Woe #5: Kiss or Miss

Jesus criticized the leaders of Israel in Matthew 23, pronouncing seven "woes" that summarized His Screen Shot 2020-03-28 at 5.06.47 PMcomplaints against them. Jesus was still reaching out to them through strong words, hoping that they would come to their senses and repent, but alas, they were too far gone to hear what He was saying. We must take His words to heart today in order to avoid the mistakes those leaders made. In His fifth woe, Jesus said, 

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean" (Matthew 23:25-26).

What was the main problem represented in this woe? It seems that it was the problem of emphasis of external appearance as opposed to internal substance. Jesus expanded this problem at other times:

  • “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces" (Luke 11:43).
  • Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person" (Mark 7:15-23).
  • "But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:11b-12).

Of course, Jesus modeled the behavior He expected in His leaders, which was the exact opposite of what He was describing in this woe where the leaders of His day were concerned. Isaiah reported this about Jesus: "He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him" (Isaiah 53:2). Jesus had no armor bearers, no badge of honor, or no trappings of leadership that the people of His time had come to expect.

In fact, when Judas betrayed Jesus, he was concerned that the guards he was to lead to Jesus would not recognize him because the Romans and Temple guards were used to their leaders standing out by their uniform or some other external distinctive. Judas in essence said, "You had better let me kiss Him or you will miss Him!" The guards would have arrested Peter or John or any other of the disciples because Jesus would not have stood out as the leader.

Jesus' message is clear to His leaders. Don't work on the external trappings of power; work on the heart. He made it clear at the Last Supper how we are to do this: 

"But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves" (Luke 22:26-27).

What are you working on to enhance your leadership? Is it the inner person of the heart? Or are you enamored with the outward benefits of leadership—the respect, the special honor, the perks like a corner office or other special benefits? Be careful, for you may begin to think you deserve those things when they are available to you, which can lead to the self-indulgence and greed that Jesus identified in the fifth woe. The only antidote for the negative effects of leadership power is service, and that service requires a humble heart that focuses on the' welfare of other people.


Woe #4: Justice, Mercy, Faithfulness

As we continue looking at the list of "woes" Jesus presented in Matthew 23, we come to Jesus' fourth Screen Shot 2020-03-20 at 12.15.11 PMadmonition as found in Matthew 23:23-24:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel."

These leaders had overextended the Law to apply to irrelevant matters, or as I wrote last week, they were majoring in minors. Their hollow ritualism caused them to be blind to weightier matters that according to Jesus were the concepts of justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Before we condemn these men too quickly, do we have any traditions that also major in minors? How about the practice of armor bearers that some leaders deploy? Or how about the attachment to titles like author, apostle, prophet, or deacon? Or corner offices for leaders and cubicles for "lesser lights." Every culture has bestowed certain perks on its leaders, but do those perks contribute to justice, mercy, or faithfulness? If not, then perhaps Jesus is speaking to us as well.

Justice, mercy, and faithfulnessthose words and concepts are subjective and mean something different to everyone. If I mention justice, what does it cause you to envision? For some, it is feeding the poor, for others it is education, and for still others, it may mean environmental sensitivities. How can we come to a definition upon which we all can agree? One way would be to see what Jesus' definition was and submit to that, so let's try and do that by looking at a question someone asked Jesus:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matthew 22:36-40).

So the first part of the definition for justice is to love God and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. How should the second part play out in our lives? Jesus answered that in Matthew 7:12: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." The Law and prophets both hang on and are summed up by loving your neighbor as yourself.

Justice and mercy are therefore to be faithfully expressed according to what you would want others to do to and for you. It's not about the church feeding more people; it's about you feeding more people. It's not about the government doing more for children; it's about you doing more for children. Then when you lead an organization or movement, you can influence that group from a position of integrity and faith because you have done not what you are demanding or expecting others to do but what you have already been faithfully doing.

