Leadership is not a title!

Four ingredients vital to Christian leadership: integrity, vision, love, and humility

Ricardo Graham is the executive secretary of the Northern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Any organization committed to achieving goals is dependent upon leaders and followers. God's program too is dependent upon leadership and "followership." It is more than a truism to assert that the church will flourish as the quality of its leadership at all levels genuinely reflects the qualities of Christ Himself.

Obviously, a person cannot be a leader without followers. Some may think that they are leaders, but unless the leaders have a group of people who adopt their ideology and support them in their activities, the leader becomes nothing more than a committee of one. Rather than having loyal supportive team members, the followers then become critical spectators.

 

Leaders are not leaders because they have been elected or have a title. They are leaders because someone will follow them.

 

This raises the question What are the qualities that inspire or compel people to follow leaders? And on the other side of the coin, What characteristics make great fol lowers? Let me identify four critical components that cause people to follow leaders.

Integrity

Integrity is "incorruptibility." It involves being true to the core issues of the faith, a deep inner commitment to living life in the atmosphere of heaven while rubbing shoulders with the earthbound. Integrity is: "To thine own self be true." But Christian integrity is more than this. It involves being true to God, His commands, and His call. Christian integrity cannot be bought or sold. It is the result of the Holy Spirit residing in our lives. It comes as we submit to God's presence. It involves being commit ted to the work of God in the world with out respect to one's "personal agenda."

Out of personal integrity follows credibility. Without credibility the leader simply cannot lead. Credibility "accrues slowly, but spends fast." We all know pastors, teachers, and others whom we have trusted. Yet when they betray that trust, it is difficult to continue to support them, at least as leaders. Many have forfeited their positions of leadership because of a lack of integrity and credibility. But people folllow leaders of integrity and uncompromising honesty.

Another important characteristic or capacity inherent in integrity is that it militates against abusive leadership. A leader of integrity has nothing to hide. He or she is open and willing to involve other people in decision-making and a broad range of significant activities. When church leaders are not manipulative, controlling, or subversive, church members will follow them.

Vision

Add to integrity vision. Leaders without vision and a means of clearly communicating it in the organizations in which they serve are not prepared to lead. Goals and direction both extend from vision. Without a clear direction or goal, the organization, especially an ecclesiastical one, will deteriorate and flounder. At best it will become a social club, and at worst it will be prone to the direction of others within the group. It may become "nomadic," wandering in circles, emphasizing one thing today, focusing on another tomorrow, changing with the wind, directionless. A vessel without a declared destination or direction is bound to be lost at sea and ultimately shipwrecked.

 

Vision, as George Barna says, is "a reflection of what God wants to accomplish through you to build His kingdom." "Vision is never about maintaining the status quo. Vision is about stretching reality to extend beyond the existing state." 1 It comes not from the leader, but through the leader. God already has a vision for His church. Though He may be looking for a fresh understanding, commitment to, and expression of His vision, He is not looking for a new one. He is looking for leaders who will embrace His vision and implement it.

 

The leader who is in contact with God will be given vision that is personal, powerful, and practical. It will be a vision that a majority of the members of the church will accept. The vision itself must be clearly communicated, even while the detailed parts of it may be negotiable. Between a vision and its implementation lies a task. Benjamin Reaves, former president of Oakwood College, says, "With a vision there is always a task. A vision depicts what can be; a task entails what must be done to bring it to realization. . . . With every vision and task, there is an assurance that our efforts, totally submitted to divine providence and direction, can and will become a reality."2

Vision produces sustaining power. It can help leaders through tough times. It can propel them forward to complete the task if they review the God-given vision frequently.

Worthwhile vision is received in prayer and nurtured in the devotional life. It is communicated in an inspiring, personable manner. The person who receives and can clearly communicate God's vision is a leader people will follow.

Love

 Third, an effective leader will be a loving leader, one who loves God and the people in his or her charge. The qualities of this love will not express themselves only in the vertical dimension of a personal relationship with God but will overflow to touch other humans. This love will be visible. It will be felt. It will disclose itself consistently as an undergirding quality of leadership behavior.

