Friday, May 30, 2014

Great Leaders Follow

Leadership is such a tricky thing. Everyone knows how it 'should' be done, but the reality leaves us wanting so much more. Browsing through the news gives you no shortage of leadership failures -- abuse, harassment, mismanagement and more. Piling onto the weight of leadership, these failures are only compounded by the open wounds left in all of the people who were following in trust.

There must be a better way.

This is always a hard topic to talk about, because if you speak to anyone who I have worked with, I am sure they could disclose countless stories about my own failures. I am not a perfect leader, far from it. I am who is becoming more like Jesus... I am a disciple. As a disciple there are times when I feel like Peter, who stood before Jesus and had his faults laid out before him -- stupid questions, obstinate attitudes and more.

Jesus has called us to be disciples.

He did not call us to be perfect, or to pretend as though we are free from all sin. He called us to depend wholly on him, and showed us a better way to lead inside of our own communities. If you think about it, he called twelve men who were anything but perfect. They were on the very outskirts of society, some even shunned from the mainstream. These are the people Jesus chose to pour into for the years he was in ministry. It is telling.

Perhaps Christian leadership is not about gathering power, gaining influence and then seeing how big we can build the empire before it collapses around us. Maybe Jesus has already shown us a different way of leadership in God's Kingdom and we have merely neglected to follow sound advice. We have been seduced by the callings of power, losing our path over centuries and decades without a real restoration in our leadership.

What then needs to be thrown out?

1. A leader is not judged by the number of people who follow them.

By this metric alone, Jesus was a colossal failure. Oh, he had the numbers, the crowds and the influence -- and then he threw it all out. He purposefully sought to weed out the many, many people who were attracted to his fame rather than his message.

What if a modern Christian leader focussed on their local community? Loving, nurturing, journeying with them authentically? If it was never about what is the 'next big thing' on the horizon or the 'rising star' of their abilities? What if we re-framed that conversation to be about rooting yourself in God's family, listening for what the Lord has to say, rather than what will attract more people?

2. A leader is not there only to encourage.

There are tough calls that need to be made along the way. Moses had a petulant group of children on his hands, and there were times that he had to lead out of his calling rather than popular opinion. These are moments that Joshua, Aaron and others played significant roles in Moses' own life to affirm what he was hearing from God.

In the same way, Jesus had some hard rebukes for his disciples at times. They were blunt, even harsh, but true. He had to do some pruning in order to help the vine grow healthy in the long run.

3. A leader does not lead alone.

Jesus showed us what it looks like to live in community. He regularly communed with God and the Holy Spirit to discern what was next. He did not pick one person to be the heroic leader in the days of Pentecost, he instead chose to form a group who could discern together what was next for the Church.

How many leaders today do you see as being 'above' accountability? Some have built palaces that they insist are made of glass, but are anything but. No one in God's Kingdom is above accountability, just the opposite. We submit to one another in brotherly love, listening to the rebukes and advice of others so that each of us can grow more like Jesus.

4. A leader is tested by their absence.

It is not the work that is done when a leader is present that is the test of their work. Instead, it is the building that has been constructed and must stand the test of time. We are quick to focus on the short-term results, rather than the long-term benefits.

You can throw up a quick house in a week, but you won't want to live in it for decades to come. Ministry is much the same, it takes time and gentle corrections over the long haul to see something that is long lasting. We must stop judging leaders by the immediate and instead look at the long-term results of their work. Speaking in decades instead of years or months.

The real test comes when they are gone.

5. A leader serves.

In the Kingdom of God, leading is one of the least glorious things you can do. It involves washing feet, late nights, tears, sweat and pain. Many lead through times of great troubles to bear the weight of the turmoil and never receive the thanks when the journey is complete.

There is nothing glorious about leading in the Kingdom of Heaven, because Jesus made it clear that if earthly glory was all you were wanting -- you would get it. But if you wanted something that would last, there would be little thanks here on earth. It is not about who will sit at the right hand of God, but who will listen and serve here on earth.

Too many young leaders that I have met think it is about a huge group, recognition or glory. They are not prepared for the long months of pain, broken relationships and hard (but loving) calls that need to be made in ministry.

Perhaps it is time to throw away the notion that our leaders need to be charismatic, bombastic and great speakers. This is a time when the Kingdom of God needs people, not personalities.

What have you seen from the leaders in your life? How has someone been Jesus to you?


  1. I still have much to learn but so far, God keeps bringing to mind the example of Jonathan as he related to David. The servant who never got the public recognition but in serving others probably contributed much more than he would have as king. Its also a marvelous way to cut through suspicion of being an outsider when you ask how one can serve.