Focused on the Word (a meditation on church leadership)

This was because Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of the Lord and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel. ~ Ezra 7:10

Pick up a book on leadership, or pick up four dozen—there’s a lot of information and opinions out there about what makes a good leader. You might find, even in church leadership books, a focus on wit, personality, relatability, and the likes. Yet God’s primary focus seems to always be character and devotion to his word.

The book of Ezra describes how after 70 years of exile in Babylon and then Persia, the Jews received a decree from King Cyrus fulfilling what God had promised: you can return to your land and rebuild the temple and cities. There were ups and downs along the way, victories on the one hand and attempts by enemies and subsequent kings to stop the work on the other. Yet work they did, and the temple they rebuilt.

Years later a descendant of Aaron named Ezra returned to Jerusalem with a group of exiles. In the book bearing his name, his story begins with the description, “The gracious hand of his God was on him.” And why? Because he set himself to know, obey, and teach well God’s word (7:9-10). And so it was throughout the Old Testament: the good kings and leaders were the ones who did the same. They wanted to know God’s word so they could live it and lead the people in living it. The evil kings were the ones who neglected it and led the people astray.

Come to the New Testament and you find the same. Titus 1 talks about the character of elders as church leaders. They must be hospitable, lovers of good, self-controlled, and above reproach. They must not be drunkards, violent, greedy, or quick-tempered. And they must know the word well so they can teach it to others and rebuke those who contradict it.

Character and devotion to the word.

Why are these so important? Because it is through the Bible and prayer that we connect with God in relationship—hearing him speak and speaking to him. And it is the character of Jesus we are to emulate, as Jesus himself said: “Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35). Or as Paul wrote as a Christian leader: “And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

So Christian, if you strive to be a leader (an honorable ambition, as 1 Timothy 3:1 says), strive to be immersed in God’s word so you may learn it, live it, and share it; and let his word shape you to be more like Jesus. And if you are looking for good leaders in a church, look for those who strive to be immersed in God’s word and who seek to imitate the character of our Savior.

ezra 7

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.

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