Leadership has been the big "buzz-word" for the church in America during the last dozen or so years, but exactly what is meant by real leadership? Many books and resources are available on this subject, and to be honest with you, most of them are fluff and nonsense, distilled from contradictory business paradigms and faulty presuppositions that ignore the truths of Scripture! I have spent most of my ministerial career studying leadership as a church growth constant, I even went to Harvard Business School where I pursued an MBA. I thought that would make me a better leader for Christ. But, I gradually came to understand that what makes a leader great and effective is not found in most business schools or even books on leadership. Quite the contrary, those qualities are found in the Person, work, and life of our Lord Jesus Christ. When I "found" what leadership was really about in the early 90's, I also found that few would agree with or back me up. As a result, my Ph.D. Dissertation was not accepted, and I was eventually phased out of my church growth firm because I was no longer teaching the status quo of leadership. They saw leadership as a force of will and personality infused with the most up-to-date trends. I saw leadership as Christ modelled it. I challenge you to reconsider what you think you know about leadership. Get your direction and mold from Christ rather than trends, the latest ideas, or what you think will work. Purely and simply, leadership is learned from being a child of God and a servant of Christ first.
We usually know what the world calls us to, but do you know what God calls you to? The Bible calls us to a higher level of excellence¾one of vision, love, integrity, and functionality. That is what I call "Incarnational Leadership." It simply means that I will lead the way Christ led. I will not lead the way the world wants me to. Incarnational represents the view that we are to leave the ways of the world and its ways of leadership, and turn to the ways of Christ. As He was Incarnational, we can be too¾not in the mysteries of the God-Man, but more precisely, using how He led as our example and template. As our name Christian stresses, we are Incarnational. Christ-like is to be in Christ, not in the realm of the world. We are to be influencers but not partakers, and our modes of leading the church must follow suit. We can glean non-contradictory insights from business paradigms, but business theories and practices are not meant to rule His flock. Why? Because Christ built a bridge to us as Christians, and we are to build a bridge for others so they see Him in us. We are to build bridges to our interpersonal relationships as leaders and as followers. It is about caring for people because we are being dependent upon Him and His precepts in order to be real and effectual in Kingdom values and the modelling of His ways to the world (Phil. 2:6-8).
Incarnational leadership is rooted in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, as "He took a towel" (John 13:2-5). He was efficient with people, had goals in sight, but was also relational over being task-driven. This kind of leadership produces a church filled with real purpose and motivation as people are called, appreciated, loved, encouraged, discipled, involved by mentoring and discipleship before they are deployed in ministry. This is "Christ life" before "ministry life." Thus, the leadership of Christ is producing a church of spiritual maturity and involvement so that the people are inspired to be devolved, as in caught up in Christ and with one another to be more admirable in the faith and in the world making Him known. After they are deployed, the equipping and encouraging are to continue. Manipulation, conniving, and posturing are to be absent, as God's Love is the fuel. This kind of leadership sees Christ glorified as our tempers and temperaments come in line with His precepts. It means being imitators of Christ so we go in the direction of the possibilities; we stretch beyond what we think we can do or go, and seek where and what He has for us, even with our limitations and frailty.
Incarnational Leadership is based on values and character, so it is about "how we do things." Who we are as Christians needs to transcend in how we are with one another. Leadership that is effective, even in the business world, is more about how we treat and empower our workers and staff. We are with Christ, we are with one another, and we bear with one another in love. It is about being humble-minded, gentle, and patient; it is about being truly rooted in Christ so our focus is to glorify Him rather than follow trends or lift ourselves up. It causes us to carry one another with honesty and grace in spite of our personalities and eccentricities. It requires us to be deeper, lasting, and real in Christ so our model of leadership focuses on Christ and not business. It causes people to see Christ at work in us. It is not about control or command; it is about empowerment, listening, and unleashing. As a shepherd, we lead others where they need to go, where we have walked to the destination first, or are on the way. It is not about results, although they are sought and are important. It is about nurturing and empowering people in Him (Prov. 27:23; John. 10:3-14; 1 Cor. 15:49; Eph. 4:1-16; Col. 3:13; 1 Thess. 5:13-14; 1 Pet. 3:8; 5:1-7).
