What does it mean to be a leader?
This is not an easy question to answer, because there are so many variables to consider. However, I think there is one area of leadership that is underemphasized. More importantly, in my opinion, it is one of the most important points in any discussion on leadership. It is the ability to win people over.
If you think about this quality, you will see immediately that it is central to leadership. In fact, without winning people over, you will not be a good leader at all. As a leader you will need the respect and admiration of the people you serve to have a successful organization or ministry. Before I continue, let me ground this point in Paul’s theology. He makes this point conspicuously clear in his interaction with the Corinthians. In fact, I would go as far as to say that his main objective was to win over the Corinth church (one of the worst congregation in the world at that time). 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 reads:
“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to you all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without the law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak, I became weak that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.”
Paul is basically saying that his life goal is to win people over, so that they may know Christ. In light of this, if we were to ask Paul what his job description was as a leader to the church, he would say to win people over to Christ and that he would do all things for this end.
How are we able to win people over?
That is a great question. Thankfully, 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 has a context. When we focus on it, we realize that Paul’s way of wining people over was through sacrifice. He starts off by talking about all his rights – his right to be free (9:1), his right to get paid for his labor (9:5), and his right to take a wife (9:5). Then he writes, “But I have not used any of these rights.” (9:15) Paul point is simple: He has sacrificed everything for the sake of the Corinthians. What comes out is Paul’s sacrificial love for them.
I think we can say a little more by looking at the social context. Paul was probably more educated than most of the Corinthians. We know this from Philippians 3, where Paul speaks of his background. He also probably enjoyed more social honor than some of the Corinthians, because he was a Roman citizen. In Paul’s day, Roman citizenship was prized. So, when Paul lowers himself, the Corinthians are able to see his humility. In a word, Paul is saying: “I can, but I won’t.” In other words, he can do so many things, but he will not for the sake of others. This is sacrifice and in the end it wins people over.
So, if we summarize these ideas, we can say that Paul believes that he can win people over by losing. What a paradox! Paul wins by losing. And the more he is willing to lose, the more people he will win over to Christ. Is this not the gospel? Jesus wins by losing. Jesus dies to bring life, and he becomes poor, so that we might become rich.
At this juncture, some clarification is in order. Some people might think that the idea of losing shows weakness. Do we not have to assert ourselves and win at all costs? A good way to look at this is by examining heart issues. In other words, it all depends. A person can serve out of fear or love; the former shows weakness, the latter shows strength. From this perspective, it is only those who are secure in Christ and those who have steeled themselves in his grace that can really lose for the sake of others. In a word, to sacrifice and put the needs of others requires incredible strength of character.
Should all people seek to lose?
Another great question. I think so. The beauty of outdoing people in sacrificial love is that in the end all people win. If you think about the dynamics of this, you will see what I am talking about. Better yet, do it and you will experientially know what I am talking about. With that said, there is another important perspective.
If Paul stated that he was a slave and he really was a slave, then his words would not have any power. Rhetorically it would not work. The reason why Paul’s words are powerful is because he is not a slave and everyone knows it. He is a highly trained religious teacher who happened to have Roman citizenship. From this perspective, we can say that God has given those whom he blessed with the honor of lowering themselves. Not all people have this great opportunity. I think the church in the West has the great privilege to lower themselves in view of all of God’s blessing. If they do this, they will win by losing. If they do not do this, they will cause others who are lower to lower themselves further, which is sub-Christian and the opposite of leadership.
Hard to do, I am sure. So, how can a person sacrificially love?
I would say that it is humanly impossible to serve and love in this way. It is only possible through God’s divine grace. In other words, only when people see who Christ is and what he has done and only when they are filled with his love, peace, and security can they take steps of faith in this area. Otherwise, they will have to lead in a worldly way: through their talents, gifts, power (no matter how innocent it may seem at times), manipulation, or some other means that is not rooted in sacrificial love. This is also why it is so important for church leaders to make use of the means of grace and spend quality time with God. They need to experience Christ in their personal lives. Without this vital relationship, they will fizzle away and their service will lack joy and life. Moreover, they will not be able to lead other to Christ.
Do you think that the church has these leaders?
I think so. But to be honest, I’ve seen this more in an overseas context. My favorite leaders serve people. I try to serve them. In the end we serve each other. There is so much joy in this. Like I said before, we all win when we all serve.
Are there any other qualities that make a good leader that you would like to mention?
The two most important passages in the Bible that speak of Christian leadership are: 1 Timothy 2 and Titus 1. If you look at these passages, there are a number of qualities that are important. Paul writes that leaders must be: (1) blameless, (2) faithful to wife, (3) have children that believe, (4) not quick tempered, (5) not given to drunkenness, (6) not violent, (7) not pursuing dishonest gain, (8) hospitable, (9) a lover of what his good, (10) self-controlled, (11) upright, (12) holy, (13) disciplined, (14) able to teach, (15) not a lover of money, and (16) not a recent convert.
Based on this list, I think we can make four observations. First, leaders are people with true Christian character. They can say follow me, as I seek to follow Christ. Second, they have a proven track record of leadership (in the home). In other words, they have the gift of leadership. Third, they have the ability to teach the Bible. This presupposes that they, of course, know and love it. Finally, notice that the above list speaks in the negative and positive. Leaders must not be given to drunkenness, not be violent, and the like; rather they must be upright, holy, hospitable, and so on. There is a principle of taking off and putting on, which speaks of true growth in Christ. Without the positive fruits, no truth growth is taking place. From this perspective, we can say that a leader is a person, who is committed to growth and displays the fruit of the Spirit.
There are a few other things that I like to say, but I will leave it at that. It is better to have people wanting more than wanting less.
You might be interested in the following posts:1 Timothy, leadership, Titus