What motivates a Christian leader? Obedience to God and service to the church. We are not (or should not be) driven by personal ambition or social agendas. It’s that simple… at least in theory. We obey God and bless the church.
The gifts of the Spirit are to bless the church and build it up. We belong to one another for the common good. We exercise our gifts in order and not chaos. (Consider Paul’s instruction to the church in Corinth is 1 Corinthians 12-14.)
There is no justification for a Christian to seize leadership or dominate people. We serve in leadership; we lead to serve – not for self-aggrandizement. As Christians, we have no right to anything other than to imitate Christ. Christ’s attitude is the Philippians 2 attitude. He serves as our example.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very naturea God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very natureb of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
– Philippians 2:3-8, NIV
Speaking to the whole church, Peter writes:
All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”a
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
– 1 Peter 5:5, NIV
The temptation we face is the desire to escape suffering and receive what we believe is due us. The enemy uses these desires to tempt us away from humility and suffering. In a way that must seem foolish to many in the world, Peter encourages the believers to allow God to take us through times of suffering in order to grow to be strong and steadfast.
Of course, Peter was talking to Christians who were persecuted by pagan or Jewish authorities. What about those who are persecuted by those who present themselves as the church? This is often a more difficult kind of injustice to accept. We expect those without Jesus to act like they are not in him. But we expect those who are God’s people to act in love with justice and truth. However, while we are always called to speak the truth in love, persecution in the church is not fundamentally different from persecution by those outside in terms of how God’s persecuted people undergo it… except perhaps that we may be called to an even higher standard of love in order to clearly testify to our identity as God’s people.
There is much scriptural precedent and teaching about suffering under injustice and little for aggressively or coercively forcing others to change to what we believe is right and true. It is not so much that we are to silently bear or tolerate injustice. It is that we are to speak the truth in love from a posture of humility rather than a posture of condemnation. We love in the same manner that God loves; we speak as God guides us to speak with an attitude that honors the example of Christ. Thus, as followers of Jesus we disavow the use of violence, force, manipulation, humiliation, and coercion. The improper use of power and influence makes winners and losers rather than building the body of Christ into unity.
17 Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. 18 Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. 20 Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. 21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.
-1 Corinthians 7:17-24, NIV
It is not necessary for Christians living in societies and cultures in which women are not treated as equals or allowed ministry opportunities to change those cultures and societies overnight. This is particularly true when we are coming as an outsider to a foreign culture. Our priority is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we must allow other cultures and societies to work out Jesus’ teaching in their own ways and time as they respond to Christ, generally speaking. However, we must also be willing to be prophetic voices for truth and justice as God leads us to speak. If we speak when it is not God telling us to speak – ahead of his time – we are being idolatrous, allowing something other than God to rule in our hearts. And yet there is no room for complacency in bringing justice. There is no call to legalism of any type. God will lead us to speak the truth in love.
Above all, the self-serving pursuit of power, position, or authority is always sin whether it is in a man or a woman. The self-serving pursuit of power and authority has occurred in the name of male authority in the church; and the self-serving pursuit of power and authority has been done in the name of feminism and egalitarianism. Neither is acceptable among God’s people. Instead, we lay down our lives for the sake of our brothers and sisters, and allow God to call into leadership whom He would, when He would.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
-1 John 3:16
Love for others argues that we want them to exercise their gifts and callings under the Lordship of Christ. Gender is not the point. Calling, love, and obedience is the point. When God gives gifts and callings, he intends them to be used to bless the church.