By Oswald J. Smith
“Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people” (Isaiah 55:4).
God’s plan is that His flock should be led by a Shepherd, not run by a Board. Committees are to advise, never to dictate. The Holy Spirit appoints men. The bishops and elders are given the care of the churches, never to committees. They are to be the overseers, the shepherds. Each one has his own flock. Because men have failed to recognize this, there has been trouble. When God’s plan is followed, all is well.
“The seven,” generally designated “deacons,” had no voice in the management of the church at all. They were chosen for the one and only purpose of distributing the daily food in an equal and orderly way, and for no other. It was their business to serve the tables.
The Bible knows of no other plan. All down through the centuries it has been the same. When God wanted something done, He chose a man, equipped and fitted him for the task, placed him at the head of His people and told them to follow and obey. Thus, arose the prophets, great mighty leaders who, having caught the vision, imparted it to others and carried out God’s purpose. Never did He select a committee; never did He choose a board. He called and commissioned men.
Almost all Bible history gathers around men, their birth and call, their work, their lives, the successes and failures, the things they did and taught, and finally, their death. Biography holds a large place in the sacred Record.
Think, if you will, of Abraham, of Jacob and of Joseph. God wants a nation and He chooses Abraham. He wants a Savior and He chooses Joseph – not a committee. And in the days of famine, Egypt has a one-man government. He wants a deliverer and He takes Moses. He might have gone to the elders of Israel and selected a board but He did not. His call is to one man. To him He gives the vision, and Moses becomes God’s representative, the great leader of His people.
Moses dies. Who now is to carry on? Do the people get together and choose a committee to guide them into the Promised Land? By no means! God sends them another leader. Joshua is anointed for the task (Num. 27:15-23). Later they get into difficulty. What do they do now? Form a committee? Not at all. They cry to God for a deliverer. They know God’s plan. They must have a leader, one man, to whom they can look. God answers and Samson is sent. And through all that dark, dark period, God’s plan operates. Judge after Judge is sent, until at last Samuel, the greatest of them all, becomes their leader.
The years go by. Another shepherd is needed. God tells Samuel to anoint David. Samuel dies and leaves – not a committee – but a shepherd boy. Thus, David, God’s anointed, becomes the Shepherd of Israel. Years later, when the nation has backslidden, Elijah appears and other great prophets, kings and reformers, who turn the people back to God.
In the New Testament era, it is the same. First, it is John the Baptist. Then Jesus, God’s only Begotten Son. Now comes the launching of the Church. How is it to be done? By a Board? No. By men filled with the Holy Ghost. Peter goes to the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles, and so the task is accomplished.
Next, the mighty reformers: Luther, Calvin, Knox, and others, heralds of the Reformation. Again there is work to do, and revivalists are needed. Wesley is chosen and with him, Whitefield. Later, Finney, Spurgeon, Moody, etc. Foreign fields are to be reached and Carey, Judson, Livingstone and Taylor hear the call, see the vision, and go. And if boards were formed and committees chosen, it was after and not before. It was because God’s man, hearing, obeyed and imparted the vision to others. And the committees were formed, not to control and command, mark you, not to dictate, but to help and cooperate, and to assist their God-chosen leaders.
But what is to be done when the leader dies? Shouldn’t the committee carry on? Yes, but how? Ah, here is where the mistake is made! It is now that the most subtle of all dangers appears. The first temptation is to take the work out of the leader’s hands, while he is still alive, to begin to dictate. That is always disastrous. Destruction is certain to follow such an innovation.
The leader must hold his God-given place at the head. He will welcome advice, cooperation and help that he will need, but dictation he must reject. The flesh covets power. Hence, boards, if led by the flesh, will assume more and more a tone of authority, until at last they will become utterly unworkable. The Holy Ghost will be grieved, the glory depart and the work cease.
But when the leader dies, what then? Well, what then? Has God another plan? Does His policy change? By no means. The committee will be tempted to take over all power and authority and seek to carry on. But sooner or later, the work will fall into decay, the vision pass away, and the committee dissolve. What then is the committee to do? Choose another leader. Get down before God and cry for a divinely-chosen successor. Seek God’s man, the man with God’s vision for the work. God will have him ready. There is always an Elisha upon whom the mantle of Elijah will fall.
And when he appears, follow him. Give to him the same loyal support and cooperation as the founder. Seek his vision. Get his view point. Accept his plans. If he is wise, he will want the counsel of his brethren; he will welcome the advice of his committee. Therefore, instead of dictating, assist him, for if he is God’s man, he will have God’s vision. Even though his plans and methods may be utterly different, they will be eminently successful. To hold back and question, to block and thwart, to oppose and criticize is to invite disaster.
