A strong dose of leadership

Many of our churches have a love-hate relationship with the concept of strong leaders.

Some will say they want a strong leader but find themselves unable to work with one when they get him.

–“He acts bossy.”

–“He announces the direction for the church but without talking to me.”

–“The minister of music was here before the pastor and is not used to taking orders.”

–“We have to approve that 35 cents he wants for stamps.”

–“We didn’t vote on that program.”

Other churches have terminated pastors because they say the ministers were not giving strong leadership.

–“We didn’t know where we were going.”

–“The staff seemed directionless.”

–“We were just floundering.”

Two conversations and four questions on the subject of strong leaders….

A friend was telling me of an unusual schedule the pastor’s new administrative assistant was going to be keeping. I said, teasing, “Sounds like you will have to make an appointment with the secretary to make an appointment to see the pastor.”

My friend observed that in addition to a strong sense of humor needed to work in any church office, it also helps to have “a strong dose of leadership.”

Interesting way of putting it.

Later the same day, I bumped into some friends in a restaurant and we began reminiscing about ministers we had known. The wife once worked on staff with a pastor in Atlanta whom I have known for several decades. I observed that he is one nice person. She said, “He was so good to work for.  When I would ask for permission to put some program into effect in the children’s area, he would say, ‘That’s what we brought you here for. Do it!'”

That’s one thing strong leadership does: It puts good people in place and supports them to do their job well.

Four questions…

1) What exactly comprises “a strong dose of leadership?

a) A strong leader has excellent sense of where the organization is going and what needs to be done.

If the leader is unclear, no one gets it right.

b) A strong leader has a deep personal commitment to making that vision happen.  This is no part-time job, no weekend avocation. This is his heart, his very life.

c) A strong leader sees staffers and assistants as extensions of himself, and supports them the way he wishes to be supported. When they succeed, he is as proud of them as when his little leaguer hits a home run. When they fail to carry through on their responsibilities, he takes that personally too, and will not condone it.

d) A strong leader keeps repeating the vision and restating the mission so that the regulars are never allowed to forget it and newcomers learn quickly what this church is about.

e) A strong leader of God’s people will lay aside his robe and gird himself with a towel and wash his people’s feet. He is willing to do the worst jobs, the ones no one else was willing to take. He does this not to embarrass those who should have taken this job or to teach them a lesson. He does this because he has a heart to serve.

The leader with no heart to serve is following a worldly model and not Christ, who said, “I am among you as One who serves” (Luke 22:27).

2) Where do strong leaders (for the people of God) come from?

God calls them and He sends them. He accompanies them and works through them.

The Lord said to Moses, “I will send you to Pharaoh” (Exodus 3:10), “I will be with you” (3:12), and “I make you as God to Pharaoh” (7:1).

He said to Joshua, “Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you. I will not fail you or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5).

God said to Jeremiah, “I have appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).

3) What if I don’t have the natural talents of a born leader?

It’s best if you don’t.  They tend to get in the way.  People with a gift of gab can smother the Word of God with their own chatter; people with a natural boldness can be offensive when confronting those in need of their message; people with an innate confidence before crowds often think people are swayed by their eloquence.  So, if you have none of these–no eloquence, no boldness, no self-confidence before crowds–good.

Moses said, “Who am I” (Exodus 3:11), “What if they won’t listen to me?” (4:1), “I’m not good with words” (4:10), and “I am unskilled in speech” (6:30).

No matter. God would fill in the blank spaces.  Today, books on leadership cite Moses as a prime example of a strong leader who did it right.

Jeremiah said, “Lord, I’m just a child. I cannot speak” (Jeremiah 1:6).  Again, God cared nothing at all about the man’s shortcomings. Zilch. Nada.

This is not about you, child of God. It’s all about Him.  Those natural gifts of yours may be used for Him, but only if you bring them to Him and let Him destroy them and rebirth them and then return them to you at His discretion.

4) How will other people recognize that God has called me as a leader?

Well, for one thing, don’t go around telling people “God called me and you all are supposed to follow me!”  You don’t see Jesus doing that, and if anyone had the right, He did.  (People rightfully are suspicious of anyone making such claims. It’s a tactic of false prophets and weak leaders.)

If God has called you and put His Spirit upon you, the godly in the room will notice soon enough. They will a) see God’s works through you and b) hear God’s word in your words. In time, everyone else will see and know also, but it’s enough that the godly and mature recognize that God has made you His “man for the moment.”

The Lord gave Moses some remarkable powers to leave no question in anyone’s minds that God’s power was at work in their midst.  You and I will not be casting down rods in deacons’ meetings and beholding their faces as they turn into snakes.  We will not be flooding the yards of the skeptical with blood or filling the homes of nay-sayers with frogs.

The works of the Lord upon us will be of a different nature.  Since the “fruit of the Spirit” (i.e., traits of Jesus Christ Himself) are “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control,” don’t be surprised if the Lord’s confirming works through you take the form of service, ministry, giving, and blessing.

After all, the lasting image of the New Testament for leaders is servants. A servant is someone who gets under the load and helps you bear it, looks for a way to help a struggler, and makes himself available for whatever else you need. “He who would be great among you, let him be your servant” (Mark 10:43).

God wants His people to be leaders, and He wants His leaders to be strong.

We all love the promise of Deuteronomy 28:12-13.  If we are faithful, the Lord will make us the head and not the tail, put us on top and not the bottom, and make us the lender and not the borrower.

What we must never forget however is that we are on top as the head so we can serve, not dominate.  The image of a leader who dominates and orders and bosses is corrupt, worldly, and unworthy of the Kingdom.


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