By J. T. Pugh
Is It Wrong For A Christian To Desire To Lead?
Paul wrote his young protege Timothy, “To aspire to leadership is an honorable ambition.”‘ This statement may seem contrary to Christian concepts. This statement may seem contrary to all that Jesus taught His disciples concerning leadership on His last journey to Jerusalem.
Relative to this, we must point out that Jesus, in His repetitious lessons, was attempting to counteract the carnal desire of the apostles for a position that in itself would confer pseudo greatness. Jesus taught that even though He could give sight to the blind and life to the dead, He could not give true greatness to anyone.’ True greatness is never conferred by a position but emerges from character. This character is developed by a baptism of fleshly death and drinking from a cup of self-denial.
Jeremiah warned Baruch, “Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not.”‘ Notice the qualification in this statement; “for thyself.”
It was not wrong to aspire to great causes and accomplishments, but it was not to be driven by a desire for personal gain. It is not ambition, but self-centered ambition that often hinders God’s work.
The Christian Method Of Acquiring Leadership
A caring Christian may see things that need to be set in motion that would advance the kingdom of God. Such a person is aware of certain talents and skills that God has given him. For the sake of God’s kingdom, a selfless per-son should be willing to use his God-given abilities to promote God’s work in the posture of leadership if this is God’s will for him. I have found that God has always placed me where He wanted me without my forcing a door to open. This is a response to the call of faithful service.
For the first twenty-five years of my ministry, I gave myself intensely to only the propagation of the Gospel. By very simple living and careful budgeting, we managed to live without secular employment. During this time, I actually avoided conferred positions. I was glad however, to serve on temporary committees. In the year of 1964, God let me know that I was to serve His cause in an organization position, which would involve me leaving the church I pastored in Port Arthur, Texas. In my very being, I knew this would come to pass. I submitted myself to this strange
assurance, telling God that I was willing, but that the details were His problem and not mine. I told Him that I would continue to do my very best in the church He had placed me in fourteen years prior. I can honestly say that the next three-year interval was without chafing or worry. I knew my work there would be interrupted by the sound of an opening door. In the early part of the year of 1967, the General Board appointed me to the office of General Director of Home Missions. In this position, I did my very best and voluntarily removed myself from it at a time and in a way I
hoped was selfless.
I have no regrets over the time I have given in various categories of leadership. I am thankful for an opportunity to serve. I deeply hope that my leadership has been cross-principled and redemptive.
In the world and regrettably sometimes in the church, we see inverted leadership. The effort bends inward to serve self. This type of leadership does not lead outward and upward, but spiritually downward. The greatest Christian leaders of history are characterized by a willingness to commit themselves to causes that needed serving, rather than to those guaranteeing success. Only the courageous and creative leader will take the necessary initiatives to pioneer and to venture. Thus true leadership and security are basically incompatible.
Jacob desired a position of greatness. In order to get the position, he donned a cloak of deception. The animal he took the deceptive coat from, died ruthlessly. This was the beginning of a river of pain that flowed for more than twenty-eight years. Everyone who was touched by Jacob’s selfish motive was hurt. It was not God’s way of promotion.
“Lift not up your horn on high: speak not with a stiff neck. For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south; but God is the judge. He putteth down one, and setteth up another. For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup.”
Jesus Christ, the great redemptive leader of the church, clothed Himself in vulnerable flesh. He entered into the crux of a universal catastrophe with no thought of personal gain. His robe was seamless. It was not the patch work of cunning plans. It was a harmonious unit; a pure heart and sincere motive.
He came to redeem man. Thus He clothed Himself with that which He came to save. Redemptive leaders seek to redeem and revitalize ideals, concepts, and weak visions. They clothe themselves with the situation, and out of pure heart and motive, breathe into it the breath of life. They cause that which is dead to live and function again.
During the sixties when the cause of civil rights was being contested in the United States, an incident happened to two convicts that very clearly illustrated the need for mutual respect between the black and white races. The two dangerous convicts were in the process of being transferred to a more secure prison when something happened that gave them an opportunity to escape.
