Leadership: Paul and Cultivation

Paul would not be everyone’s idea of a leader. Ruggedly individualistic, a pioneer willing to strike out on his own, never having run an organization, and with little experience in hiring and firing, there was little to commend Paul for exemplary leadership skills.

Yet we should not quickly dismiss his application for this role. Here was a man with vision who could communicate that vision to others. Inspiring, devoted to his vision, he accomplished great things and set in motion an evangelical movement which “turned the world upside down.” He was a visionary, a man not afraid to take risks, a man who had a goal and stuck to it with tenacity. His skill in handling others, recognizing temperaments and handling them with insight and wisdom, all commended him for leadership status.

It is tempting to write of Paul as seen in Acts 27, and the voyage and shipwreck. The captive becomes the captain of the ship; the prisoner becomes the pilot, and the man in chains suddenly takes control of everything. He emerges in an hour of crisis and takes control. His confidence and example amidst the storm should mark every leader. A review of that incident would convince anyone of Paul’s ability as a leader.

Paul’s greatest asset, however, the feature which highlights his leadership skills, was his ability to inspire and develop others in the service of God. To accomplish this required several things:

An Awareness that the Work Does not End with Me

Each of us is only a small part of a great work which God is doing. Even Paul, perhaps the greatest evangelist who ever lived, did not view himself as indispensable. While he recognized dangers and decline which would occur on his departure (Acts 20:29, 30), he was not an old man filled with pessimistic forebodings. He did not think that his death would mean the cessation of the work which God was doing. Imprisoned in a dark Roman prison cell, he was sending men out to further the work. His vision for the future was still clear and undiminished (2 Tim 4:10-12). Moses-like, his “eye was not dim.”

Age brings with it the liability of viewing younger men and newer efforts with suspicion and, at times, disdain. Paul never fell prey to that tendency. Times do change. God’s Word, God’s principles, and God’s faithfulness remain the same. Yet each is called to serve his “own generation” (Acts 13:36). Thus the circumstances and manner of serving today may not be a carbon copy of what happened 100 years ago. Paul valued the fellowship of other men and fostered their service and fruitfulness. The closest approach to being critical of another is his comment on Demas’ defection (2 Tim 4:10).

Leadership’s inherent danger: confusing responsibility for indispensability

It is crucial that a leader recognize his responsibility to the Lord and then to the flock. But none of us is indispensable. The assembly is greater than the leader. The saints are the primary thing, as Paul makes clear in the order of his greetings in Philippians 1:1. Leaders must look to the future. A leader who does not think of a successor is not a successful leader!

An Awareness that God Desires to Use Others

Think of the vast array of men who touched Paul’s life and were touched by him. There are at least ten or more whose names come readily to mind: Timothy, Titus, Tychicus, Trophimus, Epaphroditus, Erastus, Demas, Priscilla and Aquilla, Luke, Mark, Barnabas, and Silas. To this could be added other names that very likely represent lives influenced in some way by this prescient leader. Names such as Philemon, Onesimus, Crescens, Sopater, Aristarchus, and Secundus.

What is vital to see is that Paul never used these for his own purposes. In prison, suffering privation and basic necessities, he dispatched Crescens to Galatia, Tychicus to Ephesus, and Titus to Dalmatia (2 Tim 4:10, 12). The work was bigger than the man; the usefulness of others was more important than his own needs. Apollos must be allowed to move in light of his own exercise and the will of God (1 Cor 16:12). Mark may have a checkered past but Paul will encourage and support when the time is right (2 Tim 4:11; Col 4:10).

An Awareness that Men Need to be Developed

Paul did not conduct training seminars or leadership conferences. He did not send out manuals with “how-to” instructions. But his letters to both Timothy and Titus indicate that he recognized the need for these men to develop the ability to deal with the problems they faced in their individual spheres. Titus would need to learn to speak with authority and urgency, not being deterred by the opinion some might have of his youth (Titus 2:15). Wisdom in dealing with different age groups, different needs, and men were all areas of instruction which Paul committed to him (Titus 1:10-13, 2:1-10).

To follow Paul’s use of Titus as his messenger to different assemblies, the various needs involved, and the gradual assumption of greater responsibility is to understand the wisdom of Paul in his handling of this servant. He is linked with Jerusalem, Crete, Corinth, Dalmatia, Macedonia, and Achaia with varying burdens for each. In a similar manner, his patient development of Timothy can be traced through his writings.

An Awareness that Servants are Different

One of Paul’s greatest assents is that he did not try to create men in “his own image.” He allowed each man to be the man God intended. Timothy was not Titus. The one was perhaps of a more timid and introspective nature. Timothy may not have had the confidence that he was up to the task assigned him at Ephesus. It does not appear from reading the epistles to Titus and Timothy, that Paul had to give Titus as much encouragement and support as he did to Timothy. So whether it was due to personality differences or to difficulties inherent to the work in Ephesus, Paul had to encourage and strengthen Timothy more than Titus.

Anyone who has been used of God has learned the need to be himself or herself, even while valuing the ability and godliness of those who have gone before. Leaders must have the discernment to recognize the strengths of those whom they are encouraging and bringing forward, to build upon those strengths, and to recognize what God is providing for the future.