Leadership is vital to any organization, especially a church organization. The church requires leadership that is trustworthy, honest, and has integrity. We as a church need to encourage, promote, and harness such leadership in a world filled with corruption, dishonesty, and disloyalty.
MISUNDERSTANDING OF LEADERSHIP
Many church leaders misunderstand the importance of leadership and its role in the church and society. Mark 10:35–37 presents the type of mindset that leaders have in today’s world. In this verse, Jesus’ disciples James and John request that Jesus let them sit on His right and left in His expected kingdom. Their understanding of Jesus’ call to ministry was limited. They understood ministry to be about the glory they would receive, rather than service to humankind.
Jesus corrects the disciples’ misunderstanding of leadership, contrasting His own leadership style with that of the Gentiles. He describes the Gentiles’ leadership style in Mark 10:42 as lording over the people and exercising excessive authority over them. In contrast, He urges His disciples not to be like the Gentiles but “to be servants, to serve and give up their own lives for the sake of others.”
The call to leadership is not a call to glory but a call to service to God and humanity. Christian leadership experts Hendry and Richard Blackaby say, “Leadership is taking people from where they are to where God wants them to be. God’s primary concern for people is not results but relationship.”1 Moses was called to leadership, and his mandate was to liberate the children of Israel from Pharaoh in Egypt. Exodus 3:10 reads, “I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” Our leadership responsibility is to liberate, develop, and transform peoples’ lives.
Jesus demonstrates servant-leadership in John 13. Ellen White in The Desire of Ages describes the scene in the upper room as tense: “There was a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.”2 None of the disciples were willing to serve each other nor wash each other’s feet. John 13:4 reads, “So he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”
Servant in the Greek is υπηρέτης. When translated into English it means “servant, slave, or bondsman.” In the context of Mark 10:43, this term means “one who gives himself up to another’s will, those who are devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interests.”3 In the story of Jesus and His disciples in the upper room, Jesus acts out servanthood toward His disciples. He disregards Himself and devotes Himself to His disciples. He takes on the form of a servant in order to reach the disciples’ hearts.
The church is looking for leaders who will put others’ interests and lives before their own. Luke 9:23 says, “Whoever wants to follow me must first deny themselves.” True leadership is centered around service to others. Leaders should be concerned about the well-being of others and strive to serve their needs. Leaders should be concerned about helping people around them to grow, and to become their best selves. Ellen White says in The Desire of Ages, “God takes men as they are, and educates them for His service. The weak character becomes changed to a strong one.”4
When leaders serve people, it is important to build trust, both personal and organizational. Trust is vital in leadership, a virtue that leaders should not take for granted.
Character breeds trust. People trust leaders when leaders behave ethically and honestly, in both personal and organizational affairs. Stephen Covey says that “character includes leaders’ integrity, motive, and intent with people.”5 Ellen White expresses the importance of character when she says, “Energy, moral integrity, and strong purpose for the right are qualities that cannot be supplied with any amount of gold. Men possessing these qualifications will have influence everywhere.”6
In the twenty-first century, trust in leadership is earned not only by character and good intentions but by results. Leaders should have a combination of good character traits and competency. Stephen Covey says that “competency includes leaders’ capacity, capabilities, skills, results, and track record.”7 The church needs leaders able to demonstrate competency as measured by results. The church leader will gain the trust of members by a combination of positive character traits and demonstrated ability to accomplish the short- and long-term objectives of the church.
A SITUATION OF MISTRUST
There is a close relationship between leadership and stewardship. Let me give you an example. I once had an elder of a particular church who was untrustworthy, divisive, and very antagonizing in nature.
At first the church members did not see his true nature. As time went on, though, some members began to doubt his fitness for church office. They started to voice their concerns regarding the negative impact of his character on the local church. I tried to avoid the conflict, thinking that their concerns would eventuallygo away or resolve themselves. Eventually, members began withholding their tithes and offerings as a form of protest, and they stopped participating in the local church. Some even lost confidence in me as their pastor.
It is important for us to note that the absence of trust is not a justification for unfaithfulness and withdrawal from service: “Some have been dissatisfied, and have said, ‘I will no longer pay my tithe; for I have no confidence in the way things are managed at the heart of the work.’ But will you rob God because you think the management of the work is not right? Make your complaint, plainly and openly, in the right spirit, to the proper ones. Send in your petitions for things to be adjusted and set in order; but do not withdraw from the work of God, and prove unfaithful, because others are not doing right.”⁸
Nevertheless, we need to acknowledge that mistrust does affect members' partnership with God and the church. As leaders, these words of Jesus require our close attention: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42).
It took a whole year to resolve the matter and rebuild members’ confidence. It took an entire new leadership team to rebuild the trust between leaders and members of the local church. We had to be especially careful in our handling of church matters, especially regarding finances.
Once members saw how we demonstrated leadership and trust, they again began giving time and resources to God’s work. Members volunteered their finances, houses, and cars for the church’s evangelism projects out of willing generosity. The church business meetings were once again peaceful and harmonious, with members speaking respectfully and openly about any matter.
The church today needs leaders who understand the importance of leadership, exemplify the traits of servant-leadership, and who understand the importance of character. The Jesus model of servant-leadership is more critical than ever in today’s world. Mark 10:43, 44 reminds us to serve selflessly, putting others first. The leader must inspire others through his or her example, bringing out the best in both the organization and the individual members who constitute it, and they must always strive to be better in every way.
1 Henry and Richard Blackaby, Spiritual Leadership: Moving people onto God’s agenda (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Publishing Group, 2011), p. 127.
2 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1873), p. 652.
⁴ White, The Desire of Ages, p. 245.
⁵ S. M. R. Covey & R. R. Merrill, The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006), p. 23.
⁶ Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3 (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1873), p. 23.
⁷ S.M.R. Covey & R. R. Merrill, The Speed of Trust, p. 23.
⁸ Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol.9 (Mountain View, Calif., Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1909), p. 249.