Wednesday, September 19, 2012


I've been thinking a lot about leadership lately as I've reflected on past experiences with leadership and my responses to those time has gone by and we're in a better position now, I think I'm better able to evaluate those experiences and see them more clearly, for good or for bad.

And now that I'm a little more aware of leadership issues, I think I'm seeing leadership crises everywhere!  On top of that, I'm now much more aware of my own leadership style and recognizing that I need to try to understand what it means for my own life so that I can lead in a way that honors God.

The other day I picked up a book that Miguel is reading called Journeys to Significance by Neil Cole.  I wasn't really looking for a book on leadership, but once I thumbed through a few pages, I was rather hooked!  This book isn't like any other book on leadership that I've ever read (not that I've read that many, but let's be honest, most books on the topic of 'leadership' just sound like they will be boring!).

The author writes from the perspective of "Charting a Leadership Course From the Life of Paul" and again, his book is intriguing because he has an angle on the different journeys that Paul made that I'd never considered before. In the author's words, "This book offers strategic missional lessons that can help you be more fruitful; but, even more, it focuses on the leadership formation that Paul went through." The author goes on to outline each of Paul's mission journeys and how each reflects his growing maturity in leadership.

This quote towards the beginning of the book really caught my attention and I've been camping out there for a few weeks now...

"In its basic essence, leadership is not hard to define. In fact, you can literally sum it up in one word: influence. It is not hard to find books about good leadership, but finding someone who leads well is not as easy.

Many have defined leadership as getting other people to do what you want them to. That is influence, so I guess it is a form of leadership, albeit one that is selfish and manipulative. Even when we convince ourselves that we are readily only doing what we know to be for the good of those we are manipulating, it is still an insult at best and deceptive at worst. It tends to treat everyone as a child incapable of making a good decision. It also leaves the people being influenced unprepared to eventually grow on their own and lead others.

The best leaders are not those who have the most followers but those who develop and deploy other leaders. The true test of a leader's influence is to look at what is left behind once the leader is gone. This lesson, however, is not something that one learns in an introductory course on leadership. It comes with the maturity that develops over the course of many struggles, setbacks and seeming failures.  

Perhaps this is why so few leaders today actually empower and release others but rather corral them in ministry contexts with the promise of services and entertaining productions. I wonder if our leaders have not fought through the lessons necessary to their becoming leaders who finish well and, as a result, have ended up simply casting their own vision and peddling their own influence. Instead of new leaders, the product of such influence peddlers is a growing congregation of consumers who beg to know "What have you done for me lately?" Or, as my friend Bob Logan says, "They're all tuned in to the same radio station--W-I-I FM, What's In It For Me?""

I think this quote has really struck deep with me because we're in a situation now where (praise God!) we have a leader who 'leads well' (we are so blessed!). Our experience with this type of leadership has been in stark contrast to our experiences with previous leaders. We really do feel empowered and like we're being encouraged to grow in our own leadership skills.  We don't have to be afraid of disagreeing with our leader for fear that he will be angry or upset or chalk it up to us being rebellious.  We aren't afraid to make decisions and we don't feel like we're being micro-managed. We are not afraid of being labeled as 'not team players' (I agree that there are those who are loners and stubbornly independent, but just because one member of the team has a different opinion than the rest does not mean that that person is wrong or not a team fact, it could mean the opposite, that they are more in tune to God's leading than the rest!).

In fact, every time we have a meeting with our leader, either over skype or in person, at the end he lets us know how much he loves working with us! He tells us how he appreciates us and the way our hearts want to serve God and how open and honest we are with him about our ministry. He prays over us and thanks God for the opportunity that he has been given to work with us, as if the privilege is his to work with us, not ours to work under him.

When I hear him say things like that, I can't help but feel uncomfortable and then cry because I'm not used to receiving that kind of affirmation from a leader (I have to admit that I'm so jaded that at times I even wonder if he's being sincere...does he really mean those things or is he just saying that?!).  Because to tell you the truth, we've been in ministry for quite a few years now and I can honestly tell you that no leader has ever said those kinds of words to us before and that is just really, really sad.  Maybe there was a compliment here and there, but nothing on this level. How sad that we can't naturally just take his words at face value...but I think we're becoming confident enough to accept them. 

I think it has something to do with the basic assumptions of leadership in a mission agency (and I speak about mission agencies, because that's my context).  Many agencies seem to have the philosophy of "How can you help us do what we do?", which tends to reduce members more to the level of 'playing pieces' to be moved about the 'game board' at the convenience of leadership. Thus, once the members are no longer considered as useful in a certain position, they might be vulnerable to pressure by leadership to move into a different ministry even though it might not be where they really want to be (being asked by leadership to consider filling this or that position might even be seen as 'the will of God' when leadership has such power over the members). In short, this style of leadership allows for a dangerous level of dysfunction to arise, IMHO and in my personal experience.

In contrast, there are those agencies who have this view, "Where is God leading you and how can we help you get there?" This implies a certain humility by leadership as they view themselves not so much as leaders, but as helpers who come alongside the members to guide them into the place where God is leading. This dynamic tends to create an environment that actually discourages dysfunction on the part of leadership (not that there might not be dysfunction, but it is much less likely to exist simply because of the leadership structure itself).

So, lots of stuff going on in my head regarding leadership as I reflect on past and current experiences and my own leadership style.  Am I trying to exert the wrong kind of influence (control) over those under my leadership (as in, my kids)? Or am I looking to come alongside them to empower, to raise up and release them to God's leading on their lives?

Good question...

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