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Leaders

A LEADER WORTH FOLLOWING

SERVANTS AND SHEPHERDS

by Mike Robinson

follows on from Following the Leader


 

Bill had been pastor of his church for almost two years. I first met him when my wife, Bev, and I spent a week at his Church where I had been asked to lead a series of Bible Studies. But as our week with Bill and his wife unfolded, we became uncomfortably aware that he was frustrated in the ministry and critical of the members of his church. He rarely had a good word to say about anyone; on the contrary, he complained about almost everyone! We couldn't help but notice that his manner of conversation with church folk - face to face or on the 'phone - tended to be polite but distant; the kind of formality that one would more likely expect to find between a managing director and the employees of the company.

 

Bill had trouble getting people to commit themselves to ministry and this apparent lack of commitment and dedication on their part only added to his frustration. I could not detect any warmth of relationship between this Pastor and his people and we could not escape the conviction that his attitude was alienating his people from him.

 

This alienation was further confirmed when, later in the week, we were present in a home meeting - Bill was not present - where some of those same church members were discussing the life and ministry of the Church. They were not overtly critical of their Pastor but it was obvious that, because they felt unable to meet his expectations, they, like their Pastor, were frustrated and discouraged. Yet they spoke with respect and appreciation of his commitment to the Church as evidenced by the long hours he worked. My guess is that they watched him on a joyless treadmill of his own making and either they didn't know how to get on it or, more likely, they didn't want to get on it!

What a contrast we found in the next church just one week later where we shared in a similar kind of ministry. Like Bill, Cliff had been at this church for only a relatively short time but already he had established quality relationships with his people.

 

To listen to Cliff as he talked with church members was to observe good friends sharing their lives in the context of a developing love-relationship. Unlike the previous church, these people knew that their pastor loved them and was committed to them - not to the ministry. Cliff worked long hours, just like Bill, but his people knew that he was there for them and he was not trying to use them to fulfill the Church's programme or satisfy some personal ambition or emotional need in his own life.

 

There was something about Cliff's attitude towards his people that was very loving, encouraging and accepting. Consequently, the Church congregation was warmly responsive to his leadership and, although it was a Church of similar size and make up to Bill's Church, there seemed to be no shortage of willing helpers. My wife and I had a sense that they would follow his leadership to a degree that would not have been possible without the quality relationships that they shared together as Pastor and people.

 

In a sense, that is not surprising because, when the sheep know they have a shepherd who would lay down his life for them rather than allow harm to come to them, following him becomes not only wise but very desirable! Of course, if those in positions of leadership fit Jesus' description of the 'hired hand' (John 10:12 ,13), following them becomes an exercise in spiritual suicide!

 

Now I am the first to recognise that my observations concerning Bill and Cliff are little more than first impressions. Had we stayed at each church for a month or a year instead of a week we may have found other factors contributing to the condition of their respective Churches. However, there was one major truth that emerged from those first impressions: the attitude of the Pastor to his people directly effected their attitude to him and to the leadership he was seeking to give.

 

"How's your attitude?" Anyone involved in Christian leadership needs to frequently check their attitude towards those they are seeking to lead. This applies to Pastors, Elders, Deacons, Sunday School Teachers, Home Group Leaders...any kind of leadership responsibility in the Body of Christ. I cannot emphasise this enough because the attitudes of the leaders are absolutely critical when it comes to leading a Church or any group of people, for that matter.

 

The attitudes of the leaders can make or break the growth process. This is especially true if leadership is being given by a group - a pastoral team or eldership. If the leaders are committed to a love-based unity among themselves, that example will go a long way towards uniting the Church. Alternatively, if the Leadership is unloving and divided, almost certainly the Church will be divided. If the leaders cannot get it right so far as relationships and attitudes are concerned, what hope is there for the Church that looks to God through the leaders to guide them on their spiritual journey?

