I had lunch the other day with a young man who had immigrated to America at fifteen to escape an abusive father and dysfunctional family system. He worked the orange groves of Florida—“the hardest work I’d ever done”, he said—from sunrise to sundown, paid pennies per ninety-pound boxes. He knew no one there and spoke no English. He eventually found his way to Cincinnati to work at a relative’s restaurant, married a young girl, working two jobs while his new wife went to school to finish her degree. They eventually stumbled into the Vineyard where he discovered Jesus…and she recovered a lost faith. She baptized him last year, tears mingling with the water. He now loves sharing his faith and helping others grow.
As we talked, I marveled at his poise, his articulateness, his drive tempered with a Jesus-focused humility. When he left the table at Chipotle to refill his Coke, his young wife beamed and said, “It’s hard to believe he only has a fifth-grade education, isn’t it?”
I smiled and replied, “Your husband has leadership dripping off him. One day he’ll lead a church.” I don’t know if it was intuition or encouragement or the Spirit’s prompting, but it seemed there was something special about this young man as it related to leadership.
But is leadership really an inherent gift, showered on us by God…and if so, does that mean there are the “haves” and the “have nots”?
Let me lay my cards on the table first: I line up with the theory that church leaders aren’t born, they’re made and developed…as long as they get good tools, skills modeled for them and are open to the whispers of God. I would find myself in agreement with leadership gurus like Bennis, Kouzes and Posner, Collins and others.
What’s more, if there are not learned leadership behaviors, then what’s the sense of discipling others? If we’re not about developing people who become reproducers of the life of Christ in others, then we’ve got to throw out any notion of the “priesthood of all believers”, because priests are by definition leaders: people who lead others into the presence of God.
But let’s be honest: the famous passage in Romans regarding leadership seems to imply the opposite.
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 12:4-8 (ESV).
It reads as though we each have a specific Holy Spirit-imbued gift for a particular use in the Body. But without taking the time to unpack this and the classic chapters in 1 Corinthians, there are potential caveats. Whether you take this to mean residential or primary giftings, or Spittler’s “dancing-hand-of-God”-gracelets model connected with the “when-you-come-together”-phraseology interpretive key of 1 Corinthians (any gift could be exercised by any of us at any time when we’re together), or simply hard-wired gifts for specific purposes, it deserves a little more thought.
For instance, if I don’t have the gift of serving, does that mean I’m off the hook of having to serve others? Or if I don’t have the gift of contribution, does that imply I don’t have to give…or at least be generous? Am I exempt from showing mercy? I would think these are rhetorical questions.
At some level, we’re all called to lead, as in leading lost children back to the Father. We live in such a way to model a life that will lead others into a rich dependency in Jesus. We’re always leading in some way. Perhaps these scriptures are more about scope or range.
But what I have noticed about leaders is this: there seem to be four attributes of leadership I’ve observed over the years. Not principles. Not necessarily values. But four modes of operating that shift contextually, situationally and continually in leaders. Over decades of leading in various capacities and studying leaders as a follower, I’ve observed four critical inner qualities for successful long-range leadership:
An inner-passion that fuels inspiration and energy. They somehow bring heat to situations and people that enable things to ignite, to combust. People feel the heat around this catalytic element of leadership. Things happen. Every successful leader I’ve known has a fire in their belly for a mission that brings a sense of empowerment and a longing for accomplishment to others. That doesn’t mean they have to have a salesperson-type personality or even be extreme extroverts. But it does mean they have to be able to express that inner-passion for a particular purpose in some communicable way.
A servant-orientation that clearly connotes that this whole thing is not about them. As a matter of fact, the organization, or the mission, or the cause, or the mechanism, is more important than them. They understand innately they’re a part of something bigger than themselves. They regularly fight with and shake off any sense of entitlement, giving life rather than expecting it. They are outward-focused and feel as though they are being “poured out.” Many of these leaders grew up in the organization.
An inner-grounding. There’s something solid, rooted and founded in their character. What’s more, they long for a similar integrity in the organizations they lead. They are driven by principles and values and a deep desire for praxis in their personal lives, their teams, their organizations and their practices. They think holistically about their churches.
A creative-bent. There’s a certain amount of blue sky-ing they enjoy with their teams and leaders. They have no problem with rounding up sacred cows and grilling burgers…or questioning organizational methodologies. There’s a “what-if” factor that fires their neurons regularly and a certain amount of calculated risk that creates organizational “room-to-breathe”. In spiritual circles they are looking for their prophetic voice.
Not every leader I’ve observed is perpetually functional in all four areas, but they recognize the gaps, stir up neglected ones as well as make themselves accountable to the people they lead for all four elements to be operating. They exercise the weak muscles and make sure they have some reflection of each one within the makeup of their management teams. Highly functioning leaders learn how to balance all four in ways that feel both semi-predictable yet surprisingly instinctive and fresh to their followers. They learn to situationally and intuitively recognize why and when one of the components needs to be activated to a higher degree.
The ancients reduced the world to four elements: fire, water, earth and air. Those correspond winningly with the four attributes listed. They are basic, crucial and foundational…and what I would call elemental leadership.
Are you aware of one of these particular elements that needs to be emphasized or amped up in your church, your ministry area, your organization—for “such a time as this”?
It may be that your best leadership opportunity is simply identifying the current gap for the ministry you lead.