There is an astounding contrast of leadership revealed when you read Mark 15. In the biblical narrative Jesus has already been arrested by the Jewish religious elite. His time had come to move toward the cross. Those who arrested him thought that they were doing away with him. But this is why he came-to go to the cross. The trial was a mockery and all that they could truly accuse him of was laying claim to his very identity: Messiah, the Christ, the son of the blessed, the son of man. This was blasphemous to these religious leaders. But they needed Pilate’s judgment as a civil authority to have Jesus executed. When Jesus comes before Pilate he makes no defense, save one. Again, he can’t deny his very identity as King of the Jews. Usually a rival king would be enough for a Rome appointed authority to have someone executed, but Pilate refuses to do so. He knew that it was out of envy that the Jewish leaders desired to have Jesus put to death. The religious leaders stirred up the crowd to invoke a custom of substitution-Barabbas for Jesus. And this brings us to Mark 15:15.
So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
Allow me to make a few leadership observations.
The religious leaders used the crowd to get what they wanted.
Pilate, fearing a riot, satisfied the crowd to keep the peace.
The crowd, in true group think mode, decides that it is better to substitute a murderous insurrectionist for a teacher/healer/holy man and have him put to death.
Jesus, wishing to serve “the crowd”, lays down his life for their sins-a genuine substitute. The innocent for the guilty. The living for the dead. That they might have real life.
Allow me to stretch the leadership application a bit.
We always have three choices regarding “the crowd”: use the crowd, satisfy the crowd, or serve the crowd. Using the crowd is usually for our own ends and our own glory. Satisfying the crowd is usually out of fear and the need for acceptance. Serving the crowd is hard and humble work and can often mean difficult choices of sacrifice to give them what they don’t want in the present to take them where they ultimately want to go.
What are your thoughts?
We are going through a leadership change within our organization here in Italy. Leadership transition is always a challenge. I have been through several organizational leadership transitions in my lifetime. This one has actually been fairly easy. I credit that to the fact that both the outgoing leader and the incoming leader are of high moral character. It’s amazing how much good character will cover a multitude of mistakes and necessary learning.
This week the outgoing leader is leaving the country and heading back to the U.S. He will be sorely missed on several levels. Truly he has been one of the best leaders I have had the privilege to serve under. I have reflected for a few days now on the leadership qualities that he possesses-qualities that I think are essential to good leadership. So I offer them to you for your thought and reflection.
1. Future oriented. This leader never allowed us to dwell on the past or get stuck in the present. We were always talking about where we needed to go. It wasn’t fluffy talk or pie in the sky-it was anchored in reality. But it was with a sense that we are here for a reason and that our leadership as a team should actually take us somewhere that matters. A friend recently shared with me his definition of leadership: a person with an agenda for change and followers. That is the kind of leader this guy is-he has an agenda for meaningful and compelling change-and it has compelled me to follow for the past five years.
2. People focused. This leader saw people as our most precious resource and he spent countless hours in conversations with people at every level of our organization. Of course much of that time was spent with leaders at the lower levels of our organization-he is certainly a leader of leaders. But I also saw him take time for the brand new people as well. He realized that if the people became better then we had a fighting chance to see our vision realized. Sometimes he offered a word of comfort. Sometimes it was a word of strategy. But you always felt like you had his whole attention and that you mattered.
3. High moral character. I have already mentioned how this leader has great moral character. I have witnessed this in every area of his life. I don’t mean that he is perfect-but that even in his imperfections he exhibits humility and courage. This character has a source-and it is assuredly his relationship with Jesus Christ. This character elicited great trust at every level of the organization. It showed up in his willingness to listen and be challenged-and it showed up in his willingness to make the tough calls. And it showed up in his availability to meet people at their point of need.
4. Dispenser of hope. This leader is a dispenser of hope wherever he goes. I always leave him feeling better about myself and about the future. He constantly points me to Christ as my reason for hope. He desires that everyone around him experience a better tomorrow. Hope is always future oriented-and this leader truly believes that tomorrow will be better than today. That is motivating-especially in the mundane things of living out leadership day to day.
5. Always learning. This leader is a learner. He reads, he listens, he inquires, he seeks out, he reflects-he tries. He is not content with yesterday’s answers for today’s problems. He pushes innovation along with an atmosphere of being free to fail. He is committed to effective change-not just change for change sake. He is committed to doing whatever it will take to accomplish our stated mission. That produces a fun and freeing environment. It creates an environment that is measured according to our results criteria but filled with grace. It pushes the rest of us to be learners too.
It would submit that these five observed qualities are pretty good ones. Ones to be emulated. Lead well!
In Acts 20 we have a very informative scenario about leadership. Paul is in the midst of his 3rd missionary journey and stops in Asia Minor to gather and meet with the Ephesian elders. These are the current leaders of the Ephesian house church movement. Paul had spent more time in Ephesus than any other city on his journeys-these people were dear to him. Paul does not know when he will see these leaders again and he wants to remind them of some key principles. We can learn something too as we eavesdrop on the setting.