 

There is (and always will be) a great range of leadership 'styles' and 'forms'. Such diversity need not be surprising when we realise that various groups at different stages of development and maturity require different leadership emphases. My conviction is that, regardless of the style or method of leadership, there are heart attitudes that ought to be evident in every expression of leadership in the Body of Christ. Any form of leadership that excludes the mind and heart of the servant expressed in humility, authenticity, accountability and loving commitment is immediately suspect because it is in direct violation of the teaching and example of Jesus.

 

The issue of attitudes and leadership is a two-sided coin. In order to have a balanced understanding of this most important subject, we need to examine both sides of this coin.

 

A] the attitudes of the leaders towards those they are seeking to lead.

 

B] the attitude towards their leaders of those being led.

 

If we major on one side of the leadership coin to the neglect of the other, we will end up in deep trouble. Remember, it is easy to go to extremes and it is destructive to maintain those extremes. To keep both perspectives in focus is a very delicate exercise in balance. So, how do we understand each side of this 'leadership coin' and how do we bring them together in a healthy, God-honouring way?

 

 

THE ATTITUDE OF THOSE WHO LEAD

 

When we turn to the Scriptures to seek guidance on the qualifications of leaders, we almost always find ourselves reading about attitudes and not about abilities or qualifications. (eg. Acts 6:1-4; 1 Tim.3:1-13; 1 Peter 5:1-4). Yet how often, when it comes time to appoint our leadership, do we change that sequence and place the emphasis upon abilities? I am not suggesting that abilities and gifts are unimportant; what I am saying is that the attitudes of leaders are supremely important!

 

If, as a Pastor, I had to choose between working with capable leaders whose attitudes were negative as compared with less capable people whose attitudes were Christ-like, I would go for the second group every time! Why? Because the attitudes of that second group would facilitate quality relationships and growth among themselves and those whom they lead.

 

Negative attitudes will always sabotage positive abilities. Let's look at three areas where leaders' attitudes are of critical importance.

 

AUTHORITY

 

When the mother of James and John took Jesus to one side so they could privately lobby for leadership positions and authority, Jesus shattered forever the possibility that leadership in His Church could ever be based upon any worldly model. (Mark 10:35-45). Four simple words should have seen the permanent demise of that option ..."NOT SO WITH YOU!" (v.43). Having identified and excluded the traditional sovereign-subject or command leadership model (v.42), Jesus replaced it with a concept that is both radical & revolutionary. Leaders will be servants, not masters, and their authority will derive from an attitude of submission and service to God; not position, office or title.

 

Leaders will be those who serve among the people, not those who lord it over the people. The key to Christ-like leadership is in the attitude of a servant being found in the heart and mind of the leader. Why? Because such people always know that authority to lead does not originate with them but with the Lord who is their Master.

 

The related themes of leadership and authority continue to be 'struggle points' for us in the Body of Christ. We may criticise James and John but their attitude as expressed in Mark 10:35-45 is still alive and well in the Christian Church today! Despite this, we continue to affirm that God has appointed Jesus Christ to be Head of the Church. That truth is more than a theological statement; it is an experiential fact. Further, God has also appointed human leaders who, under the Headship of Christ, lead the Church in its life and ministry.

 

For leaders to be those who have authority, they must first be those who are under authority. In other words, those who lead the Church must be those who are themselves led by the Head of the Church.

 

The leaders right or authority to lead is always a derived or delegated authority that does not reside with them or with their position but with the Head of the Church. Failure to recognise this foundational truth and to function as a leader in the Church on any other basis is, at best, to disobey the Lord Jesus and, at worst, to court disaster and division.

 

The story of the Centurion recorded in Matthew 8:5-13 provides a powerful illustration of the above truth. By requesting Jesus to heal his servant, the Centurion recognised that Jesus ministered under the authority of another.

 

This was a most astute observation from an 'outsider'; an observation that was missed by most of those who should have seen it because Jesus repeatedly affirmed that His words and actions were not exercised on His own authority. He only said and did what the Father gave Him to say and do [e.g. John 5:19 , 12:49 ].

 

This Roman soldier understood how true authority worked. He was able to lead his men and expect their co-operation and obedience because he himself received his orders from others and he obeyed them i.e. he was a 'man under authority'.