The committee or board that dares to take over the management instead of choosing God’s divine-appointed leader, will find their time largely occupied with questions of law and order, and their efforts blocked by self-made constitutional restrictions, until they are burdened beyond measure with the necessity of making endless amendments in order that their actions may be legalized. When such a condition obtains and the days are thus spent, it is high time to scrap the constitution.
The danger of expending untold energy on mere words and phrases in which no one apart from those deeply versed in the legal side of things ever offers a suggestion, and the placing of numerous motions on the books that pertain so often to small non-essentials, is to starve and stultify the entire movement.
Where glowing reports of advancement, problems in connection with the task, ways and means of prosecuting the work, and prayer for God’s guidance and blessing – in a word, where the spiritual is emphasized, there is bound to be dissatisfaction and terrible disappointment. A return to God’s plan is the only remedy.
The most successful kind of management is that of appointment and dismissal. There isn’t a business firm in the world that could carry on under any other system. If a man is eligible for the position he receives an appointment. If he fails to be good, he is dismissed. It was thus at the beginning. Paul ordained or appointed elders in every church. Any other order is not only unscriptural but unworkable.
If a business firm were to govern itself as churches do, it would go bankrupt in no time. Think of the president of a large company choosing a committee to assist and advise him in the management of the business. Think of him giving the committee power to legislate, vote, and decide important issues. Think of him being compelled to abide by the decision of the majority even when he knew the policy adopted would spell utter ruin. And then think of that committee, failing to get his vision, opposed to his policy, finally voting him out altogether, robbing him, as it were, of his own child, and taking over the management themselves. I wonder how many weeks or months it would take them to totally wreck the great business enterprise which he had spent long years building up?
I am thinking now of just such tragedies in the religious world, and there are many of them. A pastor prays, toils and travails until at least he gives birth to a God-imparted vision. Of his own free will he invites a number of men to associate themselves with him in the care of this child, dearer to him than life itself. But they disagree with his policy even though the child for which he has sacrificed everything is in a flourishing condition; and finally, through their lack of appreciation and vision, they force him to abandon his offspring, thinking they, in their blindness, know better how to care for it.
He goes, his soul wrung with anguish, his heart torn and bleeding. He appeals to those higher up, but in vain. They compromise with the usurpers, ignore what he has done, and let him suffer on. The men whom he was kind enough to invite, in whom he trusted, now take charge. The child grows weaker and weaker. Common sense would tell them to send in desperation for the father to save it, but no, they prefer to watch its death struggles as it gasps for life, knowing not that they have wrought its ruin. Oh, when will we awaken! God help us to get the vision.
If a leader is worthy of the position, he is worthy to be followed. If he cannot be trusted, he ought not to be the leader. The man who is qualified to be the pastor of a congregation is entitled to the loyal allegiance and support of every member of his flock. If the official board feels that they must run the church and that he must take his orders and get his vision from them, then they ought not to have him as their pastor at all.
I know of a certain church, founded by a leader divinely chosen and commissioned, that prospered exceedingly as long as God’s order was followed. The committee caught the vision and followed to a man. Crowds gathered, souls were saved, and believers edified. Money flowed in until all debts were paid and thousands of dollars sent to the foreign field. The Devil attacked from the outside in every conceivable way and failed. Finally, he struck from within. First one man began to question and oppose God’s chosen leader, the pastor of the work. The seed thus sown, took root in the heart of another, who at first compromised, then completely sided with the other.
Gradually the opposition deepened and spread, until at last the leader, whom everyone freely admitted was God’s man in God’s place, rather than fight those who had missed the plan of the Holy Ghost and commenced first to dictate, then to oppose, resigned. But that was the end of peace, blessing and prosperity. They had touched God’s anointed. The crowds disappeared, souls no longer sought the enquiry rooms, division and strife characterized the meetings of the committee, and finally the glory departed. Oh, what a catastrophe! And all because a committee, failing to recognize the Holy Ghost, began to dictate instead of follow.
Strange to say, there seemed to be no repentance, that is, on the part of those responsible. They watched the crowds decrease and the money fail. They saw the thronging multitudes scattered all over the city, absorbed by other works. The time came when there were only a handful attending. The enquiry rooms were no longer filled with souls seeking Christ. Yet, they made no effort to get God’s chosen leader back, even though he was still available; even though he had humbled himself many times and had freely offered to do all in his power to save the work. Ah, no, there was no penitence, no humility on the part of those who had touched the ark and wrecked everything.
