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Leadership is Purpose, Vision, and Patience

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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What is so Christian about leadership?

From one perspective, leadership should be proactive. Leaders need to change this world. I don't know if you've noticed, but many things are in need of change in our world, in our institutions, and all around us. Because sin is all about us and in us, there is no safe location where change is not needed . . . and change requires proactive leadership. Proverbs 25:2 provides us with a glimpse of leaders seeking this type of change: "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings." Such leadership searches for a more noble direction—whether others support it or not. Take action, lead now, transform our world.

A second perspective is reactive. It is suspicious of our ability to define such direction, especially as individual leaders who differ from the pack. Martin Luther was suspicious of his own motives. That's why he sought prayerful time alone before stating if he would recant his views. This perspective of leadership considers the reality of our self-indulgent tendencies and considers how limited we are in our ability to truly know where to lead. It also considers our inclination toward institution-building when God may desire us to work in more humble reactive ways. It reveals the subtle difference between wanting to lead like God and wanting to be God.

The serpent in Genesis 3:5 understood this. He carefully crafted his message of temptation: "For God knows that when you eat of [the fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Adam and Eve gave in to this temptation because they desired power. They did not merely want to be like God, but rather they wanted to be God. This perspective on leadership suggests potential leaders should consider rejecting the limelight or seek to share power. Leading with others may insure no one person becomes the self-indulgent centerpiece of change.

So what is a Christian to do with leadership: accept it, share it, or defer? It seems all of those options may be required of Christians at different times. We observe Abraham allowing Lot, his nephew, to choose the land where he will live (Gen. 13). We see David patiently waiting as Saul serves despite the changes needed in the kingdom (1 Sam. 24:10). These men provide little vision or direction at those times, but rather defer to God's timing and the will of others. Similarly, in Mark 10:43, Christ states that whoever wants to be first must be the very last and the servant of all. Such examples and words do not immediately compel leaders to proactively create change (especially without the support of others).

However, our world is in need of change, and God is at work changing it through us and our leaders. People need purpose and vision. We are called to proactively plan (Prov. 12:5), even if it means leading alone. Our most familiar leaders of the faith—David, Elijah, Isaiah, Paul, and Moses—proactively led when few others would follow. Even Martin Luther returned from his time praying alone to announce he would not and he could not recant. Proactive leadership is needed at times. So how do we discern when to wait or share leadership and when we must lead without full support of those we care most about? Is there a way to integrate proactive and reactive leadership?

Discernment may hinge on our ability to accept two realities as Christians.

1) God truly does live in us (enabling us to lead).

2) But we truly continue to sin.

These realities require we exercise leadership in both proactive and reactive ways, willingly waiting and watching what God provides. We must not fail to distinguish a holy desire to be like God from a sinful desire to be God. We lead with trembling hands, face to face with Christ, clarifying the change we see while remaining willing to relinquish our certainty of how God will work. Whatever change we seek, it is not our change. All real change includes our proactive leadership but is never realized outside of our reaction to the direction God provides: In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps (Prov. 16:9).

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