“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.” James 3:1-2
James reminds us that we are all fallen and we all stumble. It should not surprise us when leaders and teachers fail and make mistakes, because none of us are perfect. Our leaders, good though they may be, are not Jesus.
Often we put Christian leaders on a pedestal, and unfortunately the world loves nothing more than to see people fall off pedestals. Too many people spend too much time watching everything a leader does and says, waiting to catch them slip up. James is reminding us we shouldn’t be surprised to see leaders stumble, for they are just ordinary people like us, and we all stumble.
Now obviously that is not an excuse to let accountability go out the window. James says that teachers will be held to a higher standard. There is nothing more devastating than to see someone who had done great things for God brought down by temptation and lust. There are certain ministry-disqualifying sinful patterns that definitely need called out when a leader gets caught up in them. But our default position should not to looking to see where a leader is going to stumble, but seeking to support them and prevent them from stumbling. Too many people would rather see a leader humbled than helped. At times the devil has his work done for him by those who call themselves believers, as we look to take down leaders whose theology we disagree with or who aren’t living quite the way we feel is appropriate rather than lovingly try to correct them.
Our default position should be to build up the body rather than tear it down. We should look to support those who have been called to leadership. We must hold those who are teachers to a higher standard, but we must still use the standard Jesus uses with us, the standard of grace. We must remember we are being led by people who aren’t perfect, but who are trying, with the help of God’s Holy Spirit.
Teachers are to be held to a higher standard, judged with greater strictness and that is something many of us overlook as we clamour for positions of leadership. We want the acclamation without the sacrifice. We want the limelight without having to put in the work. We desire instant success rather than the long hard grind to earn it. But James warns us that true leaders will be judged with greater strictness – there is a high standard expected of those who lead the church and it is not a position for everyone. We should not be “carried around by every wind of teaching” (Ephesians 4:14) but only listen to those who are truly worthy of the position of leadership, who meet the criteria laid out by Paul in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. We must carefully weigh up if someone is above reproach, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach and well thought of by outsiders. Our teachers will not be perfect, but they must be setting a good example of people who are trying. While the world values elegant speakers James and Paul remind us what matters most is the heart. If you desire to be a teacher, first make sure your heart is right with God, then worry about teaching.