Recently, I had an M.Div. student at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest contact me for an interview. One of his courses required him to interview a leader, record their responses, and write a paper about Christian Leadership. I was humbled by his request and joked with him about it, telling him that when I thought of a good leader I would gladly recommend one to him.
However, it got me thinking of the paradigm of the term "Christian Leadership". After all, we never really "lead", as the world defines leadership, because we are always following Jesus and living in obedience to His will. No matter the degree of "leadership" the world or the church place upon us, we are always primarily followers of Christ Jesus our Lord.
I took my responses to his questions and have presented them below as a reminder to myself and all who follow Jesus, especially in positions of Christian leadership, of the unique and paradoxical mantle which we carry: the mantle of leading by following.
Please describe your leadership responsibilities.
My leadership responsibilities include pastoring a church of approximately 100 and overseeing a Christian school of approximately 150 students and 20 staff. These responsibilities encompass administering three boards, superintending a budget of approximately $750,000, and presiding over a 30-acre campus. From the standpoint of spiritual leadership, these responsibilities include primarily vision casting, preaching, counseling, mentoring, and aligning human and physical resources to our corporate mission and vision.
What is a leader?
A leader is someone who influences others. This influence can come in the form of constituted authority, spiritual influence, or can simply be positional. Anyone who influences the thoughts or actions of others is a leader.
What are three important character traits of a biblical leader?
The three important character traits of a biblical leader are, in my opinion, humility, wisdom, and obedience.
Humility is clearly exhibited by Christ in many instances – washing His disciples’ feet, healing lepers, feeding the hungry – but, most powerfully and pronounced, in His death on the cross. Philippians said that He considered Himself nothing and humbled Himself to death on a cross. Likewise, the biblical leader must consider themselves as nothing, and consider others as better than themselves as did Christ. This humility shapes the servant leadership required by Scripture for those who wish to serve in His Kingdom.
Wisdom from the Holy Spirit is required to navigate the difficulties imposed by leadership. Christ told His disciples that He was giving them the Holy Spirit to guide them, and James says that we should pray if we lack wisdom and Christ will give it generously. Wisdom from the Holy Spirit is required to live, walk, and lead in the gray areas and adult-sized decisions that leaders face regularly. Without this wisdom which is not from ourselves, leaders can cause severe damage to Christ and His bride and can leave many bodies in their wake.
Lastly, obedience is required to follow the leading of Christ even when it is difficult and even when all the answers and outcomes are not readily available. Jesus Himself clearly stated that He had not come to do His own will, but the will of His Father who sent Him. This was powerfully evident in the Garden of Gethsemane. Furthermore, Jesus told His disciples that if they truly loved Him, they would obey Him. The biblical leader must, at all costs, obey God’s will if they are to expect those whom they influence to do likewise. Without the obedience of Jesus, there would be no death or resurrection. Every biblical leader must embody obedience to the will of the Father.
What are three vital skills of a biblical leader?
Three vital skills of a biblical leader are communication, flexibility, and delegation.
Communication is imperative not only to communicating God’s Word and the heart of Jesus toward people, but also toward motivating others to see, love, and follow Jesus. Paul addresses that in Romans 10 with his series of questions regarding the importance of communication so that people may hear about and follow Jesus. However, communication is also important for interacting with people regarding intent, planning, and administration. In order for everyone to be marching to be the beat of the same drum in unity, communication is a vital skill which must be continually evaluated and honed.
Flexibility is a vital skill which is often overlooked in biblical leadership. God is entitled to change our plans, and often does. In the Gospel narratives, Jesus was constantly changing course depending on the needs which were brought before Him. The entire course of Paul’s life was changed when he was forbidden to go to Asia in Acts 16. Biblical leaders must be flexible to respond to the voice and leading of God. This is true both in a career sense (I plan to stay for 20 years) and in the daily sense (these are my plans today). James says that to lay out your plans before the Lord is arrogant. Biblical leaders must be flexible.
Biblical leaders must also learn and utilize the skill of delegation. Investing yourself in others to empower them to serve and lead is a skill which was modeled beautifully by Jesus. Though he could have accomplished everything Himself, He carefully and painfully invested Himself in others to empower them to lead. Paul invested in Timothy and Epaphras, and James invested in the elders of the church in Jerusalem. Delegation is not only wise (think of the advice Jethro gave Moses about meeting the needs of the people), but it is also a biblical model for equipping others to serve Jesus in a greater and deeper way.
Please share with me three valuable pieces of advice for leading God’s people.
Firstly, from experience, I would advise you to seek the Lord to help you surround yourself with like-minded believers who walk closely with Him and can speak into your life on a personal level. Leading God’s people is difficult and can be exhausting, however, I would suggest that it is impossible to do alone. Jesus had only twelve disciples, and even within those twelve He had an inner circle of just three. Ask the Lord to show those in your life who walk with Him and who can speak into your life, both for encouragement and rebuke, and be willing to accept those words when they come. These relationships will not only develop you as a leader, but will also serve to help carry you through difficult times.
Secondly, let people have a voice and provide input into issues and decision-making, but understand that the burden and responsibility to lead has been especially laid upon you. Those other voices have not assumed the mantle of biblical leadership, and their lives and souls have been placed in your care. Listening to them is a visible and powerful reminder that you care for them, but leading them is what God has called you to. Listen to them, but lead them.
Lastly, let everything in your life and leadership stem from your personal relationship with Christ. It will be tempting to employ new methodologies and leadership principles, but let those always and only be a secondary supplement to a personal, dynamic walk with Jesus. In leading others, Christ does His greatest work through those who first apply those lessons and principles to themselves. When you visualize the words of Jesus to get the plank out of your eye before you get the speck out of your brother’s eye, this principle will be painfully evident! Walk hand-in-hand with Jesus and let the encouragement, correction, and rebuke that you humbly give to others come only after Christ has given it to you.
What is the greatest mistake you have made as a leader in your ministry experience?
My greatest mistake in my ministry experience was that for the first several years I made certain assumptions about people which simply are not true. In my naivety, I assumed that everyone had the same desire I had to follow Jesus and be transformed by Him. I unconsciously equated time as a believer to spiritual maturity. However, I was disappointed to discover that this was not the case. I put far too much faith in people and not near enough faith in Christ. The potential risk for this mistake is huge because it can easily lead to giving up on ministry and even people altogether.
What has been the greatest blessing of being a leader?
The greatest blessing of being a leader is being used by God to pour into the lives of those He brings into your life. I have had the blessing of seeing the Lord use my walk with Him to lead dozens of people to Jesus, and to walk with them through their own growth with Him. It is the most rewarding and fulfilling experience a human being can have. I have one man whom I have been intentionally pouring into for the past four years, and he now serves as a pastor. I have others whose relationship with Christ and spiritual maturity have grown so much that it is evident to everyone. This is the greatest blessing of being a leader. Like the great missionary C.T. Studd famously quipped, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”
Each week this blog will be updated with a word for the week from my current studies.