There is much made in our culture, certainly in corporate settings, about the importance and nature of leadership. There are those who advocate coalition building, those who advocate proactive decisiveness, those who still validate hierarchy, and those for flattened non hierarchical structures. Even definitions for leadership bounce all around with the the latest gurus offering their counsel. My thoughts and experience of leadership have grown over the years, but there is one principle that I keep returning to which I find both effective and biblical.
I guess someone could have a name for this but I simply call it leading from among the people. To be honest, I have found myself in leadership roles my entire life. Whether leaders are born or made, probably a little of both, I know that it has been somewhat natural for me to find myself leading others. Whether it was quarterbacking the high school football team, leading the honor society, captaining our wrestling team, my days as a teen were filled with leadership. In college it seemed that many of my college teammates and classmates would come to me for counsel and insight into life difficulties and problems. During my life, God has has consistently placed me with and among leaders in ministry. Anyway, the leaders I have found most attractive, and the kind I pray to become, are those who “lead from among the people.”
First, i want to describe some ways of leading which are counter to this sort of leadership. Second, I want to give a few illustrations of what I mean when I say “lead among.” Two will come from Scripture, one from history/culture, and one from the Leader of Leaders and Lord of Lords.
What it means to NOT lead from among the people
- Leading from Above This is being in charge of people, telling them what to do without embracing or experiencing their circumstances. It is leading from positional authority and calling down from on high so to speak. I like this leadership from 3 persons: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. I do not always enjoy it from people. It is particularly troublesome if the person leading does not have trustworthy character or is not willing to personally sacrifice with or for those she leads. Having responsibility for others is good; Having authority without character is resented.
- Leading Insincerely Some like to fake it. Insincere leadership may act interested, concerned, even get their hands dirty with others in their leadership. The problem can be that they do not naturally feel a place among those they lead. They do things in order to produce effects without really living it authentically. Usually this sort of leadership is short lived or seen through. People tend to have pretty high authenticity meters today and a fake usually is exposed.
- Leading for Personal Gain I know there are some who say that this is the default motivation of every heart. Personal self-interest! Please, I do not need you to spew Ayn Rand quotes at me. I just think it is brutal to be led by someone who sees others as a means to an end and not an end themselves. There are even definitions which describe management as accomplishing accomplish predetermined goals through others. This could be good or terrible. It all depends on how “through others” actually goes down.
A few examples of leading among
Life Reflected in Film
One of crazy Mel Gibson’s movies demonstrated the kind of leadership with which I resonate. No it is not Passion of the Christ, but we will get to Jesus’ leadership in a moment. The movie is entitled We Were Soldiers. The 2002 film features the story of Lt. Col Hal Moore and the Battle of la Drang in during the Vietnam war. Col Moore’s leadership style was strong but very clear. I will not forget his line in the movie “Men, I will be the first one off the chopper and onto the field and I will be the last one to leave.” There was no question that he was the leader; there was no doubt he was in charge. Yet he was found with and among his men and did not bug out when things got hot. The director dramatically portrays this in the film with his boot hitting and exiting the ground of that bloody battle field. Men love to follow guys like this who lead from among.
Biblical Leadership - Old Testament
One of the most prominent example of this I find in the Scriptures. In the Old Testament Song of Deborah (Judges 5) a great battle had been won by the nation of Israel over its enemies. Deborah sings a song of celebration after the victory where God is honored. A few things stood out to me in regards to the leaders of Israel. The song begins with stating something obvious, but the entire point of leadership:
1 Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day:2 “That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly,bless the Lord!
First, we see that the leaders actually led and did not abdicate or leave the people in confusion. Second, the people offered themselves willingly without which you have only coercion and not true leadership. These simple realities were enough case for rejoicing. Additionally the song says the following of the people in verse 9:
My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel who offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless the Lord.
It seems the Hal Moores of the world existed in our ancient past as well. The leader who leads at no cost to himself does not gain the level of respect as the one who fights along side of his men. The Old School kings would fight; new school leaders sit aside from the battle. I like the Old School.
Biblical Leadership - New Testament
In the book of 1 Peter, their is an exhortation given to local church elders; men called to give leadership in the local church. The “among them” principle is found here as well in chapter 5.
5:1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight,not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you;not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Now I could spend way too many words here expounding on this but to be honest I think the words “among you”, willingly, not for shameful gain (TV preachers/fleecers?), not domineering, examples, humility…well, these words can just speak for themselves.
Finally, the incarnation which we celebrate at Christmas is the prime example of this principle. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. If anyone had the right and ability and position to lead from above it would be Jesus. Who being in the very nature God…took the form of a servant (Philippians 2:1-11). He took on human nature, walked with people, taught from among, exemplified from among, healed from among and died among the people. He gave his life for others, served others, and lived in full obedience to the Father. In my opinion he is the greatest leader in human history. Here are his words on leadership.
35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?”37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized,40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,44 and whoever would be first among you must be slaveof all.45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
To summarize, leading among people means living out with people the goals and callings of an organization. It does not mean that a leader has to participate in every job or have his fingers in every aspect of a group. It does mean that people experience him with them in tangible ways. How that works out will depend on the organization, its tasks, its size, and the nature of its calling etc. People want to be appreciated, valued, have their work validated, and to know that another human being is as interested in their life. Yes, it matters what their life accomplishes for the team, but biblical leaders will also love the people involved. Such leaders I will follow; the other kind I will ignore. I am not saying I will not submit to and respect rightful authority which is placed over me. What I am saying is that I will pursue legitimate paths to align under different leaders and will not waste my life under men and women who neither know me nor go to battle with me. Life is too short for that.