One of our adult Sunday school classes recently went through the new Art of Marriage DVD series. It’s generated some good conversations. A few weeks ago we looked at biblical roles for husbands and wives. As I’ve thought through this material, it has forced me to face the reality of what leading biblically really looks like. It doesn’t come naturally to me, and I don’t think that’s just because I’m fairly passive by nature. Being a natural leader would not make me a naturally biblical leader.
As I’ve wrestled with what it really means (and doesn’t mean) to lead, ten things have come to mind. These are things that I need to remember as I try to lead within my family and within my church. I think they apply to leading in any context, but they’re mainly a needed corrective for me.
What does it look like to lead biblically?
- It is not the same as leading in a democracy. A democracy allows those who are ignorant of their own best interests to vote into authority leaders who promise to cater to their self-destructive inclinations. I don’t mean that a democratic form of government is unbibical; I mainly mean that the point of biblical leadership is not to make sure you get voted back into office.
- It is not the same as trying to keep everyone happy. In the series we’ve been watching, Russell Moore has observed that in the case of husbands, biblical leadership is not doing what makes your wife happy. It’s doing what will make your wife happy twenty years from now. Those aren’t just two different questions; they represent two categorically different approaches to leading.
- It takes the kind of work required for careful planning and initiative. This is true for everyone. Nobody leads well by accident. Really understanding what’s best for others requires dedicated attention.
- It requires a humble willingness to receive input from those who have not put in the work required to lead. When I have put in the kind of work described above, I often expect my ideas to be readily appreciated and accepted. But the fact that I’ve thought about things doesn’t mean (believe it or not) that I know everything.
- It includes removing the filter of my desires from my evaluation of the best interests of others. It is in my kids’ best interests, for example, to obey their parents. But my functional motivation for leading them toward obedience often has a lot more to do with my convenience than with their long-term good. It’s easy to assume that if I’m trying to help someone else do what’s right, then I’m right in trying to help them do it.
- It involves knowing those I’m leading. If the horse I’m trying to lead to water (in hopes that he’ll drink) turns out to be a bull, I’m going to be ill-prepared for the process.
- It requires a humble willingness to acknowledge when my decisions have been incorrect or ineffective. Leadership involves judgment calls. Those judgment calls are often based on a complex set of incomplete information. They’re also controverted by the selfish motivations that lie so close at hand. So I should expect that sometimes I’ll make the wrong call, and be wary of the pitfalls caused by defensiveness and self-pity.
- It includes a willingness to strategically give up control. Shepherds may not like sheep poop, but they’ll have to put up with it if they’re going to focus on effectively guiding their flock. Going OCD on this one will always end badly.
- It has to be aimed at a bigger goal than the vindication of my own leadership. Much as this principle should go without saying, this one probably hits the hardest for me. If people like the way I lead, their appreciation is a distracting enough bonus for me that I don’t naturally stop to consider whether they’ve actually benefited from my leadership. The converse is true as well – if people are critical of my leadership, I’m tempted to give up, regardless of what my giving up might cost them.
- Its specific shape will differ according to who is leading. My leadership, even when it is fully biblical, will probably look different from the biblical leadership of someone who is naturally energetic and practical. That’s OK, as long as it is characterized by #1-9 above.