 

For a long time I was sure that this must have been a bad translation and the verse should have read, "For I myself am a man with authority, with soldiers under me..." But now I see what the centurion was saying; "Because I am a man under the authority of another of greater rank, I am able to transmit that authority to my men by issuing orders that have come to me but did not originate with me." In the final analysis, his troops understood that they were not obeying him so much as they were obeying the Emperor.

To reject their Centurion and to disobey his commands was the same as disobeying Caesar. That's how Jesus perceived the response of people to His authority (Luke 10:16 ).

 

So it is with leaders in the Church. When people know that their leaders are under the authority of the Lord and that they are open, humble, teachable and seeking to be led by God, then those same people will be greatly encouraged to follow their leadership. When Christian leaders can honestly say, "What we are encouraging you to do and to be is not something that we say on our own authority. We believe that Jesus Christ is directing us to guide the Church in this manner.", then and only then will the Church members have a genuine and greater incentive to follow. That is not to suggest that leaders are infallible or that their leadership should be followed without being submitted to prayerful consideration and, if necessary, subsequent alteration or confirmation.

 

The teaching and example of Jesus concerning the exercise of authority must have greatly impacted the apostle Peter in a lasting way because it is so clearly reflected in his own teaching years later (I Peter 5:1-4). Peter's understanding of leadership and authority could never be the same again after Jesus had washed Peter's feet (John 13:1-17). The memory of Jesus as the servant-slave ministering to Peter must have indelibly impressed itself into the way he looked at his responsibility as a leader in the Body of Christ.

 

Jesus said of that event, "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." (John 13:13,14). There is tremendous authority in what Jesus said because of what Jesus did! Of course, that example is for all Christians, not just leaders. But it is for leaders!

 

The greatest authority for the ministry of the Christian leader comes not from the position he or she holds but from the life they live - the authority of example. There is something simple and yet compelling when Paul said to the Corinthian believers, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Cor.11:1). The first part of that alone would have been an exercise in egotism. But, inasmuch as Paul was a follower of Christ, he could legitimately urge people to follow his example. Paul said to Timothy, "...but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity..." (1 Tim.4:12). The leader who functions on the philosophy of "Don't do what I do but do what I say" is no leader at all.

 

Why did so many people follow Jesus with such willing commitment when those same people resisted the rule or authority of their 'official' leaders? Matthew 23:1-4 records Jesus' answer to that question. The Jewish leaders were committed to the Law but not to the people. Jesus urged the 'rank and file' to obey the teaching they received but not to follow the example of the teachers because "they do not practice what they preach".

In marked contrast, Jesus lived and modelled everything He taught and the people knew it! He was the embodiment of all He said. No wonder the common people recognised the authority of His life and ministry (Matt.7:28,29). In John 10:1-15, Jesus explains in the clear, simple analogy of sheep and the Shepherd why it is that people followed Him.

 

The bottom line is that the Shepherd not only calls the sheep by name, leads them beside still waters and to green pastures, protects them from harm and danger, but the shepherd is willing to lay down his life for the sheep. The sheep will run away from the stranger but they know the voice of the shepherd.

 

I recall a period early on in my time at a particular Church when I sensed a level of opposition and resistance from some of the people in that Church. On one of my usual Wednesday afternoon retreat times, I went walking out on a nearby farm and came upon some sheep that were grazing in a paddock. At first they did not see me and, as I quietly watched them, I wondered how David, the shepherd boy, must have felt as he cared for his father's flock.

 

Then one sheep caught sight of me and jumped, alerting the others. Some sheep ran off immediately while others paused and seemed to eye me suspiciously. If it is possible for sheep to have expressions on their faces, those expressions seemed to say, "Can we trust you? Are you here to protect us or harm us? In that moment the Lord seemed to say into my spirit concerning the Church, "Mike, some of the flock don't know if they can trust you yet?" That insight helped me appreciate again the priority of right attitudes and relationships.

