Posts tagged leadership
In this talk, Simon Sinek shares the very simple secret to the success of some of the greatest business and civic leaders of all time. In the end, he says, it comes down to “Why?”
As I listened to Sinek speak, I became acutely aware that most churches and most followers of Jesus fail horribly in this area. The people with greatest why in all of history so often begin by talking about the what. Even the most faithful among us talk about their actions rather than their motivations.
In our church, it’s easy to talk about what we do. We do a lot of really great things! And we know our motivations, but, so often we (or at least, I) fail to tell others exactly what those motivations are. Consider these two sentences:
We went out this weekend and served meals to people in our community who needed food and they were extremely grateful!
We believe that God loves every single person with a passion that is greater even than the love we have for ourselves – a passion that drives us to work toward justice, opportunity and a better life for all people.
You see, what we do is important, but people need to hear the why.
So often in this year-long journey, it has been the mundane that has made a big impression on me. Some of the passages that I’ve never heard anyone preach on and which are typically glazed over – those are the ones that seem to spring to life for me right now. Today is no exception as I was struck, in the midst of reading about Paul’s incredible ministry, by the following verses:
He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. (Acts 20:4)
What, you may ask, is so significant about that verse? These traveling companions of Paul are not, for the most part, notable figures. But they are notable for this reason. Look at their cities of origin: Berea, Thessalonica, Derbe and the province of Asia. In other words, these were people from the cities and countries that Paul had visited. He picked them up along the way.
For me, this says two things: First, Paul believed in the importance of mentoring. He was able to identify some young guys to take along with him and to train. He trained them to do what he was doing. He did so in order to multiply his efforts.
The second thing this tells me is that Paul was the kind of guy that people would follow anywhere, at the expense of leaving friends, family and home behind. Paul had a kind of charisma about him that attracted people to him. No doubt he also had the favor of the Holy Spirit, which is, of course, incredibly attractive.
My point is this: Paul had the ability to be the popular guy – the guy everybody wanted to be like. And yet, he chose the most difficult path – teaching about Jesus in hostile cities. He also had the ability to become some kind of superhero, but he chose to give his ministry away – to take some hand-picked individuals from the cities he visited and to give them an opportunity to do ministry along side of him. This was the way Paul did things.
And it’s the way Jesus did things – taking some people along, training them and, ultimately, releasing them to go out and do what they had learned to do. And this model is the one used to grow the Church from a small crowd in Galilee to a community of hundreds of millions of believers all over the world.
My question is this: If this model was good enough for Jesus and good enough for Paul, shouldn’t it be good enough for us? If it helped grow the Church (big “C”, global Church) into what it is today, couldn’t it help grow our churches (little “c”, local churches), too? To be a mentor or a coach is not only a great calling and a huge responsibility. It is part of God’s plan for growing his Church and for bringing more people into relationship with himself. I think it makes sense for us to get on-board!
Matthew 5 and 6 contain an incredible string of lessons delivered directly from the lips of Jesus. If you’re reading a “red letter” version of the Bible like I am (and like the one linked to on this blog), you will see that the entirety of these two chapters is made up of red letters, except for the first two verses of chapter 5.
And while there is plenty to think about, discuss and apply in these two chapters, I think it’s important that we consider the setting created by those two verses:
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. (Matthew 5:1-2)
The scene is this: Crowd of people down below, Jesus up top. The disciples leave the crowd and join Jesus, in a way symbolizing their leadership position over the people and their close relationship with Jesus. So, how does Jesus respond to their decision to join them? He begins with this:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:3-5)
And so on. I don’t think it was any accident that Jesus began with these words. His disciples came up that mountain and aligned themselves with him – as leaders in his kingdom (as they understood it). He immediately shoots down the idea of the “haves” and “have nots” of the kingdom. In fact, he essentially tells his disciples that the people they are looking down upon (figuratively and literally) are actually “blessed” and he implies that the disciples should become more like them even as they are seeking to become more like him.
He goes on to up the bar for these future fathers of the church. He calls them to a higher standard. He warns them of the trials they will endure. But then he councils them to not worry about all of that stuff, but to seek God first. This is a leadership training moment for Jesus – a time for him to begin to explain the awesome responsibility of leadership and the requisite humility of a true leader.
