Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." So said Shakespeare. Whichever way leadership comes our way, the challenge remains the same: to make it purposeful.
Nowhere is the challenge to be purposeful in leadership more concrete than when one is leading the church.
Everything we do must have a purpose a plan, a goal, an aim. If we fail to plan, we plan to fail. Of Daniel, we read that he "purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself" (Dan. 1:8). "To purpose" means "to determine" or "to resolve." In leadership, one needs to be purposeful and determined to achieve one's set goals. What is purposeful leadership? Here are seven pointers:
1. Purposeful leadership is servant leadership. Don't wait to be served, but serve! Jesus washed the feet of the disciples before they realized they should have washed His first. He then challenged them to "wash one another's feet" (John 13:14).
A conference president happened to come by a church pastor as he was quarreling with a ministerial intern on a Friday morning. The president inquired what the problem was. The pastor told him that the intern refused to clean the baptistry and have it ready for a baptism the next day. The president quietly removed his jacket, rolled his sleeves up, got down into the baptistry and began to clean it. The point was made. Immediately, both the pas tor and the intern stopped quarreling and took over the cleaning.
Nobody wants to be manipulated or controlled. Nobody wants to be man aged. Everybody prefers to have leader ship rather than mere management. And leadership is "not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:3, NIV).
2. Purposeful leadership is just and fair. Apparently, this is what Solomon had in mind when he said that the throne is to be "established by righteousness" (Prov. 16:12, 13). Christian leadership has no room for autocracy, tyranny, and vengefulness. Yet how often we receive complaints about church leaders who are dictatorial, demonstrating little care for either justice or fairness. If each ruler is God's "minister" whom He "ordained" (Rom. 13:1-4), then that ruler's responsibility is for the "punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well" (1 Pet. 2:14). Even punishment ought to be tempered by compassion, with the purpose of redeeming, not destroying the individual. In any case, when we are just and fair the tendency to be vengeful and autocratic is diminished. Thus, purposeful leadership must ensure the rule of justice.
Even when all things are evenly administered, there is the danger that justice will deteriorate into corruption if not tempered with mercy. Saul aimed at killing David twice and missed both times. Twice David had the opportunity to wreak revenge against Saul, but David showed the earmarks of true leadership when he resisted the temptation. The Pharisees condemned a woman caught in adultery, but Jesus forgave her with a warning that she should "sin no more" (John 8:11); in the process Jesus saved a soul. It is forever true that "mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:13, NIV).
3. Purposeful leadership is motivated by love. If you love your work, you will invariably plan well and resolve to achieve positive results. If you love the people you are leading, you will be an effective leader. The "shepherding" motif, so common in the Bible, illustrates the love-based guidance of ministers over their flocks. A Christian leader not only searches for one lost sheep but goes to the extent of giving his or her life to save that lost sheep. Jesus is the "Good Shepherd." Because He loves the sheep, He nurtures them, goes after the lost ones, and is ready to die to save them. Likewise, we are called to be shepherds who love their sheep.
4. Purposeful leadership acknowledges safety in the multitude of counselors. Purposeful leadership values consultation (Prov. 20:18) and spurns confrontation. However, to seek counsel is one thing and to accept it is an other. Consider Rehoboam, the son of Solomon. The young king sought counsel from the people of Israel, old and young. The elders advised him to "make the yoke . . . lighter" for his subjects. Probably they wanted the king to reduce the heavy "levy" his father had imposed on them to run his increasingly expensive regime (1 Kings 12:4, 10, 11). His young friends advised him to make the "yoke" even heavier.
The king took the advice of his youthful friends, resulting in rebellion and the secession of ten tribes, leaving the king with only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (1 Kings 12:20, 21) a disaster that was to plague the history of Israel for centuries. How true is the counsel of the wise man: "Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety" (Prov. 11:14).
5. Purposeful leadership is a shared leadership. As a typical pioneer, Moses attended to people "from morning un til evening" (Exod. 18:13). As a result, the great leader was tired and stressed out and ended up unfocused on the great objectives ahead. Fortunately, Moses had a wise counselor. Jethro advised him to slow down by sharing his duties with other leaders. He warned Moses that the alternative was burn-out for him and tragedy for his people. Moses heeded the counsel and was able to lead Israel through many crises over a period of forty years.
James White was not as responsive to counsel. Ellen White wrote, "My husband thought it wrong for him to spend time in social enjoyment. He could not afford to rest. He thought that work in the office would suffer if he should. But after the blow fell on him, causing physical and mental prostration, the work had to be carried on without him."1
Are we as church administrators, departmental directors, and pastors listening?
Slow down, pastors, when there are ten homes to visit, a funeral, a prayer meeting and a church board to con duct all in one day. Learn to share your leadership with others. After all, you may be settling your members' marital problems while your own marriage is about to break up. You may be busy counseling the delinquent children of your members while your own children are out on the streets. Slow down and share!
Sharing leadership also helps in training successors. In the same way, Moses trained Joshua. In the long run it pays. You may not lead your flock into the promised land, but you will at least have trained many Joshuas to take them over the Jordans and around the Jerichos on their way to the promised kingdom. Which is more important? Sitting tight in your political or ecclesiastic chair and losing the kingdom, or making way for young and creative leaders to take on the mantle of ministry?
6. Purposeful leadership passes the baton, not the buck. Within forty days of taking over the reins of Israel's leadership, Aaron led his people to worship a golden calf. Questioned by Moses, he quickly blamed "the people" (Exod. 32:22). Similarly, when Samuel challenged Saul for not carrying out God's instructions to destroy the Amalekites and their belongings, the king blamed "the people" (1 Sam. 15:15).
Leaders like Aaron and Saul, who find it convenient to pass the blame for their failure onto others, are not purposeful leaders. Successful leaders pass the baton. They are accountable.
7. Purposeful leaders lead by example. "Do what I say, not what I do" is the style of some leaders. But that kind of leadership is bound to fail. Here are the words of Paul, the leader: "Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do" (Phil. 4:9). As leaders, our speech should be truthful and credible. Our leadership should manifest selfless deeds of love, care, compassion, and impeccable character.
A leader should be an example of patience and self-control. The wise man asserts: "Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city" (Prov. 16:32, NIV). Paul's advice is ever timely: "Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity" (1 Tim. 4:12)."Follow my ex ample, as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1, NIV).
1 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 1:519.