Wineskins Archive

February 6, 2014

AfterGlow: True Leaders (Jan-Feb 2001)

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by Phillip Morrison
January – February, 2001

Many of the people we label leaders are anything but. I once knew the “leader” of a personal visitation program who was a widely acknowledged failure. No successes and inevitable complaints were the results of his every visit, whether for evangelism, comforting the sick, or encouraging the weak. We discovered that he began every visit the same way: “It wasn’t my idea to come here tonight, but the elders sent me, and I’m here on official business.” True leaders don’t shy away from responsibility.

Years ago, I sat the office of a United States congressman, talking about and praying about his grandson who was not yet a Christian. As this fourteen-term veteran reminisced, he recalled how his wife had reacted when he left his business and resigned as an elder in his home church to take up his new role in Washington. “She told me I was making a bad mistake,” he recalled, “and I’ve heard the same speech every two years since when I’ve rerun for re-election. And I’ve realized all over again every two years that she was right,” he sadly concluded. It’s refreshing to hear of political leaders who acknowledge the preeminent place of spiritual leadership.

His fellow elders sighed every time one man I knew made his regular speech whenever a tough issue arose. “Let’s not waste time discussing that,” he would say. “Bill, or Sam, or Tom, why don’t you just handle that.” We all knew that, in just a few weeks, he would complain that Bill, or Sam, or Tom hadn’t “handled it right.” Even the best leaders may lose their confidence under a barrage of criticism.

Another elder who suddenly became wealthy used his money as a club. Without regard to the judgment of his fellow elders about any number of matters, he would insist that the church put his passion of the moment “in the budget.” When his brothers would try to reason with him he would just smile and say, “Oh, go ahead and do it; I’ll pay for it.” The thickness of one’s wallet is not a qualification for spiritual leadership.

A casual reading of church bulletins reveals that these styles of “leadership” are still very much with us. “The elders have decided this …. The elders have determined that …” are repeated many times every week. Are the shepherds of God’s flock really to be occupied, sometimes even pre-occupied, with deciding what color to paint the nursery, who can use the church bus, the dress code for those serving communion, or other such matters? The apostles who led the early Christians kept physical needs and spiritual duties in proper perspective (Acts 6:1-4).

Elder/shepherds are to be as courageous as the young David who killed a lion and a bear (1 Samuel 17:34) to protect his father’s flock. But they are also to be wise enough to lead the flock away from such confrontations and crises. Leading in green pastures and seeking the quiet of still waters (Psalms 23:1,2) are also important leadership challenges.

Someone has said that goats can be driven but sheep must be led. Jesus did not come to drive us but to draw us. “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). As people who presume to lead his sheep, we must follow Jesus’ own humble example.Wineskins Magazine

Phillip Morrison

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