"When the heavenly principle of eternal love fills the heart, it will flow out to others, not merely because favors are received of them, but because love is the principle of action and modifies the character, governs the impulses, controls the passions, subdues enmity, and elevates and ennobles the affections."3

All leaders may not show love in the same way, but it will be seen. The love that we have for God must not only burn within us, but consume us. It must set us on fire. It will create a warmth that draws people to us rather than a coldness that compels them to flee.

Boyd A. Stockdale, one of my professors, once discussed the idea of "high-tech" versus "high-touch" ministry. He noted that in our age of high technology people crave the caring touch of others. This is one reason that even though there is an automatic teller machine at practically every bank, many clients still insist on visiting the human tellers as often as they can.

In our impersonal age of endless telephone voice menus and detached associations, we crave to know that someone takes a personal interest in us, that someone be sides God cares, that someone loves us and accepts us as we are.

It is well known that when loving pastors who are not necessarily adept at initiating great programs and the like leave a church, the members miss them sorely. On the other hand, pastors who are not generally missed as much often include those who may have shown themselves to possess excellent preaching skills and creative program leadership but do not have the caring touch.

Those leaders among us who truly love people will find that people will be quick to follow them, as they followed Jesus Christ. Leaders without love will not only be lonely; they will be "follower-less."

Humility

The fourth critical component of leadership is humility. Many leaders are showy, pretentious, ostentatious, and vain. They may excel in certain enterprises because the world seems to value those who push them selves to the top of the heap. A minister friend who attended law school commented to his professors and classmates that it seemed to be a dog-eat-dog world, and the hungriest dog seemed to arrive at the top. The response was "Learn to eat dog and like it!" This is not Christ's method.

Sometimes even in the church there seem to be those who have climbed high in the denomination by pushing themselves for ward. They are driven instead of called, and self-promotion appears to motivate them.

Godly leaders, however, will be humble and meek. Heaven still prizes those who humble themselves and follow God. "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble" (James 4:6). Humility causes one to stoop low to lift Jesus high. We can not exalt Jesus and ourselves simultaneously.

Jesus made humility a core principle of His kingdom. "Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:4). "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5).

When the Holy Spirit takes us and molds us in the likeness and image of Jesus, facilitating our obedience to Christ in all things, the value of looking out for number one and pushing ourselves forward will cease to exist. It will be exposed for its of-this-world emptiness.

Humble leaders are willing to deny themselves for the sake of those they lead. They are willing to spend themselves for the glorification of their Master without being preoccupied with the need for human ac claim. It is in losing ourselves in service to God that we find ourselves.

Jesus, the consummate leader

 

Jesus is the only leader I know who meets all the qualifications for leadership and followership. Jesus had integrity that resisted the pull of a devil who promised Him the world. Nor was Jesus intimidated by the political pressures of the ruling aristocracy of His day. His integrity produced the boldness in Him to resist the stress and strain of human and Satanic manipulation. "He dwelt among men an example of spotless integrity."4

 

Jesus knew what His mission was be cause it had been defined by His vision. Jesus' vision was born in heaven as He watched the fall of Adam and Eve. Through out the years of His ministry, Jesus pursued His target unswervingly. That is because He was propelled by vision. His vision was re fined and kept alive as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. His vision sustained Him as He endured the task of being rejected, beaten, and hung on the cross.

Love was consistently revealed in His living and in His dying. His love caused Him to heal the sick, to open blinded eyes, and to touch lepers. He associated with known harlots, thieving tax collectors, and rabble rousers, not to enjoy their sin, but to show them God's love. It was love that held Him to the cross love for sinners such as us.

Not only did Jesus teach humility as a core of His kingdom; Jesus demonstrated it daily. He did not promote Himself or boast about His talents and abilities. He always gave the Father the glory. Not once did He complain about His treatment. Instead, He prayed to the Father for the forgiveness of His executioners. No wonder people fol lowed Jesus then. And no wonder people follow Him today.

1 George Barna, The Power of Vision
(Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books), p. 29.

2 Benjamin Reaves, "With the Vision
Comes the Task," Oakwood, Winter 1996, pp.
8,9.

3Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church
Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press
Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 4, p. 223.

4 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain
View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1940),
p. 243.


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Ricardo Graham is the executive secretary of the Northern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

April 1997

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