Incarnational Leadership is demonstrated by the people of Christ who go out of their way for one another for a common goal because they are truly rooted in Christ and focused on spiritual unity. It is the operation of the Fruit of the Spirit and character so that patience, courage, sensitivity, and enthusiasm help keep us focused on Him and the wonder He has for us. It stresses how we are called to act so what we do is moved by character. Leadership that is real and devout is not about us; it is all about who Christ is and shows in us personally. It is never about personal agendas, power plays, posturing for power, or control. It sees no ethnicity, no gender, no economic status, and no politics within the church, or who has the best education.
It is never about pride or leading others to us and ignoring Christ. If so, it is not biblical or effective leadership! Pride blinds leaders as well as the others who are to follow; it misleads, oppresses, and keeps us complacent when we are called to be revolutionaries to the world. We are called to adjust our thinking and style to pick up a towel and not a whip. We are to take Christ, and unselfishly make the best of our goods, resources, and situations to move a church in the direction He called us to before we were born-to be a revolutionary (Jer. 1:4-10; Gal. 1: 15).
A big problem in a lot of our churches today is that way too many strategies have been borrowed from the business world and touted to be the way a church should be managed and led. Consequently, the management of staff and volunteers in devising plans and visions comes from business development. Thus, the family and Christ-like characteristics become secondary as we strive to be a successful CEO or marketer of a church rather than a servant as Jesus exemplified and called us to be. We are to be led by the Shepherd to be shepherds for Him. Having a business model in our churches is a sign of success and of "you have arrived" in the twenty-first century. Therefore, the pastor becomes the CEO, and concentrates only on strategic thinking, thus losing touch with people, prayer, care, character, and Christ. Such churches have little teaching causing discipleship and ministry to be absent in their community and world. This is pathetic as compared to the real potential in numbers, call, and opportunity. As we have seen in the news recently, the business model has not worked well for many businesses, even the big ones. Thus, it cannot possibly work for the Bride of Christ! Even now, the business world is looking for new effective paradigms and models because of so many failed techniques. And, "Servant Leadership" is creeping its way to them!
Yet, most Christian leaders still tend to use the business model for managing volunteers and staff. The head pastors in many churches are forced into a business model because it is expected and, as a result, they lose touch with the people and the other leaders. In addition, they definitely lose touch with Christ! An elder of a church called me recently asking for a pastoral candidate profile with the emphasis on a pastor with the gifts of marketing and communication. I could not find those gifts listed in the Bible. Yes, marketing and communication are important factors in church leadership, but they are tools to be employed, not the means to lead and pastor. I had to tell that elder that no such profile existed, because what the church was seeking was neither biblical nor productive. Their focus needed to be on what Christ has called us to do. The elder was not interested. This is very unfortunate, because although some good principles can be attained from a business model, the church is not a business. It is a family in Christ!
What is Servant Leadership?
So, how can a church be led if not like a business? The Bible shows us how. That "how" is called Servant Leadership. Jesus and Paul clearly taught and modeled the servant form for leadership through the entire scope of Mark, and 1 Corinthians 3 & 4! Servant Leadership is simply following the character of our Lord into a management model. Some business principles can still be applied as long as they do not conflict with biblical ones. To be a Servant Leader means being an "effective" and "effectual" pastoral leader who shepherds, no matter what the size of the church. Then, the church focus and goals are centered and led from the perspective of being effective for His glory by having, as the definitive focus for success, the serving of others in care and love. Fundamental. It is what Jesus did and what Jesus would have us do. A business model typically just leads and manages with the attitude and priority of obtaining goals by whatever means. Conversely, a servant model equips, models, and cares, with the attitude of serving others and the prime goal of glorifying Christ.
