Leaders Go First, Leaders Go Last
Leadership is a hot topic in America, especially in Christian circles. But we also have a long history of getting it wrong. The disciples had a specific idea of leadership that they imposed on Jesus. Jesus tried to prepare them for His kingdom and how things don’t work the same there. But until the unthinkable happened, they couldn’t grasp that Jesus was leading from a position of humility and suffering.
We, too, struggle with this concept, and if you pick up a Christian leadership book, you will find that if you change some of the keywords, it would be indistinguishable from most secular leadership books. But Christian Leadership is still antithetical compared to the world’s leadership style.
Leadership for a Christian is based on character, not on ability. It is based on how you live and the integrity that you demonstrate, not your level of influence. We are supposed to follow and emulate people who act according to Jesus’s teachings, not those who look the part or have a celebrity following. Those people tend to lead us astray. So here are a few examples of the character traits of Christian leaders.
Leaders Go First:
The Christian leader should lead from the front by setting an example and being steadfast in the truth even when it is inconvenient.
When I was a kid, I saw how my dad led. “Right is right, and wrong is wrong,” he would say. He knew people would have excuses and reasons for what they did or didn’t do, but to my dad, that didn’t matter. On Monday nights, Dad would go to visitation. He would visit the sick, new believers, visitors, and people who might be interested in hearing more about the Gospel. It was my dad and the preacher most Mondays. When I was old enough, he “encouraged” me to go as well, but I never remember seeing more than four people there. My dad never complained or bad-mouthed those people who were not reaching out to the community. He just led by doing. And that profoundly impacted me and how I do things to this day.
Leaders Go Last:
Christian leadership in America has followed the cultural trends we see in other realms. We have Celebrity Pastors and famous authors who are idolized and emulated. They are given special treatment and put in very uncomfortable situations.
When you speak at a conference or teach in a local church, they will always want to honor you in some way—sitting in a special seat or going first in line. Some of this can not be helped, and it isn’t worth the confusion and the fuss to refuse. But you should watch how they act with their people.
An old preaching professor of mine once told me, “You want to know what kind of leader someone is, watch where they get in line at the pot-luck dinner.” I have learned that the people I have respected most in their leadership tend to be towards the end of the line. They don’t give themselves special treatment but consider others more important than themselves.
Finally, in this Christian celebrity culture that we have created, we have isolated our leaders from the masses. It is a mess that we have created. There are practical reasons we do it; we don’t want our leaders to be overwhelmed with the “needs” of the masses.
But we must remember that if anyone had the possibility of being overwhelmed, it was Jesus, and his disciples would often try to buffer him from the masses, but Jesus rejected the idea. He ate in the homes of sinners and welcomed little children. He spoke with people who would ruin his image and made himself accessible to all kinds of people, not just a select few in the inner circle or other celebrities.
If you want to follow Jesus’ leadership example, you must be accessible like he was and show a love of people that is demonstrated by giving them your full attention and focus.
One of the small things that makes a difference is eye contact and being fully there in the moment. If you can maintain eye contact and be interested in what is being said instead of taking quick glances around and ensuring you aren’t missing something (something that might be more important), you are on the right track. Jesus was and is fully accessible to those who seek Him. We should follow his example.