There are a plethora of books on Christian Leadership. It is one of the most popular topics of writing – how to be a leader – what is leadership.
Now, let me define what I mean by leadership. Leadership is more than just a senior pastor or a priest. It relates to anyone who has taken any form of leadership in the church from vestry / eldership / altar guild / youth ministry. It refers to anyone who within God’s church has taken any responsibility at all. And even if there are people within the church of God who have never taken any form of responsibility in the church, they are not off the hook! Much of the exaltations to leaders apply to ALL Christians – not just to leaders! So what we will talk about today relates to everyone in the body.
The issue of leadership is the very topic which consumed the Corinthians. The Corinthian immaturity is reflected in their arguing and their jealousy over positions of authority.
For the Corinthians – and this has not changed over 2000 years for many in the church – leadership makes certain people more important than others. Whenever ANYBODY thinks that a position of leadership makes YOU more important than ANYBODY else then you have lost the ability to be a good leader!
Such an attitude, as we see with the Corinthians, reveals the persons worldliness which will be manifestly shown in their pursuit of leadership; for such a person leadership means power and influence.
Too often have I heard the phrase – when I am in charge I will do such and such. Such a phrase shows the misconception of what leadership is in the church. It assumes that the major aspect of leadership is that the leader takes charge and makes decisions. Now of course leaders do need to make decisions. But the important issue is not that leaders MAKE decisions, but from WHERE do leaders make decisions. From what basis.
What do I mean? Does a leader make a decision from a powerbase or from somewhere else?
V5 of 1 Corinthians 3 shows us where a leader of the church should make his decisions – What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. The word servant is the word diakonos – where we get the word deacon. The same word that is used in Acts when the apostles appoint those who will care for the distribution of the food and to wait on tables – deacons.
Leadership in the church is about making decisions as a servant. A servant of whom? Jesus Christ. It is out of this place that all other decisions and the care of the congregation flow from.
This is nothing new. But what I find remarkable is that so many Christian leaders do not ACT as a servant. Now, I am going to sound judgmental here – and I am aware that I am throwing rocks in a glass house – However, in my experience of Church leaders in the 18 years I am been in the ministry, many, while knowing the theology that a leader is a servant, in practice lead in an autocratic, suppressive and even obsessive manner. They guard their authority jealously – even fearfully, worrying that people may undermine them.
One way you can test this is by observing how ministers are with the preaching plan. For many, they will not let anyone else, with any degree of frequency, teach in what they usually call “my church.” As we have seen on the first week – it’s not, nor will it ever be their church – it’s God’s church. Also, Preaching is a privilege not a right. When a preacher is more concerned about the fact that a congregation gets HIS preaching instead of Jesus’ Word, then such a leader has stopped being a servant. But this is just one example.
The point is that too many leaders act like premadonnas, not servants.
The desire to protect and maintain authority, by leaders, over a congregation, causes people to be neglected or used; It results in dealing suspiciously with anyone who might challenge the leadership, especially other leaders from other churches. Hence, a protective cocoon develops around the leader and the church, and anyone who tries or is perceived as trying to break into or through the cocoon is a threat and needs to be dealt with. This is exactly what was going on in Corinth.
Moving from a power and authority based leadership model to one which embraces powerlessness and a servant outlook will not be easy. As Christian’s we have lived within a worldview of adversarial and combative thinking. It has been so ingrained within us that to move away from it will take time, education and example.
Henri Nouwen captures the essence of this when he says;
I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. This is the way Jesus came to reveal God’s love. The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God’s word and followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life.
If Jesus, as the Philippians says, emptied himself of his divinity, humbled himself and took the role of a servant, why should a follower and a leader of the people of Jesus be any different? Maybe it is because too many leaders do not how to exercise healthy, intimate relationships. They have become empire builders who are unable to give and receive love.
As Paul says in our reading – Jesus Christ is the foundation. All that is done – all that is built, every ministry, every Church, must start on this foundation.
If the motive of a leader is not Christ and His glory there will be problems. And you tell when a leaders foundation has shifted from Christ to something else. When a leader or leaders focus becomes how many are coming to the church, or how much money do we have, or, or or, then a shift of focus has taken place.
It may well be a cliché, but it is a true cliché – We are not called to be successful but faithful. I have heard many people add to this (and if we are faithful we will be successful). But how does one judge success? By what standards? Man’s of God’s?
Paul says if God has called you to plant – plant. If he has called you to water – water. That is what you are to do. God himself will be the source of growth – nobody else. When a church puts their hope of growth in a person, or a leader – there will always be disappointment – but when it is in God – we will persevere for it.
The question at the end of time for a leader, and for that matter for everyone of us, is not how successful where you – or how many numbers did you have, or how many conversations did you have – the question is did we build with Christ at the center. Was everything done because of Jesus? Was our motive, our desire, our goal that people got to know, grow in and released to follow Jesus Christ. Paul says very carefully let each man be careful how he builds.
The image Paul gives in 1 Cor 3:12 is very powerful. What a leader builds may look very impressive to the world, or even to the church. We can look at say what a great ministry – but everyones work – every ministry will go through the fire. It will be tested.
The point is a sobering one – at the end of time a leaders life work, a Christians lifes work will be put through the fire – and regardless of how impressive it looks to us if the foundation – if the motive – if the goal was not Christ it will be burned. The end of time will reveal the motives of all ministries and all churches.
Now, this is not about salvation. The people’s salvation is not in danger. But here is the sobering thought – there will be people in heaven who will suddenly see that their entire life’s work on earth was a waste of time because it had no heavenly value – it did not survive the fire. They will realize that all the sweat, blood and tears, the long hours and neglect of the family, the planning, the building projects, the capital campaigns and the intense negotiations to get a $500,000 mortgage at 5.1% were all a colossal waste of time.
This another reason why we must realize this is God’s Church; that we must be people of the Cross – that the power of the Church is in the Cross of Christ and that our wisdom must be in God and thus we must be spirit filled people.
Alan Krieder gives four attitudes and four skills of a peacemaker. The attitudes are; humility, commitment to the safety of others, acceptance of conflict and hope. The four skills are; truthful speech, expectant listening, alertness to community and good process (making decisions which are truthful, just and corporate.) While these skills and attitudes can be taught they need to be lived. They must become apart of the DNA of the Church Leader. Powerlessness, brokenness and servanthood are resident within these skills and attitudes.
Leaders are not to build their own edifices – their imprint must be minimal if not nonexistent. John the Baptist said “He must increase and I must decrease.”
Leadership is about encouraging people to build with gold, silver and precious stones – in other words to build their lives and to invest in the lives of others the things of Jesus Christ.