How do you present yourself with justice and mercy through social media? By treating others as you would want to be treated? How do you present yourself with justice and mercy to the church or government? By asking them to help you do what you are already doing to express justice and mercy, and not demanding they do it in your place. 

Do you have any traditions, ways of thinking, or pet peeves that are blinding you to the need for justice, mercy, and faithfulness in your life? Are you majoring in minors? Are you self-righteous like those people Jesus was addressing in Matthew 23? Don't answer too quickly, for you may be blinded to the reality of your own heart, just like the leaders in Jesus' day were. Instead, ask the Lord to show you where you lack justice, mercy, or faithfulness and then seek to correct your own approach to those matters before you try and correct someone else.


Woe #2: Misguided Effort

Recently I began a leadership series based on Jesus' message to the Pharisees in Matthew 23 that contained seven warnings all marked by the word "woe." Woe is a term that designates sadness or doom and can be contrasted to the word "blessed" or "happy" that Jesus used when He began His public ministry: "Blessed [happy] are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). This week, let's look at the second woe and see what we can learn and apply to our own Screen Shot 2020-03-07 at 10.21.32 AMleadership philosophy:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are" (Matthew 23:15).

Paul himself summarized the problem with the leaders of his people when he wrote, "For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge" (Romans 10:2). God expects His leaders to focus on the important things—His priorities—and build His kingdom and not their own. The leaders in Jesus' day were doing the opposite. 

What's more, because they had not achieved any spiritual maturity themselves, they were incapable of leading anyone to a better place in the Lord. Therefore, their converts were actually farther removed from spiritual reality and thus incapable of entering into any kind of healthy spiritual place. 

In modern terms, we would label anyone who travels to recruit followers to a particular belief as an evangelist. Jesus indicated that there were Jewish evangelists who traveled to make converts to Judaism. My personal theory is that Saul was such a man. When someone needed to go to Damascus to hunt for believers (see Acts 9), Saul volunteered to go because he had been there before. No member of the Sanhedrin wanted to go to a Gentile land for fear of becoming unclean, but Saul had no such fear because he knew how to travel and stay undefiled. He had been to Damascus (and other cities) to further Jewish interests but the Lord apprehended him to confront him with the reality of woe number two. Saul was making his converts twice the son of hell that he was, but then became an evangelist who set people free rather than burdening them with useless traditions.

God expects His leaders not to bind up followers under legalistic rituals and rules that limit their creativity and growth. They must teach followers how to apply general principles to the new challenges every generation must face so the Lord is honored and His purpose served and enhanced. This includes denominations and faith-based organizations that delight in having their adherents follow the traditions they have honed over time rather than a life of the Spirit who leads and guides His followers into all the truth. 

What kind of leader are you? Are you setting people free or binding them up? Don't answer too quickly, but instead seek the Lord to help you understand what kind of evangelist you are—one who recruits people to a life of freedom or a life of bondage.


Woe #1: Shutting the Door

Last week, I began a leadership series based on Jesus' message to the Pharisees in Matthew 23 that contained seven warnings all marked by the word "woe." Woe is a term that designates sadness or doom and can be contrasted to the word "blessed" or "happy" that Jesus used when He began His public ministry: "Blessed [happy] are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). Let's examine the reason for the first woe and see what the leaders were doing that attracted Screen Shot 2020-02-28 at 6.38.26 AMGod's anger (so we can learn to avoid the same behavior):

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to" (Matthew 23:13-14).

