To lead or not to lead, that is the question

I’ve heard and used the saying many times, (although I don’t know it’s origin, so can’t give credit), “He who thinks he’s leading when no one is following, is only taking a walk.” I often ponder what leadership is all about. I’ve read scores of books on the subject over the years. Many people have written on it and offered definitions, many of them profound. But I’d like to get down to the basics of it. Sort of the street level of what leadership is.

How about this, leadership is leading someone? Simple? Certainly. I’m not trying to be profound. Yet, often simplicity IS profound! For the one who would lead the question he or she must ask himself is, “What am I trying to accomplish in my leading?” There are 2 objectives in leading others, one has to do with getting them to follow the leader, ie to do what he wants the follower to do, (maybe it’s the leader’s agenda); the other objective is to lead in order to empower the follower. I have come to believe in empowering others. There can be a rightful place for leading others to accomplish the leader’s agenda. But, I think those occasions are few. Empowering others is a way of investing in them… in essence for the leader to multiply himself.

When a leader seeks to empower his followers, he does so on the basis of helping the follower to determine his own God given talents and understand what it is God is asking of him. Another way of saying this is to say the leader is discipling the follower. Empowering others is to recognize and give honor to the dignity God has given them. The leader accepts his role in the chain of God ordained events and people to shape a life. So in the end, the opinion the leader has of himself is of ultimate importance. If he needs his strokes he may be losing his reward, since leading is not about the leader, it’s about the follower. In other words, the best kind of leader is one who sees himself as a “servant leader.”

Being a servant leader is not minimizing the leader, to the contrary, it’s highlighting his importance because it affirms the significant role he plays in the life of the follower. The follower may never reach his potential if he has no leader to believe in him, see in him what he does not see in himself, bring out those disparate parts of himself that lie in disarray or are otherwise latent and unattended in himself.

This is the kind of leader I desire to be. A Barnabas who saw in John Mark what the Apostle Paul did not see, or didn’t have the patience to pursue. Barnabas, the Encourager, who lovingly guided a young man who might have been fragile, yet by skillfully and lovingly coaching and mentoring, giving him time, he eventually became a stalwart of the faith, author of the 2nd Gospel. Christian tradition says he eventually became the one who initiated the Christian movement in northern Egypt. The Copts today claim to be his descendants.

That’s where my heart is on the matter. I told you it was simple! Simple, yes, but hard to enact.

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Life in the Rear View Mirror

We all know life viewed in the rear view mirror gives a 20/20 perspective. Looking to the past it’s easy to see clearly the issues that once clouded our view. We recognize sometimes we made good decisions and sometimes decisions were not so good. We try to learn from the past hoping not to repeat mistakes. Of course reality is, we can’t know all things well enough to prevent mistakes. ┬áLife requires us to exercise our best judgment and move on with life. Later we can look in the mirror and know if we reasoned well, analyzed our situation well or were just lucky in guessing. And many times the view in the mirror shows us the outcome might have been different if we had only known… this or that.

In contemplating “God’s will for my life”, people sometimes are frozen in to inactivity for fear of making the wrong decision. I’m convinced the will of God, (for the person seeking him first), is discovered in the going. It’s exercising trust in God to direct and in so doing we decide actions to take based on the best knowledge we have at the time. This is analyzing what we know, evaluating the cause and effect of our circumstances, and coming to peace with the potential consequences. In short, we deal with it, we make the best of it. In time we know whether we did well or not. So is God caught up short by our actions and somehow hamstrung if we make wrong decisions? Obviously not.

Here’s an example from scripture to illustrate what I mean. From Ephesus Paul returned to Jerusalem to stand trial for his faith. It was an emotional scene with the elders of the church on the beach as he prepared to board a ship for the journey.┬áHe would make his plea to Felix, then Festus and Agrippa. Paul had made his decision to go to Jerusalem in spite of the prophecy of Agabus and the warning and counsel of close friends. Before arriving for his trial he was rescued by Roman soldiers from a mob trying to kill him, then taken to the Roman garrison for beating. Here he exercised his right to trial before Caesar because he was a Roman citizen by birth. Eventually he stood before the sequence of magistrates giving a powerful defense of the Gospel. Agrippa was so moved by Paul, he truncated the defense rather than be forced to look in his own rear view mirror. As Agrippa exited the hall he said to Festus, “this man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.” (Acts 26:32) Did he make the wrong decision? I’d be tempted to think, “wow, if only I hadn’t made an appeal to Caesar. I could have been outta here!” Paul could have thought so. He didn’t because he recognized God was in the midst of all decisions in life and his sovereignty covers every thing and every circumstance.

To concentrate on life in the rear view mirror is not a good thing to do. Imagine driving a car. The results would be disastrous if while moving forward all we did was fixate on the rear view. It’s good to check the rear view now and then, but we move forward. We deal with life, assess the situations, make our best judgments with what we know at the time. We trust God for the results. He’s the only one who lives in the past, present and future.

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The essence of ministry

Some time in the past, the phrase we often quote came in to our vernacular; “time is money”. This subtle hint is a comment on one of our American values. If you’re not using your time wisely it’s costing you money. Money is worth the pursuit. This concept has found its way in to our thinking when we engage in ministry. Crossing cultural boundaries, well meaning mission workers can easily fall in the trap of assuming the people of their host country only need to buy what we sell. We have good programs that can make them successful. The tendency is to move in quick, sell hard, and present the bottom line of acceptance as proof of the sale. Sometimes it actually works. Once in a while there are measurable results. However, most of the time this is not the case.

I was once a salesman myself. I thought by showing up and presenting my plans and strategies to conquer the world I would be the catalyst to bring enlightenment to my foreign hosts. (I hate to think about the wasted effort.) Somewhere along the way, over time, I learned a valuable lesson. That lesson is this. Ministry grows out of relationship and relationship takes time to develop and nurture. There is no short cut, not of any lasting measure.

Sowing the seeds for long term ministry requires patience and an abiding trust in the sovereignty of God. If we believe we are doing God’s work, why do we assume the God who has always existed is in a hurry for us to get it done? Most of my life I practiced the adage, “let’s do something, even if it’s wrong.” To be willing to take my time is a learned skill that I’ve come to late in life. The formula for long term and lasting ministry is the proper blending of relationship and time.

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