Jesus, in Mark 10:41-45, gives us a principle precept on leadership. He tells us that the corrupt Gentile leaders lorded it over the people. In other words, they led people by means of clever micromanaging and manipulating, and they sought to subjugate and control people for their own agendas, interests, or personal gain. Focusing on ideas at the expense of people is the guidance of the world, not the guidance from God's Word and comes from following values that are not Kingdom-based. These are the very same means many pastors use in their churches, forgetting the virtues of love, discipleship, and humility. In order to have control, many will seek power to obtain places of honor. Jesus tells us to do the opposite; in order to have honor and be great, we have to be a servant of others. Leadership that is real and effective is not measured by how many people serve us; on the contrary, it is about how many people we serve for Him. How did the Creator and Lord of the universe lead His followers and model for us to do and be? By being a servant! We must aspire to give our lives as he gave His! If we do not desire to lead in this way, we are seeking our own will and self, not Christ and we will be pride-based, not Kingdom-based.
The language of the New Testament does not give us simply clues on how to lead, but specific frameworks. In Romans 16:1, 1 Timothy 3:8, and 3:12, the Greek word for someone who leads is diakonos, which appears almost 100 times. Translated usually as deacon, it really means servant-someone who ministers to another or performs practical service for another. In Mark 10:45, John 12:26, Ephesians 4:13 and Philippians 1:1, the Greek word used is doulos meaning a slave under subjugation with little to no rights. In Philippians 2:7 the word used is huperetes, which denotes slavery. These conditions of being a servant are also in the realm of meekness (2 Cor. 4:7-12).
The running themes in these passages do not mean that we sell ourselves to another; rather, we seek to serve without the recompense of respect or honor from others. Our focus should be on honoring our Lord, not on what the world thinks or even church members to a degree-at least the ones who are not lined up with the Word. The theme of serving means being subordinate in Christ. What does this entail? Real, authentic leadership is never a force of will, personality, or control. It is not to dominate, subjugate, oppress, subvert, or lead by authoritarian means, persuasiveness, or manipulation. Servant leadership is relying on God's authority, empowerment, and power. It is about how we respond, and how we are toward others with a task and goal in mind that is running in His direction and precepts. It is being influenced by Him so we can be influencers for Him. Servanthood and meekness are not about being weak. They are the means of focusing and developing others for Him. Style and personality in leadership are not the main issue as long as the leaders are working in Christ with His character and Fruit flowing through them. But, remember it is not just about the goal; it is about equipping and empowering people, training and equipping them, and allowing them to follow their call to minister to others in loving supervision, allowing for mistakes so they can learn and grow.
Doing What is Popular or What is Christ?
We church leaders need to go from our head knowledge of what we think we should do according to popular models and trends, to practicing, as Christ did, Incarnational Leadership, more popularly referred to as Servant Leadership. These principles are key to modeling a biblical role for the church so all of the leadership will be trained and encouraged in this biblical model! All those in leadership must make being a Servant Leader the prime parameter from which to attempt any organizational or leadership venture. Remember, goals are important, but they are not the main focus! The task and vision are still at hand, but the focus is on people and Christ over task and goals. It is how we are to one another. Just look up "one another" in a concordance or see the Bible verse references in our Pastors Page channel.
Take heed. The business model will isolate the leadership from the people, their potential, call, and from the Word through which we are called to influence! Yet, many Christian leaders and churches are reluctant and reticent to embark on servant leadership, thinking, as one prominent church leader told me, "they will lose the edge of effectiveness and be too wishy-washy!" Christ and Paul were, in fact, not wishy-washy! Real effectiveness will be increased, not reduced, as some church growth paradigms would have us believe. However, remember that the effectiveness Christ has for us is not what the world or the business model will have. Do not measure success by increase in numbers, but by increases in faith, character, spiritual formation, obedience, service, and most important, a worshipful attitude through following biblical precepts! The numbers will then follow!
