Step 2: The Step Up, Leadership
Step Up: The Step of Leadership
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Matthew 3:16-17, NIV
The step up for Christian leaders is the recognition of the high calling of Christ and acceptance of the spiritual leadership inherent in that calling. It is being a leader.
It was a quickly learned lesson on the job as Director of Pastoral Ministries for the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Leadership is everything. Well, there is at least one caveat to such a broad conclusion. Jesus is actually everything. But, in the day-to-day functioning of church life, the pursuit of biblical mission, and the fulfillment of our commission to make disciples of all nations, leadership is everything. The shocking reality of those months was that the pastor was often not the spiritual leader of many congregations. It was the regrettable norm of most of the local churches I was called to assist. Usually these calls were SOS signals dealing with church conflict. In many instances it was a recurring situation when the pastor had violated the limited boundaries of his authority. These churches saddened me immensely. The second chapter of my book Finish. Period. Going the Distance in Ministry is titled Finishers: Churches that Send People Over the Edge. This chapter profiles these churches.
Jesus taught many lessons about the step up and spiritual leadership. His teaching about blind guides, the many parables about landowners and masters, his frequent comments about the greatest and first in the kingdom, his pointed criticism of the Jewish legalists and their system were all laying the groundwork for his disciples to understand the servant heart and role of a spiritual leader. He modeled total submission to the Father's will, words, and work, once again providing rich layers of leadership development in his preparation of them. The fulfillment of those early tutorials was realized when those men stepped up in the Acts of the Apostles and moved Christ's church, according to his command, to the utter-most parts of the world. Paul, Peter, James, Jude, and the anonymous author of Hebrews were among those trainees who brought the reality of spiritual leadership to the church. But, they were the product of what Jesus had begun in them.
The step up, that is, the step of spiritual leadership is among the trendiest topics today. Stroll through the business and Christian aisles at the bookstore and you'll see dozens of current reads about leadership, and spiritual leadership. Could this popularity be a result of the leadership vacuum so evident in church life in America today? That's more than a distant possibility. In fact, most of the pastors I know, regardless of the geography of their assignment or it's size, are challenged by the leadership dynamics, or absence of them, in their churches. Spiritual leadership seems to be the class of continuing education for most pastors and church staff leaders.
Before retirement I distributed my library to a group of church planter friends. There were more recent books on the step up, spiritual leadership, than almost any other topic. They were also the first ones to get gone. But, I hid two of them, what I refer to as the standards of spiritual leadership and the step up. They are Spiritual Leadership: Principals of Excellence for Every Believer by J. Oswald Sanders (Moody Publishers, 2007) and Spiritual Leadership: Moving People to God's Agenda by Henry and Richard Blackaby (B & H Books, 2001). Of course, there are hundreds of secular editions proposing all the new wrinkles in the dynamics of leadership as well. But, those two standards were written for those who have experienced the high call of Christ and are seeking to be spiritual leaders in their homes, churches, and other environments.
Lengthening the tenure of pastors and church staff leaders is perhaps one of the most significant agenda items today. Tenure often defines the quality of church health and mission effectiveness. When leaders learn the step down, the step of humility, and the step up, to step of leadership, in that order, it's a good start.
The asterisk from yesterday fits here as well. Spiritual leadership is a broader topic than my narrow application to those called to serve local congregations, denominations, mission enterprises, Christian educational institutions, or other professional ministry situations. 5 Steps to the Finish Line are the model Jesus provided for people in every spiritual leadership assignment, from dads to deacons. The great need today, in every human commitment level, is for leaders to step up to provide strong, biblical leadership based on the model of Jesus. Stepping down in Christian humility gives us the servant heart and humble spirit so that we can step up and be the leaders he called us to be.
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