If we read through the weekly blogs like this one from those of us who consult and work with others, you'd see a lot of article titles like this one – “5 Things, “5 Reasons,” or “5 Dangers.” It's the popular form for this type of writing and those of us who've been at this a while now try to do what we can to keep up with what readers like to read. We also try to write on topics that interest leaders and that often is… wait for it … leadership. And, for some of us, a parallel topic of productivity.
There's an implicit topic in the discussion though, a value that may not be one that matches well with Scripture. I've caught myself recently where I've seen it in my life and I've begun then to see it now in my work with others. Here's the issue: In our discussions of leadership, we've elevated leadership to such a high status, that we've stepped on other qualities and values that may be more important to how the Bible describes Christ-honoring leadership: Leading like a shepherd.
Here's the quick litmus test question: Are our people silently discouraged or frustrated? And then, how do we know?
This issue came to my attention in my consulting work with Arbor Research Group. I was talking with a group of national leaders and one leader discussed developing a reflection process where the national staff reflected on their leadership under the larger issue of growing in their Christian character and intimacy with Jesus… the LARGER issue of our character and our intimacy with Jesus… the one that is MORE important than our work or positions of influences as leaders.
I again heard the issue from my own lips when discussing career options with one of my own adult children who was looking to move into his field. I told him, “Remember that God's greatest concern in all of this is that you grow closer and closer to him through the years.”
The problem is that, though my lips say it to my son, it's less easy to evaluate in my life. In my own reflections on this, I've noticed seven moments when “leadership” as the highest value threatens my ability to lead. Ironic.
And it can happen easily. Without a blink.
We see it more readily in others; it's less easy to spot in our own lives.
7 Moments When Leadership threatens the Christian Leader's … Leadership
- When our position becomes our primary form of authority.
- When our fascination with leadership supersedes our fascination in following Jesus.
- When our warmth and empathy are used to advance our influence rather than care for others.
- When we pray as if Jesus is serving us rather than the other way around.
- When our margins are full of work and not margin.
- When we're deceptive so we don't have to answer a question directly.
- When we lead top-down.
We sometimes flip that around, don't we? It's too easy as leaders to see our Christian character and relationship with Jesus as serving our leadership! [Read that again, then pay attention this week.] Our demeanor, the way we relate to others, and our warmth/empathy are used to help advance our influence. We can too often pray in a way as if Jesus should be serving us and meeting our needs so that we can have greater influence as leaders. And we end up excusing practices and desires in contrast to ones that mirror Christ's ministry and align with biblical values. Consider the following examples:
- We can be deceptive, okay let's just name it dishonest, with those we lead too comfortably. Especially if we don't want them to know what's going on or we put them off as we work on a decision. It starts innocently enough with “we're still working through that” or something like that. But, add ten years to this practice/pattern and a Christian leader can end up being quite comfortable lying to people outright. And once deception finds a home, all manner of protective practices can follow.
- The top-down approach in Christian ministries still baffles me. We watch Jesus work “up” to empower the disciples, even reminding them at the Ascension that He wasn't going to establish the kingdom, but that they were – and that it'd be an even greater work than he did. Yet, too many Christian leaders are comfortable ignoring those “under” them or treating them like cannon targets as they send them out into ministry's fields without concern for burnout … or worse.
This week as we go about our work, let's take a moment after every conversation with another and ask, “Who was I serving at that moment? Was it me? Them? My organization? Jesus?” It's a quick checklist, but it's also a great “self-awareness” step that will keep us aware of the temptations and ahead of the game that our people may be silently suffering under “our leadership” and not saying a word to us.