A Mini Case Study on Church Leadership

Every Christian provides leadership in some capacity. But everyone doesn’t have the needed character and competency for every position.

We’d call this letter a ballad if it were set to music. Click this link, and read these 14 verses of 3rd John.

Listen to how the Holy Spirit commends Gaius, condemns Diotrephes, and recommends Demetrius. John had specific ideals about church leaders because he learned from within our Lord’s inner circle. This study shows us the relevant challenges the Church faces. It shows us real people in the real world.

The bottom line is that servanthood is the defining trait of Christian leadership.

Pretend what follows is a mirror, and see if your reflection resembles these three.

Gaius (Guy-us) was a truth leader.

John addressed this letter to Gaius, a pastoral leader in this local church. John loved him, prayed for him, and rejoiced over him. He was over the top with commendations for Gaius. Truth is the trait at the top of his list. Because Gaius walks in the truth, he’s a friend of Jesus, Who is the Truth (John 14:6). So, John is gushing with commendation.

Others have “testified of the truth” in Gaius. John, the elder, is the oldest living Apostle of Christ at this writing. As a godly mentor, he told the younger Gaius, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” Gaius’ truth walking is seen in at least two ways. He practices hospitality to strangers and his church family. And his “love” for people is known. These qualities ooze from his generous spirit.

Diotrephes (Dee-oht-treh-fez) was a divisive position holder.

We don’t know what official position Diotrephes held in the local church. He was influential, but his influence was NOT Christ-like! In contrast to Gaius, Diotrephes was an infamous example of the dark side.

Diotrephes burnt John’s bacon! Why? John knew servanthood is the defining trait of Christian leadership. And he had no intention of tiptoeing around this charlatan. In 2 verses (9-10), 4 charges are read against him.

1) Diotrephes was self-motivated to be first, which runs against the grain of leadership. Christian leadership is giving your best without having to be first. Our text teaches us that Diotrephes “loves to have preeminence” – he “loves being in charge” (9). But Jesus says, “it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28). God insists that His people conform to the servanthood image of His Son. But Diotrephes resented being a servant, and that’s the first charge.

2) While resentment is an inward problem of the heart, it led Diotrephes to “not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.” The Early Church Apostles would send out different teachers to different locations. Hospitable lodging by other Christians was an absolute necessity! But hospitality is not always convenient or comfortable. It doesn’t always fit in with our plans.

Lest we miss it, let me state it clearly. Hospitality goes hand in hand with servanthood. Every one of us is called to be on the hospitality team because we are called to follow Christ in servanthood.

The second count: Diotrephes refused hospitality to traveling Christians. He didn’t like making other people feel welcome in his house or church because he was the most important person in his life. If your friend visited this church, you’d usher them to sit far away from him.

3) It’s also written that Diotrephes “does not receive us.” Another translation records that phrase as “refuses to recognize my authority” (AMP). And another says it like this, “refuses to listen to me” (TLB). John was handpicked and educated by the Lord Himself. But Diotrephes held a doctorate in disrespect. He did not have a teachable spirit. Many people want to hold a leadership position, but they despise submission to anyone. Their life’s soundtrack is “I did it my way” (Sinatra). But you will never become whom Christ has called you to be if you’re not teachable.

4) If this were baseball, Diotrephes would be out on the first three strikes. But Christian leadership is not a game. Alas, there’s a final charge against him. Diotrephes was guilty of “prating against us with malicious words.” He hurt people with his words. Maybe he did it with the acid of sarcasm. Perhaps he did it with the poison of gossip. Or maybe he just told bald-faced lies. Regardless of how he did it, it was wrong. Words are powerful tools that determine the atmosphere of your life. They are either building up or tearing down (construction or destruction).

Demetrius was a faithful man with a good report.

John holds Demetrius up as a truth walker with a good example worth following. It’s possible in my mind that Demetrius delivered this letter to Gaius. John wanted Demetrius to be treated well as a traveling minister.

Demetrius had an excellent reputation and was endorsed by the Apostle of Love. He was recommended because of his faithfulness. It’s evident that in John’s mind, Demetrius was the opposite of Diotrephes.

Consider this analysis of the matter.

All of God’s servants could fall into one of the following categories. Some act as though they are slaves of our sovereign and serve Him out of fear. Others act as though they are mere hirelings and serve Him for wages (or the good they get from it). But many more of His servants know they’re children of God and serve our Father because they love Him supremely. That last category is the one we all want to be in.

Nevertheless, when someone causes more problems than they solve, they become the biggest problem. Don’t lose sight of the fact that Diotrephes was such a severe problem that the Holy Spirit called him out for all posterity to learn from his infamous example. I doubt that any of us are as extreme as Diotrephes. Instead, we tend to see everything we do through self-righteousness as an attempt to help others. But what if instead of helping, you’re causing division and destruction?!

Servanthood is the defining trait of Christian leadership. While Diotrephes was known for the negative drama he perpetuated, Gaius and Demetrius were recognized for the value they added. So don’t be a Diotrephes! Be a commendable leader like Gaius. And choose to be a recommendable servant like Demetrius.

Trust is the main issue at stake in church leadership.

Companies sometimes have staff audits. The point is to ensure that the right people are in the right place, doing the right things in the right way. This audit analyzes who is where and whether they are producing at the level they should be for their position. The audit asks, “Do each staff member’s job and productivity contribute to the company’s goals?”

Because every Christian provides leadership in some capacity, God is asking a similar question today. How does your life contribute to His Kingdom?

Take it personally. Can God trust you to do your part? Can He trust you to follow Him when it’s not all about you? Can God trust you to act as His hands of healing instead of using yours to stir up confusion and drama?

I dare you to take some extended time to examine yourself and pray through these questions.

If you’d prefer to listen to the spoken ministry version of this message, you can click this link for the recorded live stream. The message begins at about the 36:30 mark.

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