Today we will only look at verses 17-21. In the days ahead we will glean more from this passage. First we have to take a look back at Acts 19 to grasp the full picture of what Paul experienced in Ephesus. Paul had stirred up a riot in Ephesus. The problem was that this city had a reputation throughout the known world for its temple to Artemis. Artemis was the Greek fertility goddess, among other things-and very popular. Idolatry was rampant and there was a lot of money to be made in the idol and offering business. But as people started coming to faith in Christ and setting their idols aside business headed into a steep decline. The main charge brought against Paul was that he had stated , “gods made with human hands are not gods.” While this seems rather intuitive-it isn’t-then or now. So the people (mainly those profiting off idolatry) were enraged and sought to discredit and harm Paul. Yet in the midst of all of this the church had not only been birthed in this town-but leaders had been raised up and the church was vibrant and growing. What can we learn?
Paul knew that there were still some who were trying to discredit him falsely and this could cause these current leaders to shrink back in fear. So in v. 18 he says, “you yourselves know how I lived among you . . .” He reminds these leaders that they had first hand knowledge of how Paul lived and ministered among them. Paul could make this claim because he was an authentic leader. He was not a distant leader. His testimony was his very real leadership life lived out in front of them. Paul goes on to say in v.19 “serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials . . .” Part of Paul’s authenticity was his honesty and vulnerability. These are critical elements of humility. Paul did not pretend to be something that he wasn’t. And he entered into his audience’s reality. Finally, in this first small section, Paul says, “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable.” Leaders, if they are going to lead by example, cannot shrink back from that which is core-in communication or in action. For Paul this meant openly proclaiming Jesus Christ in the midst of an openly idolatrous city as the one true God worthy of total devotion. There is no way this message was popular-but it was true and it was effective-and people’s lives were changed. Lives were changed so much so that the idolatry business was taking a huge financial hit. A friend recently defined leadership to me this way: a leader is a person who has an agenda for change and followers. That was Paul. He had an eternal cause and it cost him dearly at times. But people not only heard the gospel from Paul they saw the gospel in Paul-and they followed.
Here are four principles so far from this episode in Acts 20:
1. There were those who wanted to discredit Paul-and there will be those who will want to discredit you. Your imperfect life of grace and authenticity will silence your critics.
2. The task of leadership includes a very real presence among your followers-the distant leader is hard to follow.
3. The task of leadership has humility and authenticity at it’s core.
4. The task of a Christ-centered leader is committed through their leadership to declaring the whole gospel-for believers and unbelievers alike.
In a few days-part 2. A presto!
I had a transition year between my last ministry assignment and coming to Italy. The major reason for the gap was to complete the needed financial support to live in Italy. It was an interesting year in many ways. God revealed some character issues that needed to change. One such issue was the recognition that I long to be indispensable. This became apparent to me when the phone quit ringing and the emails stopped because I was no longer in my former role. I felt like I had stepped into complete obscurity within my own organization-even though I had served there for some 25 years. Deep down I want to be needed-I want to be necessary. I actually think that all of us would admit to varying levels of this desire if we were completely honest. The Collins English Dictionary defines “indispensable” as that which is absolutely necessary or essential; that which is not to be disregarded or escaped.
The more I have contemplated this issue in my life it has hit me that this is contrary to the very nature of Christ-centered leadership. It’s ironic that much of our leadership endeavors, knowingly or unknowingly, go towards building our own platform or creating an environment where people seem to need us. But I think one of the primary goals of every leader should be to raise up more leaders. To do that you cannot be indispensable. If people absolutely need you for their own existence and success then they will never be fully empowered to effectively lead.
In coming to Italy this thinking became even more clear. By definition an expatriate missionary is to replace himself with a national. I don’t know of a single missionary who thinks that they as a cultural outsider can ultimately do the ministry better than someone who is from that very culture. Therefore the goal is to turn the mission over to nationals as soon as effectively possible. In a very exciting way we as an organization are going through a leadership transition even now-where an expatriate leader is giving way to an Italian national. To see true Italian thinking infused into the organization is amazing. But this would have never happened if that expatriate leader had seen himself as indispensable. On the contrary this expatriate leader saw himself as completely dispensable from day one. And that made all the difference. From early on he was looking for the right person to take his place. Don’t get me wrong. I think it is fine to want to matter in extending the kingdom of God-for His glory and honor. But when that desire crosses the fine line of being tied to your position, your unique gifts and abilities, or your platform-then you are heading down the path of indispensability and automatically limiting your ability to empower others.
In the midst of this current leadership transition in Italy-as exciting as it is-I can feel unnecessary-and at times it eats at me. In my weaker moments I still long to be indispensable. I want to be recognized. In my brokenness I need to be needed.
Where is your indispensability quotient today? Where are the new leaders around you that truly respect you-but don’t need you to be effective? Can you graciously give way to fresh leadership in your role if God calls you to?
1 Samuel 13 records that Saul, the first king of Israel, acted foolishly in his leadership life and the kingdom was taken away from him-theoretically. It took many more chapters of biblical history for Saul to relinquish the throne. He could not give way to God’s replacement. Ultimately he died a tragedy-and King David finally began to reign. May we know the seasons of our leadership lives and may we lead wisely as dispensable leaders.
