(While I was at Central Michigan Correctional facility, I was involved with the Protestant All-Faith church and with Keryx. I was never chosen to be a leader of either group, but I was active in supporting roles. For a while I helped run sound for the church and volunteered to read scripture, pray, and give a testimony, or a meditation from time to time. In Keryx I was a small group leader and served on the inside team for several weekend spiritual retreats. Prior to that I had served as the inmate leader for the church in Level IV and as a soundman for the Level I/II church at Cotton Correctional facility.
This article came from my attempts to help when there was a sudden change of leadership because the MDOC rode out the leader and a relatively inexperienced replacement was chosen. I firmly believe that church leaders are called by God and that scripture has a lot to say about the characteristics of church leaders. Different organizations have different organizational charts, some have individual leaders listed while others rely on leadership teams. In reality they are all teams of one sort or another, since no one can do it by themselves and especially in prison where there is no guarantee that you will be there tomorrow. Continuity is a problem when there are not individuals in the church willing to help in the transition or provide support to leaders who are often placed into difficult and chaotic situations. As I have said in a previous article: Being a church leader involves the arcane art of herding cats.)
This article is also a little unusual in that it is not strictly a meditation or instructional narrative. There is also a fair amount of commentary about my experience with the prison church looking back on my time there, which ended nearly four years ago. The church in American prisons is a persecuted church. There are many in prison both inmates and staff that have no respect for the Christian faith. Those who profess faith in prison are often singled out for abuse. Like the early church or those in non-Christian countries there is a different dynamic at work. Many volunteers that come to worship with us commented on the differences they saw between the free world churches they attend/represent and the prison churches. There was a unanimous acclamation that they loved to worship with us because they could feel the movement of the Holy Spirit and the earnest faith expressed by men whose freedom was only on the inside.
Timothy was a young Christian taught the scriptures by his mother and grandmother. He traveled with the Apostle Paul on a missionary tour because the Christian brothers in his hometown spoke well of him (Acts 16:1-3). While they spent time together Paul trained Timothy for leadership. Confident in Timothy’s ability to do the job, Paul left him at Ephesus to deal with the issues of the church plant there (1 Timothy 1:3). We are blessed to have two letters written by Paul to Timothy providing tremendous insight into pastoral ministry.
Paul did not do this once, but at least twice that we know of. Paul left Titus in Crete to complete the task of organizing the church planted there (Titus 1:5). By this we can see that it is a model for preparing young Christian leaders through training in a hands-on way and then mentoring them once they have been appointed to a position.
In modern times, training for ministry has taken on formal academic methodologies in divinity schools in the western world. However, the old model established by the Apostle Paul still works in the third world church and in places such as prisons where it is practical, efficient, and necessary. While every prison has a chaplain who oversees religious programming, it doesn’t mean that he actually runs any specific faith- based programs in a Clerical sense. Prisons rely extensively on outside volunteers from the thousands of organizations from across the country and the religious spectrum to provide religious instruction to inmates. Some of these groups may provide mentoring programs for the inmate leaders of the church, however that was not the experience at the first prison where I was incarcerated. The chaplain there, who I worked with when I served as the inmate leader of the Level IV Protestant All-faith church, did not provide much in the way of guidance, let alone mentoring when it came to how I was to lead my flock. I never heard him preach at any services and do not believe that he was ordained by any faith group. At the second prison the chaplain was an ordained minister and worked with the inmate leaders, but I believe in the MDOC that this was the exception rather than the norm.
To be clear I am not referring to discipleship, I am specifically referring to leadership. Every leader should be actively involved in his own personal discipleship with other mature believers. As the mission statement for a church I attended stated: “We are to be disciples who make disciples.” Any discussion of Christian leadership must begin with the premise that those called and chosen for leadership are earnestly working out their own salvation within the body of Christ.