Here are some thoughts I have. Feel free to add your own to this post:

  1. The leaders were hypocrites who were wearing a mask pretending to be righteous when they were not. This act caused them to deceive themselves that they were righteous when they were not. God requires us to be honest about who we are, seek Him for internal change in the power of the Spirit, and then act accordingly. 
  2. The leaders could not take people to a good place because they had never gone there themselves. Leaders cannot reproduce in the lives of others what they have not partnered with God to produce in themselves.
  3. The goal or destination was the kingdom of heaven, not the kingdom of men or religion. If the "rules" of God are not the main focus, leaders will create their own rules and they are always harsher than God's.
  4. Not only were the leaders not in touch with God's kingdom requirements, they were slamming the door in the faces of those who wanted to know God's will for their lives. (It is considered rude to slam the door in someone's face and ungodly leaders are quite often rude people.) This tells us that leaders are to help people know and do God's will for their lives. When leaders don't do that, followers are stymied in their spiritual or professional progress.

This clearly indicates that Jesus expects any leader, in the church or outside it, to assist others to fulfill their purpose in the Lord by taking the things the (the leaders) have learned and helping others learn from those experiences. Leaders are to be accessible and willing to assist others not as experts but rather as fellow seekers and disciples. This process is best summarized by what Peter wrote in his epistle: 

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away (1 Peter 5:2-4).

The attitude of leaders must be that they lead 1) willingly; 2) to serve and not to amass wealth; and 3) as role models and not as autocrats. It is obvious that the Pharisees led with the opposing attitudes and behaviors; they served the people grudgingly and with cruelty, did it for money and prestige, and used their positional power to lord their authority over others. 

What kind of a leader are you? Are you a door opener for others or a door slammer? Do you serve or lord? Are you growing or expecting others to grow while you stagnate or regress? We will see clearly from this series that Jesus expects His leaders to hold to a higher standard than the world, and He does not apologize for His expectations, for He modeled them firsthand for us to see and emulate. Let's make sure we adopt the correct standards when we evaluate our leadership or that of others, otherwise we may be walking the valley of woe that is the sentence for any who refuse to adopt God's leadership ways.


The Woes

I have begun a personal study of Jesus's words to the leadership of Israel found in Matthew 23. During his sermon, Jesus pronounced seven woes upon the leaders for their woeful leadership. I have assigned a page to each one of the woes in my journal where I am jotting down notes and insights to aid my own leadership development and thought I would share some of my thoughts with you. As you are aware, I believe there is a leadership crisis in the church (and in society for that matter) so anything we can do to contribute to leadership growth and improvement will go a long way toward addressing the Screen Shot 2020-02-21 at 11.07.48 PM crisis. Let's begin with the preamble to the woes:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted (Matthew 23:1-12).

Rather than look at the negatives of what the leaders were not doing, let's see if we can determine what they should have been doing so we can adopt those behaviors and attitudes.

  1. Leaders must practice what they preach. We cannot take people where we are not willing to go ourselves, both externally and internally.
  2. Leaders must help people carry their burdens while being careful not to add to what the Lord has placed on each person.
  3. Leaders must do things not to be seen but to make a difference in the lives of others, doing it for the Lord who will reward.
  4. Leaders should do all they can to blend in with the people and not set themselves apart in where they sit, what they wear, or how they are treated and addressed.
  5. Leaders, whether in church or business, are simply members or employees who have a leadership role. This does not make them special or warrant favored treatment. Seeking after titles or allowing people to assign those titles is strictly forbidden.
  6. Humility is the hallmark of a godly leader and that is expressed by service, not by prestige and displays of power or position.

There is much more in those verses and I'm sure you will read them and say in your mind, "Amen!" Yet the practice of amour-bearers, special seating, titles, and lack of service continue to plague the church despite Jesus' teachings and warning. I urge you to examine your own heart where these issues are concerned and not be ready to judge others until you have dealt with these matters in your own life. Don't assume you are a servant or even know how to do serve? Don't criticize others who do things to be noticed until you stop doing so yourself or at least are no longer offended when you are not recognized for your service and good deeds.

I invite you to post your own comments as to what you see in these verses and then follow along in subsequent entries as we examine the woes Jesus described that apply as much to us today as they did to Pharisees in Jesus' day.