They first called another man, thinking it made no difference who came so long as he was capable. But he was not God’s choice and before long he left. Then they turned to another, this time the best they could find, and in him they built their hopes. Surely, they thought, he will succeed. But they were still blind to God’s plan. The crowds disappeared like snow before the sun. Troubles of all kinds arose, and at last, he, too, had to leave. Whereas, had they been willing to humble themselves and restore the work to its rightful leader, it would have flourished and prospered at once.
Of course, God blessed His leader, blessed him abundantly in other fields, even though He could not bless the work that had been kept from him. For several years he waited, waited in sorrow and anguish of heart, broken, humbled, crushed. Waited, thinking continually that the usurpers would come to their senses at last and right the wrong; but in vain. And finally God led him into other work and did more for him than ever before. It seemed at first that he had lost all. His own beloved child had been taken. But in reality, he gained all. For their loss was his gain, whereas his gain might have been theirs as well.
It was because of this that Korah and his company perished. They became jealous, you remember, and objected to the God-ordained leadership of Moses and Aaron. “Ye take too much upon you. Wherefore lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?”” thus they argued. There were two-hundred and fifty of them, and they thought they should be a committee to guide the destinies of Israel, and in Moses’ answer he makes it plain that by murmuring against him and against Aaron, they had “gathered together against the Lord.”
Serious, is it not? “Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm” (1 Cor. 16:22), is God’s command. How did it end? Why, the way it always ends – in judgment – terrible, awful beyond description. The earth opened, and with their wives and children, their flocks and herds, their tents and all that was theirs, they went down alive, and the earth closed over them until they were sealed in death. It pays to let God’s leaders lead (Num. 16).
Well do I remember a great leader with whom it was my privilege at one time to labour. He had on his board men with very little vision, and they endeavored to harness him. He must work in the old rut; he must obey the letter of the law and adhere strictly to the constitution. He stood it as long as he could, and at last, after they had wrecked him in health, and burdened him until he could bear no more, he went away and died of a broken heart. Nor has the work every prospered since. Oh, my brethren, if God favors you by giving one of His chosen and anointed servants, a true leader, follow him. Give him rein; and when you cannot understand, trust. God has him in hand and God will lead him through.
If he is a real leader, remember, he will make mistakes. The man who never makes mistakes never does anything. I would rather make a hundred mistakes and accomplish something than to make no mistakes and accomplish nothing. Mistakes are not sins. Man always has and always will err. God allows him to blunder again and again in order to teach him and keep him humble.
Give me a leader who blunders but gets somewhere rather than one who stays in the old rut, never makes a mistake nor anything else. I know a man whose blunders are legion. That same man, because he is a man of God, because his heart is right, and because he has God’s vision, in the midst of his mistakes and in spite of blunders, is doing things for the Kingdom that not one of his critics would ever dare attempt. God can use such a man.
When a war breaks out, men are sent into battle, not under a committee but under a general. In the great war of 1914-18, it became necessary to unite forces under the command of one man, Foch. The disagreement of a committee on the field of battle, and the delay necessitated by voting would have lost the day. Every nation recognizes that. When a vessel puts out to sea, it is placed under the command of a captain, and his word is supreme. No ship would dream of sailing with a committee in charge. The word of one man is law. And so it is in every crisis situation. The power must be held by one man. To get things done requires a head. And a true leader, worthy of responsibility, will accomplish what no board in the world could ever hope to do. Why then try to attempt, in the spiritual realm, that which cannot be done in the natural? Verily, the children of this world are wiser than the children of light.
God’s ideal government, remember, is a theocracy, an absolute monarchy, with Jesus Christ as the Monarch. The Devil also has the same plan. He will, before long, produce the Antichrist, the superman, a dictator, the world’s leader. And mark you, it will be the strongest government ever set up. Later, God will send Jesus to reign as King of kings. To Him no committee will dare dictate, nor will He bow to any board. No, not even a committee of angels and archangels with Gabriel as chairman. His word will be law. That is how God will get things done, and that is His chosen plan in human leadership, even now.
Leadership is priceless. Money cannot compensate for the services rendered. Despise it not, therefore, but accept it as from God. It is His plan. He has no other. It is yours to follow for where God gives a leader, He always gives others to be led. When He sends a shepherd, He always has a flock to be shepherded. One man must lead, many follow. And as your leader follows Christ, you follow him, for God’s plan is that His flock should be led by a shepherd, not run by a board. Committees are to advise, never to dictate. The Holy Spirit anoints men.
“Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and a commander to the people” (Isa. 55:4).