So, what do you do when you find yourself in a situation as a young inexperienced leader selected for a position for which you have received little training? Do you assume that based on your previous life experience and knowledge that you will be able to figure it out as you go? Do you try to model your ministry based on a TV preacher adopting the affectations and mannerisms you admire? Do you assume because you’ve been appointed as leader you must act the part by being large and in charge? We all like to think we’ve got some new, innovative, or powerful concept we’d like to implement to put our signature on the ministry to mold it to fit our vision and personality. There is no doubt that a lot of thought and prayer goes into the process; but just as there are no Lone Ranger Christians, there can be no Lone Ranger Christian leaders.
As a young leader in the church, who are the Christian brothers you are receiving mentoring and advice from? Even Billy Graham had an inner circle of prayer warriors who he often turned to for guidance. They were always free to speak their minds and faithfully held him up in prayer for every decision in the ministry. If Billy Graham would not operate without a support team, can any Christian leader believe that they don’t need one?
In Exodus, Moses literally needed the support of Aaron and Hur when the Israelites fought the Amalekites. While Moses held up his staff, the Israelites were winning the battle; but when he put his arms down, the Amalekites would start winning. Aaron and Hur made a place for Moses to sit down and then they held his tired arms up to ensure the victory (Exodus 17:8-16).
Moses couldn’t do it on his own. Moses who is listed among the great people of faith in Hebrews 11 needed help. Joshua was in the thick of the battle acting as Moses’ general. Aaron who was high priest and Hur was one of Moses’ aides had accompanied Moses up onto a mountain that overlooked the site of the battle. Aaron and Hur are the ones who diagnosed the problem and came up with the solution to Moses’ dilemma. By supporting Moses’ arms, they ensured that God’s power flowing through Moses would continue until the enemy was defeated.
Even with God’s power flowing through him Moses got tired. The same is true for any Christian leader, after all they are only human. No matter how filled with the Holy Spirit you are, you can’t do it on your own. Burn out is the top reason why many clergymen quite the ministry. Leaders need their strongest laypeople to come alongside them to support them.
These mature believers, operating out of Christian love, prior experience, and guidance from the Holy Spirit are a resource provided by God. They may be former church leaders themselves or possess a lifetime of experience sitting in the pew. These counselors, having a sense of the congregation are able to provide young leaders, especially, with insight or information they themselves may not perceive or possess. Leaders make decisions and these counselors may provide confirmation of a course of action before implementing it or suggest alternate possibilities for consideration. The counselors are not presently called to be leaders but are pillars which support leadership while living in the body.
Everyone, especially those in positions of authority need to be actively engaged in accountability relationships. They must be willing to place themselves into a situation where those who are capable can speak truth to power. These counselors must be able to pray intelligently for the leader by getting to know this person, not in a casual friendship type relationship, but in a strictly confidential, deliberate, honest, spiritual way.
Leadership tends to be an insular position, so it is not recommended that a leadership team serve exclusively as the support team for each other. Experienced members of the leadership team should be actively engaged in mentoring the new members and assist them in establishing their own support teams. This multi-layered approach should ensure that leaders remain in touch with and accountable to the church body which they oversee.
I attended a church for many years near my home where the denominational organizational chart for each congregation called for both a Pastor’s Cabinet and a Leadership team. The Pastor’s Cabinet was comprised of the elected delegates that represented the church at our annual conference. They would meet with the pastor to talk about issues facing the church and served as the team that would work with the conference superintendent when conducting a search for a new senior pastor. These people would serve for several years and would then be replaced by others voted into the position by the church membership during an annual election. The Leadership team was also elected by the church membership to serve for several years to discuss and plan for local church issues and events. There were even several other small groups such as a Worship committee that provided input on specific areas of ministry. With all of these dedicated people advising the pastor you’d think that he would have all the input necessary to make decisions, right?
One wise pastor who served there did something that many of his predecessors didn’t, he put out a call to the congregation for a prayer team. He wanted people to commit to pray for a specific member of the pastoral team. The pastors would then communicate to their prayer partners areas of specific needs both personally and in the life of the church that they needed others to lift up to the Throne of Grace. Like Billy Graham, this pastor got it. It’s not about technical, financial, or theological expertise, it is about the power of prayer. When we follow the admonition to “Be still and know” only then are we able to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit.
