- INTRO: Leadership
After a tornado turned the city of Greensburg into a large “garbage dump” I worked there for a few days right after the storm.
I got to watch a friend who was given leadership over the clean up process in the early stages.
He was good with people, decisive, and immediately went to work with a plan.
After the initial phase was over and the town moved into long range recovery my friend prepared to leave the site…but before he did FEMA and other national organizations wanted to hire him.
His leadership helped the town so much and made the process of recovery easier for everyone.
Now…understand…my friend’s leadership was not always appreciated and it was by no means perfect.
But his leadership gifting and leadership position were put to use for the good of others.
That is the God-ordained role of leadership…it is a gift, calling, a position…to be used like all stewardships to serve others.
We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. Romans 12:6-8
Whenever things are happening with people…good or bad…leadership is happening…good or bad.
I have long been fascinated by the role of leadership in human thriving or surviving.
*One of my favorite books along these lines is “Endurance: Shakelton’s Incredible Voyage.”
-Endurance has a double meaning in the book…it was the name of the ship and it speaks to the fact of the men’s ability to endure during an Antarctic expedition gone very wrong.
-Shakelton’s men survived a series of events that should have caused all or most of them to die…largely due to good leadership.
Leadership is ubiquitous (everywhere).
But what makes the reality and necessity of leadership so complex and controversial at times is that very often leadership has been bad.
Bad in two possible ways…
Bad as in “ineffective” and even worse than “ineffective”…it has been bad as in “evil.”
The only thing worse than ineffective leadership is effective evil leadership.
A leader who is really good at getting bad stuff done.
You could argue that is not leadership…I would say it is leadership…just bad leadership.
So there have been in the course of history some effective, bad leaders
Of course the badness of the leader eventually destroyed what they were leading.
But that is the problem…they were leading people…so it was people who were destroyed by bad leaders…the opposite of God’s design for leadership.
Often throughout history the response to wicked or ineffective leadership has been to revolt against leadership as a whole…the result is a leadership vacuum that is quickly filled by a…yep…a leader.
Often…the reactive approach to a leadership change has been negative.
The French Revolution, the rise of Nazi Germany, and in countless families, churches, playgrounds…where leadership is reactive rather than active.
In the book of Judges…a book named after the various ad hoc leaders who rose up to fill the vacuum left by a lack of settled leadership in Israel.
There is a verse that best describes the cause of the cycles of sin/judgment/judge (leader)/recovery
Judges 17:6 “In those days Israel had no king, everyone did as they saw fit.”
The history of Israel(Indeed the world) can be summed up from the angle of the response to or reaction against the leadership of God…and the cycles that followed.
Genesis shows the early revolt against the leadership of God.
The first couple was delegated leadership under God…they rebelled against God’s leadership.
The result showed up very quickly in their family system…a son killed another son.
Then sin, rebellion against God’s leadership…lead to widespread chaos leading to widespread judgment
God raised up a leader (Abraham)…then a succession of leaders…Isaac, Jacob, Joseph
-All with varying degrees of character and competency.
Then after 400 years under the oppressive leadership of Egyptian kings…learning to yearn for true freedom (that ultimately would be fulfilled in Christ)
God raised up another leader (Moses)…who took them out of Egypt…followed by Joshua who led them into a time of ongoing war in Canaan
Then a series of leaderless (or badly led) cycles where as I said God raised up leaders called judges…some were OK, some were terrible.
After that God raised up a prophet and the final judge, a leader named Samuel…who tried to lead the people back underneath the leadership of God.
But the people cried out for a king to lead them as other nations were led and they got…Saul…who turned out to be a foolish, insecure leader.
Then God raised up another king/leader…David…who was imperfect and yet was man after God’s heart…overall a good leader and the people did very well under him.
Then David’s son was a smart fool named Solomon whose son…Rehoboam…split the kingdom.
What followed was a long series of varying degrees of bad leadership(Kings) that led to the fall of the nation.
The process was slow, taking place over hundreds of years so it could be easy to miss…what was happening.
But step back and you see that people thrived or failed to thrive as they followed or failed to follow the leadership of God…and the leaders under God.
And as the leaders under God followed or failed to follow God…so went the nation as well.
Jump to the NT where God comes to us in human form…to communicate and demonstrate what God’s leadership (Kingdom) is really all about and how different it is from the twisted ideas that have formed in human cultures since the beginning.
A kingdom is the realm where a king’s will is done…if it is not done…there are consequences.
When the King (leader) of a kingdom is a good king…then when his will is done…the people who live there prosper.
The kingdom of God is where the one true leader’s will is done…and his people thrive…we experience this in part now…and in fullness in the future.
