True Christian leaders are those men and women who know how to diminish.
If the world has gone crazy and Christianity seems fairly impotent amid the chaos it is because of the dearth of leadership in the Church. Oh, there are plenty of people shouting, proclaiming, visiting, and giving direction to the body of Christ. There is no lack of people with good ideas, inspirational books, and booked calendars due to their charismatic personalities. There are a plethora of Christian movers and shakers. We’ve got Bishops, megachurch preachers, Christian academics, activists, authors, and various combinations of them all. We’ve got the Christian celebrity covered quite well.
What we don’t have, however, is Christian leadership. Don’t confuse clout with leadership. Christian leadership is not like any other kind of leadership in this world. I don’t care how many successful business gurus write books or blogs trying to get the Church to see the light where it concerns corporate business tactics who swear that those same tactics will work for the Church…they don’t. Oh, they might produce the same measures of success in the Church that their businesses exhibit (higher income, more members, expanding influence, replication, etc.) but that doesn’t mean the Triune God is behind it. How can I say such a thing? If a church’s income, membership, and influence all grow because it followed to the letter the latest five step plan of the pop marketing strategist (or megachurch preacher or Christian academician…) whose books have been on the New York Times bestseller list every time they were released then that has to be a good thing! Perhaps. Or maybe it’s just the sleight of hand misdirection that most of us need to keep from looking at the shamefully embarrassing lack of impact we are having on halting the spread of evil either in our own American culture or the world at large.
In Christianity you do not anoint as “leader” those who get the biggest bang for the buck. Why? Because in the world success is measured by ascent. More. Of everything. The American dream is about starting with nothing and ending with…more…of everything. Read the obituaries in the paper. Generally speaking the more a person accomplished/achieved/gathered in life (from money to status to respect to influence) the longer the obit. We all seem to want everyone to know how much our loved one ascended the ladder of status in life. Up, up, and away we go getting and attaining more and more in life. God must be so proud of our lifelong ascent.
Unfortunately for those who buy into the belief that leadership is determined by more, you have the biblical record. John the Baptist is a great case in point. Here was a man whose only claim to fame was eating locusts and honey and wearing camel skins and a leather belt. In the span of a very short period of time he gathers to himself quite a following. He becomes (whether he wanted to or not) a religious celebrity. He’s even got some people talking about the possibility that he may be the promised Messiah. The Pharisees and Sadducees start coming to hear him preach (analogous to having movie stars start coming to your church). Kings, queens, princesses and princes even began to take note of John (Herod, Herodias, Salome, Philip).
So it is little wonder that one day John the baptizer, who had everyone talking, is told by his disciples that someone was beginning to steal a little of his thunder. Someone is beginning to get similar attention. Someone is even beginning to siphon off some of his followers. In the English Standard Version of the Bible it goes like this: “look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him” (John 3:26). “He” is drawing members away. In doing so “He” threatens to draw down everything that John had built up. What John needed was the latest book on church growth, the most recent leadership seminar, the most brilliant marketing campaign and strategy. If John were around today he would have quickly been advised to have a board meeting, a strategy session, a continuing education event, and/or goal and mission statement meeting. Good sound (American) Christian leadership would burst forth into action to stem the tide and halt the exodus. “After all,” some would say, “numbers represent people and we can’t have the Kingdom of God losing faithful members.”
Biblically, though, here was John’s response to the crisis of losing followers, support, and influence: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
Let that sink in for a moment. “I.” “Must.” “Decrease.”
That is the key to authentic Christian leadership. Getting people to understand “it’s not about me.” Christian leadership is about redirecting people away from “me” and towards “Him.” What do you think would happen to a Christian pastor if he told his church congregation one Sunday, “I love you all with all my heart but I have to tell you that the Spirit of God is moving in a powerful and saving way in the church across the street. We haven’t had a decision for Jesus in months but people are confessing their sins and being transformed by God’s grace over there. Go there until He comes here.”?
True Christian leaders are those men and women who know how to diminish. They know how to redirect. They know how to get small. They know how to step down. As the end of His short ministry drew near, Jesus did not assemble His followers and tell them who was to step up to fill the vacuum of prominence and leadership when He left. The two most important things He told them were 1) “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5) and 2) “stay in the city [Wait] until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).
You know what this sin laden evil world needs right now? Not the Christian celebrity. Not the Christian bestselling author. Not the highfalutin ecclesiastical leader. Not even the pastor of the fastest growing church in the Western Hemisphere. What the world needs now more than ever before is the Christian servant. The person who has no interest in climbing any ladder or receiving another accolade or getting another royalty check. Just a servant. Someone who in the heyday of his or her popularity would say “the strap of [His] sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie” (Mark 1:7).
That means, we don’t have to wait around for the next news report, talk show, or bestseller’s list. It can be you. If you have the Servant’s heart.