Jesus' Teaching on Leadership

I am in the midst of editing the final volume of my New Testament devotional commentary series titled Live the Word. This last volume covers the epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude. I have wanted to post some other thoughts on leadership and was editing 1 Peter 5:1-4 and decided to share my comments on that passage as my next leadership entry on my blog. Here goes:

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5 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

5:1 – Peter addressed the leadership among the churches as a fellow elder. Eldership seemed to have Screen Shot 2019-10-29 at 6.06.19 AM been the standard governing structure of the early church. It isn’t clear how they related to the pastors, but today we have two models—either the pastor rules the elders in modern churches or the elders (or deacons) rule the pastor. I have not seen many examples where they serve effectively together, but my sample size may be too small. I wonder why that is? Perhaps because we are too hung up on who’s in charge and who has the power. This is why I am passionate about the concept of servant-leadership, which is the only antidote I have found for leadership power and its intoxicating effects.

Sometimes leaders are self-absorbed, infatuated with their own position, needs, and importance, instead of focusing on the flock of God (or the needs of their company). Both pastors and elders can easily develop an attitude of ownership instead of service and leadership. When that happens, the “customer” or church member is generally not served and may even be abused.

Peter addressed the leaders from his unique perspective as an eyewitness of Jesus’ life and sufferings. He also heard Jesus’ instructions to leaders in person, so that makes Peter’s directions to leaders in the next few verses important for all church leaders, for they are Peter’s summary of what Jesus would want and expect from those who lead His church and people. You can see from his letter that Peter did not exalt himself over the local elders, but rather identified as one of them. That pretty much refutes any claim that Peter was the chief shepherd over all the church’s leaders as some would imply.

Note also that Peter was looking forward to his ultimate reward of sharing Christ’s glory that will be revealed. Not all rewards for leaders are given in this life, so we serve in faith that God is watching and will allow us to enjoy His glory with Him in the age to come.  Thank you, Lord. Are you a leader? Are you leading and serving, or leading and ruling? There is a huge difference.

5:2&3 – Peter commanded the elders, presbyters, or bishops (they are one in the same title) to shepherd or feed the flock of God. The shepherd was not the focus of the flock, but rather the needs of the sheep were to be the focus of the shepherds. Peter put the emphasis for leaders squarely on the people of God and their well-being. I would say the same is true for those in corporate or secular leadership. Leadership power exists to serve the interests of others and not the leader.

The shepherds or elders had oversight, and that wasn't expressed through the use of power and authority but rather perspective and protection. Yes, the shepherd was and is the leader of the flock, but his or her leadership initiative is determined by what he or she “sees” in regards to the needs of the flock. If the flock needs water, then that determines what the leader will do. If the flock needs pasture, then again the shepherd leads accordingly. It is obvious that the people to a great extent determine the leadership agenda for shepherds and elders. Peter outlined three attitudes that you should use as a guide in your own church leadership roles:

  1. Lead willingly.
  2. Lead without focusing on money.
  3. Lead by setting an example.

Leaders were and are not to lord it over those under there care. Perhaps Peter was thinking of what Jesus taught at the Last Supper:

Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:24-30). 

Then there is another famous story of something that also happened at the Last Supper in which Peter, the writer of this epistle, played a prominent role:

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 

After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me. “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:1-17).

When did this foot washing occur? It is my theory that it happened right after what Jesus said as recorded in Luke 22 and provided a great object lesson, a show-and-tell, of what Jesus was teaching His leaders about service and humility.

Every elder, pastor, and bishop (and all leaders everywhere in any walk of life) should read and re-read these verses regularly and reflect on their meaning. Jesus instructed His leaders not to lord anything over His flock, even if it was for the flock’s own good (note that someone who does this, who serves in someone else’s best interests is in Luke 22 is called a Benefactor—Latin for a doer of good). Jesus’ leaders should not have much in common with the leaders of the world or their ways.