God is the leader we are to submit our lives to…he has always used human leadership as part of his plan for humanity.
Human leadership will, of course, always be human…imperfect…but it remains, nonetheless, a key to how God has designed humans to operate effectively together…to thrive.
The tensions are: The better the leader operates under God’s will and ways…the more those who follow will thrive.
And the better those under leadership follow God and his appointed leaders…the better they live as well.
This year we are looking at: Closing the gap on faith and love
This fall: 7 Weeks of Heart Attitudes: key biblical values that shape our church. (we are on week 5)
Today we look at “Follow leadership within Biblical limits”…here is our plan for this morning.
- Look at our passage and see what it says about following leadership
- Look at the limiting factor on following leadership
- Look at what it means practically to follow leadership
- Look at what it means for you to lead where God has called you to lead.
Look at Hebrews 13:17:
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
- Look at our passage and see what it says about following leadership
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority:
This phrase might grate on some people for several reasons:
1)They may not like the idea of following anyone
2)They may have been under controlling, self-serving leaders and it has caused them harm in the past
In regards to the first case it is important to note that everyone follows someone…the Chairmen of the Joint Chief answers to the SecDef who answers to the President who every four years answers to the people.
If you start your own business in order to “not work for anyone” you quickly realize you work for your customers or you will not work at all.
Everyone follows leadership…or suffers for not following leadership.
In regards to the second case, where someone has experienced harmful or toxic leadership…we will address the limiting factor in following all leadership in a few minutes.
Following leadership doesn’t mean you never question it…it means you should never live in a way that makes it hard for leaders to lead you.
Mindless following is not good for anyone.
There are men and women in my life who will question my ideas and judgments…it happens fairly frequently.
I have friends, and a wife…who if they seriously question me…will tell me.
And because I trust them…I will stop or slow down to get some clarity.
In my role as an AF chaplain one of my three primary duties is to advise leadership…this can be potentially awkward because the person I am advising is my boss, my commander.
But it is a vital role…and I it seriously…I advise…but in the end…I salute and say “yes sir” if the final decision is legal and ethical.
We are to see following the leadership of people that God has placed over us as following the lead of God.
Again…leaders lead as service to people and a stewardship under God.
They keep watch over you as men(women) who must give an account.
The idea here is leaders who are like shepherds watching sheep that belong to another.
Leaders should lead through sacrifice and service…this is what Jesus modeled in his revolutionary service style.
He was a Servant leader…he led for the good of others…this was and is uncommon.
A great picture of this is from the story of the combat leader Hal Moore: He was depicted in the movie and book “We were soldiers once.”
Moore was the first one on the field of battle and the last one off…he cared deeply for the lives of his men…even though his leadership meant leading them into danger and in some cases death.
Leaders are not called to lead towards comfort and convenience and for the approval of others…but into God’s purposes for our lives.
This often means leaders lead others into and through challenges and trials…not to a deck on a cruise ship.
The good shepherd leads us beside still waters and through the valley of the shadow of death and the presence of enemies.
But they are to do so sacrificially with their own lives not just with their lips.
Leaders will give an account for how they lead…spiritual leaders are to lead God’s people towards God’s purposes for their lives.
There are many passages that speak of the serious nature of spiritual leadership:
James writes of those who lead through teaching and he warns:
Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. James 3:1
James is telling leaders…you better be really sure that what you are teaching is in line with who God is and what he wants.
If you lead others astray by wrong teaching…you are going to face a harsh judgment…you will give an account.
Jesus was asked a number of times about the source of his authority. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”(Mark 11:28)
After his resurrection he gave the definitive answer regarding the source and scope of his authority. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.'” (Matthew 28:18)
The source of his authority is that it had been “given” by God the Father and the scope of his authority was “all.”
Authority has many meanings, some synonyms include; power, ability, jurisdiction, privilege, and prerogative.
To have authority means you have legal or rightful ability to oversee or rule over.
Ultimately all authority is derived from God.
He sets up and deposes kings and kingdoms. He gives life, breath and everything else.
The authority of a spiritual leader in the church is derived from the authority of God.
These leaders can and sometimes do, misuse this authority and when they do they must be set aside…short of that they are to be followed…why?
Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
The word “burden” literally means, “groaning” as in pain.
Don’t be a pain to those God has called to serve you by leading…how can that help you follow Christ and become more like him?
How does being a pain advance the cause of Christ?
Some may believe they have the gift of complaining, or the call to be a contrarian…but I’m pretty sure those are not spiritual gifts.
Before we look at the limiting factor on following leadership I want to talk about…talking about…following leadership.
Those who don’t know me or don’t know me well…may very well be suspicious of a pastor talking about how you need to follow leadership…it may feel like a set up.
