The vital role of leadership in the church

Traditionally Matthew 9:38 has been a key text in the mission of the church to emphasize the call of missionaries to overseas work among the nations. Jesus declared to his disciples:

  • The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

No doubt this has been a primary text for various mission boards and para-church ministries throughout the previous decades. However, what has been often overlooked is the reason behind this proclamation. For just a moment, the narrator gives us an omniscient view into the mind of Jesus. In verse 36 the narrator explains:

  • When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

As Jesus is ministering among the people through teaching, preaching, and healing, he sees them in their greatest need. His thought although subtly through imagery speaks directly to that need. They were an oppressed people. And that oppression is directly linked to the absence of a leader. Thus, the root issue that incited Jesus to invoke the call of the harvest was that of leadership.

Now we know that there was a form of authority in Israel, a mere two verses earlier is the mention of a faction in the religious establishment, the Pharisees. However, their statement exposes their heart condition and their utter failure in true Mosaic intercession and humble leadership. While Jesus rescues the people from demonic oppression, they have the audacity to declare that he is actually in league with the devil.

From this climax, we watch as Jesus commissions new leadership to gather and lead his sheep. In very significant salvation-history imagery, Jesus calls new leadership by giving authority to twelve disciples to gather the house of Israel. One can’t help but recall the great prophet-priest of the distant past, Moses, as he gathered the twelve tribes of Israel in Egypt and prepared them to be led out of bondage and slavery.

We must recognize the absolute necessity that the proclamation of the gospel, the call of sinners to repentance and faith, the making of disciples, and the reaching of the nations can only be accomplished through solid Biblical leadership. This is precisely the reason for our ministry’s primary focus, namely pastoral training and mentorship.

There is one weakness in Filipino missions work especially in the province. Leadership development has often suffered at the expense of evangelism. Missionaries and church planters often spend a predominate amount of time evangelizing and planting many little churches. Because of the influx of converts, pastors are installed with little training in Biblical interpretation and even less preparation for the discipleship of their flock. Thus, missionaries often have been great at fulfilling the first part of the Great Commission, namely baptizing, while neglecting the second portion, that is teaching them to observe all the commands of Jesus. We want to place the Filipino church in a better position for spiritual maturity and purity by emphasizing the latter.

Now, how shall we go about accomplishing this? The Bicol region is composed of six provinces with roughly six million people. Currently there is no Protestant seminary that offers a M. Div. program. There are several small Bible schools which have the equivalent education level of a Bible Institute. Our desire and prayer is to establish a seminary that is very helpful to the development of the pastors’ Biblical understanding and leadership development.

Our philosophy is slightly nuanced from traditional Western models in that we want to maintain the emphasis upon Biblical knowledge and interpretation, while supplementing it with a robust leadership development track. This second unique feature will train the students in methodology for successful development of their own spiritual discipline and how they can successfully train leaders from among their flocks. Essentially, we want to develop leaders who can train leaders.

Historically, Western seminaries have left this area for the most part to the local church. That model is only successful if local churches have a strong discipleship and mentorship program and are cooperating in tandem with the seminary. However this is typically not the case. Moreover because of this separation, the students often see something quite different (I speak as one from experience). The student does not see this larger picture. Rather, they see in the seminary the pursuit for Bible knowledge as the ultimate goal and the highest good. Additionally, if the student enters the seminary without being joined to a strong local church with good mentorship, they never actually receive the necessary training in the spiritual disciplines and discipleship methodology. It seems that this may often be the reason for poor discipleship programs in the church and lack of spiritual maturity among congregants. Leadership is the key component.

Therefore, it is our plan to merge these two major areas of development for future pastors. Biblical interpretation and leadership development will form the foundation of our curriculum. We believe that this holistic model will have tremendous benefit for the local church in the Bicol region and ultimately for the advance of the gospel in Asia.