I had an interesting conversation last week with a member of Bayside Church. The discussion was around the standards we have in place for people in leadership, especially those in worship & teaching, youth & children’s ministries. During the conversation, he said to me, “but surely everyone is equal. Why do you have different standards for different people?” Or words to that effect.

It’s a good question and one I thought would be helpful to blog about. Let me say upfront that equality, or the lack thereof, is a constant theme throughout the Bible. The Bible’s revelation is on a trajectory that led ancient people toward greater and greater equality. We are still on that path today, with civil and religious movements speaking up for justice for the marginal. We’re witnessing that in our world right now.

Equality in Church

But in the church, is everyone equal? Should there be different standards for different people? The answer to both questions is a resounding “YES.” All Christians are the same, but different. In the church, as in society at large, different functions require higher standards. For example, we expect more from our political leaders than we do from a labourer. It doesn’t mean that the labourer is somehow less than a politician, it means that the politician has a greater responsibility, which necessitates higher standards.

So it is in God’s church. I believe that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). The New Testament Scriptures break down walls of racial, gender, and economic inequality. Sadly, imbalance in these realms is still alive and well in some churches. But we need to realise that, even though all Christians are equal, there are functional differences that demand higher standards.

Gifts Carry Responsiblity

Consider the teaching gift which I operate regularly (even in writing this blog). The teacher of God’s Word is held to a greater standard. So much so that the apostle James discourages people from desiring the teaching gift: “not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.” When I stand before the judgment seat of Christ, I will not only give an account for my own life, but also for what I’ve built into the lives of others.

The apostle Paul goes to great lengths in his pastoral letters to point out the same thing (1 Tim. 3:1-13). Pastors (elders, overseers, bishops) and deacons (those who assist the pastors in caring for God’s people), have a high calling with considerable responsibility. Therefore, there are greater expectations:

  • Faithful to their spouse if married. Celibate if single.
  • Above blame and accusation. Living a consistent life.
  • Free from addictions, self-controlled, and modest.
  • Hospitable and able to teach the Word.
  • Not quarrelsome but gentle and peaceable.
  • Not in love with money.
  • A person who manages their own family and household well.
  • A person of deep, godly character.
  • Not a new convert, but mature in the faith.
  • Of good reputation with those outside the church.

It’s quite a list that I take soberly as I’ll be judged by these standards on the Day of Jesus Christ. While we would certainly look for these same qualities to be found in every Christian, the Bible demands them in those who aspire to leadership.

The Burden of Leadership

And so, at Bayside Church, while everyone is equal and everyone is welcome in God’s church, not everyone will be welcomed into leadership. There are higher standards and expectations for those in the public eye: worship leaders (musicians and singers) and teachers of the Word.

Everyone who serves at Bayside needs to go through a discipleship program and gain a “Working with Children Check”. We have higher expectations for those who serve in children’s and youth ministries because we are on our guard against predators. People who serve God and his church in these ways are held to a higher standard and will undergo a stricter judgment.

A well-known Melbourne building is the Arts Centre. The outer roof of the building is low and wide, then rises in the middle as a 162 metre Spire. This is an excellent picture of the church. As with the Arts Centre roof, the church’s welcome is broad. No matter the lifestyle or background, everyone is welcome. All are equal. But those who aspire to serve in public and leadership roles should not be blinded to the truth that they will be held to high standards in a way that others are not.

One of the major problems I see in the world today is the politicising of the issues that face us.  Even Christian people get caught in this trap.  Let me give you four examples:

  • Climate change
  • Asylum seekers
  • Conservation
  • Racial and gender equality

When you read those words, it’s quite likely that you perceived them through your political worldview.  For example, when you see the words, “climate change,” some of you went “right,” and others leaned “left” in your thinking.  If you tend “right” politically you may see other issues as much more important than climate change – or maybe you think it’s a big con and not a real issue at all.  If you are more left or “green” politically, you will see climate change as a major issue and maybe even “the great moral challenge of our generation” to quote former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.

It’s the same with other issues.  On asylum seekers, some will go “right” while others will lean “left” and so on.  But for followers of Jesus a higher ethos comes into play because “our citizenship is in heaven” and, on earth, we are ambassadors of Christ who are to represent our eternal homeland in the here and now.  That’s why Jesus encouraged His followers (in The Lord’s Prayer) to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10).  The focus of the entire Lord’s Prayer is what happens on earth.  Jesus taught His people to pray for God’s kingdom to come and for His will to be done, on earth.  God cares for His creation and He wants His people to care for it too.

The aforementioned is the filter Jesus’ followers are to use when considering their response and actions to life’s big issues.  Rather than making our reaction a political one, we are called to think with a heavenly mindset.  Take climate change as an example.  Instead of making this a political issue that leans to the right or left, why not make it a Biblical issue that reflects our care of God’s creation?  Let me ask you a question, “Do you think it is a worthy goal for humans to pump less pollution into the atmosphere?”  Whatever your political persuasion I’m sure you answered “yes”.  If God has given humanity dominion (rule; control) of the Earth (Genesis 1:28) then surely a Christian would take that responsibility seriously and do all they can to care for the planet God has given us?