 

Some leaders in the Christian Church are strangers to the sheep. The message may be orthodox and the intention may be commendable but the attitudes and example of such leaders estrange them from the people they seek to lead. There is no 'servant authority' in their leadership. What they say and the way they seek to lead others bears little resemblance to the Good Shepherd. They are more like the professional we referred to earlier, the 'hired hand' mentioned in John 10:12,13. The hired hand cares nothing for the sheep (v.13) and that is a powerful statement about attitude. Because of that self-centred attitude, the hired hand will abandon the sheep in face of danger and protect his own life; a stark contrast to the attitude of The Good Shepherd who will give up his life in order to save the sheep.

 

ACCOUNTABILITY

 

Those who are called to leadership responsibility are to remember that those they lead are God's flock and Jesus Christ is the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:2). There is in Scripture a constant theme of accountability when it comes to the matter of leadership and failure to recognise this has led to all manner of extremes in the attitudes of leaders concerning the exercise of authority.

 

Even as we listen to the prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17, there is clear evidence that Jesus saw the disciples as God's gift to Him (v.6,9).

 

What a challenging truth! Although He was their Teacher and Master, Jesus never seemed to regard the Twelve as His 'possession' to do with as He chose. As He prays for them, there seems to be a sense of accountability in Jesus' attitude as He 'reports' to the Father on the outcome of His ministry to them.

 

For me, as a leader, here is another reminder that those for whom I am responsible are never mine in the sense that I can do with them as I please and I am not accountable. The moment I lose sight of this truth, I am creating a dangerous climate for myself and those I lead.

 

Recent Church history has more than enough examples of leaders who became a law unto themselves and subsequently led their followers into great ruin. Remember Jonestown! Remember Waco , Texas !

 

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he reminded them that they were God's field and God's building (1 Cor.3:9). He saw himself and other Christian leaders as fellow workers with God and servants of the people. These leaders also knew that, as servants, they were accountable to the Master whose authority they exercised in leadership (1 Cor.4:1).

 

When a leader develops the mindset of an 'owner' or a 'sovereign', he or she will begin to impose authority and expectations in a way that completely disobeys the clear teaching of Jesus concerning servanthood. While the servant knows that he or she is accountable to his or her master, the dictator, on the other hand, is a law unto himself or herself and is accountable to no one.

 

Further, the dictator must not only have his or her own way but they must have it NOW! The servant, on the other hand, is able to lead with patience and understanding.  Paul told Timothy to minister with great patience and careful instruction (2 Tim.4:2). Of course, the image of the demanding dictator is the overt expression of authoritarianism. Political manoeuvring and covert manipulation are equally the product of a mind that uses people to accomplish a pre-determined agenda. The true Christian leader recognises that there is only one person who has any right to get his own way in the Body of Christ...and that's Jesus Himself!

 

Hebrews 13:17 is unambiguous when it says that leaders are those who must give an account. There is an awesome responsibility involved in leadership because the Chief Shepherd will call His under-shepherds to account for how they have treated HIS flock. Those who have been nothing more than "hired hands"(John 10:12 ) will be exposed.

 

In Ezekiel 34:1-16 we find a staggering indictment concerning failed leadership that was exposed by the Lord God and it is couched in those same terms of sheep and shepherd. The indictment from the Chief Shepherd in this passage includes attitudes of selfishness (v.2), exploitation (v.3), negligence (v.4) and oppression (v.4).

 

AUTHENTICITY

 

A true leader is one who is willing to be served by others. Some leaders are unceasing in their service to others but the idea of being served themselves is virtually unacceptable and unwelcome. When Jesus placed the bowl of water in front of Peter and prepared to wash his feet, He almost had a fight on His hands! (John 13:6-8). Peter seemed convinced that, if there was going to be any foot-washing, he would wash Jesus feet! Before we condemn Peter, it might be worth a look into our own hearts.

 

Do we serve others from a position of superiority or equality? Do we deny our own needs and act as though we have "got it all together?" Do our attitudes suggest that we are 'above' the ministry of our fellow believers? Are we not supposed to benefit from the ministry of those who themselves have benefited from our ministry to them? To authentically own our humanity and, therefore, our own needs is so important in this matter of leadership.

