Why are we, as God’s people and especially church leaders, losing our God-assigned influence in this present world? Truly I believe that the answer lies not as much in the CIRCUMSTANCES of our unraveling world but in our lack of CONVICTION AND CLARITY in how we navigate those circumstances. As one author wisely put it, “A leader is a person who can adapt principles to circumstances.” So, as I ask our church recently, how do you and me do that in this day of our faith and practice feeling more and more exilic.
The tried and true secrets of our influence are found by rediscovering the obvious-but-oft-overlooked truths presented by the Apostle Peter in the beginning of chapter five of his first epistle. Beginning in verse 1, Peter calls upon the elders of these various congregations to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you.” From his vantage point, as long as the church remains far from home in glory, and as long as she continues to exist in the fragility of a refining exile, she will need faithful shepherds. If the church needs them, then can’t we deduce that the Chief Shepherd will ensure their place of sway and impact?
Here are two “soft skills” needed and blessed by the Lord in everyone who aspires to effective and expansive leadership in the home, workplace, church, and community at-large:
1 Pe 5:2-4 “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.”
First, our faithfulness must be fueled by the realization that leadership is a sacred ASSIGNMENT to steward from God Himself! Given the exalted nature of the work…Peter goes on to talk of the elders’ readiness. He employs three negatives (“not”) followed by three affirmations (“but”) in the space of two verses. Our influence must always be: 1) not dutiful, but willingly; 2) not greedily, but eagerly; 3) not domineering, but exemplary. Biblical elders need to do the right thing, even when they don’t feel like it, but elders who are governed merely by duty and not love are falling short of serving God as He would have them. Today, as in Peter’s day, far too many spiritual leaders are in it for the money. Those who exercise leadership in the church for financial gain pervert the truth and peddle God’s free gift of true grace. As one commentator summarizes, “Elders should be examples, not dictators. They should be walking out in front of the flock, not driving them from behind.” Three pitfalls impair elders’ readiness to impact others—duty, greed, and a misuse of power. If ever we need spiritual leaders with the soft skill of faithful influence, it is today! Would you choose to be one of them by never getting over the fact that the Lord has given you a sphere of influence that is more than worth your willing, eager, and exemplary consistency? David Livingston asks, “If a commission by an earthly king is considered an honor, how can a commission by a Heavenly King be considered a sacrifice?”
Secondly, our tenacity must be intensified by the fact that our God-entrusted leadership is taking us somewhere-toward the inevitableness of His GLORY! To say that influencers are not to be motivated by duty, money, and power does not mean that a proper incentive does not exist…it is the glory of God! This involves two inspiring aspects of ultimate glory: 1) revealed glory; 2) received glory. As a “witness and partaker” of the glory of Jesus, Peter reminds us that every soft-hearted leader, despite the ongoing challenges of being one in our cynical day, must have a personal, ongoing experience with the glories of Christ that are shortly to be revealed! You won’t finish well without doing so! Honestly, we don’t know too much about the promised crowns of Scripture—the crown of rejoicing (1 Th. 2:19), the crown of righteousness (2 Ti. 4:8), the crown of life (Ja. 1:12; Re. 2:10); and the crown of glory (here). We do not know whether they will be literal crowns that we can cast at the Savior’s feet; whether they simply indicate the extent of responsibility that will be given to us during the reign of Christ (Lk. 19:17–19); or whether they are facets of Christian character which we will bear throughout eternity. But we do know that they will be ample recompense for any tears, trials, and sufferings we have experienced down here. As someone wisely put it, ““Great leaders don’t set out to be a leader…they set out to make a difference. It’s never about the ROLE-always about the GOAL.” The faithful leader is always the one that goes back again and again and again to the goal of influence which is the glory of God AND THEN KEEPS SHOWING UP!
1 Pe 5:5-7 “Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” To begin with, our counter-intuitive commitment to humility must become our go-to ATTIRE. Being clothed with humility must involve: 1) submission; 2) ministry. This involves finding others ahead of us in the faith, elders and mentors, who check our tendencies toward pride with their deep, experiential knowledge of the Word of God. Simply put, when an aspiring leader’s own elders are faithful, their job is to humbly submit, not chafe under them. Is that regularly being seen by those who follow you and/or you yearn to have follow you? Moffat says that the idea of this text is, “to put on the apron of humility, that is the badge of a servant.” We cannot ACCOMPLISH ALL THAT GOD INTENDS for us WITHOUT HUMILITY! Likely those who have influenced each of us the most possessed the unmistakable humility I saw in the pastor of my formative years, Dr. Dale Adkins, who would always be the first to tuck his tie into his dress shirt and start breaking down countless tables at the conclusion of a church-wide meal. I will never forget it. It is why I chose to let him impact me in so many ways including officiating my wedding. Would you choose to make humility your “standard uniform” when you are around the brethren whether that be over, under, or alongside a fellow follower
Lastly, our humility must be motivated by the prospect of a greater experience of the FAVOR of God. We’re talking about the following kinds of favor: 1) gracious favor; 2) exalting favor; 3) caring favor…talk about a serious expansion of influence! MacDonald exclaims, “If there were no other reason for being humble, this would be enough: God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Think of it—the mighty God opposed to our pride and determined to break it, contrasted with the mighty God powerless to resist a broken and contrite heart!” A person in a position of “elder” and “follower” with a humble heart has unique access to the fullness of God’s grace!! WOW!! Knowing God’s revealed proclivity should cause Christians not only to be subject to others but also to subject themselves deliberately to His sovereign rule.The command “humble yourselves” has the idea of “allow yourselves to be humbled.” In Peter’s day, those who were suffering persecution for Christ’s sake could be encouraged by the fact that the same mighty hand that let them suffer would one day lift them up. Peter is aware that meeting the demands of true grace will not be easy. So he follows on the heels of the command with the words, “He careth for you,” meant to encourage us to keep from running in the opposite direction. There are exalted blessings with Christ you can never have from God WITHOUT HUMILITY! Would you choose to gain influence with and for God by losing your pride and gaining Christ-imitating humility!
The blunt truth for when we feel justified in yearning for more sway in the hearts and minds of others than we possess, we are likely playing the victim instead of owning our lack of character and discipline needed to reach our full potential. It hurt me even to write that last sentence, but each word is far too often true of me. I like how Chris Brown put it the other day, “Hey constant complainers, please stop. Get off the cross. We need the wood.” Stop being a victim or trying to incessantly build an online platform. Do the simple things. Locally. Over and over and over again. I don’t know about you, but I choose to join Peter in just feeding Christ’s lambs and sheep as faithfully as I can with the added seasonings of grace-enabled faithfulness and humility…and leave the range and longevity of my eldership to His sovereign plan.