Occupying a leadership role is a responsibility we all fill at some point in our lives. For some, this appointed position will last the span of their careers. For others, the leadership role will be seasonal. But whether short or long term, for the Christian, leadership is a call to illuminate the ways of Christ in a dark world. God’s children are called to transformational leadership.
I believe most Christians understand they are to walk as Christ, shedding the light of grace to those around them. But I don’t believe that every Christian understands when given the opportunity, they are to lead as Christ led, which ultimately means picking up a heavy cross and toting that cross into extreme vulnerability.
According to our Christ, His leaders are to be sacrificial slaves. Look with me at Mark 10:42-45:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
John 13:13-17 records Christ’s example of servant leadership:
“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
Leadership must lead as Christ led to be considered Christian. Christ demonstrated servant leadership.
To be as Christ, we are to be vulnerable–the opposite picture of the strong-armed and flawless leader most of us wish to portray.
Strong or Weak, It Gets Confusing
After nearly thirty years in fulltime Christian ministry with several organizations, I can testify to some leadership confusion.
While there are plenty of books and blogs explaining servant leadership, still Christian leaders often reflect the world’s leadership values other than Christ’s values. As the Apostle Peter wrote, Christian leaders are to appear as aliens, contrasting the things of the world—suffering shepherds glorifying Christ. The leadership model of our world today is anything but a suffering shepherd. CEOs, CFOs, executives, and managers often seek their own glory rather than pointing to Christ. Leadership has become a badge of honor rather than a call to service. According to Peter, as Christians—whether leading a secular team or in a Christian ministry—we are to look so radically different from the world’s model of leadership, we will be called peculiar.
As Christ was a threat to the traditional Jewish (and Roman) culture of his time, so we Christian leaders should threaten the status quo of worldly leadership which turns out to be dead-end games of manipulation, jockeying for power, idolizing our own ideas, and considering ourselves as more important than those we lead.
I’m perplexed as speakers in Christian leadership conference after leadership conference neglect the Bible and dazzle audiences with best sellers and successful businesses, calling these the outcomes of solid leadership. We’ve come to judge good leadership by standards of economic success or the size of our church congregations to our shame. Time and again, the Bible directs us to take the rugged paths of hardship, not the glittery roads to stardom.
Most of my leadership roles (beyond being a mother) have been couched inside Christian nonprofit ministry. Although I have been an entrepreneur and worked in a secular family business, I’ve been in the Christian nonprofit sector for most of my working life. It is here, within the various Christian ministries I’ve served, I realized how we Christian leaders mirrored the world’s models of management. For me, this needs to change.
I am guilty of embracing the world’s ideals for leadership. I’ve failed employees, volunteers, and my own family when it comes to servant leadership. This is why I write this blog—to challenge myself to lead differently—seeing others as more important than myself and building up those I serve to do greater things than I will ever accomplish. This is why I’ve formed the Take the Hill online group and sponsor live events for women.
One of the biggest areas of misunderstandings for Christian leaders, I believe, is in the relationship with employees or volunteers. Often, workers are treated as a workforce instead of the loving objectives of Christ’s affections. I find this odd as Christian ministries are one-hundred percent about people. Either serving the poor and needy, prisoners and widows, or sharing the Gospel with those who have yet to hear the good news. Christian ministries exist to serve people.
And yet, it’s the people within our immediate influence that are often overlooked in the process of ministry.
Employees are treated as objects or tools to achieve a greater call, stretched beyond capacity, guilted into service, and judged based other leaders’ theology. But when we look beyond the world’s organizational charts and into Christ’s leadership model, we see that Christ ministered to the twelve within His immediate influence, pouring His wisdom, knowledge, and love into those He called to come and serve beside Him. Jesus fed His disciples, slept in the dust with these men and women, washed their dirty feet, and equipped each to build a kingdom that would look radically different from this temporary world. He ministered to those directly under His care.
Eternal vs Temporary
We have been called to model the eternal kingdom, not the current one.
In Christ’s human economy, the first shall be last and the last shall be first (Matthew 20:16). He died because He so loved the world … all of the world’s people … not just the people yet to hear the gospel. “All people” means those under our influence.
Jesus Christ absolutely adores the people we lead. His will is for these humans to grow spiritually under our care. I’m not sure when this is going to sink into our worldly-conditioned minds. It’s not the mission we are to grow, its the people. The people, like Christ’s disciples, are those that will replicate and multiply the processes that lead to the Lord’s objectives. His objectives, not ours!
Under the banner of a mission, we’ve neglected a vital part of the mission—our own potential disciples.
Exemplifying Christ in our leadership will be hard, excruciating, flesh-cutting work. We’ll have to give up:
- Passive/Aggressive behaviors
- Our personal ideals
- Our desire for control
- The ungodly responsibilities we’ve placed upon our own shoulders (He is king)
- Our personal preferences
- Our need to dominate
- Cravings for attention
- Our addictions to praise
- The idea that others should think as we do
- Our passion for intoxicating power
- Our love of accomplishment rather than people
- The lie that the Holy Spirit speaks to us only and is incapable of speaking through those we lord over
In the coming months, I’ll write more on each of the above leadership pitfalls and share servant leadership points for those interested in doing leadership the peculiar way. In my role as founder and leader of Take The Hill Women’s Ministries, (FB group and live events) I’m looking to be a peculiar leader. What about you?
I hope you watch for more transformational leadership insight!
If I perish, I perish,