The blue-collar Messiah who moved along the margins and among the common folks has been pushed aside by personal assistants, green rooms, bodyguards, valet parking, and reserved seats. Would we rather have a church filled with high-level leaders or a church filled with lowly, humble followers a la Brother Francis and Mother Teresa? Leonard Sweet, I Am a Follower.
Step into any church in America and if you stay long enough, you’re gonna hear the pastor and others talk about the vitally important role of solid leadership in the church. And much like our business counterparts in corporate America, the church is always looking for good, solid people who can step in and lead the church. Whether it be the senior pastor, a staff pastor, or one of the countless lay leaders recruited to fill the many positions on the leadership team, we American church-goers want our leadership to be strong and successful.
And since no one wants to be a part of a church with poor, unqualified leadership, we strive to define and qualify the important traits of successful leadership for those who are considering stepping into that role. Earlier in this blog series, I introduced you to my standard list of twenty top qualifiers we American church leaders expect to see in our leaders. Here’s the list again, for those who might have missed it.
Successful church leaders must be: 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.
But while we toss the words, ‘leader’, ‘leadership’, and ‘lead’ around with ease in the twenty-first century church, I was shocked in a recent study I undertook with a NT Greek Lexicon, discovering how very foreign these same words are to New Testament Greek. In truth, the Greek words used in the New Testament for our English words ‘lead’, ‘leader’ and ‘leadership’ are not only foreign to the text but are, interestingly enough, used in such a way that one might suggest that the New Testament concept of a Christian ‘leader’, using 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!
In my last blog session I showed you how very uncommon it is for the seven words taken from the root word ‘lead’ to appear in the New Testament. When combined together (LEADER, LEADERS, LEAD, LEADS, LEADING, LED, and LEADERSHIP) these 7 words appear only 101 times in the entirety of the New Testament. Now for those of you who still might believe that 101 occurrences to be impressive, let me whittle it down for you just a bit more.
Of the 101 word appearances found in the NIV translation of the New Testament, let me, first of all, throw out the 39 times these words are used in neutral, non-personal ways. Words like lead, leads, leading, etc. where there is no literal attachment to people. Let me give you an example or two. In Matthew 7: 13-14, Jesus states that “broad is the road that leads to temptation, narrow is the road that leads to life.” In Acts 13: 11; we find a blind Jewish sorcerer needing someone to lead him by the hand. In Titus 1: 1 we find that truth leads to godliness. It’s these 39 examples of non-related use that now bring our 101 word references taken from the root word of ‘lead’ down to 62 occurrences.
Now, let’s take those 62 remaining New Testament occurrences of our 7 words (LEADER, LEADERS, LEAD, LEADS, LEADING, LED or LEADERSHIP) and remove one more layer.
As might be expected from both the Old Testament and the New Testament, the idea of God being our ‘leader’ is quite common. As a matter of fact it is quite normal for the Hebrew language of the Old Testament to use words that are translated as God being our ‘leader’ or how God ‘leads’ His people. The New Testament actually expands on that mindset and uses our 7 ‘lead’ words 20 different times referring to God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit as our commander-in-chief, the leader of God’s church. In John 10: 3, for example, we find that Jesus knows His sheep and leads them. In 2nd Corinthians 2: 14 Paul tells us that it is Christ who leads us in triumphal procession, while in Romans 8:14, Paul continues by writing that ‘those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons (and daughters) of God’.
Once we remove these 20 NT references to the Holy Trinity being our leader or commander-in-chief, we are now left with only 42 occurrences of the words LEADER, LEADERS, LEAD, LEADS, LEADING, LED or LEADERSHIP throughout the entire New Testament.
And guess what?
Of those remaining 42 NT references from our root word ‘lead’, 35 are actually referencing bad or negative results affiliated with the concept of ‘leading’. You heard me right. In other words, there are 35 NT references where people are found doing negative things through their ‘leading’, or where the NT is suggesting that people’s ‘leadership’ is accomplishing something negative or, flat-out, working contrary to the gospel of Jesus! As you might guess, many of these 35 text references are associated with Jewish synagogue leaders or civic and Roman government officials.
Let me give you just a handful of prime examples: In Luke 19: 47, we find teachers of the law and leaders (NAS=leading men) among the people trying to kill Jesus. Over in Acts 25: 23, we see high-ranking officers and other leading men (NAS=prominent men) in Caesarea working against Paul’s ministry. In Galatians 2: 13, Paul tells of other Jews joining together, so that ‘by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.’ Two of the 35 NT negative passages on leadership actually reference Judas, Jesus’ betraying disciple, as he ‘leads’ the way in his disobedience!
Count ‘em, folks. 35 NT examples where the words LEADER, LEADERS, LEAD, LEADS, LEADING, LED, and LEADERSHIP are negative in content. Ouch. That hurts.
Now, for those of you keeping score, we’ve removed 94 New Testament word references of the root word ‘lead’ from the total 101 NIV references we began with. And what do we have left?
SEVEN POSITIVE REFERENCES.
Seven times, the New Testament uses the words LEADER, LEADERS, LEAD, LEADS, LEADING, LED, and LEADERSHIP in referencing something positive in the role a man or woman plays as he or she serves God and His people. Seven positive uses of the word ‘lead’ in approximately 181,000 NT words. .0000386 % of the time. The odds are getting bad here, folks.
Next time, we will take a closer look at these seven remaining NT passages and begin drawing some rather frightening conclusions. Beware, folks. This word ‘leader’ we like so much in twenty-first century American church just might need to be re-worked a bit.
(For those of you who are wanting to look under the hood on the “word” statistics I’m presenting in this blog series, click here for all of the biblical references we refer to in this post)
My prayer: Father God, it’s starting to become obvious that there are many more negative references to the concepts of ‘leadership’ in the New Testament than there are positives. Jesus, awaken me to a greater awareness of what exactly You are looking for when it comes to those You call into leadership. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: Where and how have I experienced ‘negative’ leadership in my life? How has that negative approach to leadership affected me and others around me? What negatives need to be addressed in the way I might be ‘leading’ others?
So, what is God speaking to you today as we ask the question, To Lead Or Not To Lead?
As I see it, something needs to change in the way we define ‘successful’ Christian leadership. And the question today should not be, ‘Do we need leadership?’ but rather, ‘What kind of leaders is God asking men and women to be? Over a four-week period, you and I will take a deeper look at this question. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our To Lead Or Not To Lead? home page for ease of use. ENJOY!