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Friday, September 03, 2010

Great Leadership

The book of Nehemiah (in the Old Testament) is always heralded as a study in leadership. Preachers take their congregations to Nehemiah and exalt his leadership style, strength, and of course his success. The story of this man’s twelve-year stay in Jerusalem and his leading the people of Judah in rebuilding the city walls is one of the Bible’s best known stories. No doubt generations after me will continue to look at Nehemiah in their attempt to understand … or perhaps learn to emulate great leadership.

You know, Jesus has also been heralded as a great leader in the Bible. Ironically His story doesn’t seem to have that leadership “brand” on it like Nehemiah’s does. But a number of preachers have examined Jesus’ ways and concluded that they exemplify great leadership. Books have been written and sermons have been preached on Jesus’ great leadership. Here too, modern aspirants turn to Jesus’ story in their attempt to understand … or perhaps to emulate great leadership.

I think sometimes that the world, at least in my time here, is chasing a leadership paradigm that doesn’t really exist. It is overwhelming the number of books that have been written on leadership. Even more overwhelming is the amount of money that has been spent buying those books! Of course there are the seminars, videos, and other media disbursements of leadership courses, lessons, etc.

Seriously, I think we could probably find some people out there for whom this pursuit of leadership is something akin to a false religion. They are so focused on leadership that they’ll spend any amount of money or any amount of time trying to acquire the skill, discover the secret and ultimately transform themselves into great leaders. And of course they have this belief --- that something they can purchase, learn, acquire, emulate, etc. will enable them to be transformed into great leaders. Let’s think about that though. Is that really true? Or is it a lie that they nonetheless believe?

We can look at Nehemiah and Jesus. We can throw in some other great leaders of the Bible. Moses. King David. Joshua. Solomon. Paul. Quite frankly, close examination of their leadership reveals some pretty basic and fundamental patterns. It would seem to me that the “secret” to great leadership is revealed in these fundamentals. Ironically, those fundamentals seem to get overlooked in much of the modern day leadership hype that we spend millions or billions chasing. Perhaps Nehemiah and Jesus exhibit them more clearly than the rest though. What are those fundamentals?

1. They walked with God. Nehemiah and Jesus (as well as those other great leaders I’ve mentioned above) had close relationships with the Father. They knew who God was and they knew who they were in the relationship with Him. Everything was in its right perspective. And it stayed in its right perspective because these men consistently sought God.

2. They started with prayer. Virtually everything we see Nehemiah and Jesus doing was prefaced with prayer. Each time they were confronted with a considerable challenge or wanted to accomplish something worthwhile, they turned to God. They asked Him for direction on how to proceed. They asked for His help. No matter what they had to do as leaders, they always started with prayer.

3. They were obedient. Nehemiah and Jesus did what God told them to do. While great leaders in the Bible (except for Jesus) made some mistakes, all of them sincerely wanted to do God’s will. They earnestly wanted to do things God’s way. They knew that submission and obedience were the foundation of any walk with God … the foundation of godly men (and women).

4. They expected God’s favor. These men moved forward with an expectation that God would be with them. Jesus performed many miracles. And He wasn’t surprised by any of them. When He went to turn the water into wine, for example, He knew it would work. He didn’t hope it would work. When they moved out, they knew that God was with them, that they had His power and strength to help them. They expected God’s favor in their endeavor and they expected to prevail.

5. They were bold and courageous. Nehemiah was a gutsy fellow. He boldly asks for things that no one in their right mind would dare ask for. That he got what he asked is probably the best indication that boldly asking was the right course to have taken. Nehemiah and Jesus, as well as other great leaders of the Bible, are seen acting boldly and courageously. And they did so even in the most intimidating of circumstances. Facing enormous threats that would scare the crap out of any of us today, these men laid their fear at the altar and moved forward. They didn’t allow fear, concern, or any of fear’s other relatives keep them from moving forward. Surely they must have known the risks they faced. They were not ignorant men. So you might say they did it afraid.

6. They loved the people that they led. Really. Jesus’ love for His disciples was overwhelmingly evident and, of course, perfect. But even a more human leader like Nehemiah exhibited the exact same kind of love. Nehemiah’s love for the people he led was profound in two specific ways. First, he noticed the suffering of the poor and the oppressed – and he took a stand to help them. Second, he noticed the bad behavior of people – and he rebuked them, speaking the truth in love and calling them to change their ways.

7. They themselves did what they ask others to do. You can call it servant leadership or whatever you want to call it. But the fact of the matter is these leaders got their hands dirty. They worked right alongside the workers they were leading. They never asked anyone to do anything that they weren’t willing to do themselves. They waded right in and lent their own hands to the effort. They never saw themselves as being above the people that they led. (This is most remarkable in Jesus’ example of leadership – because He actually was above everyone else – He was God!)

As I look at these fundamentals, these basics, and as I pray about my own leadership, God has consistently taken me back to the basics. I've been told I'm a good leader. People who work for me or serve under me often give me words of affirmation for my leadership. I'm aware that God has cast me in the position to be a leader. I lead my family. I lead in my church and community. I lead at work. When I reflect on leadership, God tells me to learn from the basics that I see in these great leaders of the Bible. Specifically, God says if I want to be a good leader, I must do the following:

1. Seek Him first.

2. Pray about everything and everyone.

3. Obey God and His ways.

4. Expect God’s favor.

5. Be fearless.

6. Love the people I lead.

7. Get your hands dirty.

So there you have it. The fundamentals of great leadership. It's really pretty simple actually. And I haven't had to read any book, attend any seminar, listen to any tapes, or go through any class to get this timeless wisdom. God was happy to give it to me Himself --- when I asked.

The thing is that great leadership is not a skill or a tool. It’s not a character trait or a spiritual gift. Rather great leadership is the by-product of men and women who seek Him first, pray without ceasing, make obedience a priority, have faith in God’s promises and refuse to be intimidated by their fears. And the fact of the matter is there is great leadership potential in each and every one of us.

The only question is whether we’re willing to act in the ways that allow God to produce that great leadership in us.

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