there are so many areas that there’s always something to learn.
Test your understanding with other elders.
No one can learn without testing what they have learned to see if it is true. We all have blind spots and we need to have them shown to us by godly and faithful people. It’s better for you to ask “Do I have this right?” than to be rebuked in front of others for false teaching. The elders of a church should be continually in scripture to discern its meaning together. Through this practice, they grow and learn to know and do God’s will. It’s unfortunate that many church boards never open their Bibles. How do they expect to have the spiritual authority to lead?
Share your desire with your pastor and submit to his leadership.
Tell your pastor about your desire to grow in Christ-like character. Ask for his help and guidance. You may be surprised at the insight the Holy Spirit will give if you are willing to submit to your pastor. His training and passions are uniquely positioned to help you grow. Why not take full advantage and deepen your friendship at the same time?