I get that…but at the same time.
I take my stewardship as a leader here seriously…part of that stewardship is to teach on what God has said about leadership.
It’s not that I’m afraid of stepping on toes…or of people misjudging me…I’m really not…I’d prefer it didn’t happen.
I’m talking about following leadership…and next week about financial stewardship…
Because they are just so very important…
And so clearly what God has communicated is key to our thriving as his people.
So this is not a passive/aggressive sermonized rebuke for what you are not doing and should be doing.
My experience at River for 28 years has been tremendous in regard to this principle…of following leadership.
And that has included being very patient with me as I have grown over the years.
If anything this is more “well done” than “you need to do better.”
In fact that is true, in my opinion, for all of the heart attitudes…I would say, “Well done.”
But we have not arrived in any of this so we will continue to seek to close the gap on where we are and where we can be…both in action and in attitude.
So, let’s move on to the limiting factor on following leadership.
- Look at the limiting factor on following leadership
The heart attitude is to “Follow leadership within scriptural limits”
The Scriptures set the limits on legitimate leadership.
Let’s contrast two passages to try and get a handle on this idea:
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Romans 13:1
Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:18-20
In Romans 13 we see that God has established all human authority…part of what this means is that since he is ultimately in charge of all things…no one makes it in to leadership by doing some “end around on God.”
But it is not just “allowing” leaders…he intentionally sets them in place.
He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them… Daniel 2:21
God does set up Kings but he also deposes them…(gets rid of them).
For example when King Saul went rogue…then the prophet Samuel told him…
“Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.”1 Sam. 5:22
God deposes leaders who do not follow him…but only after he has used them for his own purposes.
You see this in Israel’s kings…as well as the Syrian, and Babylonian, and Assyrian, and Greek, and Roman rulers that he set up and took down after he used them for his purposes in history.
This continues to happen to our day…history is a not an unguided series of blind forces…it is guided by the sovereign God.
He deposes rogue leaders in his own time.
So what if you are under a leader who is rogue and God has not yet deposed him?
How do you know when it is “right” to not follow leadership?
Well…when doing so means you are not following God’s leadership.
So, when Peter and John were told by the authorities to stop proclaiming the gospel…they said “We can’t do that…we have to obey God.”
Those leaders were wrong to put the guys into that situation…so when forced to choose the fella’s had to obey God.
This is sometimes called the principle of “Civil disobedience”…if a civil authority asks you to disobey the highest authority…you must not
Jesus when asked about paying taxes…Said “Sure, give Caesar what is due him, but give God what is due him.”
Give Caesar taxes…but ultimately give God glory by giving him first place in your life.
When is it right to not obey a law?…when that law is in direct contradiction to what God has said.
This is why Christians have made the best citizens of their nations throughout the history…and have been seen as serious threats to the rogue leaders of nations throughout the world.
Ask them to obey a law and they will do it.
Ask them to disobey God and they will not do it…on pain of death.
But the implications are true for where you work…you must stand ready to lose your job if asked to disobey God at work.
But if not asked to disobey God…don’t complain, comply.
Its true for families…specifically children.
And of course for churches.
If you believe you must disobey an authority in order to obey God…be sure you are clear on what is being asked of you both from the human authority and from Scripture…you don’t want to get this wrong.
Leadership is so fundamental to human thriving and God’s intended order…”that children obey your parents made it into the top ten”…the ten commandments.
But children must not obey their parents if parents ask them to disobey God…commandment #1…”No god’s in front of the One God.”
Enough of that lets…
- Look at what it means to follow leadership
Most people by the time they are in college or just out have had some experience with leading.
A job, in the dorm, a sports team…something.
So most know how challenging the role can be and it should make us more intelligent followers.
So practically and biblically…(which are always the same thing)…the best way to think about following leadership is to apply the “golden rule.”
It is simply stated by Jesus as…
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”Luke 6:31
So apply this great principle to following leadership.
How would you/how do you want those under you to follow you?
Okay…then go try to do that to those over you in leadership.
Then couple that principle with the other one that has to do with “reaping and sowing.”
Found several places like…
Luke 16:10-12…faithful in a little, faithful in a lot, faithful in another’s, faithful in your own.
Here’s what you get in terms of understanding how to best and biblically follow leadership (again, leadership that has not gone rogue)
- How do you want those you lead to follow you (how would you if you had followers).
- How you follow leadership yourself is likely what kind of followers you will have (or do have now).
Good leadership is the immune system of a family, church, or any organized human culture.
When leadership is compromised the system is or will soon become ill.
There are many ways leaders can compromise their own leadership.
Legal and moral violations lead the list of the things that lead to leadership “suicide.”
But it’s also possible for followers to compromise leadership.
