There is much that is being written and talked about in ministry circles about “leadership”. More than ever we are seeing books written and devoured that teach us how to lead and deal with issues such as establishing vision and purpose, managing staff and instituting change. Much of it borrows proven ideas and strategies from the business world, sprinkled with Biblical principles, which can then be implemented in order to make those who lead effective Christian CEO’s.
Let me state at the outset that I am not opposed to learning from the secular world. God’s word is all Truth, but not all truth is found in the Bible. Therefore if we can glean insights from the so called “secular” world that will advance God’s kingdom, then that is well and good. What we must ensure however is that we exercise discernment and wisdom and maintain a clear picture of what a Christian leader is.
My fear is that this is becoming increasingly obscured and we are losing balance in our churches and youth ministries.
Let’s begin with our definition of what a leader is. A common definition seems to be “influence”. As someone remarked “If you want to know if you are a leader, look behind and see if there is anyone following.” Sounds cute but is but is it Biblical? How many were following Elijah? Jeremiah? For that matter, how many were willing to follow Jesus when He was arrested? Even His closest ally denied Him three times.
So let’s try this for a new definition: “A Christian leader is someone through whom a person is inspired to follow Jesus.” Ever spend time with someone who left you feeling inspired and hungry to follow Jesus more faithfully? They may or may not have had a leadership “title”, but I suggest that such a person was exercising a true gift of Christian leadership. My rationale is this. Christ is the Head of the Church. Our mandate as believers is to follow Him – not man. Therefore a Christian leader directly or indirectly, points a person toward Jesus. Without this essential component, leadership in the church is nothing more that spiritualised business technique.
Qualities of a Leader
We have all no doubt heard the F.A.T. acronym regarding leadership recruitment – that prospective leaders must be faithful, available and teachable. These are all desirable qualities, but I’d like to suggest another three that are even more important. What I would look for are passionate, inadequate, failures! Let me explain.
Firstly, by passionate I don’t mean loud! The volume and tone of a person’s voice has little to do with passion. A person who is passionate about Jesus exudes something of His presence every time you are with them and they open their mouth to speak. A good question to ask prospective leaders is: “Tell me what Jesus means to you?” A passionate answer will be one in which the Spirit of God touches your spirit and causes it to leap within you.
The second quality I’d look for in emerging leadership is a healthy sense of their own inadequacy. The true emerging Christian leader will have little idea of their capability. They will love Jesus and seek to obey Him, and hardly be aware of the fruit that follows in their pathway. When presented with the opportunity to take on a leadership role, they will be surprised and daunted. Yet they will also be full of faith. Therefore a good question to ask is: “What makes you think you can be an effective leader?” If they start to talk about themselves be cautious! If they are not sure, they may have what it takes. If they talk about Jesus sign them up!
Thirdly, if God is raising up leaders, there is a good chance that He has used discouragement and failure along the way to shape them. We need in ministry today to develop a good theology of failure. We have a success orientation that pervades our teaching and leadership that cripples and condemns people. Success is a high mark on the mountain of leadership, but God will take the Christian leader beyond that mark, higher, to a place of failure. In failure we learn humility and dependence and are better equipped to lead. A good question to ask the potential leaders is “Tell us about some of your weaknesses and failures – how did you handle them?” If they haven’t had any failures then avoid them… you don’t want their first failure to be at the expense of your ministry!
If we make it our priority to seek out people who are passionate inadequate failures then who knows… we just might unearth some Moses, Gideons, Davids and Peters. Certainly these are men who meet all our criteria!
Let’s make this clear. We don’t develop leaders. We can’t. It is God who raises up leadership for His Church. The best we can hope to do is identify what He is doing and offer opportunity and equipping. It is like watering a plant. Yes, the water facilitates growth but there is an unseen dynamic at work in the plant that produces the growth. Water doesn’t grow a plant, but the plant sucks up water to use in its growth. Therefore our role is not to develop leaders. It is to create an environment where leadership flourishes, and then to watch it emerge, offering opportunity and equipping as required. This is more than semantics. It is an important perspective to keep in mind that influences our recruitment and training of leaders.
In creating this leadership environment we do three things:
Firstly, develop passion by cultivating in them an awareness of Christ’s immanence and intimacy. Emphasise the practical reality of Christ’s leadership and the fact that New Testament leadership is not a role to be performed by a person in isolation, but it is a shared function between certain members of the body. Encourage emerging leader to walk with Christ daily and listen to Him, feeding back their thoughts and impressions to the leadership body, who corporately seek to follow a God who is near and close. If you are overseeing a team of leaders, stop thinking that you need to have all the answers. You don’t. Show others you need them and seek to collectively know the mind of Christ. As you do so, leadership around you will flourish, growing ever more passionate.
Secondly, address their sense of inadequacy by believing in them and the power of God to work through them. Communicate confidence in them. I recall a very effective volunteer leader once commenting to me that when they took on leadership they didn’t think they could do it – they only agreed to try because I told them I believed in them… or more accurately, I could see enough evidence to convince me that God was going to work through them. It will be your affirmation, encouragement and belief that will help a person move beyond their own sense of inadequacy and to reach out to God in faith, relying on Him to supply all they need.
Thirdly, allow them to fail and help them to find God amidst their failure. As leaders we love to rescue, partly because it makes us look good and partly because we fear that if we don’t, a person’s failure will reflect on us. Yet isn’t it true that we learn our greatest lessons through failure? Therefore, an environment that cultivates leadership is one in which its OK to fail. What’s not OK is to not learn from failure. A practical approach is, when a developing leader fails, ask them the three R’s:
- Review: What happened?
- Reflect: What can you learn from what happened?
- Ready: How can you be equipped in order to be ready to face this again?
This principle is illustrated in our approach to training. Too often we want to tell people all they should do before they do it, in order to avoid failure. Perhaps a better approach is to “throw them in at the deep end” and train them to swim as they confront difficulties and failures. Such an approach deals with the tendency to rely on self and one’s knowledge, as well as creating motivation to listen and to learn.
We need to rethink redefine and rediscover leadership. Christian leadership is not about striving to be the biggest and the best; it is about embracing the path of suffering so that others might grow. It is not about aiming to become “more”; it is about is a willingness to become less so that others might become more. It is not about searching out the “big jobs”; it is about taking on the little jobs and regarding them as the big jobs. It is not a call to recognition of ability – but recognition of scars.
It is not finding someone to lead; its finding someone to love and give one’s life for.
In short, leadership is about Jesus – not about us.
To read more on these thoughts purchase a copy of “LIFE: The Missing Dimension in Discipleship”