How does your leadership style and method compare to Jesus’ instructions and example? How well have you applied the three principles Peter laid out in these verses? How can you improve? What are your other leadership passages that guide and develop your leadership philosophy and style?

Some leaders struggle with how they can lead and be a humble servant at the same time. That is why leaders need the Holy Spirit to help them, for what Jesus asks in that passage in Luke and the example in John are impossible without a total “makeover” in spirit, mind, and heart.

Screen Shot 2019-10-29 at 6.06.48 AM5:4Was Peter referring to the last verse or the passage from Luke 22 quoted above?  What a marvelous promise Jesus gave to His leaders. If they will lead like He wants them to lead, then He would see to it that they sit on thrones and receive honor and glory. The implication seems to be that if they sought after their own throne and glory, He would not grant them His. So it comes down to when a leader wants to receive a throne—now or later. If the leader chooses later, then he or she must be a servant-leader now. If he or she chooses a throne now, it seems that that leader will be denied one later. Which one do you choose? I will put mine off until later and embrace the leadership role and attitude that Jesus requested today.

You can find all the volumes of my Live the Word commentary on Amazon. This last volume will be published by year's end.


Why We Have a Leadership Crisis

This is the fifth and final essay with my most current thoughts on leadership. Here were the topics of the previous four:

  1. Leadership is a sacred trust.
  2. Leaders are always developing themselves.
  3. The most effective leaders cultivate their self-awareness.
  4. Leaders transform people and communities.

And now, let's add the fifth point to the list:

5. We have a modern leadership crisis.

Screen Shot 2019-09-05 at 7.59.45 AMThis is true both in and out of the church, and let's start by looking at a lengthy passage from the book of Ezekiel addressed to the leaders of Israel to understand why we have this crisis today:

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.

“‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.

“‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LordI will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice (Ezekiel 34:1-16).

The final verse seems to summarize what the Lord expects of His leaders, both in and out of the church,  when He promised to take leadership matters into His own hands: "I will shepherd the flock with justice."

Justice is a word given to much subjective interpretation. In other words, it varies from person to person. When an athlete holds out for more money, he or she has an idea of what a "just" salary would be, while ownership may have a completely different idea. One athlete may differ from another on what a "just" pay is for his or her position. My point is that we must search for a standardized, universal definition to which we can all submit our personal, subjective interpretations to that definition. I don't know of where to find such a definition--except in the word of God.

I have made the point throughout this series that leadership is an ongoing study. Leaders never arrive nor are they able to say, I've learned enough. They must always be learning and growing because the people they are leading and the destinations to which they are going are always changing, and that requires leaders to be changing as well. Let's look back at the passage from Ezekiel to see if we can find some concepts to include in our definition of justice.

There are three themes that emerge from Ezekiel 34:1-16, which are:

  1. Leaders must take care of others and not use their power to take care of themselves.
  2. They are not to rule harshly or brutally, using their power to overpower others.
  3. Leaders must search for those who are "missing."

All three points come down to leadership power and how it is used. If it is used in the best interests of others, there will be justice. If the power is used for the benefit of the leaders, there is injustice. Jesus streamlined the definition even more when He declared, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another" (John 13:34). Paul described what love in action should look like when he wrote, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" (Galatians 6:10).

Therefore, let me attempt to define justice where leadership is concerned: "The use of leadership power for the good of others and not for personal gain." If we accept this definition, we can see why I say we have a crisis, for many in the church and outside of it use their power not to empower others but to overpower them. The only antidote for this tendency is service, which is why Jesus advised His followers with these words at the Last Supper:

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves" (Luke 22:24-27).

With those words, let's adjust the definition above to read as follows: "The use of leadership power motivated by love in the service of others for their good and not for the leader's personal gain." Our crisis would be solved if leaders would commit to live out that definition. Will their justice be perfect? No, it will not be perfect because some will always criticize and want more from their leaders than those leaders can produce. The leaders, however, must be comfortable with their own imperfections as they strive to achieve the perfection of our definition.

