Random Thoughts on Leadership

I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

“If you are ever going to be an ambassador in the hands of a God of glorious and powerful grace, you must die. You must die to your plans for your own life. You must die to your self-focused dreams of success. You must die to your demands for comfort and ease. You must die to your individual definition of the good life. You must die to your demands for pleasure, acclaim, prominence, and respect. You must die to your desire to be in control. You must die to your hope for independent righteousness. You must die to your plans for others. You must die to your craving for a certain lifestyle or that particular location. You must die to your own kingship. You must die to the pursuit of your own glory in order to take up the cause of the glory of Another. You must die to your control over your own time. You must die to the maintenance of your reputation. You must die to having the final answer and getting your own way. You must die to your unfaltering confidence in you. You must die” ~ Paul Tripp[1]

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I’ve never been one for reading books on leadership. For one, they’re all generally the same: The leader casts a vision, gets buy-in from the people, and then implements the vision. (There you go. Now you don’t have to purchase any leadership books!) Every once in a while, however, a book is published that is worth reading. Such is the case with Dan Allender’s Leading with a Limp.

He rightly notes that leadership, according to the Bible, is quite different from what one might find spelled out in the managerial section of Barnes & Noble. For example:

Here is God’s leadership model: he chooses fools to live foolishly in order to reveal the economy of heaven, which reverses and inverts the wisdom of this world. He calls us to brokenness, not performance; to relationships, not commotion; to grace, not success. It is no wonder that this kind of leadership is neither spoken of nor admired in our business schools or even our seminaries (55).

The key word for me in those sentences is brokenness. Remember that trait. A word not mentioned there is fear. Many of the notable characters in the Bible, you may recall, didn’t want to be in leadership. Think of Moses, for example. Also David: No one expected him to be in a position of leadership. And certainly Peter wouldn’t have been on anyone’s top ten list.

Although it might shock him, perhaps one question pulpit search committees should start asking pastoral candidates is, “Have you done everything in your power to avoid this calling? Could you see yourself fulfilled doing anything else?”

If it sounds odd remember the words of advice the great Charles Spurgeon gave to this students:

Do not enter the ministry if you can help it. . . . If any student in this room could be content to be a newspaper editor or a grocer or a farmer or a doctor or a lawyer or a senator or a king, in the name of heaven and earth, let him go his way. . . . We must feel that woe is unto us if we preach not the gospel.[2]

Allender asks, “Why does God love the reluctant leader? Here is one reason: the reluctant leader is not easily seduced by power, pride, or ambition” (18).

So what does it take to make a leader like this? Answer: Death. How does God humble a man like this? Answer: He kills him. Do the words, “I die daily” (1 Cor. 15:31) sound familiar to you?

How does God “kill” a person like this? He brings pain into their lives. He breaks them. He humiliates them. “Good men are promised tribulation in this world, and ministers may expect a larger share than others,[3] said the venerable Spurgeon, to quote him again.

Many years after Spurgeon, another pastor, John Benton, said: “God’s men are not always happy-go-lucky people. . . . Men who are close to God can be sad men.”[4] Why does God have to do this to pastors or other ministry leaders? Because God wants a broken vessel. And ideally a person should be broken before they enter the ministry. If not, ministry will be much harder on them. It will kill them. “Ministry kills us with regard to our ego needs, desire for power and success and the persistent wish to feel competent and in control,” says Andrew Purves.[5]

So how does brokenness happen? I think Allender hits the nail on the head:

  1. Falling off your throne. This means being humbled, and it teaches you that you were never meant to have God’s power. You are not God. You are a human being with weaknesses. It’s best that you start admitting this as quickly as possible to those around you. If you are afraid to talk about your fears, struggles, and failures openly to those around you, it may mean that you’ve forgotten the good news of the gospel.
  2. What change will this bring about in your life and ministry? You’ll stop trying to control God and other people. You’ll stop trying to impress people. You’ll stop being afraid of failure. And success won’t go to your head. As I heard Paul Tripp say once in a sermon: “Your success in ministry isn’t a reflection of your character, it’s a revelation of God’s.”

A great leader is one who doesn’t care if he leads. He can take it or leave it.[6] Why? Because he doesn’t “need” anything. He’s satisfied in Christ.

[1] Paul Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 189-190.

[2] Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2010), 28.

[3] Ibid., 160.

[4] John Benton, Losing Touch with God: The Message of Malachi (Hertfordshire: Evangelical Press, 1985), 14.

[5] Andrew Purves, The Crucifixion of Ministry: Surrendering Our Ambitions to the Service of Christ (Downers Grove: IVP, 2007), 15.

[6] See e.g., Gene Edwards, A Tale of Three Kings: A Study in Brokenness (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1992), 79.

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