Conservation then, is no longer the domain of the Greens but rather the responsibility of everyone.  The ethical use and protection of valuable resources, such as trees, minerals, wildlife and water, protecting their sources, and recycling, is something I do because I take God’s gift seriously, not because I vote for a particular political party.

Some of my early teaching as a Christian was dominated by a certain view of the “end times” that taught Jesus was returning at any moment, the world would end, and God would make a new one – so it wasn’t worth looking after this one.  Imagine if we used this logic in our daily lives?  One day I’m going to buy a new car and so I might as well trash the second-hand one I currently drive!  I have an old house now, but one day I want a new one, so I think I’ll light a fire on the kitchen floor and cook on it!  That sounds ridiculous – and it is – but this is how some Christians act toward the Earth of which God has given us care.

Praying “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” means that Christians will pray and work for peace and justice among all peoples and nations.  We strive for economic justice and equality between rich and poor, male and female; racial equality for people of marginalised communities; and protection for refugees and asylum seekers (and yes, I want secure borders, but that doesn’t give us the right to mistreat some of the world’s most vulnerable people).

These are not merely political issues that don’t affect my faith and me.  They are significant matters that should concern all of us who pray for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Jesus taught his followers to live this way day-to-day.  In His Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16).  Jesus’ people are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  Treating this world, and the people in it, with kindness, justice, love, mercy, and goodness reflects God’s nature and becomes a powerful force that attracts others to Him.  That’s the way He calls His people to live.

In this blog, I’m continuing from last week’s discussion on the issues that are most important to you.  A survey of my Facebook friends revealed that matters of justice, particularly for asylum seekers and the homeless, ranked at the very top of their concerns. [i]

The third concern was equality – or at least the lack of justice we often see in the world around us.  Inequality features highly for asylum seekers and the homeless, but it also ranks as a big issue for Australia’s indigenous people, along with victims of abuse, trafficking and domestic violence.  There is high inequality between those who have access to clean water and those who don’t; and the poor and weak are frequently oppressed by the rich and powerful.

Right now 844 million people in the world – one in ten – do not have clean water. 2.3 billion people in the world – one in three – do not have a decent toilet. There are 289,000 children under 5 die each year due to diarrheal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. [ii]   Inequality for Australia’s indigenous people is massive compared to the rest of Australians,[iii] and there are over 30 million trafficked people in the world; half are children, and 80% are female.

Equality, or the lack thereof, is a constant theme throughout the Bible even though some of the earlier comments made in books like Leviticus look like anything but equality.  It’s of vital importance that we understand the progressive and changing nature of God’s revelation through Scripture. Reading through the book of Leviticus from a 2017 western perspective can be quite daunting. There are instructions on how much to pay for slaves and how to treat women. Some of these commands boggle our minds and we can easily wonder at the inequality reflected in what we read.

But when you understand that these things were written 3,500 years ago to an ancient Middle Eastern culture that had very few, if any, written rules, we get a different perspective.  In some instances, this was the first time written regulations gave slaves and women any sense of equal treatment. Until then, they were considered a man’s goods and chattel.  Leviticus was quite revolutionary in its day. It upheld human rights for disabled people (19:14), refugees (19:33-34) and the elderly (19:32).

Many of the prophets spoke out with a great condemnation against the wealthy and powerful that oppressed the poor and weak.  Consider Isaiah 1:17, “Learn to do right; seek justice.  Defend the oppressed (correct the oppressor). Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”  The prophet Micah summarised the importance of equality and justice like this: “what does the Lord require of you except to be just, and to love and to diligently practice kindness and compassion” (6:8).

Jesus’ teaching and actions continued this revelation.  He reached out to people that others (particularly the religious) would have nothing to do with –  such as lepers, the unclean, the sexually immoral and the mentally ill. The New Testament Scriptures also break down walls that divided people and communities – racial, gender and economic barriers are non-existent in Christ, says Paul (Galatians 3:28).

There is no place in the Christian faith for expressions of inequality because of differences in gender, race, creed or money.

On one occasion the Apostle Paul met with the other apostles in Jerusalem.  The outcome of the discussion was agreement that Paul and his team would continue to reach out to non-Jews with the gospel message.  Paul writes, “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.”  The apostle took this seriously and, everywhere he went, he received offerings to relieve poverty.  His stated goal was equality (see 2 Corinthians 8:13-14).

It’s interesting that amongst all the things the Jerusalem church leaders could have highlighted as the one most important thing that should accompany the gospel message, it was equality for the poor.

And equality for all people should still accompany the gospel of Jesus.  It saddens me when I hear a non-equal message preached by people who identify as Christian.  Their lack of equality contradicts all that Jesus stands for and, in the process, repels people from Him.  Justice and fairness for all must always be part of the real gospel of Jesus.  That’s why it’s such good news!

”Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” – Amos 5:24.


[i] Blog: Is justice an optional extra

[ii] http://www.wateraid.org/au/what-we-do/the-crisis/statistics

[iii] http://www.australianstogether.org.au/stories/detail/the-gap-indigenous-disadvantage-in-australia