Read: James 3:13-18

You may have already noticed that this is an election year. In our state there is a gubernatorial race that has been underway for the past six months, AND…we still have nine more months to go. “Lord, have mercy!” National and statewide elections are long-term events these days.

I also noticed in our church bulletin last Sunday that a committee has been formed to identify future elders for the governing board of our congregation. The worshipers are being asked to pray for the committee and for the congregation in selecting these future church officers.

What is interesting about both of the above contexts is that a word often appears when any mention of elective office comes into play. The term? LEADER. Yes, it is a common term employed by all of us, but what is a leader? More specifically, what is a “church leader”?

If you read some of the popular organizational textbooks, a leader is defined as “someone who exerts positive influence upon another.” If that's the case, then a lot of people—even those outside of formal organizational offices—are leaders. That means that…YOU…sometimes will be assuming the role of a “leader.”

However, anytime we use the term “leader” we must also ask, “How do we know if someone is worthy to be called a leader?” Our text in James 3 will help us to answer this question. But to get to the answer, you will want to notice what James is doing in this passage.
  • For instance, when James asks, “Who is wise and has understanding among you?” he is not asking for people to disclose their most recent SAT scores. No, he is addressing the subject of leadership that started in James 3:1. He warned his first-century writers that not many of them should become “teachers.” You see, in the early church “teachers” were the congregational leaders. They were the ones who used words to persuade and influence others to act in specific ways in the name of Christ. 
  • In addition, you will want to notice that James follows his initial question with a concise answer. His focus is on the potential leader’s conduct more than what worldly success the person might bring to church leadership. Notice as well that James becomes even more specific in verses 14-17. That is, he describes both the negative and the positive aspects of a person’s relational conduct. 
  • Finally, you will want to observe that verse 18 serves as a “result” statement. That is, James seems to be saying that if the right leaders are in place, then good results will occur. In this case, the primary result will be peace within the local congregation. 

There is a reason as to why I am asking you to observe the author’s literary structure. He has a purpose, and that purpose relates to the subject of “leadership.”

Before you identify someone as a leader, God is asking us to LOOK AT THE PERSON’S RELATIONAL CONDUCT. 

OK, if we were to take a look at someone’s relational conduct, what would we be observing? Better yet, what questions might we be asking? Consider three important questions drawn from our text.
  1. First, we would be wise to ask, “Is the person humble or arrogant around other people?” In verse 14 James refers to individuals who have “bitter envy and selfish ambition.” Then he quickly says, “Don’t brag and deny the truth.” One gets the impression that some people were positioning themselves as leaders and assumed they had the right to exercise authority. But James insisted that this was nothing to boast about. The same is true for the church in the twenty-first century. So in our identification of leaders, we need to ask, “Is this person humble or arrogant?” How does the person come across to the people with whom they have interaction every single day? 
  2. Second, we also need to ask, “Is this person caring or insensitive toward people?” James repeats the phrases “envy and selfish ambition” in verse 16. He says that where these factors exist there is “disorder and every kind of evil.” Or to put it another way, some people relate to others in such a way that feelings are hurt and ministries are sabotaged. The more positive traits in verse 17 imply that a good leader would be showing kindness and compassion to everyone. So when you are evaluating potential leaders, ask if the person is caring or insensitive.  
  3. Then, third, be sure to ask, “Is this person peace-loving or divisive?” Verse 18 is difficult to translate since we do not normally think of “fruit” being “sown.” And yet some Bible versions render the first part of verse 18 as if some sort of “fruit” is being planted. It is better to understand this “fruit” as that which comes from some seed that is first sown within the community of believers. And what might that “seed” be? James uses the term “righteousness” to describe the kind of actions that produce harmony in the Body of Christ more than individual exaltation. So if a person claims they are leadership material, be sure to ask if this person is peace-loving or divisive in the way they relate to others.  
Whether you are looking at leadership in the public realm or in the church, take the time to examine the potential leader’s relational conduct. Do not assume that someone will be a good leader just because they are successful according to cultural standards of the day. And by all means…pray!

Pray that God will raise up individuals who love Christ and His Church more than their own popularity.

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