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What Leaders Do

LeadershipLast Thursday night, we had our first All Leader's Summit at CityLife Church. It's always good to get tighter with such an enthusiastic and committed group of people, who help care for our congregation and lead our various ministries.

At the meeting, I took some time to review what it is that leaders actually do. Here is a summary of what I shared ...

What comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘leader’ or ‘leadership’?

My Story - Personally, I never saw myself as a ‘leader’. It was someone else who first pointed out a leadership gift in my life when I was about 18 years of age. I started out as a volunteer leader over the worship ministry of our church, a role I filled for four years before coming on to church staff. Over the last 30 years, I’ve been involved in a variety of leadership roles. Each of them was taken on with a bit of hesitation as I wasn’t sure at the time if I had what it would take. Often I felt like I had been thrown into the deep end and having to do things I hadn’t done before. But over time, I continued to grow in my leadership – through God’s help, learning from other leaders, some studies, and lots of experience. I became involved in leadership because someone else believed in me and I was given an opportunity to serve. Over time I gained experience, developed my skills, and learned how to lead effectively. I was more of a ‘reluctant leader’ who needed a lot of encouragement to get involved in leading. It wasn’t something I set out to do or even aspired too. 

Your Story - What about you? Do you see yourself as a leader … or not? If you are a leader, maybe your journey was similar to mine – an unfolding of your calling over time – OR maybe you always saw yourself as a leader and wanted to be one. On the other hand, maybe you aren’t a leader and you never see yourself as being one. Many people avoid leadership at all costs and are reluctant to get involved. Maybe you have feelings of inadequacy. Maybe you don’t feel ‘good enough’ to be a leader. Maybe you think that to be a leader, you have to have it all together. Maybe you feel that the commitment level is too high (in time and effort). Maybe you’ve had a previous negative experience in leadership.

God and Leadership - What does God think about all of this? Does he need leaders anyway? I believe he does. When God desires to do something on earth he usually works directly through individual people. He first calls them and then them he empowers them to carry out his purpose and plan. He also holds them accountable for their obedience to his instructions. Leadership expert, John Maxwell, says that “everything rises and falls on leadership.” In others words, when something good is happening it can usually be traced back to a leader who is leading effectively. On the other hand, if something bad is happening, or things are falling apart, it can usually be traced to a lack of leadership or to poor leadership. Leadership matters. This truth can be seen in any group of people, including a family, a team, a business, an organisation, a church, or a nation. No group or enterprise tends to rise above the quality of its leadership. Personally, I believe that God calls ALL of us to lead in some way. Yes, there are certain people who God gives a gift of leadership to, but all of us need to lead to some degree based on our unique style and level of calling.

What Do Leaders Do?

Let’s look at three things that leaders do. This will be helpful for everyone, whether you’re an existing leader (in any context), a potential leader, a follower, or someone who thinks they could never ever lead! We’ll take the apostle Paul as an example of a godly and effective leader. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, he said, “Follow me, as I follow Christ”. This short phrase contains three important principles for effective leaders.

1. Visualise a Better Future. Notice that Paul says, “Follow me as I follow Christ (1 Cor.11:1).” He doesn’t want people to stay where they are. He wants them to move forward to become more like Christ and to pursue his purposes on earth. A good leader has a sense of vision and direction. They are going somewhere, following something or someone. They are moving forward and seeking to get others to do the same. They can visualise a better future and they’re working to make that a reality. According to Bill Hybels, vision is a “picture of a preferred future that produces passion.” Leaders see something that excites them and gets them moving. Nothing much happens without vision. However, when someone gets a vision … something powerful begins to happen and significant movement takes place. What about you? Do you have a vision? Do you have a dream? Do you have a cause that you’re living for and working towards? Vision is very important. Without a vision (a prophetic revelation from God, a sense of purpose and direction) we will live an undisciplined, careless and casual life (Prov.29:18).” With vision, we live lives motivated by a sense of purpose and meaning.

