Leading by Stricter Judgment in James 3:1

That’s right, only one verse to consider in this Interruptions.

Let not many of us become teachers, brothers and sisters, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment.  James 3:1

Those who teach God’s word, and become known as leaders in the church, face greater scutiny in their thoughts, words, and actions.

Yesterday, I was walking a bike path and while passing a woman, she said, “Are you Grant Edwards?” I admit, sometimes I want to deny my identity because I don’t know what it is coming next.

I resisted and replied, “Yes.” She said, “I heard that you had COVID. How are you doing?” I had not seen this lady in years. Yet, she heard that I was sick. I appreciated the concern and her prayers.

However, imagine the rumors, gossip, and disdain for Christ if I had committed adultery.

With my stature as a pastor of 48 years, one slight stumble – not even a major category stumble – would bring the church that I pastor, and even all Christians in my community, into disdain.

Realizing this, I have prayed for years that I would finish well in ministry.

There are opposites of the “stricter judgment” principle:  If I do wrong, I shouldn’t be surprised if I make headlines, while others and their difficulties go unnoticed. I agreed to this price when I became a pastor. On the other side, I have more influence with my words and teaching than others.

A cross of blessing and responsibility born with giving and receiving forgiveness.

I memorized James 3:1 at the beginning of my ministry and my plan to walk the “stricter judgment path” included both responsibility and grace, along with the following:

A simple plan:

  • Pray, and then talk to others about major decisions. Give others permission to speak to me boldly. Yes, speak loudly, as I’m not a listener. Note: I have lots of people giving me advice and what some call “prophecies.” I listen more carefully to those who walk with me relationally. Someone with a word for me that I barely know registers as a “3” while my wife registers a “10.”
  • Confess quickly. Make amends. King Solomon said, when dedicating the temple, “There is no man who does not sin!” (2 Kings 8:46). Some of my mistakes have been huge – like leading the church that I pastor into a financial crisis five years ago. I’ve learned that admitting mistakes/sins often develops a better reputation than great vision.
  • Step aside. I’m going through succession at my church, and a simple definition of succession is “stepping aside.” I have practiced this principle my entire ministry. I used to be in charge of the accounting books, I organized the newsletter, I was the only speaker, I set up the sound system. Since I pioneered a church, I’ve done everything – but all were tasks where I stepped aside to let someone better take over. Leaders/Teachers/Pastors stumble from the burnout of not discipling other leaders.

The church in America has witnessed spectacular stumbling by pastors. In our community, churches and ministries have been hindered by unwise processes of decision making from their leaders.

A final note:  A scriptural leadership style is a process of humble listening followed by decisive leadership. I emphasize “process” as decisions made with listening leavening.

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