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Decision Making: Learning from Leaders

Posted by Joshua Claycamp on

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?

Making decisions requires balancing time.

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.

Making choices requires humility and grace.

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.

Advice to Leaders

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:

  1. True leaders should be men and women of character and integrity. If you are not an honest person, then you will not be an honest broker among those whom you lead. You will eventually be found out, and then you will suffer for it. Learn to be honest; learn to have integrity; learn to be a man of truth. People who make good decisions are those who live in reality, those who have not practiced living in a fantasy world of lies and deception. Good decision-makers are not people who are adept at self-deception.
  2. True leaders should always be mindful of the well-being of those they presume to lead above their own well-being. Why do you bother to lead? Do you want honor or recognition? This is foolishness and vanity. We have enough of these types of vain leaders. If you genuinely care and are worried for the well-being of others, then exercise that care and concern through your daily efforts to make their lives better. Honor always comes to these types of people sooner or later, but trust me on this one: if you pursue honor, you will have none of it. If you pursue the blessing of others, you may occasionally be honored, but you will find that those you lead are never blessed enough. To lead is really about embracing deficits, not accepting honor.
  3. True leaders should always be humble and flexible. Humility is an abandoned virtue, and humility is the strength of any good leader. Sometimes you do need a leader who will have a backbone of steel and will stand up to the masses for the sake of a certain principle or virtue that everyone is abandoning, but this isn’t always the case. Most of the time, conflict arises when a leader just wants something to be done his way, and it really doesn’t make that much difference if it is done any one of a hundred different ways. I have noticed that leaders crucify themselves for the most ridiculous of things.  Be humble. Listen to your people. Hear their counsel, and then embrace their counsel especially if it’s good advice! Sometimes you should embrace it, even if you think it could be done better in some other way, because the majority of your team feels strongly about it. If the method achieves the direction and destination, then goals will still be reached. Teamwork fosters trust and mutual confidence, not dictating every minor detail.

Here’s my advice to you if you have found a good leader.

  1. Ask his counsel when you face tough decisions. Observe the way he makes decisions, how he weighs and considers pros and cons, and how he approaches such choices from the perspective of Scripture. All of us are called by God to be leaders in one way or another, and we must all be learning how to lead well. The best way to do this is by watching the Leader of Leaders who marches across every page of Scripture, but also by observing and learning from the leader who leads well in your life. Look to the leaders that Christ has placed before you.
  2. Thank him for making tough decisions on your behalf at times. Even if you don’t agree with everything that he decided or all the ways that he lead, if you have found a leader with a good heart that just wants to make you happy and bring blessing into your life, recognize that his heart strains under the uncertainty of the choices he makes for your blessing. Know that he works daily for you, and encourage him by expressing your gratitude.
  3. Don’t tell him how to fix the situation that he is struggling with. This is a big one! Sometimes leaders encounter circumstances with no easy remedies. They may ask for prayer, and everyone is quick to have an idea on how to fix the situation, but what nearly everyone fails to realize is that there are always hidden variables that, for one reason or another, cannot be fully disclosed. If this man leads as a pastor, then you need to know that he guards the confidentiality of many, not just a few. Because he is a man of integrity he sometimes cannot fully disclose everything. This means that your suggestions, while always helpful in an ideal world, are not always helpful in a less than ideal world. You may wonder sometimes as your leader smiles at you, and then as politely as possible, dismisses your idea without giving a fully adequate reason why. Remember, he is searching for a way to bring as much happiness and joy to as many people as possible. Easy solutions almost always come at the expense of others, and that’s why easy solutions are always regarded with skepticism by the godly leader. He wants to bring blessing to everybody, not just a majority. Just try to trust him in those moments when he doesn’t jump at your idea, and doesn’t always seem able to tell you why.
  4. Honor your leader by becoming a leader yourself. Vain and foolish leaders look for awards, celebratory dinners, and recognition. Real leaders want to be able to bring blessing to many more people, but they have natural limitations that prohibit them from doing so. You honor true leaders not by treating them to dinner or giving them an award or any of this nonsense (godly leaders will seek this recognition from God, not you – Nehemiah 5:19), but by joining them in their labor of love as they strive to bring blessing to others. Strive to be dependable and faithful like your leader. Strive to be a person of character as he is. Strive to love others the way that he does. Strive to be an example to others the way that he is. Strive to put others’ needs ahead of your own, as he would. Strive to sacrifice for the eternal well being of others like he would. In short, follow your leader by being like your leader. More than all this, be like Christ. You honor a godly leader by surpassing him in your pursuit of being like Jesus Christ and bearing that image to the world.

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.

Tags: leaders, leadership, jesus, choices, making decisions, deciding, choosing, oversight, shepherding