Pastors and other church leaders tend to be some of the busiest people I know, and it can be a challenge for them to truly be still. Don’t assume that because they have the title and responsibility that they don’t need specific prayer support. Prison is one of the noisiest places to live. There are only a few hours of the day when it is truly quiet in the housing unit, generally in the dead of night after lights out or during count time. There are also no places where when can go to be alone. Jesus set the example of retreating to a lonely place to pray and in prison it is hard to follow that example. I would use count time, the forced periods of inactivity that happened several times each day to read the Word, meditate and pray. These regular daily times provided me with the power, clarity of thought, sense of purpose, and direction that I needed to write what became the basis for many of the articles posted to this blog. It is what allowed me to redeem my time in such an evil place.
The secular model of leadership often paints leaders as strong, decisive, charismatic, and knowledgeable in their field of expertise. That is not how the Apostle Paul described Christian leadership. Below I have listed 12 characteristics from Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus. I have paraphrased them into modern language with the goal of making them practical in a prison setting.
Suggested Qualities for Leadership Team Candidates
- A mature believer- knowledgeable in the Word and grounded in prayer – 1 Timothy 1:18-2:4; 2 Timothy 3:10-17.
- Sensitive to the needs and concerns of the people – 1 Timothy 5:1-16
- Wise enough to know when to get out of the way and let others speak – 1 Timothy 1:3-7
- Always seeking to encourage and develop talent- grooming others for leadership – Titus 1:5.
- Has a good reputation both inside and outside of the church – 1 Timothy 3:7.
- A track record of involvement in available ministry activities; more than consistent attendance – Titus 3:14.
- Humble- has a real servant leadership mentality – Titus 1:6-9.
- Able to control his tongue – 1 Timothy 3:2-3.
- A passion for seeking the lost and teaching those new to the faith – Titus 2
- Willing to accept criticism, seek guidance, and work toward consensus as a team member – 2 Timothy 2:14-26.
- Willing to place himself into relationships where he can be mentored by those more senior to him in leadership, to develop his leadership skills – 2 Timothy 1:13-14.
- Willing to place himself into relationships where he can mentor those more junior to him in leadership, to develop their leadership skills – 2 Timothy 2:2-7.
There are many other characteristics that could be mentioned, but the point I’m trying to make is that God uses us whether or not we feel that we are ready, if we are willing to make ourselves available to be used as a vessel for the Holy Spirit, which is the one doing the work through us. We will make mistakes, but the best leaders are the ones who can admit their mistakes, learn from them, and continue to move forward.
The last observation I want to make is that Christian leaders have a bullseye painted on them by Satan. He works extra hard to bring down those who are in authority, because he thinks it undermines the message of the Gospel. All throughout Paul’s ministry he encountered opposition. An example is recorded in Acts 19:23-20:1 where there was a riot in the city of Ephesus, because the local silversmiths felt that Paul’s preaching of the Gospel was hurting their business of making idols of the local goddess Artemis. Paul had to leave Ephesus where he was having a tremendous ministry because of this and left Timothy to take over the ministry. Which takes us back to the beginning. A young leader finds himself in the position because the previous leader was ridden out. The very issues that the previous leader was dealing with will become your issues. Satan will come at you hard right out of the gate in order to stop you even before you’ve had a chance to get started. Paul reminded both Timothy and Titus about this in his letters. It will happen and you’ve got to be aware of it. The only protection you’ve got is prayer. James 5:16 says that “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” So, find some prayer warriors to go into battle with you because “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).
In closing I want to mention the second half of the title for this article. ‘Who is the Timothy to your Paul?’ If you are a seasoned ministry leader, who are you bringing along to lead after you’ve gone? Moses had Joshua to lead the children of Israel into the Promised land. Eli the High Priest mentored Samuel. The prophet Elijah mentored Elisha to be his successor as prophet to the nation of Israel. Jesus had the 12 disciples to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Don’t get so caught up in the daily struggles of ministry that you forget the future. Use the talents God has entrusted you with to multiply. Invest in the individuals whom God brings to you to grow and expand the ministry by teaching them the ropes and when the time comes delegating authority so that they can experience leadership while there is still someone there to guide them and answer their questions like Paul did.