 

Jesus was always there for His disciples. There were times of crisis in their lives and He came to them with comfort, protection and peace. But there was one time of major crisis in His life when He needed them. In the Garden of Gethsemane , Jesus said to His disciples, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me." (Matt.26:38). Now it was time for them to support Him.

 

Some would want to argue that such a confession of need would be 'bad for morale' and that leaders ought to always present an image of strength, completeness and adequacy in every situation. To do so generates a gulf between those leading and those being led because the latter group cannot relate to the seeming 'togetherness' of their leaders.

In a morning worship service recently one of our Church leaders took a few minutes to speak to the congregation and acknowledge that, as a leadership, we had unintentionally overstepped our authority in a decision we had made. This fact had been drawn to our attention by a few members of the congregation and he was publicly apologising to the membership and asking their forgiveness for that decision.

 

Instead of weakening the acceptance of the leadership, the Church responded very positively and warmly to this confession of fallibility. If anything, the 'standing' of the leadership was strengthened because the leaders were seen to be authentic in that, having made a mistake, they were not beyond admitting it in an attitude of humility.

 

From what we have already considered about the dynamics of change, it will be evident that the trust factor in a local Church is extremely important when it comes to following the guidance of the leaders into the unknown. It is the ultimate vote of confidence when people trust their leaders to the point where they will follow them from the security of the safe and predictable into the uncertainty of new and untested experiences.

 

When the mantle of leadership fell on Joshua, the people recognised that he was God's chosen replacement for Moses. In Joshua 1:16-18, we read one of the most outstanding commitments made by a group of people to any leader. "Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go....only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses." The Israelite people had recognised that Moses leadership was under the authority of God and they were prepared to follow him for that reason.

 

Now the people are saying, "Joshua, we are prepared to follow you just as we followed Moses. But there is one thing we must know before we can give you that kind of allegiance. We must know that God is with you just like he was with Moses. We have never been this way before. What is ahead is brand new and that's scary! There's a Jericho over there that is walled up to heaven and the people are giants. We are trusting God through you to see us into this new land and to protect us and give us victory as we move ahead in obedience to God."

 

Leadership that is committed to lead God's people into a maturing experience of God's fullness is necessarily committed to a journey that involves change and the unknown. Going further with God is always like crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land.

 

The Israelites left behind the familiarity and safety of what they had known for forty years. In fact, the generation that stood on the edge of the Jordan river had only ever known the wilderness experience. They had been born into that setting. That was their background and conditioning. Now they were being asked to journey into a new and hostile environment. This would involve them in warfare and casualties. But it was the land of God 's provision and the place where He would bless His people and where they would enjoy being a nation under God.

 

For a Church or group, to commit themselves to growing up into Christ (Eph.4:15) is a huge commitment and requires a special kind of leadership. Like Joshua, Christian leaders will need to be men and women of vision - God's vision for His people. And the people they lead will need to know that it is God's vision. But these leaders must not be like the army generals who send their troops to the front line while they remain back in the relative safety of Headquarters. The leaders will set the example and 'risk it' with the troops.

 

Alternatively, to return to our original imagery, they must not be shepherds who prove to be only hired hands and who run for cover at the first sign of danger. They cannot expect any commitment from the sheep! Instead, Christian leaders need to be like the Good Shepherd, being prepared to lay down their lives for the sheep.

 

I think again of my two friends, Bill and Cliff, and I am challenged by what their respective attitudes produced in the lives of their people.

 

I must realistically face the fact that the quality of leadership expressed in the attitudes of the leaders will largely determine whether or not the people will respond to the leadership given. Bill really wanted to be a shepherd to his people but they were reluctant to follow because they really couldn't trust him. They weren't convinced that God was leading him.

 

Cliff, on the other hand, had built bridges of trust by his open, honest and genuine commitment to the people. They could trust him because they could see that he was open to God's leadership in his own life.

 

When that happens with a group of people and their leaders, watch out Jericho !!

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