LEADING WITH CONVICTIONS THAT MATTER
By: F. Joe Ellis
While my wife and I were shopping for a car, a salesman looked at us and asked, “Are you folks Pentecostals?” He went on to explain that he could not help but notice the way my wife and daughter were dressed.
We soon found out that this man was raised Pentecostal from a child. He was proud to tell us of the lifestyle of his godly grandparents. His grandfather was an early pioneer of the Pentecostal movement and preached the gospel up until his death.
As he spoke, I could see conviction in his eyes. Acting a bit uneasy, he tried to justify his new young pastor’s reasoning for dissolving standards of discipline and holiness in the church that he had been taught from childhood were right. No doubt he realized I wasn’t convinced. With an apologetic look on his face he said, “I guess, Pastor, times have changed.”
My reply to him was, “Yes, Jim, times have changed, but the Word of God hasn’t changed!” He could only nod his head in agreement.
The problem was not merely the liberal teachings of this man’s new pastor. The real problem was his own lack of personal convictions in the heart for right and wrong. He followed certain standards at one time in his life but never formed them into convictions that became a lifestyle.
Sadly, this case is far from the exception; it has become much too common. This story, along with others like it, illustrates the power of influence that leaders have in the church. Leaders are responsible not just for our own lives but also for those who follow their guidance and example.
Those of us who are striving to be effective Christian leaders need to ask ourselves, honestly, some basic questions: (1) Does the United Pentecostal Church International have biblical support for the standards it maintains concerning morality, holiness, and ethics? (2) Are there genuine convictions that are biblically based and not just personally formed? (3) Are there rights and wrongs that are right and wrong for all and not just a few?
If our answer is yes to any or all of these questions, then it is our responsibility as leaders to see to it that biblical teachings become more than rules for people to follow. May God help us all to be leaders and pastors with deep-seated convictions in the heart that cannot be uprooted by changing times or modern religion that promotes conversion without change!
Several years ago, Pastor Duane Kramer made a statement that had a great impact on my life as a father as well as a pastor. He said, “What we do in moderation as parents, our children will do in excess.” This principle also holds true in the church regarding its leadership. Rarely will the laity of a local church fully live up to the standard of those they follow. This is also true in the corporate world, as well as the military, sports, and so on. Leaders must always live and maintain a higher standard than those who follow them. It is imperative for church leadership to be a visible, living example of biblical standards and morality. As T.F. Tenney said, “Pastors, if you want your church to bleed, then you’ve got to hemorrhage.”
Standards and disciplines of holy living go beyond keeping a set of rules. They need to be Bible-based convictions in the heart of every Christian leader.
C.M. Becton once said, “Don’t tear down a fence until you know why it was erected.” Most people can see through half-hearted compliance by disgruntled leaders who simply want to maintain a position or title. A leader’s divisive attitude often breeds rebellion in a church, sowing discord and confusion in the hearts of many new and older Christians alike. It creates doubt and becomes a stumbling block to understanding important Bible truths, especially those that pertain to church standards and discipline. Tragically, many followers of such leaders turn their back on all truth and lose out completely with God. Leaders, above all, must not live double standards. Those we are leading are also watching.
Before a pastor trusts the flock to those he desires to appoint as leaders, he needs to make sure that the truth is in their hearts and not just in their heads. People will be influenced and led by others, either for good or for bad. Ability and talent are not substitutes for a godly example.
While church standards and disciplines vary somewhat from church to church, convictions based on Bible truth go beyond mere standards. Followers might keep standards they see others keep. Leaders must develop convictions in the heart that cannot be removed or changed. “Buy the truth, and sell it not” (Proverbs 23:23), regardless of what others do.
Two examples in Scripture illustrate the need for personal convictions in the heart: Joseph’s resistance to Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:9) and the Rechabites’ refusal to sway from the teachings of their father (Jeremiah 35).
In the first example, Joseph’s reply to Potiphar’s wife was, “How could I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” Even though he had no one to answer to but an Egyptian, Joseph had convictions that ran deeper in his heart than his own personal, fleshly desires. We all feel the pressure and the temptation from time to time to lower our standards. We must remember, however, that God’s Word has not changed! Leaders need convictions that matter!
In the second example, the Rechabites refused to drink wine and sway from the teachings of their father. God used them as an example to Israel, and as an example to us today.
“And Jeremiah said unto the house of the Rechabites, Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Because ye have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father, and kept all his precepts, and done according unto all that he hath commanded you: therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me for ever ” (Jeremiah 35:18-19).
The prophet Jeremiah set wine in front of the Rechabites, but they would not drink it. Why? They had convictions that meant something to them. The standards taught to them by their father became strong convictions in their heart that not even the prophet could change. Their father did not have to be present to make sure they maintained and kept his teachings. The convictions transmitted to them by their father not only preserved their lives from captivity but also brought an eternal promise and blessing to their offspring. Jonadab left his children an inheritance more valuable than money or land. He left them a standard of holiness to live by.
The next generation cannot afford for this present one to dissolve its adherence to godly convictions and standards that God’s Word has given to keep us free from worldly bondage. Lower standards never draw people closer to God – only closer to the world.
At times a leader may question the importance of some standards of the church, but he should not hastily discard them. Lowering his standards may open a door to those he is leading that could result in their spiritual death, not to mention his own. We must always – remember that as leaders in the highest calling on the earth, the decisions we make and the standards we keep will affect others.
“But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation (lifestyle); because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (I Peter 1:15-16).
“Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
Yes, there are convictions that matter – godly convictions – convictions that are more than personal feelings, but Bible truths. They are right, regardless of who says they are wrong, irrelevant, or old-fashioned. This is the hour for true Apostolic Christian leaders everywhere to raise their standards, not lower them. The responsibility of preserving and transmitting truth to the hearts of this present-day church, as well as the generation to come, rests upon the shoulders of those who are leading now!
The next generation is dependent upon us! And let us keep in mind, a good example to follow is always better than a mistake to avoid.
(The above material appeared in the October-December 1992 issue of FORWARD.)
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