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Biblical Leadership

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Biblical Leadership’ preached by Pastor Mike White on Sunday, 2/8/2015, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click here:

Answering the Call

All Christians are called to lead. Yes, we are called to submit to the leadership of certain men and women in our lives; but we are also called to be a shepherd for other men and women in our lives. Our Christian lives should not be shaped by the question of if we will ever be called to lead, but by the question of when and how we are called to lead.

All of us are uniquely designed to reach a group of people that no one else can reach. We see this principle over and over again in Scripture. Moses was born to a Hebrew woman, but raised by Pharaoh’s daughter. He was called to lead the Israelites, but he was also Egyptian royalty. God specifically designed Moses as the only man who could petition Pharaoh in the Egyptian courts.

Paul was also uniquely designed to spread the Gospel to the known world. He was well-trained in Jewish Law, and was among the intellectual elite. But he had a terrible past, and once described himself as the “chief persecutor” of Christians. He knew what it meant to be swayed by an encounter with God before intellectually coming to terms with that experience. His life history shaped him as a man who could reach an entire gentile people who, otherwise, would have been unreachable.

Who are you designed to reach? When we lead our brothers and sisters to Christ, our responsibility does not end when they say the sinners’ prayer. It is just beginning. When we win men and women for Christ, we automatically become leaders. They will look to us to demonstrate what it means to live by faith. They will look to us to organize and maintain a movement for the expansion of God’s kingdom: whether small enough to fit inside a single household, or large enough to sweep across an entire continent.

Like it or not, all of us are called to be leaders. So, instead of stumbling into that role and grasping for straws, let’s get prepared!

Unhealthy Leadership: Preventing Replacements

God makes leaders; they do not make themselves. When God calls us to take up the reins of leadership, it is time to take them up; when He calls us to lay them down and move on to something else, it is time to lay them down.

Saul was a man who started out leading well. He was thirty years old when he became Israel’s young king, and he reigned over God’s people forty-two years (1 Sam 13:1). But at the end of his reign, he adopted an unhealthy leadership style.

Saul knew that his reign had come to an end. He had disobeyed God (see 1 Sam 15), and Samuel told him that God had rejected him as king (see 1 Sam 15:26). Yet instead of abdicating his throne and leaving the people of Israel with a ruler fit to be king, Saul clung to power.

David’s legendary battle with Goliath took place after Saul has already been rejected as king (1 Sam 17). Saul saw David’s potential, but did not know that God had anointed David to be king in his place. Saul knew that David was, “…a mighty man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a handsome person” (1 Sam 16:18). He also knew that the Lord was with David. We see just how proficient and capable God made David in 1 Sam 18:

So David went out wherever Saul sent him, and behaved wisely. And Saul set him over the men of war, and he was accepted in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul’s servants. Now it had happened as they were coming home, when David was returning from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women had come out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy, and with musical instruments. So the women sang as they danced, and said: “Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.” Then Saul was very angry, and the saying displeased him; and he said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed only thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?” So Saul eyed David from that day forward. – 1 Samuel 18:5-9

David prospered in everything Saul asked him to do. Yet instead of seeing him as an ally, Saul saw David as an enemy.

Saul should have rejoiced in the ability and faithfulness of his servant! “FINALLY,” he should have said, “I’ve found someone who can manage my kingdom just as effectively as I can!” Instead, Saul saw him as a threat to his popularity. He resented David. Saul worried that people would no longer be drawn to him, but would be drawn to David instead.

Saul’s attitude does not reflect the heart of a healthy leader, but rather the heart of a man with a complete lack of confidence. When God anoints and elevates a leader, nobody can shake him or her from that role. But Saul thought that he could cling to his leadership in his own self-effort, instead of doing what was best for Israel.

Saul was preventing a replacement. Quite frankly, this is how most of us operate. We are anointed by God to lead, but once we start succeeding, we forget Who put us there. We cling to power, and convince ourselves that nobody else is capable of doing what we do.

Saul’s attitude was, “If I can’t be king, nobody is going to be king!” Saul was exalting himself above God’s will, and many of us try to do the same. But this is the exact opposite of the Kingdom mentality God wants us to have. Because what does Jesus tell us?

So He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Luke 14:7-11

We must humble ourselves if God is going to exalt us. As leaders, we easily lose sight of the humility required for God to operate through us. Samuel reminded Saul of this:

So Samuel said, “When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the Lord anoint you king over Israel? Now the Lord sent you on a mission…Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord?”

 – 1 Sam 15:17-19

But Saul didn’t listen. Will you?

If God means for you to be in a position of authority, He will put you there. Once you’re there, He will keep you there: no effort is required on your part. You will not have to maintain your position as a leader on your own. You didn’t put yourself there, and you certainly cannot keep yourself there!

Healthy Leadership: Training Up Replacements

The mark of a mature, healthy leader is the willingness and ability to train up a replacement. We think that training someone to be just as effective in our role as we are will put us out of a job. We think that training up a replacement is a bad thing for us.

The reality, however, is quite the opposite. God’s Kingdom does not function like a corporation. When we train up a trusted representative who can take our place, it is a good thing. Why? Because training up a replacement means we are free to go out and pursue the greater calling God has on our life!

How many years have you been stuck at the same job, spinning your wheels and waiting for promotion? How many decades have you had God’s calling on your life percolating in your spirit, but succumbed to practical concerns that hold you back? When is enough enough?