What happens when we do not do this? We will be lording over (1 Pet 5:1-4). This includes haughtiness, arrogance (which is to abuse one's power), controlling, not leading by example, to lord over rather than encouraging, to micro-manage, and not serving. This will cause us to fall into the trap of manipulation, political, self-centered agendas, and exploitation, all of which are opposites. These types of leadership models may be the common approach-so it seems-but they will fragment and even destroy a church. The leadership for the church must come from the Jesus model, not the business model! Rotten leadership is more destructive than a legion of demons, as it corrupts godly principles and displays a skewed understanding of our call to follow Christ. It seeks its own, not the Word.
Jesus clearly tells us that a leader should behave like a servant (Luke 22:26). We are not in leadership for power, control, or for personal gain. Rather, we are to point others in His direction by our example. Jesus took a towel and washed His disciples' feet. This is an act we can easily glance over, missing its significance. But this was God, Creator of the universe, performing the lowest job in that culture-washing someone's feet. If the President of the United States came over to clean your toilet, it would be a pale comparison! This is an example for us; we are never too high in our position to perform the lowest tasks because, it is not the task, but our servant attitude that is important.
Samson was a Judge for Israel (Judges 13-16). His primary responsibility was to lead his people, and defeat the Philistines. He chose, instead, to party and pursue women that were not right for him. The end result was that his strength was taken away; he was blinded and powerless. Only at the literal end of His life did he call upon God. He wasted his leadership and abilities on foolish, meaningless gains and manipulation. How sad that so many of our church leaders do the same. We are given precious opportunities and we squander them, pursuing trends, personal needs, and desires rather than God's Will!
Real, biblical leadership for the church is never a force of will or personality. Leadership embodies the fruit and character of our Lord. It requires your being a servant before you attempt to direct others. If a leader just directs and never serves, there is a good chance he is not a real leader; rather, he is a pretender, exercising his agenda and not God's call and will.
Being an Incarnational Leader Means to be a Good Leader
First Peter 5:1-4 has some direct calls for us to be Incarnational Leaders. We are called to follow the Good Shepherd in order to be a good shepherd! Peter is addressing those in church leadership who had the same problems we have today. Thus, he extols them to clue themselves into Christ and follow His example by caring for and pastoring others with excellence and fortitude. Peter does not ask them to do something that he has not done; rather, he uses himself as an example and points them to the Ultimate Example.
The Church has always been riddled with strife and conflict because our fallen nature causes us to fight with one another using the ways of the world, while the devil also uses us for his means. When we do this, we forget who Christ is, and we forget what the Church is here to do¾to know Him and make Him known. We leaders can easily be tempted to chase what is not godly. So, when we are not following the Good Shepherd, we are not being a good shepherd. We will then get our lead from our own desires; consequently, we will seek means to get what we want and not what God has called us to. Then, wham! The sheep are in conflict and strife because the shepherd is leading them astray.
One of the prime ways we can cause dysfunction in the Church is to "lord it over," to see people as puppets to do our bidding by micro-managing them, and seeking to belittle, exploit, and manipulate while we are clearly called to lead by the example of our Lord. We must use leadership as a means of helping people draw near to Christ as we eagerly seek to know Him better ourselves so we can be a good example. The fruit of this will be a sense of willingness, of humbleness, unselfish servitude, and encouragement by discipleship (Matt. 20:20-28; Luke 22:26; Gal. 5:19-26). It is all done with the goal of sharing in His glory in eternity!
I urge you to seek God's will by recognizing God's love for you. In that way, you will be able to apply biblical principles to help you become a much better leader. Additionally, if you are already a leader, you can use the principles of His Word to spruce up your attitude so your character becomes good in action. You can take a look at what you have done wrong, and then correct it by removing your false thinking and realigning your behaviors.
