Wisdom is one of our greatest needs. As finite, fallen creatures, navigating the twists and turns of a complex, chaotic world, we often find ourselves at a loss for what to do next. And that’s only when we stop to consider the tough decisions.
Perhaps even more significant is the wisdom we exercise intuitively in all the little decisions in life we don’t pause to ponder. The overwhelming majority of our actions are not premeditated, but decided instinctively, without reflection. What comes out in these moments is either a trajectory of life with self at the center, or walking in various measures in step with the Spirit.
And the stakes are even higher for leaders, who are making decisions for others.
Tale of Two Wisdoms
James 3:13–18 draws a clear contrast between two kinds of wisdom: earthly wisdom and “the wisdom that comes down from above” (James 3:15). There is a kind of wisdom, exercised by humans, of human origin, and there is another kind — the true wisdom, exercised by humans, but of divine origin. One is heavenly, spiritual, and godly. The other, “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (James 3:15).
Fortunately, our Father is an exceedingly generous giver, and he loves to respond with favor when we humbly petition him for wisdom (James 1:5). It is good to pray often for wisdom for yourself — and it is one of the most important things you can pray for your leaders.
Consider James 3:17 as a guide for praying for what our leaders would be.
The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
First, pray for your leaders’ purity. Sexual purity, yes, especially in our highly sexualized society, but “pure” here is so much more than simply that.
“It is good to pray often for wisdom for yourself — and it is one of the most important things you can pray for your leaders.”
Pray that they would be pure in their conduct, blameless, meaning “above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6–7). Pray that their motives would be pure, not mixed (2 Corinthians 7:11). Pray that their minds would be pure, not distracted (Philippians 4:8). Pray that the words of their teaching would be pure, not deceptive (2 Corinthians 2:17). “We who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).
Pray that their counsel would be pure and not lead others into sin, and that they would be wise in deciding whom to empower to represent the church as fellow leaders (1 Timothy 5:22). Pray that they would lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and be free to run with endurance the race that is set before them (Hebrews 12:1).
Pray that your leaders would love peace. Leaders in the church should not be quarrelsome (1 Timothy 3:3), and they should not be indifferent to peace (peace-neutral), but rather peacemakers (literally, “peace-loving”).
Pastors should not be “pugnacious” (the old language for it), quick to argue and pick a fight. Rather, they should be the kind of men who “have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels” (2 Timothy 2:23; see also 1 Timothy 4:7), and who are willing to go the extra mile to keep others from getting swamped in silly arguments.
This means that it is essential for church leaders to correct others. Being genuinely peace-loving means loving peace enough to move toward conflict and controversy for the sake of seeing peace come from it. Pastors who are truly peace-loving don’t avoid conflict, and don’t enjoy picking a fight, but are eager to engage with disagreement for the sake of bringing about the peace of agreement in the truth.
Pray that your pastors would “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). And such rebuke is not fight-picking, but peace-making, purging the church from gospel distortions, and ushering in the peace that we enjoy when we share in the truth. “A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18).
Wisdom from above is gentle. In a world that says you must assert yourself and grab the bull by the horns to make a difference, divine wisdom runs in a different direction. Knowing that our Lord is sovereign and engaged, and building his church, enables the Lord’s servant to “not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:24–25).
Pray that your leaders would have enough confidence in God to trust his will and ways, and play their part in his plan with patience and gentleness.
4. Open to Reason
Good leaders are good listeners. Wisdom from above teaches a leader that he emphatically does not know it all, and desperately needs the help and insight of colleagues and congregants, and even his critics, to gain fresh perspective and continue to learn as he’s leading.
“Pray that your leaders would have enough confidence in God to trust his will and ways.”
Leaders in the church are teachers (Hebrews 13:7; 1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:24; Titus 1:9); they must do more than listen. They must speak. But it is essential that they be nothing less than good listeners. As James 1:19 says, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Yes, “every person” — and every leader all the more.
Pray that your leaders would be quick to hear, open to reason, and easily persuaded by good sense, argument, and rationale.
5. Full of Mercy and Good Fruit
True wisdom is inevitably practical. It comes out in action. “By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13). And in the church in particular, such good fruit includes mercy.
Leaders who are simply just, and not merciful, have no place in the church. The church is the most mercied collective on the planet. Her leaders must know God’s mercy for them, and show God’s mercy to others. It’s true for every Christian, and all the most important for leaders: “Judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).
Impartiality is an especially important virtue for leaders. It’s bad enough when anyone plays favorites and treats others unfairly, but when it takes root among the leadership, the effects multiply. The whole church soon suffers.
The impartiality of God is a clear, and often overlooked, theme in the New Testament (1 Peter 1:17; Galatians 2:6; Romans 2:11; Acts 10:34; Luke 20:21; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25). Pray that the wisdom that comes from Christ would make his under-shepherds increasingly fair and impartial (James 2:1, 9; 1 Timothy 5:21).
“Pray that your leaders would practice what they preach, that they would be doers of God’s word and not teachers only.”
Sincerity now brings us full circle to purity at the beginning of the list. The term literally means “without hypocrisy.” Pray that your leaders would practice what they preach, that they would be doers of God’s word and not teachers only.
Pray that they would have the spirit of the apostles: “We are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:17). Pray that they would be free from people-pleasing and too much concern with public relations.
Pray that the leaders of Christ’s church would renounce “disgraceful, underhanded ways” and “refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word,” but that in a world of spin, posturing, and deception, they would lead “by the open statement of the truth” (2 Corinthians 4:2).