Keys to great leadership — in the home, in the church, and in life

I have a new favorite eatery in my lunchtime perimeter.  I have been three times now, and every time the same manager was on duty.  And she is amazing.  Let’s be honest, I’m there for the food.  If the food were terrible, I wouldn’t care if Bruce Springsteen, LeBron James and Scarlett Johansson were dishing it up.  As it happens, the food is great.  And I’m prepared to believe this woman gets a lot of the credit.

I figured out why she impresses me so much. 

She is always there. 

She is always knowledgeable. 

She is always busy. 

And she is always smiling.

I don’t know her name.  Frankly, in this day and age I am hesitant to strike up a conversation with her.  No telling what she would think.  But I’ll tell you this, I wish I had a job I could offer her.  I would trust this woman to recommend a sauce, organize my closets, or tend to my yet-unborn grandchildren.  She absolutely exudes competence.

Leadership does not have to be flashy, or laden with awards.  It needs no fancy hat or title.  Whether we are talking about church elders, parents, or just people prepared to mentors when needed, it really has only three central attributes. 

Be there.  The salt is more effective when it is out of the shaker.  And influence is more powerful when you are in close proximity to the one you are trying to influence.  Emphasizing “quality time” over “quantity time” is, in my experience, an effort to congratulate oneself for neglecting those in one’s charge.  A parent can’t make up for multiple 80-hour work weeks by taking the family to the Grand Canyon for a week.  An elder can’t make up for months of inattention and inactivity by throwing a party for the entire church.  The real impact is felt through weeks, months and years of normal activity.  You “shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Peter 5:2) by being among them.

Paul could not be “there” for every church with which he as associated, naturally.  His influence spread all over the known world.  But he was “there” in spirit through his letters.  And he was “there” in person from time to time as well.  His preferred method of interaction was encouragement, naturally.  But he was not opposed to more harsh speech when it was necessary.  He warned the Corinthians about his coming visit, urging them to set in order the things that had been lacking so as to spare him the trouble, and spare them the indignity, of a harsh exchange (2 Corinthians 13:1-3).  “Mighty” leadership is often uncomfortable in the short term, but followers without discipline are following nothing but their own impulses.  Good leaders persuade people to overcome those impulses.

Be knowledgeable.  One of the most basic aspects of leadership is being the one to whom people will go in times of indecision and disagreement.  Good leaders can be trusted to have the right answer at the right time, and in so doing settle disputes among warring factions (1 Corinthians 6:4-5).  Ideally, Christians should be trusted to submit to Jesus in all things; in reality, differences of opinion abound as to how to do so.  By accepting the authority of elders and trusting their judgment (Hebrews 13:17), issues are settled with as little conflict as possible.  This is even more the case in the family.  Despite their frequent protestations to the contrary, children do not have all the answers.  Frequently they do not even know the right questions.  When a family is functioning properly, the children instinctively turn to their parents in full confidence that “Mom and Dad will fix it.”  Of course, Mom and Dad owe it to their children and the dignity of their calling to actually have the answers when the time comes.

Timothy was qualified to lead Christians in Ephesus because he knew “the sacred writings” (2 Timothy 3:14-17).  They equipped him to do good work and to teach others to do the same.  Having the answers in short order — or at the very least knowing where to find the answers and finding them as quickly as you can — is key to establishing confidence in the minds of those in your charge.  No spiritual leadership can be effective without a strong working knowledge of God’s word, as well as the wisdom necessary to apply it properly.

Be busy. And by “busy,” of course, I mean busy on the job.  There is always work to do and the need for someone to do it.  No individual can do it all.  But by doing our share, and not growing weary (Galatians 6:9), we can empower and encourage others to join us.  In this crazy world in which we live, it is always possible to be “busy” in carnal matters.  We have money to make, children to rear, friendships to maintain, vacations to plan, pounds to lose, on and on it goes.  Success in such matters takes time, effort and discipline.  But such exercise, whether physical or emotional, “is only of little profit” (1 Timothy 4:8).  And when it materially affects our performance in that which is “profitable for all things,” we need to retrench.  We have become too busy in our things to be properly busy in His things.  That goes for anyone who is trying to serve God, but it particularly relevant for those who would be the spiritual leaders of others.  We are all to heed Paul’s words in Philippians 2:4 — “do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”  If our leaders do not do that, who will?

I think of Moses when I think of people busy in the things of God.  Nothing mattered but the spiritual welfare of the nation.  Literally every conflict in the camp of Israel came before Moses before his father-in-law, Jethro, convinced him to delegate some of the minor bits of business (Exodus 18:13-18).  It affected his popularity (Numbers 16:3).  It affected his family relations (Numbers 12:1-2).  Ultimately, though, he was willing to make personal sacrifices so that he could stay focused on spiritual matters.  We do not have Moses’ calling, and we are not expected to devote 24 hours of every day to the Lord.  Still, in a very real sense, God’s servant already has devoted every hour of every day to Him.  It is only reasonable for that commitment to be always visible, never hidden or on hiatus.

Be smiling.  Working in God’s kingdom is hard.  Occasionally it is frustrating.  But we know how blessed we are to be here.  We cherish the “free gift of God” (Romans 6:23) we have received, and we eagerly anticipate “the crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy 4:8) that awaits the faithful.  So why would we not “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4)?  And for leaders, it is doubly important to maintain a positive attitude.  Why would anyone follow someone into misery?  If we want to save the souls of others, we must make salvation appear to be something worth having, not merely something we must endure.

I doubt that Jesus was literally smiling on the cross or on His way to it.  But he never showed the slightest regret about the path that He had chosen; quite the opposite, in fact — He lashed out in anger at Peter, who surely meant well, when he tried to block the path to the cross (Matthew 16:22-23).  Hebrews 12:2 describes His attitude — “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  We are unlikely to have opportunity to give all that Jesus gave.  But if He was able to find joy in shame and suffering, surely we can as well.  No matter how bad our day, month or year is going, we can always content ourselves with knowing we are serving our God and that He will acknowledge us and reward us in His time.

Be there.  Be knowledgeable.  Be busy.  Be smiling.  That’s leadership. 

Now, go lead someone.