In recent weeks, I’ve found myself in the middle of discussions about leadership with a number of people. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s something that is on God’s mind right now for the entire Church, or perhaps it’s something He wants to bring to my personal attention.
A friend commented that there is a mistaken notion in the Church that leadership means having authority over people (as in, having the right to push them around, or boss them). I think perhaps she had been given a few pushes recently, and may have had a few bruises. I have sometimes noticed this behavior in leader wannabes myself. It’s the thrill of having a position — wanting to have the world notice we are a somebody. But wanting to be a leader and being one are not the same thing. Giving orders and taking charge are not the same as being a leader, either.
Our pastor has consistently taught his leadership team that we have authority over spiritual things, not over people. Part of understanding our true realm of authority is learning not to boss others. I rather think most of us like to boss, from time to time! Not bossing is a hard concept to get through our noggins. Our pastor also tells us not to wear our position as a badge of who we are, but to wear our character as our identity badge. Good stuff!
Another friend commented that sometimes people think they can turn leadership on and off — be a leader when they are operating in a positional role of leader, but then do what they please when the official time of “leadership” is over for the day. She commented that people are watching her at all times, whether she’s aware of it or not, and she doesn’t want them to be disappointed or led into compromise by what they see in her. Leadership is never over for the day.
Let’s look at some contrasts of what a leader is, and is not:
- Leadership and lordship are not synonyms. Jesus is both our Leader and our Lord. However, He has not given us lordship over each other. Jesus told His disciples, “… You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you ….” (Mark 10:42, 43). Hebrews 13:17 tells us, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief….” We do need to obey our leaders, but notice the heart they are to exhibit — one of caring for our welfare, not one of ordering the rest of the Body around for their own personal satisfaction.
- Leadership lifts up people, rather than trampling them down. True leadership wants the best for the other person. It isn’t interested in using other folks as stepping stones. Dr. Seuss’s book, Yertle the Turtle, the story of a tyrant turtle who squashes others to get to the top of the heap, ought to be required reading for all Christian leaders, methinks!
- Leaders apply balm to wounded hearts, rather than throwing salt or dirt in the owie. Leaders have to be like doctors; they are called to bring healing.
- It is not the leader’s job to be a watchdog, or to “call” people on their perceived faults. Yes, pastors should watch over and shepherd their flocks. And when they see an area in our lives that needs correction or improvement, of course it is their place to help us with that. I love having a trusting relationship with my pastor. He can tell me any time he needs to that there is something out of whack in my life. He does it in a gentle way, and I feel loved. So, that’s not what I’m talking about.
I’m referring to self-appointed watchdogs, who think it is their God-given ministry to set others straight. Ewww. I’ve been in situations where this has happened. Somebody lets the rest of us know that they are watching, and if we don’t toe their mark, they will tattle to the pastor. Like I said, ewww. This is intimidation and a controlling spirit evidencing itself. Definitely not true leadership.
- True leaders will have followers who love to follow. Their followers want to become like their leader. If the followers are unhappy underlings, who resent the leader who is in charge, somebody is not doing a good job of leading. Perhaps we have a case of abusive leadership — which brings us to some classic signs that we have abuse going on:
- Does the leader use guilt or threats to accomplish goals?
- Is there a general feeling of unhappy resentment?
- Are the people under the leader afraid of being labeled troublemakers? (Some people are troublemakers, and ought to have some fear, but I’m talking about the group as a whole.)
Leaders should never be oppressors. The spirit of oppression is one of the big guns in the demonic realm. On the other hand, Jesus brings liberty and life. We want to do the same. John 10:10 — I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
As a leader, I would rather be someone’s advocate than his accuser. In being an advocate — a defense attorney, cheerleader, and encourager to others — I align myself with Jesus. 1 John 2:1 says, “And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” If I choose, rather, to be an accuser — someone who tattles, points out others’ faults, speaks disparagingly of them — I am aligning myself with Satan, the “accuser of the brethren” (Revelation 12:10). It’s a clear choice between light and darkness.
Leadership starts and ends with being a servant. Leaders always lift up others — never themselves. Leaders don’t trample, scratch, claw, or climb to get to the top. They don’t need to. Real leaders in the Body know their place in Christ and are willing to trust Jesus to bring them into their proper function when He thinks they are ready. 1 Peter 5:6 — Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.
Leaders keep their eyes open for ways to serve — even very small ways. They see the need and meet it, rather than waiting for someone else to do it. Aimee Semple McPherson used to watch for upcoming leaders by leaving crumpled bits of paper lying around and then waiting to see who would notice and pick them up.
Leaders don’t think certain tasks are beneath their dignity to perform. Jesus commented, “He who is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much …. And if you have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?” (Luke 16: 10, 12). Jesus washed feet. Leaders clean restrooms and serve in the nursery, and they do it with joy, because they have a heart to serve. They want to make life better for somebody else.
I’m not saying any of this is easy. I have to coach myself to be a servant. I have to consciously make an effort to trust Jesus to bring me into my role in the Body, and not try to get myself there. I have to remind myself a lot not to boss. Sometimes I fail. I’m still learning, sometimes the hard way.
Mark 10:43, 44 — Whoever will be great among you shall be your minister [servant]: and whoever of you wants to be chief [great] shall be servant of all. It’s on a card on my refrigerator. And it’s working its way into my heart.
© 2007 by Lee Ann Rubsam. All rights reserved.