Leaders who begrudge people the opportunity to seek God themselves and who do not actively teach their people how to hear God’s voice have disqualified themselves as spiritual leaders. ~Henry Blackaby, Spiritual Leadership: Moving People on to God’s Agenda
I don’t know about you, but when I think about Biblical leadership, three names immediately come to mind: Moses, Jesus, and Paul (in chronological order, not order of importance). What is it about these three that made them such great leaders? Well, people have written entire books about each one of those individuals, so there’s a lot to say. But don’t worry; I’ll limit it to a few key points.
A leader must have more experience than those they’re leading. Henry Blackaby, a noted author on leadership, says this in his book Spiritual Leadership: Moving People on to God’s Agenda (it’s a great book, by the way):
“Leaders should not ask their people to undertake tasks they are unwilling to perform themselves.”
Similarly, I would argue that a leader can’t lead others where he hasn’t been.
A leader serves as a guide to those who are less experienced, helping them make tough decisions he himself has already faced, helping them learn things he himself has already come to understand, helping them know where they can walk most securely on the path of life because he has already trodden those next few steps. Thus, a good leader will have at least some knowledge of that path, even if only of what lies a few steps ahead. If not, he would be a blind man leading the blind, and that’s not effective leadership (cf. Matthew 14:21). That’s what the Pharisees did, and Jesus had some pretty harsh words to say about them (cf. Matthew 23, especially vv. 16-26).
So a good leader must have an idea and some experience of where his people are going, which, in the Christian leadership realm, is towards Christ.
Thus, a good Christian leader must be pursuing Christ, drawing nearer to Him, seeking His heart, desiring Him. That’s why the Pharisees were such blind leaders: their desires were for their own glory; they didn’t seek Christ. And that’s why Moses, Jesus, and Paul were such great leaders. Jesus was Christ. Enough said. As for Moses, he was a humble and Godly man who very much had a heart that sought God, so much so that “the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 32:11). I’d say that’s some pretty impressive nearness to God, definitely enough to make him qualified to lead others toward God. As for Paul, he had special revelations about the truths of Scripture (cf. Galatians 1:12); Christ was his all-consuming passion, for he “[counted] everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8); he used every opportunity, even imprisonment, to spread the Gospel (Philippians 1:12-14); and, like Jesus, he was persecuted and, ultimately, killed for what he taught. I would say he did a fine job of seeking Christ and Christlikeness, making him, too, a qualified leader.
However, to be a leader, it is not enough to simply be pursing Christ, for a leader is not leading if no one is following. Thus, Christian leadership is bringing others along with you as you pursue Christ. It is having disciples. Jesus had his twelve; Moses had Joshua (and the elders, no doubt); Paul had Timothy (among many others). Discipleship is the essence of Christianity and, therefore, the essence of Christian leadership. We pursue Christ, the ultimate leader, and become His disciple. Along the way, we learn from other disciples who have more experience than us, becoming their disciples as they lead us. But the cycle is not complete until we pass that knowledge on to others, who then become our disciples as we lead them. This is discipleship. This is Christian leadership.
[bctt tweet=”Christian leadership is bringing others along with you as you pursue Christ.”]
That’s all very abstract, though; you may still be wondering: how did these exemplary leaders actually lead their disciples? By doing life with them. Jesus lived with his disciples for three years as he did ministry with them; He answered lot of their questions; He revealed God to them; and you can bet that they also had a lot of fun along the way. They shared a lot of life in that time. If you read Exodus closely, you’ll find that Moses was hardly ever without Joshua, his protégé, by his side (cf. Exodus 33:11). And he didn’t phone in his leading Israel through the wilderness. No. He was with them in the wilderness (where he had already spent 40 years, by the way—he had the necessary experience). As for Paul, he poured his heart and soul into others, to the point that “goodbyes” were tearful (cf. Acts 20:37-38); he went on numerous missionary journeys with his friends and fellow workers; he continually referred to his disciples as beloved and his children, even—and, arguably, especially—Timothy. He was invested in his disciples.
Now I know what you might be thinking: these are grand examples of discipleship; these were men with huge callings from God; and they lived in a culture with a different pace, where it was not only sustainable, but respectable, to be an itinerant teacher or a disciple of one. Nowadays, life doesn’t so much work that way. But, in its essence, discipleship has not changed. On the surface, it might look different, involving less travel and less encounters with Pharisees, but it still comes down to the same key principle: doing life with your disciples. This can take many different forms. It can be getting coffee and talking about theology. It can be answering that late night phone call to provide comfort in a down moment. It can be providing some sage advice about a major life decision. It can be saying the hard-to-hear truth about dealing with sin. It can be speaking words of affirmation and encouragement. Heck, it can even be implicit, because your disciples will be watching how you act; so even though you don’t explicitly intend something to be a teaching moment, they will still be watching and learning. But whatever it can be, it is—nay, it must be—an invested effort to guide yourself and those you’re leading to be ever more like Christ.
Thus, leadership is not about what you do; it’s about who you are—and, I would add, whom you’re following.
I used to wonder if Paul was being uncharacteristically boastful in his repeated statements to his churches, “Be imitators of me” (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1). Yes, Paul was a truly Godly and admirable man, and we would all do well to be more like Him. But aren’t we to strive to be like Jesus? That’s when it hit me one day: Paul wasn’t saying that we should try to emulate him in terms of his character and attributes and activities, but that we should emulate him in his pursuits—specifically, his pursuit of Christ. In that, we would be emulating Christ and His character and attributes and activities. We are to imitate Paul in terms of his striving to be more like Jesus. It’s that character—that pursuit of Christ that so defined who he was—that made Paul a good leader. He lived his life as an example for others to emulate, and in so doing, they would be emulating and drawing nearer to Christ.
This leads me to my last point about leading via discipleship: as a leader, you’re only accountable for leading and teaching your disciples; you’re not responsible for whether or not your disciples grow or for what your disciples do with that guidance and knowledge. And you’ll beat yourself up and get your spirits down something fierce if you let your disciples’ growth be your responsibility. Yes, if you’re being a good disciple and leader, you will have disciples who are growing. But, as Pastor John-Mark says in this short but profound video, the responsibility of discipleship is on the disciple, not the teacher. Now, don’t get me wrong, the teacher is absolutely responsible for teaching right things, but the teacher is not responsible for producing growth in the disciple. That responsibility is on the disciple alone. But, if you’re being a good disciple, you will be living your life in a way that is compelling to your disciples; they will want to follow you; you will be being a person they want to imitate. But the question remains: whom will they be imitating as they imitate you? Just you? Or you and Christ?
[bctt tweet=”The responsibility of discipleship is on the disciple, not the teacher.”]
In case you missed any of the #BTPLeadership series, click HERE to see what you’ve missed!