I left college before graduating. Cheri and I were in the countdown to our marriage date, and her father invited me to come into his 25-year business and apprentice under his leadership. I was going to school to snag a career, so the decision wasn’t difficult for me. I traded books for a briefcase…
For the next decade, life became pretty predictable: I was climbing the ladder during the week, and – on Sundays – “volunteering” for church assignments. Business was providing challenging advancement opportunities while my “layman” assignments were perfunctory. Sound familiar?
Something began to shift, for me. Opportunities for leadership in the Kingdom opened, unexpectedly. I was elected to the Elder Board when I was 28; leadership positions in parachurch (ministries outside the local church) were already part of my ongoing calendar. What was happening?
I knew there were some stepped-up category standards that were non-negotiable. Paul’s letter to Timothy was clear: “If anyone wants to provide leadership in the church, good! But there are preconditions: A leader must be well-thought-of, committed to his wife, cool and collected, accessible, and hospitable. He must know what he’s talking about, not be overfond of wine, not pushy but gentle, not thin-skinned, not money-hungry. He must handle his own affairs well, attentive to his own children and having their respect. For if someone is unable to handle his own affairs, how can he take care of God’s church? He must not be a new believer, lest the position go to his head and the Devil trip him up. Outsiders must think well of him, or else the Devil will figure out a way to lure him into his trap.” (1 Timothy 3:1-7, The Message).
As time passed, those commitments – for me – became the dominant drivers in pursuing my Calling. By the time I was 31, my ministry efforts became my career focus; I sold my way out of business to formalize my already-expanding catalog of ministry initiatives under the umbrella of Priority Living, Inc, the non-profit we founded in 1984.
Three years later, I was rocked when Gordon MacDonald announced his resignation from the presidency of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship; he had been in that role for two years. Just 48 years old, he had a distinguished past as a pastor in New England and an author with a voice of integrity and authority. As a ministry leader with no seminary training, I benefited greatly from conferences featuring great Bible teachers; MacDonald was on my A-List; I looked up to him…
It didn’t take long for the reason behind his resignation were revealed: an extramarital affair – over a two year span – had preceded his appointment to the IVCF position. His marriage survived, but his fitness as a ministry leader ended when his board became aware of his infidelity.
Within weeks of his departure, he was interviewed by Christianity Today and demonstrated refreshing honesty about the situation; click here to read the article and the transcript.
To his credit, MacDonald submitted to a restoration process in which he was not in control, but to which he was willing to defer. That journey, for him, was not swift, but the leaders involved with him were sure that it was comprehensive. The discoveries from that effort were the basis for MacDonald’s still-in-print book, Rebuilding Your Broken World. It is a primer for leaders – in any strata in the Kingdom hierarchy – who hope to return to fruitfulness after willingly surrendering their authenticity.
The mandate of 1 Timothy 3 (above) is the basis for vetting incoming leaders for the Kingdom; it’s also the standard for the return of leaders whose earlier fitness was sacrificed through their own lapse of purity – whatever the nature of their disqualification – before their return to service.
Leadership in God’s Kingdom is a privilege, never an entitlement. Qualification comes at a great price; disqualification exacts a greater price. It can be regained; most are unwilling, but some – like Gordon – pay the price that is required for restoration.
Aspire to leadership. Exercise it with integrity. If lost, regain it biblically. Finish well…