Where does vision come from? Well, we can come up with our own vision for our life (ambition) OR we can take time to see God’s vision – for the world, for the church, for our church, for our ministry. Catching a glimpse of God’s vision takes time and effort. However, when we turn aside to see what God wants to do, he will show us his plans and purposes (Hab.2:1-3). What do you see for the future - for your own life, your family, your career, your ministry, this world, and your church? What do you see through your efforts?

2. Initiate Change - Once a leader starts to visualise a better future, they take the lead and endeavour to get people to move forward. They create movement. An effective leader initiates change. Notice that Paul said, “Follow me ...” Vision must be translated into action. Otherwise it is nothing more than a fantasy. Leaders must lead! They take initiative in changing the situation. The Character First organisation defines initiative as “recognising and doing what needs to be done, before being asked to do it.” Followers need to be asked to do something. Leaders see what needs to be done and getting doing it. Leaders see where they are now (today’s reality) and where they want to be (tomorrow’s vision). Then they take appropriate steps of action (today). Leaders take responsibility for changing things for the better. Instead of blaming others for ‘what is’, they getting moving towards’ what could be’. Leaders are not reactive (people affected by their environment, circumstances or conditions). They are proactive (driven by values that affect choices).

Once you visualise a better future and begin initiate change so that it becomes a reality – you are leading (whether you see yourself as a ‘leader’ or not). That’s leadership. In reality, many people today are leading, in the true sense of the word, without seeing themselves as leaders AND unfortunately many any people who have titles or positions of leadership are no longer leading or are leading poorly.

3. Present an Example - Thirdly, an effective leader leads by example. Paul said, “Follow me”. The Greek word “follow” has the idea of imitation not just of direction. “Imitate me, be like me. I am your example. Do as I do.” This was a common theme and emphasis in Paul’s leadership (1 Cor. 11:1; 4:16. 2 Thess. 3:7, 9. 1 Thess. 1:6). He understood that words alone were not enough to bring about change in people’s lives. They needed to be accompanied by a real life model that believers could imitate. Leadership is about influencing other people positively and your greatest influence is who you are, not what you say. People tend to do what they see other people they respect doing.

Each one of us is influencing and being influenced. The issue is not whether we influence others but what kind of an influencer we will be. What do you want people to be like? You be that kind of person. Do you want the people who follow you to be friendly? Then you be friendly. Do you want them to be enthusiastic? Then you be enthusiastic. Do you want them to be prayerful? Then you lead the way through your example. Whatever you want people to do, you do it first. You are being watched! So think about the kind of example you are giving people to follow. 

See: A Great Sermon

In doing these three things you become a VIP – very important person - because you make the world a better place for everyone around you. If you are already a leader, we need you. Take the lead! Visualise a better future, initiate change, and lead by example. Many of you are potential leaders, and we need you too. Step up and take up the challenge. Consider becoming a leader. Followers, we need you too. Let’s move forward together to make the world a better place and into all that God has for us.

You can be a leader! You can rise up and be used mightily by God. You can lead and influence others according to your gifting and passion. The world and the church need people to rise up and aspire to godly and effective leadership. YOU can lead! YES YOU CAN.

Reflection Questions

  1. What do you think of when you hear the word ‘leader’?
  2. Do you see yourself as a leader? If so, why? If not, why not?
  3. What do you think are common reasons why some people avoid leadership?
  4. What do you think leaders do?
  5. Think of some good leaders you have observed (in business, church or community). What makes them so good?
  6. Think of some leaders you know who you don’t think are very effective. What is missing?
  7. What annoys you? Could this be an indicator of a calling from God for you to do something about it?
  8. If you could change anything in the world at all, what would it be? What could you do about it?
  9. If you could change anything in the church at all, what would it be? What could you do about it?
  10. Discuss the 3 things that leaders do from Paul’s life. Can you think of an example of someone who does this well?
  11. What are some ways you could take the lead more – at home, at your workplace, or in the church?
  12. What would the benefits be if everyone started thinking more like a ‘leader’?
  13. What are the rewards of leadership? Do you think it is worth taking up the challenge?