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Five Guidelines for Great Leadership

Steward Leader, Scott RodinIf we use Jesus as the ultimate paradigm for leadership, what does it look like? What should a Christian leader look like? Based on the media, something’s amiss in Christian leadership. Scott Rodin, has written an incredible book entitled, Steward Leader, which every Christian leader, and anyone who wants to truly lead well, should read.

The following is a review full of quotations and thoughts from Rodin’s book blended in with my own perspective. Anything that sounds profound is likely from Rodin. Rather than edit my original draft and cite every single quote, I left the blended version (give or take a phrase or ten) as it read better, as I was trying to put it all in my own words to use in my own church setting.

To start, most of our ideas about leadership are thoroughly western, not biblical. We talk of gifted leaders, born leaders, natural leaders all in a framework of power, control, and authority. No matter how gifted the leader, in this mindset, we miss the mark – we miss Jesus.

Paul, upon reflecting on Jesus, has a very different understanding of leadership – Philippians 2:7-9

  • …rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant (NIV)
  • …but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant (ESV)
  • …but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant (KJV)

Christian leadership is not about the trappings of power, prominence, and prestige. Rather, it is from the place of “nothing,” “emptied,” and “no reputation,” that we begin to lead, effectively.

Here are the five areas that Rodin outlines, again, with my thoughts thoroughly embedded, and hopefully not distorting, his great work:

ONE – Anointed VS. Appointed:
Most leaders are selected based on their resumes. We check for credentials that will suit our embedded ideas of leadership, seeking to match them against the prestige of the position. Once we find a fit, we appoint, and then pray for God’s anointing. This is backwards.

The Bible points us toward Anointment “before” Appointment (e.g., Samuel anoints David before appointing him king). And it is God’s anointed that part seas, tumble down walls, and start movements.

This anointing is critical for a Christian leader, as God will ask everything of him or her – “losing your life.” Thus God’s anointed will love what God loves and hate what God hates, serving Him with passion and humility.

Credentials are great, but they cannot really shine without anointing from God.

In Short – no Appointment without Anointment

TWO – Fighting the Need to Increase:
He must increase. I must decrease. – John the Baptist. As a leader, there are natural trappings – honor, influence, priority, advancement, publicity…etc. It’s easy to be tempted, and to even seek these out. Our culture actually promotes this style of leadership. The result – we get puffed up. We think we’re indispensable, and we overestimate our worth. In this state, our leadership becomes overly directive, or even autocratic. Imagine John the Baptist trying to hold onto his street cred.

The result is ugly. We create “learned helplessness.”

Rather than building others up, rather than empowering them, rather than equipping them, rather than creating an environment that multiplies and fosters growth, we make slaves to our leadership.

This manufactured dependence on our leadership feeds our need to be needed, creating a vicious cycle, suffocating the church body.

If Christ is truly in us, we will have no need for this type of codependency in our leadership. We will be secure on a firm foundation, able to lift others up, and, as Paul reminds us to, “value others above ourselves…”

A test question for good leadership is this: Are the people you serve growing (becoming wiser, more independent, healthier, and freer), or not?

In short – decrease

THREE – Being and Doing:
In our culture, “doing,” is far more praised than “being.” Despite the fact that we’re human “beings,” we’re taught to find our value and worth as human “doings.” We are measured by results. We are expected to reach our goals. We enjoy checking off our to-do lists.

However, as beings created in God’s image, we need to keep in mind the relational Godhead of our faith – Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Our God is not a power hungry God, flexing his muscles over his creation. Rather He’s in, and seeks relationship with, His people.

In Jesus we see him valuing people over products, relationships over production, and transformation over transaction. Value and worth are inherently found in the individuals themselves. We all crave this sense of self-worth. Why? It’s how we were created.

As leaders, we must “be” in Christ first, before we can “do” (lead) effectively for him. Of course there is always the keen awareness of our own shortcomings, but confidence in God’s gracious and restorative love that allows us to lead for Him.

In Short – It’s who we are and not what we do that makes us great leaders

FOUR – Leadership Is A Miracle:
That God can use us (cracked icons, rebels, idolaters) to lead at all is perplexing. We’re full of selfish ambition, pride, greed, contempt, hatred – to name just a few. When we look at the demanding role of a godly leader against the backdrop of our own sinfulness and incompetence there’s only one conclusion to draw – miracle!

It is through God’s grace and faithfulness that we can lead anyone. Thus, we must approach leadership in dependent humility. Without the Spirit of God on us, without His grace, we will fall back on our own power-hungry misunderstandings of leadership, and miss the miracle of God working through His vessels.

Moreover, there is a tendency to quickly attribute God’s miracles in and through us as our own doing. We take the credit, basking in self-glorification. This is a lonely road that leads only to despair and heartache for all involved.

We have seen in scripture how God works through the weak, the brokenhearted, and the outcasts, and how He raises up a bumbling Peter, and strikes down a self-righteous Saul. It’s no accident that these two live and breathe Christ. They’ve glimpsed the size and complexity of God’s mission and their own weaknesses, frailties, and sinfulness. They know, without Him, they’re nothing.

In short – God will work miracles through us if we remain humble and faithful

FIVE – Seeking the Right Applause:
As leaders, we love (and often seek) approval, admiration, applause, and appreciation from the world. The obvious trouble with this is that it will own us. It will box us in to the demands of those we lead and strangle us. On this road, we are finished as an effective Christian leader.

The temptation for the above has a very strong pull. As leaders, we’re faced with daily decisions. It’s easy to opt for the one that makes folks happy, rather than seeking God’s will – no matter what – even if we look like a fool.

Leaders who absorb praise produce resentment and sacrifice motivation. As Christian leaders, when things go badly, we need to absorb it. When things go well, we need to deflect it to those we serve.

Strive to be someone God can trust.

In short – seek His will – His applause

Our desire to serve may or may not be filled with all the trappings above. We may not be power-hungry, or a control freak. However, we may still need to wrestle with being a leader of no reputation. That is, one who seeks to decrease while others increase. It’s a road of dying to self.

To close, one way to get at this is a right understanding of the order of our lives. If our relationship with God is good, then our relationship with ourselves will be good, then our relationship with others will be good, and then our relationship with God’s creation will be good.

Great leadership starts with who you are not what you do.

Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson


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