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Leadership Distinctives

What makes a leader a leader? Even more importantly, what makes a leader worth following? There are several reasons leaders are followed such as position, power, and personality. The lowest level of leadership is being followed only due to the position you hold, but at some point leadership influence must be earned. People may follow you for a period of time, but eventually you will earn or lose the right to be followed. Leadership influence is a lot like trust because it takes a long time to earn but can be lost in a second.

In The 5 Levels of Leadership, John Maxwell describes level one where people follow you because they have to or believe they should because of the position you hold. The second level is permission where they continue to follow because of the relationship they have built with you and have decided they want to follow you. The next level is based on your ability to lead well and they follow because of what you have accomplished through your leadership. Leadership then moves to reproduction because of how the leader has poured into your life and mentored you.

These five levels move from rights (position) to relationships (permission) to results (production) to people development (reproduction) and then on to respect (the pinnacle). This is where people follow you because of who you are and what you represent. The reality is that sometimes the closer we get to some leaders the less we want to follow them because we discover they are not who we thought they were. What a joy it is when the closer you get to a leader the more you desire and want to follow them. Familiarity should breed respect not contempt in leadership.

Distinctive #1 is spirituality. There is a huge difference between leadership and spiritual leadership. Of more importance than your leadership skills, those following you need to be able to see you are walking with God. You should not have to convince people you are walking with Him because it should be apparent to all that you are. Even though leadership can be accomplished by many, spiritual leadership only occurs by those who are walking closely and intimately with the Lord. Manipulation will not be necessary when the Holy Spirit is present.

Distinctive #2 is prayer. For emphasis sake and because it is so vital to the leader’s effectiveness allow me to quote again from Spiritual Leadership by Henry and Richard Blackaby speaking on the importance of prayer in their lives. “For leaders to have this kind of relationship available to them and then choose to not communicate with the One who wants to guide them is a gross dereliction of duty.” Prayer reminds us of who is really in charge and gives us a confidence that He is able to do above and beyond all we could ever ask or think.

Distinctive #3 is a great work ethic. Leaders are not lazy and they are not afraid of hard work. They lead by example and have a servant’s heart meaning they are willing to do what others are unwilling to do. The Blackabys ask this, “If the people in my organization worked with the same intensity as I do, would they enhance the operations of this organization or would they reduce it to a crawl?” If the goal of your leadership is respect then you should not see your position as an escape from sacrifice but as platform to demonstrate what sacrifice looks like.

Jesus set the example here by washing the disciples’ feet but some leaders act more like they seek privilege and entitlement. Maybe you should not have to do a particular task but you should always be willing. Remember, the greatest way to influence others is by example. If we want those who follow us to go an extra mile Jesus said we must be willing to go two. It cannot be “do as I say” but rather “do as I do” and our actions back it up. Church leaders we need to work hard at showing our people that we know what it means to work hard.

Distinctive #4 is answering questions before they are even asked. Communicate your vision and how you will carry it our over and over again. One of the greatest lessons I learned was that what I often thought was opposition was simply just individuals who needed more information. We can easily think that because of the journey we have been on that people will automatically fast forward to where the Lord has brought us. Anticipate that there are “late-adopters” who by their nature will need their questions answered before they can move forward.

Distinctive #5 is having good spiritual mentors and counselors. Make sure you check out the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 4:9-16 with verse 10 saying, “For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up.”   In Proverbs Solomon also tells us that there is wisdom in the multitude of counsel. You do not have to have all the answers as a leader, but you must have the wisdom to seek counsel and listen to other godly leaders. It is not about your agenda or their agenda but getting on God’s agenda.

These distinctives of spiritual leadership are important…but there are more. Leadership is not easy and actually it is very hard work. It can be draining and overwhelming at times so here are a couple of other suggestions. Be sure you do not take yourself too seriously and be able to laugh at yourself. Protect your personal walk with God because the attacks of the devil are real and he especially focuses on those leading the charge against the gates of hell. Lastly in the words of Paul, “I tell every one of you not to think of himself more highly than he should think.”

