By Mark A. Taylor
What would you preach if your sermon assignment was leadership? What could possibly be fresh or helpful to say about a topic that has already been the subject of a thousand books, articles, and workshop sessions? What would you add—or subtract—from this outline for the sermon I plan to preach this weekend?
Godly leaders . . .
• are servants, not stars. Consider the ridicule and stress Noah must have felt, obeying a strange command and anticipating a horrible outcome. Think about Moses, saddled with the whining, self-centered, shallow, and headstrong Jews on a journey to a promised land they couldn’t envision and were afraid to enter. Remember the words of our Lord himself, who said, “Whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:44, 45).
• push themselves but don’t puff themselves. The apostle Paul stands out here. His litany of suffering (1 Corinthians 11:24-29) exceeds anything most of us can imagine. He became “all things to all people” so that by “all possible means” he might win some (1 Corinthians 9:22). His remarkable drive and intellect were transformed into a force for winning the lost, not advancing his career.
• sometimes have different strategies, but always a common goal. We think of Paul’s separation from Barnabas over the issue of whether to take John Mark on a ministry trip (Acts 15:35-41). Their disagreement was severe, but it didn’t distract them from their primary purposes.
• have everyday weaknesses redeemed by Holy Spirit strength. Consider, for example, Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” Peter’s impulsiveness, and the self-absorption of James and John, the “Sons of Thunder.” All of them rose above the tendencies of their temperaments to become leaders of the first church, writers of Scripture, and examples for us all.
This didn’t happen through willpower, from reading self-help books, or attending leadership courses. They were transformed by the Holy Spirit who is waiting to work in our hearts and lives too.
• are refined by suffering, not programmed for success. Hear what Jennifer Johnson posted to her blog last week:
I’m struck that almost every person God used in significant ways not only experienced major struggle but was also probably confused by it. Abraham was told he would father a nation but had to wait decades for his one son–and then was asked to kill him. Moses eventually became the “God’s gift to Egypt” he always thought he was, but only after that pride was worn out of him through decades as a no-name shepherd in the desert. Joseph spent years in jail for doing nothing wrong. Hannah prayed and cried and prayed and cried for a child. David made a hobby of running for his life from a manic-depressive Saul.
Over and over again, we see people who were required to go through extremely difficult circumstances with no idea of the bigger picture. God asked them to do much harder things than he asks most of us to, and he didn’t give them a playbook or even an explanation. Because we know the end of these stories, we forget that while it was happening these folks had no idea how things would end.
• are followers first. Jesus didn’t spend any words telling the disciples “how to lead.” Instead, again and again, he lifted up the high price and the high calling of following him. Don Green made this point in a piece he wrote for CHRISTIAN STANDARD last year. In it he referred to Randy Rickerson’s book Follower First: Rethinking Leading in the Church:
[Rickerson] observes, “The Bible is a book about followers, written by followers, for followers” (p. 7). He identifies the church’s perceived crisis of leadership as actually “a crisis of following” (p. 11) and argues that leaders must “begin to embrace the thinking that the ultimate goal of the believer is to be a follower of Christ first, regardless of organizational position” (p. 8).
Of all the points I’ll try to make in this sermon, this last one is most important and most unlike what we find in the dozens of leadership books bought up by middle managers. Following Christ is the first and final attribute of anyone who wants to lead others in his name.