If you are a leader, no matter where or who you lead, I urge you to read Ezekiel 34:1-16 and prayerfully ask the Lord to show you how you can fulfill His expectations where you are right now. Study the definition I have provided and use it as a mission statement for your leadership. I promise if you seek the good of others that, even if they don't see or appreciate what you have done or are doing, God will see it and be pleased. After all, even though we serve others in love, God is really the only one we must please in this task called leadership. If we do that, we will then hear "Well done, good and faithful servant" at the end, and we will be have done our jobs to the glory of His name.


Leaders Transform People and Communities

Three down and two to go in our series outlining my latest thoughts on the practice of leadership. So far, we have looked at the following ideas:

  1. Leadership is a sacred trust.
  2. Leaders are always developing themselves.
  3. The most effective leaders cultivate their self-awareness.

And now it's time for thought number four, which is:

4. Leaders have the power to transform people and communities—for good or bad. Screen Shot 2019-08-29 at 5.45.59 PM

When I think of the leaders in the Bible, they were all involved in the lives of their followers to such an extent that the followers were changed and impacted individually and then corporately. Don't believe me? Then consider these examples:

  1. Moses led millions of people out of Egypt and established a community in the desert. Some grumbled, others followed faithfully, and eventually, the people entered the Promised Land to become the people of Israel. Before he died, he provided a code of conduct along with copious interpretation that the people followed until the time of Jesus and even to today. 
  2. David inspired great loyalty from many around him, except his family, which leads us to believe there were complicated issues preventing that from occurring. Some men risked their lives to fetch and bring David his favorite water from his home area, others were called mighty men and performed great deeds of heroism and strength in battle, and still others served David even when he was at his lowest. 
  3. Solomon was a superb builder, while at the same time he devoted much time to creativity and teaching. He had such great insight that people came from all over the world to hear his lectures on nature. Yet, Solomon took the nation his father David had established and ran it into the ground, so to speak, oppressing the people and placing heavy burdens on them they could hardly bear. After this death, the nation fractured and the tribes split. In a sense, Solomon's leadership at first united the nation but then ruined it, and in a sense he twice transformed the community—once for good and once for not-so-good. That is the power of leadership.

We could go on to discuss Nehemiah, Esther and Mordecai, Elijah and Elisha, and then Peter and Paul in the New Testament. When those leaders emerged, things happened and people were inspired, healed, delivered, and the nation was transformed from what it was to what it could be. 

Leaders have this power for good or bad by God's design. God ordained leadership, and laid down rules and regulations for how leaders were to behave. When bad leaders come along, God does not scrap the concept of leadership and try something else. He replaces ineffective leaders with other leaders. One of Jesus' last acts on earth before His death was to make a significant statement about leadership at the Last Supper:

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves" (Luke 22:24-27).

Jesus knew that leadership power was so intoxicating that the only antidote to keep leaders from self destructing and leading their people astray was service to others in a spirit of love. This is so rare, however, that Paul wrote a testament to Timothy because of his unusual ability and proclivity to serve:

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.  But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel (Philippians 2:19-22).

Paul had many leaders in his sphere of influence, but only Timothy served others with selfless intent. All the others, and that includes men like Luke, Titus, Silas, and Onesiphorus, could not measure up to Timothy's selflessness. That is the reason Paul left Timothy behind in many places when persecution would not permit Paul to stay so he could set things in order. Places were never the same after Paul and Timothy came to town because godly leaders transform the people into individuals who can then join with others to form as the American Constitution says, "a more perfect union."

We are prone to be transformed for the good because leaders, like the ones in the Bible, are a rare thing. When circumstances reveal an Apostle Paul, a Churchill, a Mandela, a Lincoln, a Pope John XXIII, a Florence Nightingale, a Sojourner Truth, a Martin Luther King Jr., or a Frederick Douglas, we study their lives because they inspire us to fly higher and farther than we thought possible. When we encounter a Mao, a Hitler, an Alexander the Great, a Mussolini, an Idi Amin, or a Pol Pot, we study them because of the damage they did and the people and nations they destroyed.

