Thoughts on leadership for every Christian…
The question of leadership seems to be as old as Adam and Eve: Who’s going to take the lead? It has been a source of strife for mankind down through history: the relationship between Jacob and Esau, in the wilderness among the Israelites and even within Moses’ family, amongst the tribes of Israel, within Gideon’s family, between King Saul and David, between Solomon and his brothers, between Rehoboam and Jeroboam, right down to the jockeying for position among the apostles.
Leadership is certainly not a bad thing to aspire to, though; it’s God’s own idea. God has established civil authority (e.g., Romans 13:1), home authority (e.g., Genesis 3:16), and authority in the church (e.g., Ephesians 1:21-23 and 1 Timothy 3:1ff). The catch is that God will call every leader—civil, domestic, or religious—to account for his or her leadership (Heb. 13:17), so it needs to be exercised correctly. But how is it done correctly?
Sadly, the way that authority is usually exercised is not the way God wants, but the easiest way that “works”. As a result the only examples many of us have had for leadership are badly flawed: corporate examples, selfish examples, abusive examples, manipulative examples, and worse. That is, until we learned about the Lord.
So, for a few posts I’d like to use this space to talk about good Christian leadership—not elder qualifications, but good Christian leadership principles. Thus, it will be applicable to pretty much every Christian.
Let’s start with the essence of leadership. Leadership is influence. Do you have influence over anyone in this world? Then you are in some sense leading. See, I told you it would apply to you.
Now, there are, of course, different sorts of leadership and motivations. Worldly leaders are usually motivated by simply wanting the privileges, the glory, the honor, and the ability to “call the shots”—getting to be the “lead dog” rather than taking orders from others. And they often exercise that influence with money, force, threats, lies, or other forms of manipulation—the list of tools for “lording it over others” is long.
But Jesus drew a sharp contrast between worldly leadership and godly leadership, Mark 10:42-45 “Calling [the apostles] to Himself, Jesus *said to them, ‘You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.’” There’s a difference in both motivation and substance in Christian leadership. Let’s take a look at what some of those differences are.
Jesus says it begins with the simple motivation of service (Mk. 10:42ff), seeking the best interests of others. This is a drastic contrast to the self-centered motivation of worldly leadership; it truly turns the worldly norm of leadership upside down. When the Christian assumes leadership of any kind (politics, church, home, or friendship), he needs to be motivated like Jesus, Who did not come to be served, but to serve. This motivation naturally leads (no pun intended) in influencing men Christ’s unique way. The rest of this article—and the following ones—will be talking about what this means and how the disciple of Jesus is expected to lead with the best interests of others at heart.
One of the first things to understand about Christian leadership is that it first follows. That sentence may seem a little odd or awkward—you might want to read it over again—but what I’m trying to get at is that good Christian leaders must first understand the concept of following. They must follow God first and foremost, above all others. If you don’t learn this, you do not need to lead. Think about it: Jesus submitted to the Father (Philippians 2:5ff and Hebrews 5:8), the apostles could bind and loose only what the Lord Himself had already bound and loosed (Matthew 18:18), the church (and her elders) must submit to the head of the church, Jesus (Ephesians 1:21-23), etc. Not learning how to submit and follow is the first step toward tyranny, autocracy, and cultism (in religion). Christian leadership understands that nobody has the right to declare right, justice, and judgment but God. When worldly leaders forget this (and they usually do), you end up with sinful laws or judgments that legalize or allow things that are immoral and wrong. So also with churches and homes. All good Christian leaders must first learn how to truly submit to and follow the Lord.
And lastly, for this installment, Christian leadership is humble. Humility isn’t about poor self-esteem; it’s about not thinking more of ourselves than we ought (Rom. 12:3) and a willingness to serve in every occasion. When the apostles were arguing over who’d wash everyone else’s feet, Jesus demonstrated (John 13) practical, everyday humility. Paul (please read Philippians 2:1-11) encourages every disciple to be humble servants by pointing to Christ’s own humility, that although He was/is equal to God, there was no service beneath Him for our benefit—not even the pain, humiliation, and death of a cross. When worldly leaders refuse to get their hands dirty, Christian leaders humbly serve, even when the service is “beneath their station in life”.
Is your motivation right? Have you learned how to follow? Are you willing to serve others with their best interests at heart? Yes? Then you’re on your way to good Christian leadership. No? You’ve got something to work on. Remember, “…leaders…will give an account…” (Hebrews 13:17).