I am often asked about how ministries can partner with other ministries for the sake of greater effectiveness. This is a critical leadership question. How does one effectively partner in a way that does not take away from an organization’s calling and actually maximizes the mission of both groups individually and the kingdom in general?
As I have considered this I have come up with three levels of partnering that I think are a valid way to view the possibilities.
This is the most basic level and should have the broadest application. This is the level where we recognize the legitimacy of a ministry organization and can rightly bless them with our words and actions–even though we might not agree with every doctrinal position or ministry practice. It means that we speak well of them, recommend them to those who might best fit within their ministry context, and pray for them and their ministry success. Personally, I have experienced this level of partnering everywhere I have had the privilege of ministering. While I might not have agreed with a particular ministry right down the line–I saw where their overall commitment was the same as ours–to love Christ and to make Him known. We agreed on the major doctrines of the faith even as we disagreed on the minor ones. Therefore I could “bless” them.
This encompasses a deeper level of partnering. It includes the sharing and pooling of resources for a particular ministry effort or strategy. Usually this is only for a season or a particular event. But by sharing and pooling resources a larger impact is possible than if each organization worked alone. The purpose is not to lose either organization’s true identity–but to simply cooperate for a greater good in the short run. This might occur many times over the life of a ministry in a given location. I have seen several expressions of this during my ministry years–for an evangelistic event or a concert of prayer–and there was a mutual benefit and a greater result than if we had not cooperated in that way.
This level involves the ongoing sharing and pooling of resources for a sustained synergistic effort and result. It recognizes what each organization brings to the table and realizes that the two organizations or ministries are better together than apart. I am seeing this now with Campus Crusade here in Florence–our campus ministry team is joining hands with a local church to form something completely new. We are hoping that the end result will see even more trained laborers on the campus who are equipped and confident in communicating their faith. This is the highest level of partnership and must be entered into carefully and prayerfully. There should be mutually agreed upon values and goals–and again, the true sharing of resources for the kingdom’s sake.
I am convinced that most organizations can partner better and more broadly. Leaders must lead the way with a spirit of generosity and boldness for a greater good.
I suppose the exercise was innocent enough-but it was certainly short sided. A few weeks ago my 12 year old son completed a basketball camp here in Italy. He has played on the same club team for four years and he is the only foreigner on his team. In all honesty he is of average skill on the court. Based on talent I would place him in about the middle of his 20 player squad. His greatest strength is his defense. He excels in this-but is often not recognized for his ability to cover well. We felt like this camp would really help him in his skills and in gaining fresh confidence.
Towards the end of the week long camp the coach decided to conduct an NBA style draft to choose three teams. Three captains were chosen (the three best or most popular players). Each captain was given 500 Euros in fake money to select whom he wished to be a part of his team-needing to out bid the other two captains for any particular player. My son was chosen last for the minimum price of 5 Euros. We learned this as we were driving home from the camp-it was the second thing he mentioned when we asked him how the week had gone. Being 12 years old my son has learned a little in how to manage some of his disappointments living in Italy as an outsider. He still spoke positively of the rest of the week-what he had learned-the relational time hanging out with the guys. But I knew this was deeply wounding. As soon as the words came out of his mouth I had a profound sense of anger, empathy and helplessness. I quickly recalled a time in my own life when I was eight years old and being chosen last for a playground game at school. No one ever wants to be chosen last and it never, ever feels good. We found out later that none of the other captains even wanted him-so the final captain was forced to take him at the minimum price.
I have lived in this country long enough to know that this was more about not being Italian than it was about talent. I think all cultures are like this to a greater or lesser degree. So this is not a post to rant on Italy and it’s lack of social acceptance. This episode caused me to reflect more deeply on the worth of something. The world is constantly placing a value on our existence. And usually it has far more to do with our perceived beauty, status, or utilitarian benefit. I struggle with this all the time. Like all of us I want to be liked and well thought of. I want to be significant in other people’s eyes. I want to matter. But every time I try and find this sense of worth and value as a broken person from a broken world-I only end up more empty and deeply disappointed. In those moments I am in need of a different perspective-a different value base from which I can live. In Deuteronomy 26:18 Yahweh tells Israel that He “has declared today that you are a people for His treasured possession”. Peter says something very similar in the New Testament that applies to all who truly follow Christ. In chapter two he states that we are “living stones rejected by men but precious in the sight of God”. He goes on to say, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession”. Peter is using Old Testament language to communicate an eternal truth. Our worth in God’s sight is inestimable. We matter so much to Him that He paid the price of His perfect Son to redeem us from our sin and imperfection. That is a value beyond talent, status, or beauty.
My son and I have talked through the basketball camp scenario a few times. I still have not figured out the best way to help him see his true value in Christ. At 12 years old where you fit in the pecking order of a sports team still really matters. I still hurt for him every time I think about this episode. I want to be able to rescue him from all of the world’s harsh ways-but I can’t. There is One who is our ultimate Rescuer who has proclaimed that we are His treasured possession. You and I are worth more that five Euros to the God of the universe. Whose estimation will you and I live from today?