by Matthew Cramer
Much is written about leadership in the secular: Building consensus, setting values by example, getting people to dedicate themselves to a set of common goals, and so on. At its heart, these writings address: How can I get you to invest your energies and talents in my vision and goals? After all, the principal objective of a business is to make profit for the stakeholders. It is held that the most significant increases in productivity are to be gained by unlocking the latent creativity, talents and energies of the employees.
This approach misses much of what the Scriptures have to say about leadership and the exercise of authority and power. Here is a summary of the more important points that impressed me during my studies.
Romans 13:1 tells us that leadership positions are ordained. All authority comes from God. While some leaders are ordained with a small “o” and some with a large “O”, it makes no difference at this most basic level. If you are a bishop, manager, supervisor, pastor, executive, parent, judge, group leader, legislator or anyone else with legitimate responsibility for people or endeavors — whether in the sacred or the secular — you are yoked with God’s loving, active involvement — whether you know it or not.
Aside from the unique responsibilities that go with each leadership position, there are fundamental and very necessary services required. Leadership must provide a peaceful environment in which God’s people are to live their lives (1Tim 2:2). Some of the more significant notions included in this concept of a peaceful environment are:
- Organization – the distribution of work and responsibilities to prevent chaos and anarchy. Included here is the appointment and delegation of authority to other leaders, and their removal if necessary.
- Resources – making sure that the body is equipped with the necessary creativity, talent, experience, money, and physical goods to accomplish its mission.
- Protection – provide for the removal of internal disturbances and protection from unnecessary external influences that disrupt our endeavors. This includes making decisions, settling disputes, removal of disruptive individuals, spiritual warfare, and setting policies that bring life to the body.
- Communication – making sure that the body is properly informed of events, status, issues, policies and objectives that affect its mission. The term “properly” means not only factual correctness, but also facts presented in the proper context — in other words, the truth.
- Vision – see to it that the body has arrived at a vision from the Lord for its specific mission, and a plan for accomplishing it. While vision frequently changes as we approach it, we must always be moving toward a vision with confidence that we can reach it. “Without vision, the people perish.” (Prov 29:18 KJV)
THE LEADER’S MISSION
Paul tells us the exercise of leadership in concert with the Lord is intended by Him to foster spiritual growth, and bring others to the Lord.
“[Pray] …for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1Tim 2:2-4 RSV)
When I study these scriptures, I hear the echo of familiar words written 200 years ago: In the preamble of the Constitution — “form a more perfect union, promote the general welfare, and provide for the common defense” — and the Declaration’s — “certain unalienable rights…life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
Of course this is pretty heady stuff. Quickly following on its heels, however, is concern for the abuse of authority and power. Jesus solves this problem rather bluntly in Matt. 20:25-28 when He says that leaders must serve those entrusted to their care, not lord their authority and position over them. Later, that admonition is amplified and reinforced when He washes the apostles’ feet.
A study of these passages reveals cultural metaphors that are strong medicine indeed. There is the suggestion of a slave’s mentality where every concern of the slave is first directed toward the life, needs and happiness of the master.
All well and good, you might say, but how does one do this without spoiling their charges, being run over by them, and becoming a doormat? The answer is simple. Everything a leader does must bring life and growth to those entrusted into his care. Sometimes life comes through facing difficulties, challenges or even pruning. Other times life comes through affirmation, training, opportunity and protection. There are times when people need limits and clear guidance. And there are times when people need trust through added responsibility and room to explore.
The leader works his way through this minefield by serving needs, not wants. Wants are emotionally based and fickle. Needs are rooted at the very foundation of life. Without them, both life and growth suffer. So how does the leader tell the difference? Well, intercession and experience helps. But mostly, the leader needs wisdom and discernment from the Lord — which, surprise-surprise! requires an ever-deepening relationship with Him.
The application of these principles varies widely, of course, depending on the specific organization and mission entrusted to the leader’s care. There is a big difference, for example, between setting up a new department in industry, organizing a music ministry in a prayer group, and telling a teenager to take out the trash. But each demonstrates the principle of organization: Distribution of work, assignment of responsibilities, the ordination of leaders, and so on.
One would hardly expect prayer ministry for inner healing and deliverance in any significant way at work. But intercession and protection through spiritual warfare is just as necessary for work responsibilities, as it is for the family or the prayer meeting.
A loose translation of Prov 29:2 could read: “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when the wicked rule, the people groan.” Leadership comes from God, carries specific responsibilities, receives authority and power to carry out its mission, and is required to operate under certain policies intended to serve and protect the people and the mission entrusted to its care.
If you are responsible for others — and most of us are in one way or another — my advice is: Stay close to the Lord, seek wisdom, and serve at the feet.