Leadership is a hot topic these days. Over the years we have seen a huge number of wonderful examples of people who have led us well. In our world, our churches and our families there are many whose leadership brings both justice and joy – and it’s right to celebrate those who have led us the right way. This weekend, here in the UK – and some countries abroad – many of us will be celebrating the life and reign of our Queen. And amid the street parties, the home-made crowns and lashings of trifle, there will be moments to reflect on her leadership – and look back over the years she has served.
On the flipside, it’s not hard to find leaders who have let us down. Worse – to find leaders who have caused great wounds. They’re there – in every strata of life, including the church – and the pain they’ve inflicted runs deep. Here, there is a call to bring justice – to bring darkness into light – so that hope can replace the horrors that have previously been seen.
Most of us, however, have leaders who are good but fallible. They’re not among the great but not wolves either. They’re there, each week, working away – often getting it right, sometimes getting it wrong.
It can be hard to know how to support our leaders well. Not all of us will have experience of the kind of battles they face day by day. But all of us have the privilege of prayer. It might be obvious but it’s often the bit we forget. So, as we go into the Bank Holiday weekend set aside to celebrate our national leader, here are 5 thoughts from 1 Thessalonians and the ministry of Paul to fuel our prayers for the leaders in our congregation and beyond.
1. Pray that our leaders will drip with prayerful encouragement (1 Thess 1)
The Thessalonians weren’t a perfect church – their doctrine was confused and, at times, their behaviour awry – but that didn’t stop Paul starting his letter with the many ways they brought him joy. Those Christians were in Christ, and that meant God was active in growing their faith, enabling them to serve and equipping them to persevere. The Lord is doing that in every other church too. A leader will always have cause to speak words of encouragement. And always reasons to pray – asking God to continue the good work he has started and carry on building his church. Why not pray that, even when life is busy, they will see the good and their mouths will be overflowing with encouragement and intercession?
2. Pray that our leaders will share their lives not just the gospel (1 Thess 2)
There’s a sense in which leadership can be an isolated place. It’s not meant to be but the pressures, the hours, the difficult relationships can nudge it that way. Often congregations expect their leaders to be different – better – and that puts up barriers to community and care. But Paul was diligent in ensuring that community was an integral part of all he did. He wasn’t just the teacher of the Thessalonians, he was so intimately known to the church that everyone there had a rounded view of the kind of man he was, both in behaviour and the motives that lay behind. His congregation knew the hours he put in – both to ministry and earning his keep – they knew how much his heart overflowed with love. Why not pray that your leaders will know that same joy of shared lives – and deep openness – and that we will have an open heart to welcome them in ways that allow them to be authentically, safely known?
3. Pray that our leaders will be encouraged by our faithfulness (1 Thess 3)
It’s easy to think it’s our leaders’ job to encourage us. And, on one level it is. But encouragement is not a one-way street. We can share the ways in which God is working in our lives. We can thank our leaders for the help they have given us to persevere. We can be honest about our weakness – but show them our confidence in God. We can give them many reasons to praise. Why not pray that you will be a blessing to your leaders in the coming weeks?
4. Pray that our leaders will teach and model godliness (1 Thess 4)
Sound doctrine is important but, at the end of all things, God isn’t going to give us a test to discover what we know. He’s interested in us loving him and living for him – and doing so with an undivided heart. The teaching we get (in whatever form) needs to be that which spurs us on to faithfulness. The role-models we need are those who are pure, self-controlled and more interested in pursuing a quiet life than a platform – that’s what good for the church and alluring to the unbelievers around. So why not pray that our leaders will teach and model those things? And pray that we will want to model them too? At home, at church – on social media – never taking advantage of others, but always showing love.
5. Pray that our leaders will teach sound doctrine (1 Thess 5)
After looking at call and character first, Paul reminds that teaching is an important foundation for both. If we are to live for Christ, we need to know who he truly is – how he’s coming back – and how to follow him now. False teachers blight churches across the land. There are those who deny the cross – who doubt his return – who distort the meaning of love to encompass almost anything the heart can desire. That is not as it should be. There is no hope and healing in fairy tales, only in gospel truth. So, let’s pray on for faithfulness from those who preach, teach and speak the truth in love each and every day.
And, in the middle of it all, why not pray our leaders will be able to know when each of those attributes needs to come to the fore, putting into action Paul’s call to, “warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). It is the gospel way.