What Does Spiritual Leadership Look Like?

Much has been said and written about leadership. Quotes such as, “Everything rises and falls on leadership!” “Leadership is influence!” “The speed of the leader determines the speed of the team!” There are volumes of books on leadership from the business world and from the church world. There are two books on leadership from a biblical perspective that really stand out to me. They are Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders and Spiritual Leadership by Henry and Richard Blackaby.

The Blackabys define spiritual leadership as “moving people on to God’s agenda.” It is not about the leader’s agenda but God’s. The leader must be careful not to think that he is the only one who can hear from God on a matter. There is definitely more wisdom in the multitude of counsel. The greatest ideas for ministering to people who are far from God will probably come from your members more often than from the leaders. That is not a negative, but they are rubbing shoulders with them and listening to the Holy Spirit as He directs them on how to reach them.

In Gaining by Losing, J.D. Greear says, “Furthermore, if the majority of what Jesus wants to do He wants to do in the community, it shouldn’t surprise us that He puts His best vision into the hearts of the people who live and work there for the majority of their hours each week.” God has a way of doing extraordinary things through very ordinary people who are willing to obey Him. Remember, Paul told the church in Corinth that not many wise, powerful, or noble have been called. Instead, He has chosen the foolish, insignificant, and weak.

Here are some thoughts on being a spiritual leader…First, your people need to see that you are walking with Jesus. You should not have to prove to them or tell them, but it should be noticeable and evident that God’s hand is upon you. More than anything else, can they tell you are walking with Jesus and in close fellowship with Him? Your number one responsibility as a leader is to seek God’s face and His agenda. You must have a face-to-face relationship and daily encounter with God.

Second, your people need to know that they can trust you. Leadership is primarily built on trust that stands on top of honesty, which gives the leader credibility. Simply said, “Your yes is yes and your no is no.” You are a leader that does what you say you will do. Your word is your bond and is trustworthy. A good rule of leadership, on both sides, is through clear communication and to stay away from surprises and blind-siding someone.

Third, your people need to know that their opinions and input are valued. Many times the insights of other leaders around you can save you a lot of heartache. They may think of things that you may never have considered. No one enjoys following a leader who thinks that the only good opinion is his or hers. Some act like they do not want to be confused by the facts because their mind is already made up. Be open and teachable to other perspectives and ideas.

Fourth, your people need to understand there can be beauty in being challenged and in creating good tension. This works hand in hand with number three but let me quote Ed Stetzer who said, “Surround yourself with strong voices who have permission to disagree.” A great thing to remember here is that just because someone disagrees with you does not mean they are your enemy. Usually, the biggest need is more information and answering unanswered questions.

Fifth, your people need to see a leader who is courageous enough to take a stand but also willing to admit when they make a mistake. Always try to make sure that when you do make a mistake that your motives were pure and not selfish. This way they will know that it was not a mistake of the heart but a mistake of the head. A true spiritual leader is someone who is willing to stand alone when they have to but who never enjoys or desires that to happen.

Sixth, your people need to see a leader with a servant’s heart. This cannot be just verbiage but must be shown by example. You should not have to do everything but you should be willing to do whatever needs to be done. Remember, there are a lot of volunteers giving of their time to serve and help in any way they can. They appreciate a leader who is willing to roll up his or her sleeves and pitch in. A core value of leadership needs to be that no can lead until they first serve.

Seventh, your people need to see a leader who is faithful in the little tasks and smaller details. The word is clear that “he that is faithful in little will be faithful in much.” Don’t be looking for greener grass but instead plant, water, and see the grass grow and flourish right where you are. The Blackabys say this, “The problem is, too many people want to bypass the small assignments and get right to the big jobs—the ones with the influence and prestige.”

L.R. Scarborough once issued this challenge, “If your place is not great enough to suit you, make it so. The minister who is unable to make a place great is too weak to hold a great one.” Resist the temptation to look for “greener” grass and focus on your responsibilities right where God has placed you. My wife likes to say, “Bloom where you are planted.” The great missionary Jim Elliot said, “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”