Who do you love? Avoiding pitfalls as young leaders

February 11, 2019

Leadership is risky—the world, the flesh, and the devil all conspire against us. So we start listing the dangers, and then we compile lists of antidotes and advice. These words of wisdom aren’t bad; they are usually very helpful (and I plan to offer a few here, myself). But the gospel offers us more. The gospel offers a life of faithful, joyful service springing not from lists of what we should and should not do, but out of love more abundant than we can imagine (John 15:12-17).

The reality is that regardless of age, experience, maturity, spirituality, theological aptitude, or insightful exposition, faithfulness in ministry is rooted in love for God, which necessarily and inevitably overflows in love for others.

Conversely, unfaithfulness springs from love for ourselves, which both expresses and fuels that most foundational of sins: pride. It might sound simplistic, but it’s true: Whether a young pastor fruitfully thrives or withers on the vine is determined by one thing: Who does he love?

Lovers of self or lovers of others?

I sometimes observe the meal-time behavior of potential leaders. I’m not talking about the social niceties or etiquette, or even whether he leads a solid and sound “grace” at the beginning. But does he wait to serve others before helping himself? Does he get up to help clear away the dishes? Does he express gratitude? Does he take a spot at the sink to help with cleaning up?

And when we have church functions, who is helping with the unseen, often unpleasant jobs? Who is sweeping the muck under the toddler table, emptying the garbage, folding chairs, scraping plates? This observation extends to our gathered worship as well: Who is making an effort to speak to newcomers? Who is quick to arrange chairs to make room for a wheelchair? Who is standing up and moving over so someone else can sit?

Much of this is simply common courtesy, but it reveals something vital about the heart—is this person acting out of love for others, or love of self? Is his concern for those around him, or to preserve his own physical or social comfort? I don’t consider a young man to have potential as a leader in God’s church until I see that he is acting out of love for his Savior in loving service for God’s people. Of course, the ability to teach the Word of God is essential. But as God tells us through Paul, the most gifted and eloquent Bible teachers are nothing but resounding gongs or clanging cymbals without love.

So with that foundation laid, how do we keep alert to some common pitfalls which young leaders face as they seek to serve God’s church? Where are we tempted to live by pride (which is love of self) rather than love for God? I think the dangers fall into three main categories:

1. Identity

It is all-too-easy to slip into the belief that who we are is defined by what we do, how we appear, or what people think of us. Perhaps the demands of ministry accentuate this risk because there will always be a heightened level of judgement from others—sermons are critiqued, interpersonal skills are analyzed, and family choices scrutinized.

Some trademarks of mistaken identity include feeling more important than we are and wanting proper acknowledgement of all we do. For example, continual overwork reveals that we have forgotten that we are mere creatures. Fear of what people think of us reveals that we have forgotten that it is what God thinks that counts. Being overbearing reveals that we have forgotten that we ourselves are sheep before we are shepherds, while timidity reveals that we fear people more than God. All of these reveal basic forgetfulness about our identity in Christ and a deep seated, self-loving belief that we have what it takes.

But the truth is that our value and glory is eternally secure because of the union with Christ that has been won for us and gifted to us. This identity is absolutely unshakeable and impregnable. When we wallow in identity amnesia, we turn again to slavery. Remembering who we are in Christ, however, gives beautiful gospel color, texture, and flavor to our lives and work.

2. Ecclesiology

It is possible to view the church in a mercenary way. Rather than brothers and sisters for whom Christ died and for whom we are willing to lay down our lives, they can become those who consume a Sunday sermon, fund our salaries, and cause us pain and hassle. “Ministry would be great if there were no people” is a well-known tongue-in-cheek complaint. We might chuckle, but deep down we sometimes believe it. This is nothing more than pride, and needs swift repentance.

Young leaders, don’t go along with that seed of complaint about God’s people. The gospel compels a real affection and love for the church; this is Christ’s body, a temple built upon the solid foundation. This is the Bride being prepared for her husband, and you are part of and belong to her. There is no place for looking down upon the church. Love, serve, rebuke, and correct her when needed—but always cherish her.

One symptom of wrong ecclesiology is keeping ourselves aloof. We try to protect ourselves from our church when we don’t trust our church family. Choose to trust them! Don’t prioritize friendships with those who merely like you and who are similar to you, as comfortable as that is. Our pride is what whispers, “But these people really understand me,” or, “I deserve some down time.” Leaders set the culture, so set a culture of gospel intentionality in your own friendships.

Also, despite all western convictions to the contrary, “family time” is not sacred. The corrective is a proper understanding of family in the Bible. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are our family, so work to nurture those relationships. Open your home. Don’t allow your pride to hinder hospitality. Visit those who are suffering, even for 10 minutes to pray with them. Ask for help, counsel, and prayer from your home group. Seek accountability—not just with the like-minded pastor from across town, but with the awkward college student in your church family as well.

As you foster warm affection for your brothers and sisters, with all of their human idiosyncrasies and awkwardness, you are employing one of the means of grace to build a safeguard against many pitfalls of self love.

3. Success

Young leaders can easily be distracted and wooed by the world’s definition of success—numbers, power, influence. It’s hard not to feel successful when we are commended, when our church is growing, when we’re busy doing important things, and especially if we receive some renown. The misuse of power and authority can flow from this, because if “success” is really all about me, then ministry becomes all about me, too.

But for the Christian, success is defined by one thing: faithfulness in and out of season. And faithfulness happens insofar as we are devoted to our Savior. Furthermore, our faithfulness depends upon Jesus. This is a blow to pride. If the church is growing, it’s God’s work. If my preaching is effective, it’s God’s blessing. If the church is financially stable, it’s thanks to the Spirit-inspired generosity of others. If my heart is soft to the Lord, it’s his kindness. Anything good that we are or do—anything—is a cause for gratitude to God alone. Young and old must continuously bow before the Lord, the giver of all good gifts, in repentance for the ways in which we try to grab glory that belongs to him alone.

Lovers of God and others

Paul reminds young Timothy, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). This is love which flows from the love of the Father and which we offer back to him in gratitude. The gospel is the glorious reality of something completely other, something fully outside of us—God, who is love. It’s the love of the Father, through Christ and applied by the Spirit that sets us free from slavery to sin and the punishment our sin deserves. This gospel is all we can offer, and this gospel is all we need. Considering God’s love levels our pride into the dust. We must cling to it!

Young leaders, to live faithfully out of God’s love you must dwell on it long and often. Use the means of grace: God’s Word, prayer, and God’s people. Consider Jesus. Meditate on God’s character. Be silenced in worshipful awe by the Trinity. Be stunned by the Incarnation. Worship the great God we cannot even begin to fathom, who makes himself accessible to us through his Son, tenderly enlivening our hearts by his Spirit. Fix your thoughts on the Resurrection and the New Creation to come.

The gospel is the good news of all that God has done for us and all he has for us in Christ. Our brief lives are to be expended proclaiming it and enjoying it with God’s people until we are called home to eternal glory. What could be better? This is a love story to capture our hearts; the greatest love story of all. Why would we make it about ourselves?

The article originally appeared in our print publication, Light Magazine. View the latest issue here.

Steve Timmis

Steve Timmis is a church planter in Sheffield, England, and CEO for Acts 29. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24