In a day when people are heralded as leaders because of their ability to create controversy or gain social media followers, we are in desperate need of leaders worth following.
The problem, for me at least, is that while I feel a desire to lead, I hear a cultural siren going off in my head that says this ambition to lead is “evil”.
On one hand I hear culture say, “Everyone should have a chance to lead!” On the other hand I hear, “No one should have authority over me!” And yet another voice says, “Be your own leader and if someone doesn’t like that (or you just “can’t even”), move on to something new.” A new spouse, a new job, a new church, a new leader. Either way, the world would be better without leaders.
But, the truth is, leadership is an honorable ambition. Matter of fact, we are all leaders, just not all leaders worth following. Not everyone should be in charge, but all should seek to lead and to lead well. But how do I lead well in my job, in my marriage, in my local church, and so on? The secret?
Be first in line to suffer.
In his book Spiritual Leadership, J. Oswald Sanders wrote, speaking of Paul, “In his day a bishop faced great danger and worrisome responsibility. Rewards for the work of leading the church were hardship, contempt, rejection, and even death. The leader was first to draw fire in persecution, first in line to suffer.”
My assumption is that many of you who are reading this devotional are in your 20’s-30’s. And maybe like me, you think of yourself as intelligent, hardworking, capable, and well, if more people would realize it, READY TO LEAD!
I’m not going to argue with you friend. You might be right! But is capacity and competency what makes a good leader? I don’t think so. And Jesus doesn’t think so either.
What I have come to realize through The Bible is that competency and capacity, while helpful for leading, are meaningless without character.
Take, for example, Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights. Fast racer? I guess, I mean it’s a movie. Leader worth following? Hopefully your answer is a solid no. If so, I agree with you. If not, well just follow me for a minute and maybe you’ll change your mind.
You see, while Mr. Bobby is a complete fool, he nails one false-belief that we millennials just can’t seem to get past. Listen to how he puts it, “If you aint first, you're last.”
Sound familiar? If you're not perfect, then you can’t lead the pack. In fact you might as well quit. Leaders are sleek, fast, and they have an engine that roars across the finish line. They never miss a turn and they leave people in their dust.
But Jesus has a counter argument that I hope you find quite compelling. He says in Mark 10:31: “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Matter of fact Paul agrees with him in Philippians 2:4, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
But wait, how do I know I’ll be taken care of? Jesus answers in Matthew 6:33, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.”
Leadership is not about getting across the finish line before everyone else. It’s not about where you stand on the podium. It’s not about your ability to create followers. Leadership, as God designed it, is about being the first in line to suffer so that others can be first in line to succeed.
I’m a leader in my family when I put the needs and more specifically the spiritual needs of my wife and kids before my own. I guess that’s why Paul encourages husbands in Ephesians 5 to “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Sacrificing your personal desires for the needs and (reasonable) desires of others is the way of the Christian leader.
Perhaps the best explanation of this truth can be found in Philippians 2:5-8,
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
No one had competency and capacity like Jesus, yet what he is most praised for, even among non-believers, is his character. So, friends, as you pursue Christ and as you pursue leadership, seek first to be a humble, sacrificial leader who puts others first. Then, and only then, will you be a leader worth following.
Greg Brooks // Husband, Father and Director of Student Ministries at Christian and Missionary Alliance.