Jesus would model this kind of leadership time and time again for his disciples. As they followed him, learned from him and, eventually, launched ministries of their own, I wonder how often they thought back to this time on the mountain – the time where Jesus began to teach them how to lead.
The trouble with having power and authority is that it becomes really easy to get so drunk with that power that you end up backing yourself into a corner. More than once, a kingdom or nation has been brought down by the boasting or arrogance of its leader. As we’re reminded in Proverbs, pride comes before destruction.
Pride also tends to come after a little brown-nosing from opportunistic “friends” and “advisers”. Anyone who is in the public eye knows that one quick way to bring about your own downfall is to “believe your press clippings” – to believe all the great things that other people write or say about you. The fact is, other people’s impressions of you are just that – impressions. And, if it is in the other person’s interest to build you up, they will do so. They can also tear you down just as quickly.
King Darius must have skipped that lesson in “How to Be A King 101″, because he allowed himself to be backed into a corner through a three-pronged attack: brown-nosing advisers, believing his own press clippings and being too quick to speak. For some reason, when we gain power, we start thinking that we can say or do anything. But that is never the case and it wasn’t the case for Darius. In fact, he had, in this instance, “one-way” power. As king, he could decree just about anything he wanted. However, once decreed, there was no “undo” button.
And so, Darius essentially decreed that anyone who worshiped any “god or human” except himself (there is that pride) should be put to death. The problem was, he didn’t know that one of his closest advisers was praying to his God each day (though he should have know this, since Daniel seemed to be very open about the God he served.) And so, he issued a death sentence that he couldn’t rescind.
Now, you could make the argument that he is king and therefore should have been able to come up with a way to pardon Daniel. And yes, he probably could have. But remember, politics were alive and well way back then, just as they are today. Issuing a decree and then backing down from it, no matter how it was spun, would have resulted in the king looking weak in the eyes of many and vulnerable in the eyes of those seeking to overthrow him.
In the end, Darius chose to place self-interest above Daniel’s life, but he felt guilty about it. He prayed that somehow Daniel would survive. And that prayer was answered. Daniel did survive, which gave the king a window to issue a new decree – one that made Daniel’s God the “official” God of the kingdom.
It was a crazy turn of events, but it just goes to show that in the midst of pride, deceit and murder, God can turn lemons into lemonade. He moves the world toward him even when we try to turn away. Why? Because he loves us that much.
Leadership is a tough thing. Not only do you have to deal with people, but, ultimately, you are held responsible for their actions. This is true even in situations that are out of your control. As a pastor, if someone who is a part of our church is hateful or irresponsible, there will be certain people who will forever associate our church with that kind of behavior. “I knew a guy who went to that church,” they’ll say, “and he didn’t seem very Christ-like to me.” And ultimately, they’ll put the blame on the church leadership.
I know this. Most leaders do. It’s not always fair, though often it is, but either way, it’s the reality. And it was the reality for the leaders of Israel as well. Notice in today’s reading the difference between God’s attitude toward the leaders and his attitude toward everyone else. Sure, seventy years of captivity is bad, but compared to the punishment doled out to the leaders of the nation, those seventy years are a slap on the wrist. Check it out:
“I will make them abhorrent and an offense to all the kingdoms of the earth, a reproach and a byword, a curse and an object of ridicule, wherever I banish them. I will send the sword, famine and plague against them until they are destroyed from the land I gave to them and their ancestors.” (Jeremiah 24:9-10)
A byword and a curse. That’s a bad thing to be! But you see, that’s the responsibility of leadership. As the leader, it is your job to follow God and to encourage others to follow you. It’s a huge responsibility and one that every leader should take very seriously. If I’m not walking humbly in God’s grace, always seeking his wisdom and counsel, then I fail as a leader. The moment I begin to rely on myself, I’m off course. That’s a tough pill for “leader-types” to swallow. We’ve been told our whole lives what natural leaders we are, but God calls us to be a follower first.
Fortunately, God does have grace when we screw it up. However, as he proves in Jeremiah and other places in the Bible, his patience eventually wears thin, especially when leaders are openly defiant of him. You might say that God has much more grace for mistakes than he does for defiance. I’m just glad he’s a better leader than I am and I’m reminded almost daily how reliant I am on his leadership.