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God’s Definition of Leadership: Concentrating on Responsibility Rather than Authority

Editor's Note: This was largely written by a friend who has taken a keen interest in toxic leadership having been under it and suffered the consequences of being a whistleblower.

Today we live in a time when even Christians seem quite oblivious to folly.

Sometimes things follow the path of the second half of Romans, where, “folly continues until it become obvious to all.”  God brings this about.  

We look for strong leaders using the world’s standards of leadership . . . not God’s.

Elders in Christ’s church are called to serve; this is how they are to lead. Jesus served. And He came to die. And His last act before the cross was washing His disciples feet, as an example for them to see and follow, themselves.

Is He Successful?

But rather than look at a life of service, we ask, “Is the man successful?”

He has to “have a good reputation” in the world. So many today strive for glory – vain glory, their own glory, that comes from self-serving ambition in order to have a reputation as a leader, in turn building a large following.

I remember sitting at lunch at a regional denominational meeting as several pastors were discussing what they did in “their churches.” One after another said “In my church, we do this”as they discusses the things that they had initiated in their church. They said, “In my church, this is how we do it . . . under my leadership.

They didn’t talk in the sense that “this is my church” in the way I speak of the church I joined in my area. 

I use “my” to speak of the church I belong to, not the church I own.  Often pastors, like these, talk about “my” church as though it is theirs, not God’s.  

The Shepherd

The word “pastor,” which is a latin word, has an entirely different meaning than the word in the Greek translated into English. “Shepherd,” the word used in Scripture, doesn’t mean much in American life; we don’t see shepherds and don’t understand the position the shepherd held in biblical times. 

The Strongs Dictionary says,

“The tasks of a Near Eastern shepherd were: 1. to watch for enemies trying to attack the sheep, 2. to defend the sheep from attackers, 3. to heal the wounded and sick sheep, 4. to find and save lost or trapped sheep, and 5. to love them, sharing their lives and so earning their trust.”

Strongs Enhanced Dictionary

We don’t really understand shepherd well, having rarely if ever seen actual shepherds in our churches.

Many who seek fame, rather than service, have their reward in this life. This is the intent of Jesus’ repetition of “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” that is found in His “Sermon on the Mount.” If you are seeking the attention of man, you may get that attention.

A large church. Important book contract. Seminar bookings.

But, those rewards will end with this life and Jesus says you will not receive true heavenly rewards.

Paul spoke of those who work for selfish gain. Many will find themselves in the position Paul describes in I Corinthians 3: 

Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,  each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.

1 Corinthians 3:12-13

Responsibility, Not Authority

Maybe we could begin to shift our focus by concentrating on the “responsibility” of shepherding people rather than having “authority” when considering the position of Pastor in the local church. 

A true shepherd, as Jesus describes, does not run from danger, but seeks to protect the flock under his charge (John 10). The sheep love their shepherd because he cares for them. He does not crush or take advantage.

He is all those wonderful qualities described in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-16.

The sheep do not fear him.

You may be surprised that Jesus never suggests that church leaders grab authority or exercise it. He continually challenges leaders to be humble. To wash feet. To love others.

Not take authority.

Pride has the tendency to supplant humility and it takes humility to serve others in love, the calling of all followers of Jesus.

And this is especially the responsibility of the shepherds of God’s people.

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