Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you.
(1 Timothy 4:15b-16)
Being in leadership can sometimes be described as being "under a magnifying glass and inside a goldfish bowl."
It can feel like a goldfish bowl because everyone can see your life. There is no hiding. When we fail, people notice. When our actions don't match our beliefs, people notice.
And it can feel like a magnifying glass because character flaws and weaknesses that can be hidden or remain inconsequential in the normal routine of everyday life, become magnified in their impact and severity when we are responsible for leading others.
People are watching you! Your church leaders are watching; your key youth leader or youth pastor is watching; your peers in leadership are watching; the young people you lead are watching.
With this in mind, Paul offers Timothy three pieces of advice
Firstly he exhorts him to "throw himself into his tasks". In other words, work hard! There is no place for laziness in leadership; there is no place for settling for second best. Elsewhere he talked about the "building material" we use as we lead. "Each person's work will be tested by fire," he writes, exhorting his readers to figuratively build with "gold silver and jewels" instead of "wood, hay and straw" (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). In other words, work hard and well.
The second challenge Paul issues to Timothy is to "watch how you live". In these days of social media when everyone has a camera in their pocket and the potential to quickly disseminate information, the warning is more true for us than ever. "How would I feel if my youth leader/pastor know I was doing this?" "How would I feel if the young people (and their parents?) saw me right now?"
It's not enough simply to avoid evil. We must give no appearance of evil. What we're doing and how we're living may be OK, but if it doesn't look good to someone else, or if it leads them into sin, then we need to avoid it, lest it causes them to stumble (1 Corinthians 8:9,10).
Finally, Paul says, "Stay true to what is right". A leader must not only develop a good grasp of Scripture and theology; they must hold to this truth they've learnt. Paul's great fear for the church was the reality that there were people seeking to undermine what he taught, claiming that both Jews and Gentiles needed to still keep the Old Testament Law. These people had a wrong understanding of grace and what Christ had accomplished for all.
Sometimes we come across teaching that's new to us or different to what we've been taught. What we hear or read can initially sound very convincing and in our enthusiasm we can latch on to what we read or hear and start teaching the same thing to other people. We do so without really understanding other points of view or the wider implications of this "new belief".
When you come across something new that you're tempted to take as being true, spend some time doing some research. What other views are out there? Talk to a pastor or elder and get their take on what you're hearing.
When you believe something that is false it can negatively impact your faith, but when you're a leader and you believe something that is false, it can impact, not just your faith, but the faith of those you lead.
So throw yourself into leadership, but as you do, watch how you live and strive to stay true to what is right. When you do this you'll accomplish much!
What do these three instructions mean for me? Which of them am I most susceptible to? What do I need to do differently, not only for my own benefit but for the benefit of those I lead?
By Murray Brown
CCCNZ Youth Enabler