Thoughts On Leadership

But those discussions can easily obscure the main issue: Are those gifted with leadership becoming the kind of people who naturally embody God’s love in all of life and therefore naturally exercise diligent and loving leadership?… Or let me put it this way: There is not a leadership model on earth, whether organic, decentralized or hierarchical, that will form a leader into a Christlike leader or even guarantee the freedom from the misuse of leadership.

The conversations that Jason Evans and Greg Quiring are engaged in have motivated me to develop my random thoughts on leadership. Although they are not as developed as the other conversations, I wanted to write them down.

I think the dialogue about biblical leadership is great and must continue. We cannot let the misuse and abuse of leadership that is prevalent in the western church force us to withdraw into our isolated communities. Just like we must constantly refine and be re-envisioned with the proper understanding of spiritual formation, community, walking in God’s Spirit, and mission, as God’s people, we must also keep the topic of leadership in the forefront of our attention.

As I’ve thought about leadership recently, I’ve come to grips with the fact that leadership is not a bad thing. Paul states in Romans 12:6-8, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us… if it is leadership, let him govern diligently.” Leadership is a grace given by God to his Body. Therefore, like the expression of all the other gifts, proper leadership in God’s kingdom is necessary for the development of God’s people into the fullness of Christ.

Gordon Fee has stated “The answer to misuse is not disuse, but correct use.” Although he used this principle in a different context, it applies well to the discussion of leadership. Anyone involved in any social group will eventually experience the misuse of leadership. And anyone involved in the leadership of a social group will eventually be guilty of misusing leadership. That’s the reality of fallen humanity.

But such experiences do not disqualify the fact that leadership is a necessary gift from God given for the development of his corporate people.

Also, I think Romans 12:6-8 implies that not everyone is gifted with leadership. The movement of Romans 12 is that all the members of the Body have different functions. Some prophesy, some serve, some teach, and some lead. That means it is a faulty idea that everyone in the group can be or is a leader. Sure, each in the group may be called upon God’s Spirit to lead in a specific situation. However, there are some in the Body who are gifted with leadership and therefore are called to regularly exercise that function.

Perhaps the most important thing communicated in Romans 12:6-8 is that as much as leadership is a God-given gift, leadership must flow from properly developed character. Paul states that a person with the gift of leadership must govern diligently or conscientiously. Gifting must rest upon and extend from the deep and firm foundation of embodied Christlikeness. As with everything discussed in Paul’s writing, outward expression always flows from an inward reality and disposition. So proper and diligent leadership must be the outward expression of the inward embodiment of Christlikeness, which is love.

This is key to any discussion of biblical leadership. Too often the discussion moves quickly to the practicalities of leadership styles and the debates of one model against another. Modern forms of leadership so dominate our culture and imagination that we continuously discuss and critique from this paradigm. But I think in all of the deconstruction and reconstruction engaged by the emerging church, we must linger on the inward life required to properly exercise gifting. Because whether one is gifted with prophecy, leadership, mercy, faith, etc., that person is first and foremost an apprentice of Christ. And all of that person’s life, including gifts, must flow from the growing embodiment of God’s love and power that is being formed in her or him as Christ’s apprentice.

So we can discuss styles and models until we’re blue in the face and make little progress. We can agree that leadership is servanthood rather than dictatorship or we can discuss decentralized leadership versus the hierarchical model. But those discussions can easily obscure the main issue: Are those gifted with leadership becoming the kind of people who naturally embody God’s love in all of life and therefore naturally exercise diligent and loving leadership? In this context, styles and models become peripheral issues.

Or let me put it this way: There is not a leadership model on earth, whether organic, decentralized or hierarchical, that will form a leader into a Christlike leader or even guarantee the freedom from the misuse of leadership. Systems are the structural expression of those who operate in the system. Therefore, any system can be corrupted and taken advantage of. Simultaneously, a Christlike leader can work in virtually any system to lead with Christ’s character and power. Even the most hierarchical system can be the environment for healthy and conscientious leadership if the man, woman or team is truly becoming like Christ. According to Paul, the onus of proper leadership rests on the leader, not the system. If the one gifted with leadership is following Christ into the true embodiment of love (sacrificially willing the good of others), then that person will lead well.

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