God is calling you to something greater. Your mission on Earth is bigger and better than the evidence you see in your life right now. And the way you will find yourself free to pursue the calling God has on your life is by training up men and women to be your trusted representatives, so that you can focus on what God really wants you to be doing!

Moses was a man who knew how to lead. However, he didn’t know how to lead naturally. Jethro had to explain the secret to leadership to Moses:

And so it was, on the next day, that Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood before Moses from morning until evening. So when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit, and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?”

And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a difficulty, they come to me, and I judge between one and another; and I make known the statutes of God and His laws.”

So Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do. Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace.”

So Moses heeded the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said.

– Ex 18:13-24

Moses wanted to do it all. He was the only man with whom God would communicate. His people needed him! Without him, they wouldn’t know what to do!

Moses could have used that need as an excuse to cling to his power. He could have used the demand placed on his skills as a reason to tighten his grip. But Jethro knew better. He knew that neither Moses, nor the people, would be able to tolerate the bottleneck. There would be too much strain on the system.

Jethro knew that Moses needed to educate other elders to do exactly what he did. Jethro recognized that Moses’ attention should be reserved for only the weightiest matters. If the status quo continued, Moses and his people would burn out; and burnout would leave Moses on the sidelines, and Israel without a leader.

Leading is already stressful enough without having to do everything yourself. One of the skills that we need to learn quickly as leaders is the ability to delegate. Note, however, that delegating is different from abdicating.

Abdication means unloading your responsibilities on another person. It means abandoning your burden by leaving it with someone else, and then completely checking out. Delegation is a demonstration of trust. It means telling someone, “Look, normally I do this myself, but I’m willing to trust you with it. And whatever help you need whatsoever, let me know and I’m here.”

Abdication betrays cowardice; but delegation reveals confidence. If you don’t know how to delegate, you will burn out. But before you can effectively delegate, you need to have the confidence that God will take care of you.

My stance as a pastor has always been this: My job is to put myself out of a job! To me, that is the difference between a pastor and a priest. A priest, Biblically speaking, was a necessary intermediary between God and man. Without the priest, no communication between God and man could exist.

A pastor, however, recognizes that if he does his job right, at some point he will no longer be necessary. My job is to teach each and every person who walks in the doors at CityLight Church that they can have just as awesome a relationship with God as I can! I don’t want to train up a congregation of people who rely on me to solve their problems. I want to raise up an army of believers who have the confidence to rely on Jesus Christ to bring them to victory. Jesus Christ is the only Intermediary we ever really need!

Help! What Do I Do?

So how do we go about practically training up replacements? How do we find the right men and women for the job?

Pray. Talk with God. Admit to Him that, on your own, you aren’t qualified to do everything He’s asking you to do! Moses debated with God, and disputed God’s claim that he was the right man to lead Israel out of Egypt. Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Ex 3:11). Moses pleaded with God, “O my Lord, please send by the hand of whomever else You may send” (Ex 4:13).

Moses wanted God to send anyone else but him. He stayed humble, and God honored his humility. And then God rewarded him by sending friends who would support him in everything he was called to do:

Now Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim. And Moses said to Joshua, “Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses said to him, and fought with Amalek. And Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. And so it was, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands became heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. So Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. – Ex 17:8-13

Moses needed help. He couldn’t do everything he needed to get done on his own. So God sent him trusted representatives who were willing to help.

Aaron, his brother, and Hur, his friend, jumped in without Moses even asking. They didn’t grab for power. They weren’t waiting for Moses to fail so they could tell everyone, “I told you he wasn’t fit to lead!” They were willing to pitch in and help Moses with whatever he needed to be done in his hour of need.

This speaks to how we should treat our leaders. When you support your leaders well, you will find yourself supported when it’s your turn to lead. We reap what we sow.

As leaders, this story also defines exactly what our prayer request should be when we need help. “God, send me people who will hold up my hands! Lord, I am making a decision to praise you through it all: everything I’m facing, and everything I’m going through right now. I’m going to love You and praise You through it! Help me to keep my hands up!”

Never Lose Focus

As leaders, our number one priority should be our relationship with God. If we’re ever too busy to spend time with Him, something else has to go.

Moses faced this challenge. He was called to be on Mount Sinai with God. He was called to intimacy. The Law that would shape Israel’s history and behavior for hundreds of years came from the intimacy Moses enjoyed with God. The promise of the Messiah also came from the intimacy Moses enjoyed with God (Deut 18:15).

The disciples also faced this challenge as the early church was formed and grew dramatically. At a certain point, they simply ran out of hours in the day:

Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith. – Acts 6:1-7

The disciples didn’t have enough time to take care of all the administrative things they needed to get done. So they prayed for Spirit-filled representatives who could help them handle their responsibilities. They raised up a group of Spirit-filled believers to conduct those tasks which they no longer had time to do!

The end goal was to free up as much time to spend with God as possible. We are all created for intimacy with God. That is what we are designed to do, and the reason we are all here. The secret to leading well is not petitioning people to pray for you, but rather petitioning people to take care of other items so that you can pray yourself.

At the end of His life, Jesus knew that the time had come for Him to go and be with His Father. It was time for Him to enjoy intimacy with God, after having been separated from His love for an eternity on the Cross. Even Jesus appointed trusted representatives to carry out His will on earth.

You and I are the men and women whom Jesus has called to spread the Gospel. His Holy Spirit enables us to preach with the same boldness and power as Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus has the confidence to raise us up as His trusted representatives, knowing that we can be trusted as His servants.

– by Pastor Mike White

© Michael D. White, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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