These men were very strong. They were both filled with racial hatred. They ran for miles and hours, stumbling, panting, hiding, and falling. Being handcuffed together, they were forced to render each other assistance. Finally, they were confronted by a high wall. There would be some measure of safety on the other side. One of the men, with the help of the other, managed to gain the top. He would have gladly dropped on the other side, leaving the other man behind. But he discovered that he could not free himself without assisting in the freeing of another.
No man really lifts himself without lifting another. Though a leader deals in programs and structures, he has never really made a great cause live until he has made men better men. Redemptive leadership focuses on the good of people and ends in people.
The Highest Quality Of Leadership
Leadership is a basic necessity of any enterprise. No mass of people will move forward without direction. Direction will be determined either by shared deliberation or by one person. Finally, however, direction must be explained persuasively by a person of authority. This authority may be imposed or given by some form of consent. For harmony and productivity in the group, much depends upon the character of the leader and his managerial skill. So the fact is that a unit of people seldom if ever rises above the ability, vision, and quality of its leadership.
The political leader is very sensitive to public opinion and submits to it. The wishes of the people are the major consideration in decision making. This is simply natural, and the purpose of political leadership. But it causes such leaders to move on the lowest level of the crowd, most often appealing to its lesser instincts rather than cultivating the best in them. Such leadership has no moral lifting power. Such leadership is often divisive, even fueling an issue in order to fulfill a personal ambition. This type of leadership can never be redemptive.
The redemptive leader has a clearer vision, a broader perspective, a greater concept. While he may see farther than the group, he fully under-stands its needs and “is moved with compassion” toward He lives a life of tension between what is in the group and what ought to be. While he has compassion, he never ceases to cherish higher ambitions than the group holds, loftier goals than it sees, grander principles than it may ever accept. Thus redemptive leadership cannot be given without tension. This is both normal and healthy. It stems from the gap between reality and
the ideal. This is the posture the church is meant to reside in. The redemptive leader does not and cannot lead in a Tensionless state! This contributes to the loneliness and pain he often feels. The statement made about Jesus at the foot of His cross is applicable to every true Christian leader, “He saved others, himself he cannot save.”
The burning desire of a caring leader will cause him to use the best procedure and to create the most honest and sound structure possible. But his ultimate object is ever and always the creation of better men. The redemptive leader knows that it matters not how great the accomplishment claimed by any given order or endeavor. If at its close, the people who have participated are not fond to be better people, then the project has actually failed. At the core of every program should be people-saving and people-building. This will not happen unless honesty, love, truth, and courage are personified in the leadership.
Cross-principled, redemptive leadership does not traffic alone in procedure, promotion, and structure. The object of its reach is ever and always the redemption of man. This desire embraces not only the salvation of their souls, but that each should rise to his highest and best. While the revitalization of an organization may not be the primary objective of the leader, such always gets done as the people involved are renewed. Somewhere in the hours of selfless relationships, the redemptive leader, by example and spirit, figuratively takes his followers by the shoulders and shakes them and says, “You can do this because it is worthy – you can grow up into it and in the process, you will become a better man.”
Jesus was able to say, “Ye believe in Cod, believe also in me”‘ And they did. They felt that they safely could give their trust, their strength, and their hearts to Him. He was a redeemer. He did not come to make stepping stones of people whereby He would elevate Himself. He came “to give His life a ransom” by which a universal project was transacted. He did this by changing and lifting people. Thus Jesus exampled the highest quality of leadership.
Always the good motive, the unselfish intent that the redemptive leader has is passed on into the living organism he grows around him. Health flows into the group. Week by week, month by month, year by year, it grows up resilient, alive, and robust. This is true because it is impossible to consider work and deeds separate and apart from the person who does them. This is why, after about five years, a church begins to assimilate the personality of the pastor. An entire district in time is colored by the attitude and personal philosophy of a superintendent who may have served
for some time. Thus, the selfless leader will become first by putting himself last. This is an absolute principle. There is power in this type of leadership. It stands upon the most powerful act possible in the human family. This is the leveraged principle of free righteous choice. It is not the policy of a cold function, but a higher law of selfless love that never fails.’ Through responding always from this base, a person is able to enjoy an unfading power. This is the trust of people to whom the righteous leader has redemptively led.