Conflicts buffeted the early church; the Apostles were seeking to restore their churches to a proper perspective and call. The leaders were also experiencing the first waves of persecution and were the ones being tortured and imprisoned. The call is simple, yet so not followed in most churches! The call for us is to exercise watch and care over God's people, and to encourage and shepherd them in a godly direction from a godly example. Leadership is never about what we get out of it or to force our inclinations on others; rather, it is about the mobilization of His precepts from His Word in our lives so it flows and it is "happening" onto theirs! We will have an eagerness to know Him more powerfully so we can serve with more humility. Remember, it is all about how we are to others rather than what we do for the church.
We are called to be Shepherds. This is a term that had great depth and meaning for an agrarian society. It is how Christ led. He exemplifies it in how He cares for and gently guides us. He, as God, serves as our prime example, the One to whom we are responsible for the people He has entrusted to us. We can trust Christ to lead us (John 10:11; 1 Pet. 2:25), and thus lead others in the same manner. Sheep and shepherd are often-used words in Scripture; they denote a concerned guide who honors God, the church, and His people (Ezek. 34: 1-10; Luke 15:3-7; John 10:1-18; 21:15-17; 1 Pet. 2:25). A shepherd does not lead by being harsh or the sheep will refuse to go with him, and perhaps will even die. Rather, he leads and guides them in the right direction with gentleness; then the sheep will follow him. The sheep do this out of a need to be protected, and to be led to food and water that they cannot find on their own. Humans are to lead others to the percepts of His Word and character. We are to lead by being a shepherd. This means we lead not by compulsion and not because we must. Many Greek philosophers and teachers and some Jewish leaders were very strict and controlling; this created a negative, non-enriching atmosphere that led to discord and strife. Real leaders are real examples that exemplify true virtue (Matt. 16:24-27; Mark 10:42-45; Phil. 2:6-11; 2 Thess. 3:9; 1 Pet. 5:1-4)!
Be examples, in 1 Peter 5:3, means to show others and influence them-not just tell them. We are to shepherd the flock of Christ with wise conduct through the exercising of humility and the demonstration of wisdom. The light we use to guide others needs to be His Light, not ours. Our light is pride versus the Light we are to follow, which is Christ (Mark 10:42-45; John 13:1-17; Phil. 2:5-11; 1 Tim. 4:12). As leaders, we are responsible to care for God's people with faithfulness and honor, and never out of severity or improper motivations (Matt. 23)!
If you are in leadership, then be a good leader! Be Incarnational and a servant with your leadership. Our attitude and behaviors will be closely watched and mimicked! We are the ones who will either encourage others to seek and know Him more, or distract them away from the church and our Lord. We must be growing in the faith with conviction and fortitude so we will have good motives. Good motives are essential to good leadership; otherwise, all you have are power plays, strife, and dysfunction! Churches that have problems, for the most part (in my experience), are mainly because the leadership has forgotten who Christ is in their personal lives, and they do not practice His precepts. They are not willing to be good followers and therefore end up leading the people with personal agendas and trends. Christ is left out of the loop (1 Kings 3:9; Luke 22:25-28; Matthew 25:21; Mark 9:33-37; John 5:19; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1-5; 2 Timothy 2:24; Hebrews 13:17)!
If we do not have a desire to pursue the will of God with Incarnational Leadership, we need to ask ourselves why? and what is in the way?. Most, if not all of the time, it is the desire of sin that blocks us. Sometimes, we may not recognize sin and perhaps sometimes we rationalize it away, especially when it is dumbed down and shown as OK in the media and entertainment at our disposal. Don't dumb down the Truth of His Word or lead in the ways of feeble men!
· Here are positive examples from Scripture: John 13:1-17; Acts 13:1-5; 1 Corinthians 16:15-18.
· Here are negative examples from Scripture: Genesis 30:25-43; Judges 13-16; Ezra 4:8-23; Matthew 18:21-35; Luke 22:24.