In my last post I began a short series on Christian leadership. Again, this isn’t a prelude to the process of appointing elders, which is usually one of the only times we visit the topic; but it about general Christian leadership issues. And while the vast majority of us are not elders, the majority of us are or will be in some sort of leadership position at some point of our lives—whether in our family, in church, in a work environment, among friends, or even in the arena of politics. And when we are, we want to be Christian leaders.
Last post we talked about the Christian motivation, the Christian need to know how to follow, and the Christian attitude of humility. But there’s more to Christian leadership.
Christian leadership leads from the front; that is, it gets involved in the activity at hand. Worldly leadership leads from lofty corner offices, far from the battle line, giving orders while sipping tea. They are the “order-givers”, not the doers of the project at hand; the very reason many seek to be leaders (they don’t have to get their hands dirty). Jesus never led that way; Christian leaders influence others by encouraging them as they work side by side. A good illustration of this facet godly leadership is Nehemiah:
Nehemiah 5:15, 16 “But the former governors who were before me laid burdens on the people…even their servants domineered the people. But I did not do so because of the fear of God. I also applied myself to the work on this wall; we did not buy any land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work.”
Lead from the front!
Christian leadership also encourages, motivates, cheers, coaxes, and uplifts others to higher ground. This is not to say that Christian leadership doesn’t correct; it does and I’ll mention it in the next article. The emphasis here, however, is how the Christian leader realizes that there is a need for positive encouragement and motivation. Worldly leadership tends to operate mostly in “quality control” mode: looking only for flaws and seldom offering a pat on the back. But the apostle Paul, for instance, almost always started his letters with words of thanksgiving and encouragement—even when they were followed later with correction. Sometimes encouragement includes correction, especially when it is done kindly, gently, hopefully, lovingly, patiently, and thoughtfully. Christian leadership realizes that followers need to be told more than what they’re doing wrong, but also what they’re doing right. Such leadership can motivate followers to follow happily, work enthusiastically, live joyfully, surmount obstacles victoriously, sacrifice gladly, and succeed.
Christian leadership sets the example. This aspect of Christian leadership is similar in some ways to leading from the front, but it is also different, too. Worldly leaders are happy to receive the benefits leadership: authority, honors, etc., but usually not so anxious to be examples, role models, to their followers—“Do as I say do, not as I do;” criticizing workers for a poor work ethic, while they themselves arrive late and leave early; or “I never asked to be anyone’s role model!” Christian leaders, on the other hand, understand both the power and obligation of example. They encourage others to work, and then roll their sleeves up do it, too. They encourage others to sacrifice, often after already having sacrificed. They (for example, teachers) point out the right path, and then walk it themselves. Jesus Himself practiced this sort of leadership, and great leaders of the early church followed, (e.g., Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:1) “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” Strong Christian leadership sets the example in its own life.
Christian leadership isn’t “natural”. It takes a conscious effort to follow the Lord and a conscious refusal to take the worldly, self-serving path of “lording” and the law of the jungle. Follow Jesus and lead, wherever you lead, God’s way.
That makes the difference between the two kinds of leadership. When we first of all submit to the leadership of Jesus, then we can begin to aspire to lead His sheep in the right direction.