On the occasions in which I have surrendered leadership over churches and offices by choice, the ache has always been somewhat lessened by reminding myself that neither the church nor the office was ever really mine. I have come to know that the only thing I really had, which was the greatest thing of all, I could take with me when I departed. This was the love and trust of the people. Actually love and trust are the true power, the only true power, that a leader holds. Redemptive power is not lodged in an office. Finally, a personal leader must embody the ideal that drives the
movement. Every ideal must have a human face if it lives and grows. There must be a redemptive leader who is able to speak the perceptive word that is not given to the group, the crowd, or society.
The Method Of Redemptive Leadership Is Service
Service is the method of redemptive leadership. Jesus exemplified this. The prophets saw Him as a servant. He is represented in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah as “the suffering servant.” He is also called the “good shepherd” because He gave His life for His sheep or His cause. His statement in John 12:27 reveals the inescapable claim fastened upon Him from the day of His birth; “For this cause came I into the world, to this end was I born.”
The role of servanthood is seen also in the life of the apostle Paul. He truthfully stated, “I am made all things to all people. “Service creates a posture of authority that people acquiesce to. Upon the grounds of his service, Paul was bold in asserting his apostleship.
It is hard to question the position of a leader who renders this kind of service so unselfishly. Somehow deep within humanity is a consciousness that feels that the person who, by choice, puts himself last as a faithful servant, has a right to be first.
I have known pastors, who lacked in some important skills, but because of their faithful, loving service, were accepted and honored. I shall not forget a certain district superintendent with whom I was privileged to work in Home Missions for several years. It was not hard to note areas of weakness in his abilities. But the tremendous service he poured forth covered his lack. I was amazed one day as I viewed the muddy floor of a tool shed on the camp-ground. A man told me that this was where his leader often spread his blankets to sleep.
Someone could easily ask, “Are you advocating this lifestyle for every leader?” The answer is, “Of course not.” But once in a while we do meet people who care for a cause so much that no sacrifice seems too great. Such people leave a deep impact, teach an unforgettable lesson, and usually get the job done.
The right attitude is an important factor as to whether a person is used by God in a place of leadership. Wrong attitude is often the result of placing value on the wrong thing. In God’s kingdom, the value of things is judged by the rule of the cross principle. Heaven is perfect relationship and gold is used for road material. The right and left sides of the throne will be occupied “by them for whom it is prepared.”‘ Or those who have prepared themselves for it. What is the necessary preparation for such an exalted position? Here we definitely see human value reversed: “Whosoever
will hold first position among you will be everybody’s slave.”‘ Jesus gave the world this new standard of greatness. Thirty-one years after Jesus spoke these words, Paul wrote of his example:
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God . . . made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form (the external appearance) of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
We all agree that no one has ever been as great as Jesus Christ. This true greatness of Jesus is innately fundamental. It has nothing to do with what-ever external conferrals people may give to a leader. Unfortunately, it is possible to confuse the power held in an office with greatness. Jesus “emptied himself’of power and gave Himself to the hands of men who stripped Him even of His clothes. Yet He remained great. His greatness was inherent, a basic quality of character and spirit. Thus, history has shown that the cross was actually our Lord’s throne. It is impossible for Satan
or men to take away this kind of greatness.
The Motivation Of Redemptive Leadership
Leadership involves responsibility, time, planning, and a certain amount of risk and stress. The possibility of rejection and failure is a part of the risk factor. No one will subject himself to these discomforts without a reason or motivation. Some see an opportunity for material gain. Some are attracted by power and control, while the head v drive of egotism influences others. The profit motive is reason enough for corporations to seek astute, disciplined management. This motivation is so pervasive, that leadership that is not loyally dedicated to the corporation’s profit will not be tolerated. But it is impossible for any of the inducements we have named to become the energy that moves the true work of God.
In travels about the world, I have been made aware of the awesome secular power of some religious movements. Even here in America, the amassing of immense wealth by certain religions is amazing. This is managed deliberately by skilled financiers.
