Some things I have learned about leadership–and have the scars to prove

“But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to become first among you shall be slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44).

People do not want to follow.

Sorry about that.

Ask anyone clamoring for high political office.  They do not want to acknowledge you as their leader and themselves as your followers.

So, if you have a yearning to be a leader of people, you automatically have chosen an uphill task.

Better to become their servant.  Everyone loves to be served.

However, not everyone wants to serve.  Only the best and the strongest can serve.

Serving is hard work.  Serving runs counter to our self-centeredness.  Serving demands more humility and love than most of us can summons.

That’s why so few choose this way to make their mark in society.

They would rather lead than to serve.

People who serve must decide whether it’s only for the short term gain.  That means they’re looking for quick results from their service, and if it’s not forthcoming, they’ll shut down the servant-business and be moving along, ready to try another tactic to win a following. But a true servant is one who dedicates his/her life to blessing those around them in whatever ways they can.  They necessarily take the long view, knowing they may not see immediate results, may never be fully appreciated, and may have to wait years to see the good they have accomplished.

Those who serve people must decide how they will do this. Will they take a poll to find out what the crowd is clamoring for, then package the findings into some kind of program and make them think it was a bright idea out of the goodness of the donor’s heart?  Or will they take the higher road and ask the Father how they should go about serving His people?  As Paul said, “We preach…ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).

To serve people “for Jesus’ sake” means we ask Him how to serve them.

The best leaders did not just serve in order to become leaders.  They continued serving long after they were given the Oval office (or the title of CEO or President or Dean or Pastor).  Serving others is a way of life to them. Even after it’s no longer required, they are not content to sit behind a desk and order their underlings to do the heavy lifting.  They do the desk-stuff as much as necessary, but in their best moments, when they are in their glory, they are with the people making their lives better.

Servants are often unseen and unknown by members of the household.  They do their work, then move aside, out of the way.

A servant works to make others successful.

Sometimes a would-be leader will say, “I’ve always wanted to be the president” (or pastor or dean or supervisor).  As though the ambition justified it.

Beware of ambition.

In most cases, what we call ambition turns out to be an old-fashioned case of self-centeredness and a lust for material things, human acclaim, and all the signs of power.

Outsiders will find it hilarious that some people enter the ministry from a love of easy money, public recognition, and a pedestal from which they can show off their talents.

Most of us in the Lord’s work, we hasten to say, have found none of that easy money, found the “acclaim of the masses” to be a fickle thing, and have yet to discover any kind of power over people from being called “pastor.”  Far from finding the ministry to be a pedestal, most pastors find it to be a work station.

All of that said, here are 10 statements that sum up most of what I know of leadership:

  1. Leadership is not about dominating people but encouraging them.  You leave them better and stronger than how you found them.
  2. Leadership is not about charming people but blessing them.  You may be poorer for having helped them, but you know what you did is going to make a huge difference in the long run.
  3. Leadership recognition is given by people voluntarily, not won or captured or snared by someone with great personality traits.
  4. The leader will have the greater accountability.  At judgment, a lot of people will find themselves wishing they’d had smaller responsibilities. “Unto whom much is given, much will be required” (Luke 12:48).
  5. The leader has a bulls-eye on his back.  The arrows and darts will come his way.  It’s part of the price he pays.  If he cannot handle that, he’s taken the wrong road.
  6. The leader must have faithful colleagues and lieutenants to share the load.  He cannot do everything expected and required alone.  The leader is the captain of a great team.
  7. Loyalty is a huge part of leadership.  The guy at the top is loyal to his team members, and they to him.  He has to earn their respect and loyalty before he can demand the same from them.
  8. Matching people’s gifts/talents/interests and abilities with the right job and responsibilities is one of the greatest chores and accomplishments of a true leader.  In most cases, it’s called delegation.  You see Barnabas doing it in Acts 11:25 when he matched Saul of Tarsus with the situation in Antioch.
  9. Leaders are not born.  They earn the title by their hard work.
  10. The leader must stay current on what’s happening, in touch with his team, and adaptable to changes in either or both.  Leadership is a never-ending challenge.

We should always be careful about taking the designation of “leader” to ourselves.  Our Lord Jesus, who could have had every title and deserved all power and authority, said, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

Nothing our Lord said about servanthood has affected me the way the parable of Luke 17:7-10 does.  At the end, when we have done all the things He has commanded us, Jesus said, we should say, “I am only an unworthy servant, just doing my duty.”

We are to say those words to ourselves.  We are to tame the restless yearning inside us that clamors for recognition and rewards by constantly putting it back in its place.  “Back, back, back!  You are only an unworthy servant.  You’re just doing your duty.”

We are not to say that to one another.  We are to “give honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13:7).  We are to “appreciate such men” (I Corinthians 16:18).

Nor does God say that to us.  He says, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21,23).

I am only an unworthy servant.  Just doing my duty.

Keep saying it to yourself, friend.  It’s a shortcut to sanity, a cure for the ego, a simple way to please the Lord Jesus and to remain useful to Him and usable by Him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Some things I have learned about leadership–and have the scars to prove

  1. Amen. All I would add is that on #5, not all of the attacks will come from within the church. Over the past 3 years we’ve experienced a lot of setbacks personally, financially, and medically. It’s tempting to think it’s all just circumstantial, until one steps back and notices the frequency, intensity, and most of all the timing of some of these distractions. They always seem to occur on the eve of great victories for our church, or as we are attempting to tear down some great spiritual stronghold that is holding our church back–it’s uncanny. I understand now why Patrick of Ireland would pray every morning (in his famous “breastplate” prayer) for God’s protection from various enemies, both human and demonic. But I also have the assurance, based on Psalm 71:19-24 and other scriptures, that nothing comes into our lives that has not already passed muster before the Lord, that what the enemy means for our destruction the Lord uses for our instruction, and that in the end He will restore everything the enemy has taken from us.

  2. Sadly, #8 is unheard of and #10 is rarely done. Most younger people these days have never seen a real leader. If they have seen one, they typically saw what looked like a politician and weren’t allowed to do anything but shake hands with them. Even in churches, #8 manifests itself as the favorites being always chosen even if they aren’t the best people. Most of us have seen commanders, but there is a difference in a leader and a commander.

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