Why is it that we all hope to become leaders? Just about every institution I’ve been involved with talks about becoming a leader, developing leaders, or making people who change the world. It seems the goal is to make every kid in school become a leader who impacts the world. How are you doing with that? No wonder we all have self-image problems.
From my earliest days, I believed I was supposed to be one of these so-called leaders, and I tried to be. I remember my parents telling me to “be an example,” and I remember thinking if I did that, then I’d be a leader…at least to my younger brother and friends. I quickly learned that if I listened to my parents, other adults noticed, and I got credit for being a kid with leadership potential.
I still have a desire to be a leader, but over the past week, I’ve been re-examining my motivation. At worst, it is simply my own pride seeking my own glory and honor. To be recognized by other people in some way.
I think we all have it, and it is probably a God-given desire we’ve messed up somehow.
Because at best, it is understanding my true identity as a son of God and living out of that reality. I want to be a man who lives with that understanding as a husband, son, brother, employee, and sports fanatic.
I started reading James again this past week and his first words made me renew my thoughts about leadership. He starts his letter to all Christians everywhere with “James, a servant of Jesus…” Is that ironic to anyone else? Here is James, brother of Jesus and leader of the church in Jerusalem (the church that launched all churches), writing to all Christians in every location from a very high position of leadership. He speaks about himself as a servant before anything else! Thus, we get the term that Christians are so fond of: servant leader. That’s an oxymoron if I ever saw one!
In a previous study I did on biblical leadership, I found three characteristics that define characters in the Bible we think of as leaders. The majority of biblical leaders have one, two, or all three of these characteristics. Servant. Shepherd. Steward. Funny how they all start with “S.” I usually cringe when preachers do that.
The interesting thing though is that the Bible doesn’t really talk about these characters being good leaders. We do that. It talks about their character and the qualities they had that God used at a certain time to lead His people. This leads me to believe I ought to stop worrying about becoming a leader so God can use me, and I ought to start spending my time working towards these other three characteristics.
Servant is pretty self-explanatory. This is a person who never puts himself first. He places himself last, in fact. A servant is always ready to sacrifice. He is about humility. He serves like Mother Teresa served the marginalized of this world in whatever situation God placed him.
Shepherd needs a little more explaining. You probably don’t know any shepherds. I don’t. This person guides and protects. He always has the best interest of the sheep in mind. He does what is necessary to allow the sheep to thrive. He provides food, and he keeps predators away.
Steward sounds old. A steward is a person who is entrusted with something of value by another person. He is a loyal manager. He understands what he has has been given to him to use in an honorable way. He knows he will have to give an account for how he handled what he was given. On a side note, we often find ourselves complaining about what we don’t have, or maybe you’re thinking you don’t have anything to steward. What about life itself? You have time, talents, and treasures. How is your stewardship with them? Check out Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 for how to be a good steward.
If you haven’t already noticed the theme running through all three of these qualities then let me make it clear. It is dying to self. You can’t be a good servant if you want to be first. You can’t be a good shepherd if your needs come first. And you can’t be a good steward if you act like you own everything you’ve been given.
Instead of constantly thinking about how I can expand and develop my leadership, I want to think about becoming a better servant, shepherd, and steward. We read the Bible and call people who have these qualities leaders because God used them. He was able to use them because they were servants, shepherds, and stewards. They didn’t put themselves first.
If this is true, then we all have leadership potential. But not in the way our culture tells us we have leadership potential. Our culture is all about looking out for “number one” and making the biggest splash in the sea of influence. The way the Bible uses people to lead is all about making sure God makes the biggest splash in the sea of influence.
The most practical way I can implement these three qualities in my own life is to look at Jesus. Jesus is the perfect picture of a servant, shepherd, and steward. He is our example. I adopted my philosophy of leadership from the apostle Paul when he wrote, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ,” in 1 Corinthians 11:1. The best leaders are the best followers. And the best followers are servants, shepherds, and stewards.