Follow The Leader: Re-defining Successful Leadership from the Gospel of John.
Back in 2012, I posted a very successful 12-session blog series called To Lead or Not To Lead? It was a series of short writings surrounding my New Testament word study comparing 21st century concepts of leadership with those from the first-century church. My burning question going into this NT word study was this:
Are our twenty-first century definitions of successful Christian leadership biblically consistent with those common beliefs of our first-century counterparts; men and women who ‘led’ the church immediately following Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension?
In other words, when you and I use the phrase ‘successful leader’ or ‘excellent leadership’ when referring to people who are doing well at overseeing the work of ministry in the modern-day church, would a New Testament writer, or more importantly, Jesus, Himself, look at the definitions we are associating with that job of ‘successful leader’ and agree or disagree with our conclusions on the subject?
In that blog series, I introduced a list I call ‘The Twenty Top Qualifiers for Successful Christian Leadership’. As I see it, it’s a fairly comprehensive checklist we American church-goers expect to see in our best ‘leaders’. I assembled this list by doing an overview of the top sellers of books released in recent years on the theme of successful Christian leadership. For review…here’s that list. See if you can identify leadership books you’ve read recently or leadership conferences you’ve attended where these qualities or characteristics have been associated with successful Christian leadership:
Committed, Competent, Confident, Courageous, Decisive, Effective Communicator, Entrepreneur, Excellent Character, Excellent Listener, Excellent Negotiator, Goal Setter, Helps Others Succeed, Inspiring Motivator, Life-Long Learner, Positive Attitude, Problem Solver, Risk Taker, Self-Aware, Team Builder, and Visionary.
Impressive list, huh? Who wouldn’t want a church filled with men and women who emanate these qualities and characteristics in their leadership roles?
But here’s the rub.
While you and I toss the words ‘leader’, ‘lead’ or ‘leadership’ around with ease in the twenty-first century church, associating so many of these twenty definitions of ‘success’ (above) along with them, I was quite honestly shocked in my 2012 study with a NT Greek Lexicon, discovering how very foreign the words, ‘leader’, lead, or ‘leadership’ are to New Testament Greek. In truth, the Greek words used in the New Testament for our English words ‘leader’ ‘lead’ and ‘leadership’ are not only foreign to the original texts but are, interestingly enough, used in such a way that one might suggest that the New Testament concept of a Christian ‘leader’, using many of the twenty top qualifiers I’ve listed above, does not compute either in the words of Jesus, Himself, or the words recorded by other 1st century writers of the New Testament!
Since that blog series in 2012, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time to totally re-define successful ‘leadership’ in the twenty-first century church. My sense is that we have borrowed our definitions for successful leadership more from the world of corporate America than from the New Testament itself. In truth, a successful leader in today’s church looks much more like a corporate CEO or top-level business manager than they do a New Testament shepherd, steward or humble overseer of God’s people.
So…that brings me to my second blog series on church leadership. I call it Follow the Leader: Re-defining Successful Leadership from the Gospel of John.
Beginning today (September 11th) through year’s end (December 30), I invite you to return with me to the ancient words of the New Testament. In this 46-session blog series, I will, once again, be using Eugene Peterson’s The Message for my biblical text, and for the purpose of brevity, I’m going to limit this particular study to the Gospel of John. My goal will not be to do a line-by-line devotional study of John’s Gospel, but to offer you a series of blogs commenting on various sections of John’s text where the focus, in my mind, is on the original disciples (future overseers of the church) as they interact with Jesus. As I see it, if we’re looking for ways to move away from the 21st century corporate approach to church life in America, re-defining ‘successful Christian leadership’ in the process, the Gospels would be the best place to begin and end such a pursuit.
You will note, as you read along in this series, that I’m making a determined effort in my writings to not overuse the common words, ‘lead’, leader’ or ‘leadership’. Words we’ve all grown accustomed to using when talking about those who oversee ministry in the church. Instead, I will attempt to use words more commonly found in the New Testament. Words such as ‘overseer’, ‘elder’, ‘shepherd’, ‘pastor-teacher’, ‘apostle, ‘deacon’ ‘servant’ and others. I admit, at first, this approach to our word usage will seem confusing to you, but keep in mind that I’m trying to intentionally change my vocabulary so that the truer New Testament definitions of church ‘leadership’ might emerge as we write. I hope you will bear with me as I attempt to make this dramatic change in my language.
Keep in mind as well, that I am growing in my unshakeable belief that our friends from New Testament times firmly established in their writings that there are only three persons on the planet (or should I say, in the universe?) who should ever get the high title of ‘senior leader.’ Their names are God the Father, Jesus of Nazareth, and the Holy Spirit. As one author calls them, The Big Three-in-One! Everything and everyone else in life, as author Leonard Sweet states, is all about follower-ship. So join us as we begin our journey in John’s Gospel on Monday, September 14th. Come on…let’s Follow The Leader.
My prayer: Thank You, Lord, that whenever I’m not clear about things in this life, I can turn to Your Holy Word and the counsel of the Holy Spirit to bring God’s truth to the forefront of the question at hand. As I search for re-definition to ‘success’ in Christian leadership, please let Your Word direct me into Your perfect will and Your perfect interests. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: Where might I have bought into an Americanized corporate worldview of church leadership, ignoring biblical truths that might run contrary to our westernized principles? Am I open to a re-examination of my Americanized approach to leadership in the light of the truth found in God’s Word?
So what is God speaking to you today as we follow Jesus the Nazarene, the Leader of the Church?
Between now and the end of 2015, we will be sharing with you a blog series we first developed in 2013. We call it Follow The Leader: Re-defining Successful Leadership from the Gospel of John. In order to keep all 46 blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Follow The Leader home page for ease of use. ENJOY!
Click here to go onto the next blog in the series.