[At the end of this post is a Table of Contents for this year’s Fall Focus: Leadership by The Book. It makes for a great personal or small group Bible study. Enjoy!]
This Fall the contributors to Focus Magazine examined what the Bible teaches about leadership. This is an urgent study, for when leaders are missing or misguided the foundations of morality and the walls of civility quickly crumble.
One of the most pressing needs of our generation is to raise up godly leaders in our homes, local churches, and our communities. Thankfully, God provides an abundance of instruction and illustration of good leadership.
However, this is just part of the equation. We must also be taught how to follow. For most of us, “following” is repulsive to our sinful pride which glories in “charting our own course” and “making our own rules” (Gen. 3:6). Some of us “follow” too easily, without discernment, to our own destruction (2 Pet. 2:2). We must learn how to follow!
Thankfully, God also provides an abundance of instruction and illustration on how to follow, but the skill of following is often ignored. There are no books written about, the “21 Irrefutable Laws of Following,” or how to “Develop the Follower Within You.” Yet, God’s word does not ignore this vital subject. It calls upon followers to make five commitments to those who lead them.
“I Will Value You.” Have you ever felt sorry for the prophets? They cared so much but were appreciated so little. Just imagine what they could have accomplished if the people valued their work. The skill of following begins with an appreciation for the role of leaders. Paul wrote,
“12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.” (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13)
Following is first formed in the heart. It views leaders as people to respect, esteem and love. After all, the Lord gave them the task to instruct you in what is good and warn you about dangers, which will result in relational peace (see 1 Thess. 5:14-15).*
Sadly, we often show the least respect to the leaders we know the best (Mark 6:4). This is not to our benefit. Our criticism and resentment sabotage the leader’s work. However, a well-placed, “I appreciate what you do for me,” can cause a leader’s effectiveness to soar. Do those who counsel you know how much you value them?
“I Will Listen to You.” An appreciative heart opens the ears. Listen to Hebrews 13:17,
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)**
Out of a heart of submission grows a willingness to listen (regarding government Romans 13:1-7). The context of this command reveals the necessity of our obedience. Some believers were “led away by diverse and strange teachings” (Heb. 13:9). Therefore, they needed to remember “the word of God” their leaders spoke and obey it (Heb. 13:7). This is not a command to follow the whims and opinions of people, which leads to abusive authority. It is a call to listen to leaders who love your soul enough to teach you God’s word and apply it to your life.
Jeremiah wrote, “You have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear, although the Lord persistently sent to you all his servants the prophets” (Jer. 25:4). An unwillingness to listen led to the destruction of God’s people. Conversely, it is exhilarating when we respond to the Lord’s commands as they echo through the mouths of his servants. When was the last time you did something in response to the instruction of a godly leader?
“I Will Follow You.” A leader’s finest tool is God’s word, but it must be held tightly by a godly example. The word is to be seen in the walk of the leader. Effective followers are alert to the lifestyle of their leaders and seek to integrate their noble habits into their own lives.
“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7)
Fostering faith over a lifetime of trials and temptations is hard! But most of us remember godly men and women who kept their faith through the tears and trials. As a result, they faced death with hope and left a legacy of love. The lives of such people leave glowing footprints on the path of righteousness for us all to follow. Is there a godly person in your life who has a faith worth imitating?
“I Will Hold You Accountable.” Leaders need help like the rest of us. Believers are not to follow blind leaders. They are to hold leaders accountable for what they teach and how they live (1 Tim. 5:19-22). This is good for the leader and those they lead.
However, this accountability must be done honorably. Unfounded accusations about motive and action can do much harm. So, Paul writes, “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses” (1 Tim. 5:19). So, check your feelings and deal only with facts. In addition, we must be careful to deal with leaders fairly and without prejudice (1 Tim. 5:21).
If correction is needed allow leaders an opportunity to change, but if they persist in willful sin their correction is good for all to see (1 Tim. 5:20). Have you made yourself a friend to leadership, so that they are more willing to listen when you come with a word of correction (Gal. 2:11-14)?
“I Will Pray for You.” Sometimes leaders need help from us, but all the time leaders need help from God. So, commit yourself to pray for them. When they are helped by God, they can better help you. The “leadership” commands of Hebrews 13 are followed by this request, “Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things” (Hebrews 13:18). Godly leaders are praying for you, so return the favor (Heb. 13:20-21; Acts 6:4; 8:15; 13:3; 20:36). Take a minute and pray for those God uses to strengthen your faith.
God’s kingdom needs better leaders. No doubt! But I wonder if it doesn’t also need better followers. We can all do something about that.
“Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:14)
*By the way, the instructions to “respect, esteem, and love” leaders (1 Thess. 5:12-13) are the first application of the command to “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thess. 5:11). Yes, leaders need your encouragement too.
**Regarding the word “obey” in Hebrews 13:17, David McClister writes, “This is the same term that is translated “trust” in 2:13 and “persuaded” in 6:9 and 13:18, and thus denotes confidence and trust in someone to the point of being willing to follow them.” (A Commentary on Hebrews. David McClister. p. 515 Florida College Press. 2010)
David McClister’s comment on Hebrews 13:7 is worthy of thought: “This verse touches on what is the essence of the Biblical model of leadership. Leaders of God’s people need to be persons who are filled up with God’s word, who have Jesus living in them, and who are therefore able not only to teach the way of Christ to others but also to demonstrate, by their way of life, what it means to be a Christian. For a true leader, the former is not of much use without the latter. He is to be a person for whom it is obvious that his faith in God and Jesus determines all else about him (1 Tim. 4:12), one to whom others can look and imitate his faith (1 Cor. 11:1; 2 Thes 3:9; cf. 1 Thes 1:6f; 2:14). Other skills, as valuable as they might be in the inter-human relationships, can never take the place of such spiritual qualities. A man is fit to lead God’s people only to the extent that he is personally full of God’s word in his mind, heart, character and will.” (A Commentary on Hebrews. David McClister. p. 498 Florida College Press. 2010)
Another way we can show we value leadership is by ensuring they are financially provided for so they can do their work (1 Tim. 5:17-18).
Below is a Table of Contents for our study on leadership. Click on the links below to read and listen to each article.
Leadership by the Book
Focus Magazine’s Fall Focus
Introduction to Biblical Leadership
Moses as a Leader
Joshua as a Leader
Nehemiah as a Leader
A Word to Followers
Five Promises Every Leader Needs from You Tim Jennings