Because leaders have this power to build or destroy, we must study leadership principles to learn from the best and worst. At the same time, we must recognize that leadership is like a powerful explosive. When deployed properly, it can be a great tool with which to build and shape, but when deployed poorly, it will do great harm that may take generations to overcome. I want to be a leader that improves the lot of people and organizations, even nations, when I have the chance. That means I have to take seriously all that I have written so far, and the last article that will come next, which states my fifth thought: We have a leadership crisis in the world, especially in the church. Talk to you next week.


Leadership Self-Awareness

Here is the third of five entries containing my latest thoughts on leadership. The first two focused on: Screen Shot 2019-08-22 at 4.14.57 PM

  1. Leadership is a sacred trust
  2. Leaders are always developing themselves.

This third point is summarized in the statement

    3. Leadership effectiveness is based on self-awareness.

Self-awareness is the practice of paying attention to one's feelings and surroundings, especially the people with whom the leader comes in contact. For the latter to happen, however, leaders must pay attention to what they themselves are feeling and thinking. This may sound simple, but unless that skill and practice are developed, they may never occur.

I liken it to leaders learning to have an out-of-the-body experience, where they are able to step back and examine what they did, what they are doing, and what they are thinking and feeling. Sometimes a coach or mentor can help them do these things, but they can easily learn to do it by themselves. The best example I can provide is from the life of Jesus when He was touched by an infirm woman: 

As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.” Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace" (Luke 8:42b-49)

Even though Jesus was busy and on His way to an important meeting, He still felt someone touch Him. The people around Him were incredulous, for the crowd was pushing and jostling Him, but He was aware that something had happened to Him. This is important because His self-awareness led to Him being others-aware, and He was able to significantly help another woman in need simply because He paid attention.

You may dismiss that as a bad example or irrelevant, thinking that Jesus was divine and therefore had supernatural abilities to be in touch with Himself and His surroundings. If that's the case, then let's look at another example from the life of Nehemiah. Nehemiah was a servant to the king, serving royalty their food and drink. After Nehemiah heard about the terrible conditions in Jerusalem, he was burdened, so he fasted and prayed even though he was on duty. Then one day the following transpired:

In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire? The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.” Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time (Nehemiah 2:1-6).

If the king wasn't paying attention, he would not have noticed that Nehemiah was sad. What's more, even when he noticed, why did he care? He was the king, the most powerful man in the kingdom. Everyone's job was to make him happy and not use his power to help others--or so traditional leadership thinking has gone. The king could have been angry that one of his servants came into his presence with a sad countenance (that is perhaps why Nehemiah was afraid). The king was an effective leader whom God used because the king had trained himself to pay attention to his own feelings and thoughts, and that caused him to be empathetic and sensitive to those of others. 

Now, even if Jesus was sensitive to the woman's need because He was God, that indicates He can help us have that same sensitivity--but only if we want it. If we want it, then we will do the work necessary to have the skill to more often than not read situations and people accurately so we can lead effectively--just like Nehemiah's king did. We will cooperate with His work in our lives to put us more in touch with the needs and humanity of others as we recognize our own frailty and need. 

The goal in this self-awareness is empathy and not sympathy, for the latter is feeling for someone when they feel badly. Empathy is feeling what others feel, sometimes before they tell us, because we want to know and because we have been where they are, and can identify. Empathy can only be felt when someone has paid attention to their own journey and pain along the way, and has a heart and desire to help others who are on the same journey. 

Many say that feelings are not to be trusted, that we must not be led by our feelings. I disagree. God uses feelings to lead and guide us, and paying attention to them is vital to hearing God's voice, which is the epitome of leadership effectiveness. Heeding the messages of our heart is important if we are going to lead and guide others, for we cannot take them where we haven't gone ourselves, and God will use something as simple as paying attention to get us where He wants us to be--and to be who He wants us to be, which is effective leaders. 


