Session 7: Not The Most Impressive Numbers.

The cry for leadership is deafening amid our social disintegration, our moral disorientation. We have come to believe that we have a leadership crisis while all along we have been in a drought of discipleship. The Jesus paradox is that only Christians lead by following.  Leonard Sweet, I Am a Follower.

In my last few blog entries, I’ve been showing you the rather small and, quite honestly, insignificant way our seven English words (LEADER, LEADERS, LEAD, LEADS, LEADING, LED, and LEADERSHIP) appear throughout the New Testament.

In the NIV Bible, there are approximately 181,000 words that make up the New Testament. The NIV, the most popular English translation around, has 101 total entries of these seven English words that come from our root English word ‘lead’. Now while that number might sound impressive, surprisingly, these 101 occurrences are quickly reduced (see my last blog) to only seven passages where the authors of the New Testament use the term to apply positively to those people who are assigned an overseeing role in the New Testament church!

7 entries out of 181,000 words. I find that fact rather disturbing, particularly when so much of our current church culture lives and breathes around these seven ‘leadership’ words (LEADER, LEADERS, LEAD, LEADS, LEADING, LED, and LEADERSHIP). Walk into any Christian bookstore in America, for example, or go on-line and do a search for the most popular Christian books written for pastors and ministry ‘leaders’ and you’ll find literally hundreds of entries that focus on the theme of successful leadership.

A recent non-scientific study I did was to assemble a working list of the top ten qualifiers for successful Christian leadership, based out of today’s popular books on the subject. My stack of qualifiers became so significant; I felt in order to be fair, I should expand my list from ten to twenty. Here, once again for those readers who might have missed it earlier, are those twenty top qualifiers (in alphabetical order) as communicated to us by authors desiring to encourage successful leadership in the American church:

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.

And while our generation of Christian ‘leaders’ seems obsessed with the idea of successful leadership, I find it quite interesting that the New Testament has only seven entries where the Greek uses ‘leadership’ words in a positive way when referencing those who oversee God’s work in the first-century church! There’s so much more to say on this subject, but for today, let’s simply finish up by listing for you those seven lonely ‘leadership’ entries found in the NIV.

  1. Acts 15: 22. Here the Greek word ‘hgeomai’ (#2233: leader) is used. The apostles & elders in Jerusalem sent 2 leaders (Silas & Judas Barsabbas) out with a letter to other believers. (NAS=leading men among the brethren)
  2. Galatians 2: 2. Here, two Greek words ‘hosea’ (#3588: those) and ‘dokeo’ (#1380: of reputation) are used. An indirect reference by Paul to church leaders in Jerusalem. (NAS=those who were of reputation)
  3. Hebrews 13: 7. Once again, the Greek word ‘hgeomai’ (#2233: leader) is used. “Remember your leaders who spoke God’s word to you.” (NAS=those who led you)
  4. Hebrews 13: 17. Again, ‘hgeomai’ (#2233: leader) is used. Obey your leaders, submit to their authority.” (NAS=leaders)
  5. Hebrews 13: 24. For a third time in one paragraph, ‘hgeomai’ (#2233: leader) is used.Greet all your leaders and all God’s people.” (NAS=leaders)
  6. Romans 12: 8. Here, the Greek word ‘proistemi’ (#4291=to protect, guard, or care for) is used. The word is placed in a list of seven gifts: prophesy, serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing to needs of others, showing mercy, and leadership (NAS=he who leads).
  7. Romans 15: 18. Here, the Greek word ‘katergazomai’ (#2716=to perform, accomplish or achieve) is used. Paul says he’s leading the Gentiles to obey God. (NAS=what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in…)

And there we have it. Seven lonely entries (in the NIV) written by New Testament writers, given to us in such a way that we are left with some positive spin on the subject of ‘leaders’ or ‘leading’ in the first century church.

Sad, isn’t it.

For such a big word in our culture, why is it such a small word to those who ‘led’ the church in the first century? I ask this question because when we compare these 7 positive entries with the 35 different times (in the NIV) New Testament writers use similar words to depict poor leadership, (see Blog Session #6), I begin to get a bit nervous.

Why is it that the writers of the New Testament use Greek words associated with human leadership five times more often to paint pictures of negative ‘leadership’ than they do for the seven times their statements on the subject are positive?

Interesting stuff, to say the least. But more on that next time.

(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, I’m very thankful for the seven passages in the New Testament that give us a hopeful view of what Christ-like leadership can be. But, I’m struck on how the New Testament refers to the negative side of human leadership fives times more often! Holy Spirit, I’m paying attention now. Please illuminate Your wisdom. For Your name’s sake. Amen.

My questions to ponder: Of the seven ‘positive’ leadership scriptures in the New Testament, which ones seem to speak to me the most today? Where do I need to listen and respond to these positive words of wisdom in my life and ministry today?

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!

Click here to go on to the next session…

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