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The scene appears almost comical to any self-respecting man living within the current century: mommy asking the boss for a promotion for her sons. In all fairness to moms, what parent wouldn’t want opportunity and advancement for their children? Regardless of the way the text may initially present itself to you, Matthew 20:20-28 does offer us a glimpse into Christ’s perspective on leadership. His response to James, John, and mother is that the granting of such status in His Kingdom is already determined, and He moves into a powerful statement on leadership.
“But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26–28, ESV)
Real leadership is this, striving to bring blessing to others. Jesus, the greatest leader of history, leveraged his life in such a way as to bring about the possibility of reconciliation between God and mankind. He worked daily at bringing healing, restoration, and inspiring faith and hope among people in the goodness and grace of God. Ultimately He would give his life to save us. This is the nature of Biblical leadership. Real leaders leverage themselves to bring blessing to others.
This kind of leadership is a precious thing, and greatly needed in our world today. We need these types of leaders in our families, we need these leaders in our communities, and most of all, we need these leaders within the church. But being a leader is no easy task. Yes, leaders seek to leverage themselves to bring blessing to others. But leaders don’t have the omniscience of Christ, the perfection of Christ, and leaders lack the intimacy with the Father that He enjoyed. Yes, leaders have time. Yes, leaders have energy. Yes, leaders have resources. Yes, they are willing to leverage all that they are for the sake of others, but after all the prayer and thought, at the end of the day, a leader has to make careful decisions about how he is going to use what God has given him to bring blessing to others.
As I’ve reflected on the nature of leadership, I’ve learned that leaders are those who are charged with the duty to faithfully make decisions (1 Peter 5:2, “exercising oversight...”). While all human authority is a limited authority before the Lord and circumscribed by the Word of God, godly leadership entails the duty of choosing, of making decisions for the blessing and benefit of many others. So how should a leader who is shepherding what God has entrusted to him make those decisions?
Time is needed for careful prayer and reflection in the pursuit of choosing, but time is always against the leader because choices always need to be acted upon, (Ephesians 5:16). While leaders make positive choices for blessing others, making those decisions is never completely positive. It entails negative choices as well. Leaders are, of necessity, sometimes choosing between two less-than-perfect options in order to determine a direction in which to carry others, and good leaders will always strive to discern which of the two less-than-perfect options is less bad. Godly leaders spend time prayerfully seeking the less bad of two bad choices. While leaders beg God for better options, they do so knowing that time is of the essence, and indecision, which is really inaction, guarantees failure. Sooner or later, you just have to pull the trigger and make something happen. This is the God-given duty of a leader. You always try to minimize risk when compelled to make decisions, but sometimes, despite the best of intentions, you just have to go with what you’ve been given and trust God to take care of the rest.
Leading requires standing before the masses and deciding, and this inevitably makes the leader a target. Everyone likes to second guess leadership. Monday morning quarterbacks abound, and back-seat drivers are always grasping for the steering wheel. The critics of leaders always have all of the advantages that leaders never have: time, more information, a better analysis of what went wrong with the current direction, and further reflection. Some are just cruel, criticizing without appreciating the true nature of the position, the timing of events, and the most heinous of all critics will ridicule without bothering to provide better options and better choices. The nature of such criticism often makes the critic look good while making the leader look bad, but don’t be fooled. This is because the critic has all of the advantages in the construction of his criticism that the leader never had in the construction of his decision.
Regardless of what the critics may say, leaders must show humility when mistakes are genuinely made. All leaders need grace just like anyone else. To suppose that a leader is flawless in everything he does and in every decision he makes is foolish. There is only One who is good, and One who is perfect. Leaders need grace when they make mistakes. Leaders must also show grace to those who criticize them, even when the criticism is of the more heinous sort.
Here’s my advice to you if you have been granted a trust by God to lead and shepherd for His glory and other’s blessing. This is my advice for fathers who lead in the home, teachers who lead in the classroom , business men who lead in the work place, and neighbors who lead in their neighborhoods:
Here’s my advice to you if you have found a good leader.
It wasn’t wrong for the boys’ mother to ask for status from the King of kings. What they needed to know is that true leadership leverages itself on behalf of those beloved by God. True leadership is found in sacrificial service. In whatever area that you shepherd, do so with a view to honoring Christ, and only do so if you have a heart to bring blessing to those you would lead.