A well-differentiated and disciplined leader is impossible to stop but that leader’s impact on your own life certainly can be stopped.
If you are a complainer, a demander, or if you believe it is a leader’s job to “fix” your life then you will perpetually act against healthy leadership and healthy leaders in your life.
To act against the leaders God has placed in your life is to work against your own best interests.
Don’t do this.
Many in our culture look for and follow “virtual leaders” rather than actual, local ones.
You can’t see the virtual leader’s imperfections…you only get their best words and images in books and online.
A well-known phrase is: Think globally, live locally.
This is good advice when it comes to following leadership as well…learn from all kinds of leaders…but follow the real ones God has placed in your life.
The “expert is always from out of town syndrome” dates back to Jesus
Where it was said of him…”This can’t be the one…this is Joseph and Mary’s son…we know him!”
Follow in a way that empowers the leaders God has placed in your life; this will be an advantage to them and to you.
Follow like you want to be, or would want to be followed.
- Look at what it means for you to lead where God has called you to lead.
Not everyone will lead a church or a small group or a business or even a family…we all have a variety of callings, stewardships.
But it is likely all will lead others in some way.
And no matter what your stewardship is your goal must be to be found faithful. (1 Cor. 4:2)
Let’s look at a narrative from the life of Jesus and than apply some of what we learn there to a model for growing in our own leadership.
I’ll give you most of the back-story then read a few verses.
The disciples had returned to Jesus after having been sent out on a mission.
They were reporting back what they had experienced…but they couldn’t really connect well with one another…because Jesus’ fame had spread and the crowds were now large and constant…crowding in on them.
So they got into a boat and tried to withdraw across the lake…and even though they would have had some time to talk on the way across…the crowds hurried around the lake’s perimeter to meet them there.
The crowd was huge…5000 people.
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. Mark 6:34
It is likely many leaders would have been more annoyed by this rather than filled with compassion.
But he “saw” them as they actually were…and he took appropriate action…he began to teach them many things.
As the sun was setting the disciples worried about the situation at hand.
They were looking at the people and seeing a looming logistical nightmare…but maybe a humanitarian disaster.
“Hey Jesus…Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” Mark 6:36
They wanted Jesus to instruct the people to walk to nearby villages and purchase food…Jesus didn’t agree with that assessment.
Not this was a foolish suggestion…it would normally be a very good one.
But Jesus read the situation better than they did…and Jesus had resources they didn’t fully understand yet.
But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “That would take eight months of a man’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” Mark 6:37
Jesus was not mocking them when he said, “you give them something to eat.”
He wanted them to see what they were not seeing yet…the Lord’s ability to provide beyond what his followers thought possible…to lead out of his abundance not their own lack.
Jesus then proceeded to feed the entire crowd out of his own miraculous provision.
That’s the story…now quickly, a model to apply the story to our own leadership.
About 18 years ago I completed an Air Force study that is called Squadron Officer School.
In that study I was introduced to a model of leadership called Read/Act.
The study was done by some academics that went everywhere leadership was happening (which is, as I said, ubiquitous)
Military, education, sports teams, business, and even street gangs.
They found that all leadership involved two factors…they called them “Read” “Act”
Read they defined as a leader’s ability to discern what is actually true about the situation, the people, the available resources, as well as what would be the best course of action to take.
Act they defined as the leader’s ability to take appropriate action. Such as…did they have the courage, the nerve, the resources, and the authority to do what should be done.
With this in mind they grouped leaders into four quadrants:
R/a, r/A, r/a, R/A.
Big R and big A were effective (got stuff done) leaders.
Jesus was of course THE R/A.
To close the gap on following leadership and being a leader that makes it easy for others to follow…we want to grow our R/A…under God.
R=Jesus saw the people as sheep without a shepherd…it resulted in compassion.
-He did not see them as annoyances, or roadblocks, or the people who would shout “crucify him”, or too stupid to bring their own dinner, or only following him to get things from him.
-Or…as a means to his own end…he came to serve them, not to be served by them.
-Sheep without a shepherd…and he was the shepherd.
A=He taught them…they needed truth and he knew the truth to give them.
A=He fed them…both to meet a physical need and to validate the truth he was teaching them.
And he was R/A with his disciples…they would not get it all then…but they eventually would.
They would learn to see people as they are and they would learn to lead out of the resources of Christ…not just what they perceived they had within themselves to give.
To grow your R/A…you must look outside of yourself.
Look to those God has called you to lead (or to follow)…see them as they are.
-Not roadblocks, or annoyances, or tools to be used
Look to God for resources that are beyond you…learn to live from his provision…not your own real, or perceived lack.
Lead and follow…for the good of others and for the glory of God.