It is not easy to be a leader, in any field. Although this passage refers to spiritual leadership in the church, the principles also apply to those who lead in the professions, business, academia and in the family. Indeed, it is amazing to see how modern books on leadership, management and parenting advocate a return to Christian ethics (even if they are not described as such, nor their Biblical origin recognised). Shakespeare was a good observer; he wrote, "Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them" (Twelfth Night Act II Scene V). The key question, though, is how do we deal with the challenge of holding a bigger responsibility than we have had before (2 Chronicles 20:12).
God placed many Old Testament characters in that position: Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, David, Elijah, Jeremiah and Hosea – to name but a few. We will do well to re-read their stories to remind us of how God uses weak people who submit to Him and receive His strength. The Apostle Paul identified that he had learned to treat his worldly strength and influence as rubbish compared to receiving the grace of Christ (Philippians 3:8). He experienced Christ’s strength through his weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), and his testimony was of God’s sufficiency rather than his own (2 Corinthians 3:5).
Christians accept that God is the ultimate authority and that humans merely have delegated authority (John 21:16). In the church, the flock are God's sheep and not the pastors - they serve as 'under-shepherds' but do not own the sheep. Those who have 'greatness thrust upon them' can either resent their role, try to do it in their own strength, or value it as a privileged appointment from God Himself. Spiritual leadership that is resentful is out of order with God. Leaders must not be 'in it for what they can get out of it', but eager to give everything they can (even if they get little in return). Those who calculate their ministry by the money or benefits they receive are hardly fit to be the Lord's servants.
The potential to misuse God's delegated authority to get personal power is seen in churches as well as businesses, in charities as well as banking. Jesus was different; He demonstrated servant-leadership. He laid down His own life so that others might live. Philippians 2:1-13 graphically draws the parallel between Jesus and those who claim to follow Him. Where the church is led by those who live like that, it grows to God's glory. Such people are not weak, but they have chosen to place whatever ability they have been given at the Lord's disposal. Yes, leadership will always be lonely; but if we are willingly submitting to the Lord, we will never be alone (Joshua 1:9).
© Dr Paul Adams