The Challenge of Leadership

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I heard or read somewhere years ago a statement that has remained with me: “everyone who wants to be a leader doesn’t want to lead.” So many of us want to be in the position, but do not want the responsibilities. We covet the perceived prestige, title and benefits because of how the position might serve us. As Christians we forget that our Lord came to serve and not to be served. On one occasion Jesus’ disciples lobbied for key positions in his kingdom. He told them that to be great in God’s Kingdom, you needed to be the servant of all. The temptations of leadership invite us to seek approval while avoiding sacrifice. There is so little personal attraction in serving without recognition or praise from others. The accolades we receive are so temporal, but we still seek them, forgetting any eternal value.

Jesus asked his disciples to step out of their comfort zones and follow him. We learn to lead by following a leader, so Jesus gives his disciples direction into leadership. He says: “love your enemies, bless those that curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” This is not the kind of leadership we are comfortable with, much less interested in following. He goes further: “Do not take revenge and give to those who ask of you.” Our visceral response to this is that he didn’t mean what I think he said. We have been told that a leader is one who sets direction, provides guidance, sets the pace and gets things done. We do not think of leaders as those who sacrifice themselves for the benefit of others. Those are martyrs, not leaders, or are they?

Over a year ago I served at a Christian university in Pakistan during the campaigns for the American presidential election. As a U.S. citizen I was continuously queried about my opinion on the elections, and the very nature of campaign strategies. On occasion, individuals would jest about how they perceived our candidates. They suggested that our divisive strategies bore resemblance to the elections in their country. The most embarrassing aspect of their comments was the assumption that our leaders in their eyes were Christians who behaved no differently than their countrymen. These were developing world politics which had come to America.

The Jesus model of leadership becomes more difficult to identify in this age. Our behavior and speech produce fruit that is consistent with our hearts. We forget the real challenge that Jesus gives us within this vacuum of society—serve rather than be served. We find his words in Luke chapter 6:27-37 which reflect the heart and behavior of a leader that follows him. The challenge requires a surrender that most are not willing to make.

This challenge is rarely discussed, but Jesus sets the pace for influential leadership. He says: “love your enemies, do good to those who curse you and pray for those who mistreat you.” If that is not enough, he goes on to say: “do to others as you would have them do to you,” deny yourself, take your responsibility to sacrifice yourself (the cross) daily, and follow me.” A good man or woman brings good things out of the good stored in his/her heart, and the evil man or woman brings evil things out of the evil stored in up in his/her heart (Luke 6:45). It is interesting that Jesus would challenge those who would compete for status in his kingdom, to sacrifice themselves for others.

When you think about these sayings, they become the real challenge for leadership in God’s Kingdom. We seldom see this modelled in our society. I am not sure we can say this is the norm for the church or Christian leadership. We as a university community are here with the mission to prepare our students for leadership and service. The Fresno Pacific Idea encourages us to extend the influence of the kingdom through the preparation of our students for leadership and service in the church and society. We should periodically ask ourselves if we are modelling that which we expect from the maturing of our students.

We are about to embark on one of the most exciting times in the history of the university. Opportunities are opening in education, health care, the arts, business and even ministry. Our enrollment is growing, and many in the Fresno and Central Valley region are inviting us to collaborative partnerships that will impact communities all around us. As we engage the cultures and serve the cities, let’s remind ourselves who we represent, and the type of leadership we model for our students and the community. Let’s remember that with the same grace measured to us, we should grant grace to others. We will encourage others before we criticize; we will serve before we are served; and we will love when we are not loved. In doing so we become lights to our community and servants of the most high God.