Embracing the Blessing of Leadership
Several times a week I am in a meeting with a leader who will share about the significant burden of their position. More often than not, they have been holding it in far longer than they should have. Sometimes to a point which bitterness has taken hold.
Why is leadership a growing burden? Why is it so difficult for us to carry it? And how does bitterness so often become the unwelcome companion of leadership? I believe it is because we simply do not understand our role as leaders. In all honesty, we were not created for sole leadership.
God created us to be ambassador/governors of his creation (Gen 1:26-28). We were not ever to be creators of our own empires by our own designs. Our authority was always to come from God alone, carrying out his objectives and for his glory.
And it is a glorious thing to watch a creature celebrate being who God made them to be. Doubt me? Go spend some time watching ducks at the pond or squirrels at the local park. Ponder how they play, primp, scamper and enjoy life. That joy comes form being squirrels. They are ambassadors of God’s glory at the level for which they were created. They know nothing else, and they relish life!
Leadership, while a blessed thing when handled wisely, can be a terrible burden when we do not hold it the proper perspective. The best leaders will recognize they are first under the ultimate authority from God himself. Now they may choose not to recognize the one to whom they are accountable, but in the end they will answer to the King of all Kings. Ultimately, no leader is ever without accountability. The question is if we will accept it.
In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve find themselves facing the ultimate trial of leadership: The choice to allow themselves to remain under another's authority – that of their Creator. Instead they chose to give into the temptation of defining their own rules, to set their own authority, to follow their selfish desires rather than live under the guidance given by their creator. The results were disastrous. Exiled from their home, one son murders another, and the shame that personal choices cost them a much better life.
While our choices may not cause the same kinds of shifts in leadership experience, they can come close. When we begin making decisions out of prideful ambition rather than humble accountability to the one who placed us in our role, we risk everything God has created for us to represent him in. Relationships can be wounded as congregations and communities become divided because of one person's choice to see them as the sole leader.
This is one of the many reasons Jesus' leadership fascinates me so much. He handled the mantel of leadership in a radically different way.
I love Paul writes about Jesus' humility to the Philippian Church:
Philippians 2:5–11 (NIV)
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus had every right to demand anything as a leader. As God in flesh, he could claim his own authority and expect it to be honored by all, but that is not what he did. Instead, he humbled himself before the will of his father, choosing to live as a servant to all, so that he could carry out the mission of salvation for humanity. That mission led him to both the greatest sacrifice and the greatest glory!
In Luke 9:23 Jesus tells us that any who follow him need to accept this same sort of life. Jesus set the ultimate example of what leadership looks like. It is ambassadorship of our heavenly Father's authority, carried out in submission to his will.
I believe we lead best when we do so under the authority of Jesus; accountable to him in the decisions we make, as we are making them.
So what practical steps can we take in order to place ourselves under the authority of Jesus and live as Ambassadors of God's Kingdom?
Study the Words of our King: If we lived in a true monarchy, no body that wanted to serve the king would ignore his decrees. They would study them and pattern their life around them. We have the same opportunity by allowing the Bible to be our primary marching orders for life.
Communicate for clarity: Communication is one of the greatest keys to sound leadership. But if our leadership is really that of an ambassador for our King, we need to make sure we are hearing form him and understanding his call. Simply reading the Bible is only a start. Praying the words back to Jesus and asking him to help you apply them to your daily life and leadership decisions opens the door to communication to the one whom we are accountable. Listening for his guidance and waiting on the King of Kings to lead our steps provides us the wisdom and clarity we need.
Accountability: There are no lone rangers in God's view of leadership. We all need one or two Godly friends who know us well enough to call us out on the areas we are struggling to place under God's authority. In my life, I have both a mentor and a few accountability partners who I have invited into to speak into my life. However, when they speak to me I must listen as if it was Jesus himself speaking to me. So I have chosen these individuals carefully. I respect them, especially their personal walk with Jesus, implicitly. When they hold me accountable, I trust it is Jesus guiding them to do so.
I recognize that in writing this it may come across that I have this all figured out. Allow me to assure you this in not the case. I am a work in progress, but I have learned that when I make leadership decisions to make sure I am walking through each of the three steps above. I am grateful that God has allowed me several Godly friends who help me follow in the footsteps of Christ.
How about you? Most people have no problem with my first two suggestions, but the third is often very difficult for people to follow. Allow me to invite you to begin praying about whom you will follow as a mentor, who you will invite into your life to hold you accountable. Once you have clear guidance from God on who that is, please discuss this with them.
Until we return to the role of leaders under God's authority, we will not be able to receive all of the blessings he intends for his ambassadors.