Leadership Development

A few weeks ago, I began sharing five concepts from my Price of Leadership seminar that are not in my Screen Shot 2019-08-15 at 11.02.42 AM book version. These five represent my latest thoughts on leadership, and we covered point one in the first post, which is 1) Leadership is a sacred trust. Now let's move on to point two:

2. Effective leaders are always developing themselves.

No one disagrees with this general principle, but as leaders get busier, usually the first things to disappear from their calendar are disciplines to help them develop and grow as individuals, which will increase their capacity to lead. What's more, there is a subtle attitude that assumes the wisdom and ability to lead will magically appear when leaders are promoted. Leaders may also think that what got them promoted to leadership is sufficient for them to lead. All these practices (the absence of training and the assumption that they are already smart and empowered enough to lead) are harmful to leadership effectiveness, and the church in particular is paying a price because its leaders have not grown in their capacity to manage and lead more.

The concept of "more" can be a controversial one in leadership circles. Some believe that more is not better, and at times they are correct. Business or church growth can become an end unto themselves, and increase can be pursued relentlessly or even held out as the one and only measure for success. At the same time, however, God's expectation for increase from his leaders is well documented throughout the Bible. 

Proverbs 14:28 states, "A growing population is a king’s glory; a prince without subjects has nothing" (NLT). One other translation reads, "A king's greatness depends on how many people he rules; without them he is nothing" (GNT). The proverb does not condemn growth, increase, or size. In fact, it seems to endorse it, as does Paul when he wrote,

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of Godbeing strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:9-12, emphasis added).

Paul wanted the saints at Colossae to grow in the knowledge of God, which indicates their knowledge was to increase. By implication, the bearing fruit and being strengthened mentioned in that passage are in the context of growth or increase.

Jesus told a parable about talents (which was a measure for wealth, not natural gifts or abilities) in Matthew 25:14-30. The person who had five talents earned five more and the person with two also doubled his amount, but the one with one talent had no increase. It was this person who was condemned in the story as unworthy because he produced no increase. He did not desire more, and therefore did not grow to manage more.

A man named Lord Acton once said, "There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it." He summarized a problem I mentioned earlier, and that is the attitude that somehow when a person gains a leadership position, he or she will automatically, and somehow magically, be qualified and sufficient for the work at hand. Yet, if there is to be increase, which we have seen that God expects, then that leader must work to increase his or her ability to manage and lead more. That "more" is new territory for the leader, and will require greater skill and wisdom if they are to be effective.

What are you doing to develop yourself and your ability to handle more? Here are some things I do that may be of help:

  1. I read or listen to books almost every day. That also includes updates from my favorite authors in the form of their regular blogs and podcasts.
  2. Reading and listening are part of my written, daily to-do list. I do not leave it to chance.
  3. I don't watch much TV, but when I do, I try to include documentaries and other programs of interest that will stimulate my mind and add to my body of general knowledge.
  4. I attend at least one leadership seminar or workshop every year.
  5. I walk two miles to start each day.
  6. I play word games on my smart phone.
  7. I write daily and I teach university classes regularly, especially classes I have never taught before. That forces me into new areas of learning and growth.
  8. I have my favorite leaders who I study for clues and patterns of their success, and I teach or write about them as much as possible.

I am not suggesting that you do what I do, but if you don't know where or how to start, imitating some of my practices may not be a bad idea. The bottom line is, however, that growth must be an important value for you, or else you will coast through your leadership opportunities, relying on your power, title, or authority to get things done. All those will work in the short run, but none of them will help you grow and develop. Only concerted effort to do so will produce the necessary results, and that effort will need to be maintained for the rest of your life--if you want to be an effective leader and not simply one holding a title.