Within the same movements, there are people skilled in political manipulation. Such movements are able to fund skilled political advisers and to send lobbyists to influence legislation in the nation’s capitol. The lure of power also drives the politics inside such religious organizations. This attraction of power, unfortunately, is the principle motivation of most leaders in movements that are not cross-centered. But this does not example a saving Christ.
Unworthy motivation is the greatest danger to any Christian enterprise. We are grateful to Paul for his great teaching on the gifts of the Spirit in the twelfth and fourteenth chapters of I Corinthians. We are doubly grateful for the thirteenth chapter, which instructs us that love is to be the reason, the motivation that drives everything we do. Paul stresses that the gifts are to be used as a service of love to edify, or build up, the body of Christ, and not for self-glorification. Gifts and talents of leadership likewise are to be directed by love toward the benefit of others. This attitude enhances the ability and influence of the leader. Something so strongly Christian exudes from him. His followers are influenced to example his Christian virtues, thus they are lifted to a higher plane. Unity prevails because trust is present, and love is the motivation of the leader. The constituency senses the respect for human worth and dignity that the leader holds. This is the work of God in a submitted per-son’s heart. “God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”
Only love is redemptive and thus it should be the primary motivation of the Christian leader. Love is a motive that can be followed, for “Charity seeketh not her own.” All else inevitably reverts back to self and thus does not save or lift. It matters not how much a leader sacrifices, how much criticism he endures, or how hard he works. If such a leader is motivated by selfish interest, it “profits nothing.” “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor and though I give my body to be burned and have not charity, it profiteth nothing.”
The Result Of Redemptive Leadership Is Freedom
True love is not possessive. “Charity seeketh not her own.” The servants of God are not constrained by profane obligation. “The love of Christ constraineth us.” We are “love slaves.” Love is not love unless it is encompassed in free choice. The lover is free to love or not love.
Jesus Christ died to redeem. Thus those for whom He died have levied upon them a moral obligation so great that it cannot be explained. Yet not once did Jesus ever say or imply, “I left Heaven for you and I am dying for you, so you ought to do thus and thus for me.” The apostles, on the other hand, made our obligations to Jesus very clear. Ministers should make our moral obligation very clear. However, Jesus, in this respect, left us free. He twisted no arms to secure commitments to Himself. He did not give Himself as a reason. Nevertheless, we recognize His great example as
reason enough for any sacrifice, no matter how great.
“For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves but unto him, which died for them, and rose again.”
Christian commitment is a matter of righteous principle. An uncommitted believer is judged by the silent, naked cross. Yet every believer is released to make this choice, to choose or not to choose the cross as a life principle. Our redemptive leader set us free, to even make the wrong choices if we wish. This is the solid ground of astounding love. In this, love never ceases to suffer, because it knows that people are responsible for free choice and will bear the consequences of wrong choices. Jesus Christ does not own us as a tyrant owns slaves. He claims only those who give themselves to Him by choice.
The geometry of life is well symbolized by the contrast of the circle and the cross. The circle is emblematic of Earth life. All pertaining to time is curvilinear. It bends back on itself. The face of our timepiece, the clock, is a simple example. It is indicative of all the menstruations of time. They are all predicated upon the principle of the circle. The activity of the proton and neutron is basic to all matter. Endlessly in microscopic circles they accent the pattern of time. Isaiah wrote about the “circle of the earth.” Our solar system swings and turns in its seasonal circles. So do the ponderous galaxies of space. And finally, Einstein theorized that the entire universe bent back on itself as a repetitious ball of time.
The principle of time imposes itself on us. We tend to futility. We are prone to endlessly swing back to self-service. Only in God’s principle can we escape from ourselves. So God divided time into two parts with the swift insertion of the cross. God gave to man a new geometric pattern by the cross. The linear and perpendicular lines point straight out, unbending, toward infinity. Thus the indication of the cross is freedom. The cycle of self, of time and sin, has been broken.
The selfish leader who wishes to live by the values of time will eventually be run over again and again by the things he has set in motion. I saw this happen to a very capable minister who succeeded in apparently realizing all his dreams relative to a religious colossal he had finally succeeded in creating. Ambition had driven him and now his dream was realized. But he was trampled down by the burdensome sequence of time principle. He confided to me, “I have created a monster that is eating me up.”
The redemptive leader does not fasten men or things to himself. He does not exploit or use men, but sets them free. Thus his followers, unintimidated, are released to soar in spirit, imagination, and accomplishment in the kingdom of God. This is the reward of the redemptive leader. He grows and rejoices with them.
The redemptive leader is never caught captive in a selfish cycle. He tracks the lines of the cross, straight up to his God and straight out in selfless service, not bent by ulterior motives. The redemptive leader works according to the cross principle. He never seeks to own and thus he is never owned. He remains free. For the kingdom’s sake, he sets many things in motion, but steps back from them a free man.
The redemptive leader will not always be strong in every leadership trait. But in some way, his life is a blessing and not a subtraction. He may be a leader in thought. His ideas may be quietly imparted to a thousand lives, changing them and giving direction. He may be a pioneer in concepts that are too bold to be accepted at the time. His survival cannot be guaranteed. He is the grain that falls to the ground. He is the ideal with a face. He is an example, not a theory.
These principles of cause-driven leadership have worked for centuries for the good of humanity, even when they have been applied by secular leaders. I would like to briefly refer to a father statesman we all well remember from our study of South American history. His name is Simon Bolivar.
“From the 1500s, the Spanish largely controlled South America. Spain controlled Bolivia until 1825. Then Simon Bolivar, a Venezuelan, organized an army to free Spain’s colonies in South America. Bolivia declared its independence from Spain in 1825. The new nation was named after Bolivar, who helped draft the constitution. In 1826 Sucre was elected the first president.”
The few lines of history of Simon Bolivar and the part he played in the liberation of South America, of course do not entail the harsh sixteen years and more he spent in this attempt. Other books tell of the passion for freedom that drove him. The record shows that Simon was honest and not enslaved by a desire for personal power. He was energized by a cause that he believed to be greater than himself. This powerful inspiration pushed him through hard-ships and stunning defeats. The sincere fervor of this redemptive leader drew other people to him.
After April of 1825, the struggle to free South America was largely completed. Simon Bolivar helped draft a constitution that provided for a proper legislative body. He hoped that democracy and peace had come to South America.
His hopes were short lived. Within a year, a delegation of influential men who had fought at Simon’s side called upon him. They warned him that the people did not understand a democratic form of government, and that the leaders presently in place at that time wanted power, not to lift and help the people, but for themselves. They appealed to Simon to fill the office of dicta-tor and rule all of South America. Their promise was, “We will make you the ‘Emperor of the Andes.'” It is said that upon hearing this that Simon Bolivar wept. He replied to them, “Is freedom which was
purchased at such great cost, counted so cheap by you, that you would take it and give it all to one man?”
This cause-driven attitude had been the secret of Bolivar’s tremendous leadership during the exhausting struggles of the revolution. This selfless appeal drew men to Simon even when he had little to offer and the cause seemed hopeless. The loyal commitment of his followers is illustrated by an incident that took place at the crucial Battle of Bayoca on August 7, 1819.
The British legion was a part of a small army that crossed flood-swept plains and icy mountains to destroy the Spanish viceroyalty of New Granada. One of the officers in the British legion was an Irishman by the name of O’Riley. He was severely wounded in the crucial battle of Bayoca.
His tough, professional fellow officers came to the hospital tent where his arm was being removed. They were crude, rough men of war who did not know how to express words of kindness. So they attempted to joke with their dying fellow soldier. With dying breath, O’Riley said, “God save my country.” An officer standing by jokingly asked, “What country are you talking about, O’Riley? You are an Irishmen, you are in the British legion and you are fighting in South America.” With his last breath, O’Riley replied, “I am talking about the country that is giving me a grave. Only redemptive leadership, which has utterly forgotten the promotion of self, is able to inspire lasting commitments, gather people, and fashion them into a powerful, energized force that cannot be stopped. This was the type of leadership that gathered twelve men at the beginning of the church, and without apology, told them that they were to evangelize the world. Inspired by their redemptive leader, they did. There is no question as to why they did. The leader they followed had not “saved himself.”
Article “Redemptive Leadership” written by J. T. Pugh is taken from The Wisdom And The Power Of The Cross written by J. T. Pugh.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”