The Making of a Leader?

Jesus washing feet

As we follow news reports or as we look around at our society, we see many examples of poor leadership. We see leaders who assert their power by bullying others, or we see leaders who misuse their position by taking advantage of their privileges or by taking advantage of others, or we see leaders handle themselves with a deep lack of integrity.

Sadly, such models of poor leadership are found in the church and in Christian ministries as frequently as they are found in other realms of society.

When Jesus spoke to His disciples about leadership, He stressed, “You know that the 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.” (Matthew 20:25-26)

From Jesus’ perspective, leadership is not about gaining power or yielding power (for the sake of power itself); leadership is about guiding people (or leading people) to the right goal: closer and closer union with God and fuller and fuller resemblance to Jesus.

In his book, Called, Mark Labberton comments, “In sum, our vocation involves becoming wise leaders. Biblical wisdom is: The truth and character of God…lived…in context. When all three of those elements converge, we have the makings of wisdom. When any of them is lacking, we have the beginnings of folly.”

Leadership, from God’s perspective, is all about “the truth and character of God…lived…in context.” No wonder Jesus says that a leader must serve others rather than “lord it over” others.

General Norman Schwarzkopf advises, “The main ingredient of good leadership is good character. This is because leadership involves conduct, and conduct is determined by values. You may call these values by many names. ‘Ethics,’ ‘morality,’ and ‘integrity’ come to mind, but this much is clear: Values are what make us who we are.”

Whether they like it or not, leaders lead by example. That is, people follow how leaders live not just what leaders say. Therefore, if a leader wants to encourage integrity and good character in the people he or she is leading, the leader must conduct himself or herself with integrity. As Schwarzkopf states, “Values are what make us who we are!”

Parker Palmer warns, “A leader is a person who must take special responsibility for what’s going on inside himself or herself, inside his or her consciousness, lest the act of leadership create more harm than good.”

I love the example of leadership Paul modeled in the ancient city of Thessalonica. In 1 Thessalonians 2:8-12 he reports, “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom and glory.”

In Thessalonica, Paul was an example of “the truth and character of God…lived…in context.” We need more leaders like that.


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