Week of June 23

On Dewberries and Bad Leaders

Read: 2 Kings 10; 2 Chronicles 22-23

“The sins of some people are conspicuous,
going before them to judgment,
but the sins of others appear later.
So also good works are conspicuous,
and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.”
1 Timothy 5: 24-25, ESV


Shockwaves sounded throughout the American church in recent days as two high profile pastors have stepped down from their positions due to moral failures. Sadly, these are the most recent cases of what has become an epidemic of pastoral and leadership failure. I am reminded, yet again, of Paul’s words that qualifications for leadership tie directly to character. A short list of typical outward leadership desires includes style and status and charm and clout. We also may discover other worldly measurements of success, but Paul would state unequivocally that these common qualifications do not make a Christian leader. Integrity is key. Paul knew the significance of uprightness, and he addresses some important issues related to ministers and their character. Hold on a minute before you close out the devotional and look for something that applies more directly to your early-morning spiritual needs because this text does relate to all of us. Let me explain.

The Meaning of the Text

Exercising patience when seeking sound leaders
An old adage states, choose your rut carefully because you will be in it for miles to come. Paul says something akin to this in our focal verses (5:14-25). The verses, broadly, explain that the absence of a bad reputation does not necessarily mean that a leader possesses the desirable qualities for leadership. Conversely, the absence of a good reputation should not automatically lead to rejection. Well, where does this leave us? One word comes to mind—patience. Paul knew that the qualities for leadership often require time to surface and, over time, a genuine leader will emerge and establish himself/herself. There are things we can do while discerning our character and the inner righteousness of a leader.
Leadership that stands the test of time
Church engagement. This begs a question for us. What does Paul mean when he writes that some leadership-hindering sins take a long time to appear? Tommy Lea believes that such hidden sins were stated in 6:4-10: pride, strife, and materialism (NAC). How are these sins to be addressed? When Paul writes of judgment (5:24), he does not refer to eternal judgment but to a rejection of an unfit leader by Timothy or the church. If a church did not move to address the situation, then “sharing in other’s sins” would occur (5:22). Ah! We are learning from churches that they have often been negligent in responding to moral concerns until it is too late.

Here’s another way to view it. Many churches excel in the search of a leader, but fail those servants by ceasing to support them in their ongoing growth and accountability. Many of you are not church leaders, per se, but I do believe it is important to have people to whom we are accountable and who have the long view in mind regarding our moral development. There is more.
Church support. There are several ways we may support our leaders well. First, we may recognize those who do well for their service in our behalf. I cannot tell you the numbers of church leaders who labor long and well and never receive a word of encouragement. Paul writes of “double honor,” and this indicates recognition for a job well done (5:17). A card, phone call, and personal word of encouragement will help leaders to know they are appreciated.
Secondly, there is a proper time to issue a warning or for correcting a leader who persistently sins (5:20). Churches often allow these sorts of behaviors to continue for long periods of time without addressing them. This contributes to unhealthy leadership and follower-ship in a church.
Thirdly, we all need to exercise caution with the selection of our leaders. This calls for prayers, patience, and persistence as a church seeks the Lord’s will for who will become a leader. In Ashlock speak, bad berries do not produce good juice. Take your time with the fruit of the leadership vine!

The Message for Your Heart

Speaking of “bad berries,” a precious woman in my first church would make dewberry juice for us to use when we observed the Lord’s Supper. Dewberries grew alongside the rural roadways in the community where I served as pastor. They were the poor man’s “Welch’s grape juice,” which is often the juice of choice for Baptists’ observance of the Lord’s Supper. Well, that dear saint picked the berries, made the juice, did not check on it, and then arrived on Sunday morning to prepare the Lord’s Supper. She noticed that there was foam on top of the juice, but she decided to serve it anyway!
I knew we had some bad fruit on our hands as soon as I opened the trays to distribute to the ushers. As the juice made its way down the aisles, noses began to wrinkle, and eyes began to bulge among the church membership. Something was bad, and we all knew it, but no one sad a word. There had been a time between the picking of the berries and the serving of the juice where we could have observed that something was wrong and taken action, but we had not done so.

Here's the point today. The body of Christ should take the extra time needed to allow the fruit (character) of its leaders to become evident before they are placed into their roles. We do well when we consider our own character prior to assuming oversight in the body of Christ.

For Thought and Action

1. Having a “warm body” and willingness to serve does not qualify a person to lead. Godliness is a necessary characteristic. Ask God to develop your readiness to lead from within. He will open doors in the right time.
2. Churches may find good leaders by taking the corporate lead in prayer, patience, and persistence (see above). Strong leadership is the fruit of ongoing discipleship. Commit to leaders who are growing disciples.
3. For Families: This devotion reminds us that our families should gather regularly to write thank you notes to, or bake cookies for, our pastoral teams, or invite the pastor’s staff families to a Sunday School class appreciation cookout to say thank you for leading well.

When our children learn gratitude, it is one of the greatest of all virtues, and will help them throughout their lives. It keeps the heart humble both to notice the way others help us, and to express our thanks. It begins with our response to God’s good gifts, and spreads to everyone else in our circles of life.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock