Three Methods Of Leading
Three methods of leading are prevalent in the church today.
First, there is self-focused leading in which a leader reacts to circumstances. Self-focused leadership is driven by the urgent, seldom reflecting on why things are the way they are. Decisions are based on impact on the leader or approval from others.
Goal-focused leading concentrates on an objective, a program, an event, or a task – often leaving God out of the leadership equation. A program leader tends to believe he is one program away from a breakthrough so he travels from one program or event to another, looking for the answer. Decisions are based on how much research can be gathered.
Finally, there is leading by following – or God-focused leading. Here the focus is on following THE leader. The God-focused leader may not always be sure where he is going, but he knows he is totally dependent on THE Leader. Decisions begin with surrender and discovery of how the Father is at work. Jesus calls us with these words: “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23) Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges write in Lead Like Jesus, “God is not looking for leaders but for servants who will let Him be the leader.”
Jesus illustrated God-focused leading when He called the disciples in Mark 3:13–15. It is exciting to hear He “called those He wanted.” It was not those who needed a new assignment or those who had the most leadership potential, but those He wanted.
Jesus’ three-fold call to the disciples remains the same for us today:
1) the call to intimacy – “to be with Him,” (3:12)
2) the call to mission – “to send them out,” (3:12) and
3) the call to spiritual authority – “to have authority.” (3:15)
His calling was not to a spiritual “to-do” list – but to a “be list.” In sequence, Jesus wanted His disciples to be in intimacy with Him, to be on mission with Him, and to be in His authority. These realities are extremely important and should not be missed. Leaders often want to reverse the sequence and place activity over intimacy, and then wonder why they do not know His authority. The relationship is inseparable from the mission; and the mission is done in the authority created by following Him.
When His disciples met challenges, they offered Jesus. “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I have, I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!” (Acts 3:6) They did not offer magic tricks, fancy moves, slick curriculum, or five spiritual laws – they offered Jesus!
Leaders meet people every day facing tremendous needs. We are not the answer to people’s needs – Christ is. We must offer them Jesus by inviting them into our journey with Him.
Too often, leadership is seen as a skill to master. Leaders attend workshops to gather new tools for their tool belt, wanting to become “Tim-the-Tool-Man-Taylor” of leadership. Like the character, we try to fix things, causing more harm than good. Often our tool belt is compared to someone else’s to see if we measure-up. Skills are important, but they must never be the primary focus. Tools are helpful when they are in the hands of the Master. David led “. . . them with a pure heart and guided them with his skillful hands” (Psalm 78:72).
Development as a leader is an ongoing process of responding to the Father’s work in our lives and should be seen as a series of adjustments (alignments) to God our Leader. Henry Blackaby reminds us that our responsibility is to discover first how God is at work and then respond to His activity.
J. Robert Clinton points to Hebrews 13:7–8 as the “leadership mandate.” According to Clinton, we are to observe carefully those leaders who have gone before us, and imitate their faith, because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (13:8) Leadership development is all about learning to recognize the activity of Christ in a leader’s life, so (he/she) can better recognize His activity in us. “The same Jesus who enabled those leaders to live lives of faith will enable me to live a life of faith today.”
Note that we are to “imitate their faith,” not their results. Results are in the hand of the Father, the leader’s responsibility is to follow Him faithfully.
Jesus modeled this style of leadership. In John 5:19–20, Jesus replied to those questioning Him with “. . . The Son is not able to do anything on His own, but only what He sees the Father doing.” (See also John 4:34; 7:16–17; 8:28–29; 14:10) During all those times when the Scriptures record Jesus as praying, He was doing more than checking off “devotions” on his to-do list. He was aligning Himself with the work of the Father. (Matthew 14:23; 26:36–42; Mark 1:35; 6:46–47; Luke 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28; Hebrews 5:7)
Alignment, then, is the leader development issue. I’ve heard it said that in the business world: “All organizations are perfectly aligned to get the results they get.”
If we do not like the results, we must examine the alignment that produces those results. When we are in alignment with the Father, there is a new power, a spiritual authority that is not based on natural ability or giftedness.6 Jesus used terms like “take up My yoke and learn from Me” and “abide in Me” to describe this alignment (Matthew 11:25–30; John 15).
When leadership is about the Father and His work, it is not about the leader. It is all about living for the Audience of One rather than the applause of the crowd. It is focused on His name, not our own.
This intentional alignment has huge implications in the way we lead others. We watch for the activity of the Father in the lives of others, and then help them learn to recognize His work and respond to Him. Within this process, those we lead become followers of the Leader, not us. The result is this: Their faith rests not on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power (1 Corinthians 2:5; see also 1 Corinthians 11:1).
First Peter 5:5–10 records an amazing promise for the God-focused, following leader: “And all of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you in due time. . . . Now the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will personally restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little.”
People will follow a leader who is personally restored, established, strengthened and supported by the God of all grace. How well aligned are you today, and where is your focus? As you seek to lead others, may you first align yourself with THE LEADER.
One additional note on resourcing leaders… the Self-focused leader needs a counselor, the Goal-focused leader needs a consultant, and the God-focused leader needs a coach.
Adapted from a paper by Steve Hopkins from the Southern Baptist Convention of Ohio.
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