Power and the pursuit of power is the accepted norm of many leaders. But should it be?
In my previous three posts, I introduced the concept of L.E.S.S. Leadership. The idea that we must decrease as Jesus increases in our leadership and that we should actively pursue downward mobility as leaders. “L” – Leadership Truth and Leadership Desires and shared the “E”- Leadership behaviors. The first “S” explored the practices and postures necessary to “decrease” as we move the focus from our strength and seek strength through dependence in Christ. This final post will continue the steps down as a leader. The final “S” is the leadership role and realities of leader pursuing downward mobility, who a leader seeks to become in their decrease and Christ increase.
After Paul’s conversion, he did not just reject the ordinary comforts and expectations of the life of one in a position of leadership. “But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ” (1st Corinthians 9:12 NIV). On the contrary, Paul walked away from nearly all that related to his previous life, including his notions of leadership.
He left behind a pharisaical vision of leadership based on privilege, public perception, advantage, and status to pursue a new direction life that imitated Christ.
We know most leaders tend to seek benefits for themselves, not reject them. But, Paul understood something many Christian leaders seem not to realize. He realized that Christian leaders must model their leadership after Christ alone.
And what did Jesus model for us? “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness” (Phil 2:6-7 NIV).
These are the roles of leader who is seeking to decrease and step down.
You are trusted with, not entitled to leadership. Stewards are given a thing, entrusted with a job for a time. They do not own that thing, but they are called to faithful steward that thing which God has given them. In the case of a leader is it the position we hold and people we serve.
Neither our position or the people are ours. Too many leaders take ownership of that which is entrusted to them. Stewards do for the sake and benefit of the other, not themselves. Only God has a right to demand positional leadership. We must have the humility to know we are granted leadership and must steward the position.
The shepherd is an “other-centric” role.
“The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” ~ John 10:11
The first quality of being a good shepherd is loving the sheep. Lone Wolf Leaders do it for themselves (selfish motives) Shepherd Leaders do it for the sheep (servant motives).
A shepherd will give of themselves to ensure life is given to those they lead. Poor leaders ask others to lay their lives down for them, but the LESS leader knows his or her call is to be a shepherd who guides, provides, protects, and sacrifices for those they lead.
A shepherd, a sling, a stone. Never underestimate what God can do with the insignificant, simple, and small.
Maybe we can’t hear our shepherd because we have forgotten we are the sheep. A LESS leader never loses sight of the reality that he or she has a shepherd to follow.
“For even the Son of Man did not come be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” ~ Mark 10:45
Jesus may be a servant…but that doesn’t make you his master.
A servant is not there for themselves. Their role, their leadership is for the other. LESS leaders see the value of others because they must in service to others, developing others, and learning from others.
The LESS leader also sees the value in being a follower. The quickest way to become a servant leader is simply to listen to another.
A poor leader can manage to fail in “a garden”…but a LESS leader can succeed even in the “wilderness.”
75. Servant Leader
Servant Leaders go first. They love first. They give first. They trust first. They serve first. They go first.
Poor leaders want everyone to know they are the “genius.” A servant leader makes everyone around them become a “genius” (smarter and capable). Further, servant leaders can get more than a 100% from those they lead and serve because they are always helping them learn, grow, stretch to new levels. Every leader should desire to see their followers increase in capacity and ability.
A servant leader can always say, “I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.” John 13:15
A leader can say “Go.” A servant leader can say “Go, and do likewise.” This what we should model for those we lead. Christ came to serve and so should we.
A weak leader demands to be treated like a king. A servant leader joyfully treats others as if they are a king. The most powerful man to ever walk the Earth was a servant…a humble servant leader.
Servant Leadership applies to all leadership contexts. People in all settings need love and deeply value being served and developed. Poor leaders believe management means telling others what to do. Servant Leaders believe management is loving others into who they can be.
A LESS leader will own a decision not because he or she has the wants all the credit for the potential success, but rather because he or she will be own the responsibility for the potential failure.
A LESS leader is a slave to Christ and His mission and His ways. A poor leader is a slave to ambition, recognition, and acquisition. A poor leader will enslave others to pursue it. A LESS leader will enslave their desires and passions for the sake of Jesus.
A LESS leader knows the path to the robes of a king should travel through the rags of a slave.
The LESS leader understands they cannot be a slave to God and to themselves. There can be only one owner and the leader must choose who shall own them.
77. “Someone” less
“…but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.”
John states he is not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandal-thong. Only a slave would loosen or untie a sandal-thong. And John says he is not even worthy of that compared to Christ.
It is a mark of John the Baptist’s humility that he says he is not worthy of doing a thing that only a slave would do.
What is less than a slave? Can we be that?
“…When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure;
when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” ~ 1st Corinthians 4:12-13
In a world bent toward worldly success, recognition, praise, and power, any leader who rejects such a path is bound to be reviled. But the LESS leader will absorb the pain of leadership instead of passing it on to others. LESS leaders must bear the pain of downward mobility and a life of decrease. When you reject the pursuit of power, position, and influence, many other leaders will see it as a rejection of them. They may persecute you and treat you like scum. That is the call. This the is path down.
So how could a leader ultimately endure such a path? Because as I stated in the beginning, the first leadership truth is we are under the Lordship of Christ as faithful followers. Our life in Christ makes us more than just believers; we are saints. A LESS leader can pursue downward mobility because in ways he or she may never fully understand in the world, they are saints. They are more than they know.
“To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” ~ Romans 1:7
“To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi” ~ Philippians 1:1
Too many leaders pursue the temporary over the eternal. Too many leaders pursue definitions of worldly success and identity as a leader instead of stepping down and down again into the reality of sainthood as a follower. A LESS leader understands that this is where the path leads. An embrace of something they cannot attain for themselves and more profound power than they could ever pull from within themselves.
“So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” ~ Galatians 4:7
“Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” ~ Romans 8:17
LESS leaders arrive at the end of themselves when they recognize that they are children of God, heirs of God, co-heirs with Christ, and as so, have already attained to the highest possible position. We are the children, the sons and daughters of God. We can reject any leadership desire, drive, pursuit, or vision that deceives us into believing there is something more significant.
There is nothing more to prove or pursue.
A LESS leader under the lordship and authority of God is not a slave…but free.
Jesus gave up the advantages of being equal with God and instead chose the role of servant and savior, leading to a humiliating, ignominious, crushing death on a cross. This position, Jesus accepted for himself, and those who would lead in his name should consider the implications of such a commission especially as it speaks to their use of power.
Many Christian leaders are quick to pursue the trappings and advantages of leadership because they see it being modeled back to them from the leaders the world admires.
The world desires strength.
The world applauds numeric success.
The world idolizes massive influence and notoriety.
The world esteems status.
The world demands deference and respect.
The world respects power and advantage.
The world admires servitude over service.
That is not the way of Jesus. That is not the way of a leader who chose the Cross.
A Christian leader’s strength is found in dependence, not advantage or power.
Some leaders lead out of their abundance and others out of the poverty. One leads out of their power while other leads out of dependence.
Christian leadership is a call to take up the disadvantages of life represented by the Cross—even shame, defeat, rejection, and death—for the sake of the world, just a Christ did. ~ P. Richard Choi
The paradigm of power changed at the Cross. Human weakness would now be a conduit for human power. Christian leaders must embrace this model. It is in their weakness–the rejection of advantages and power–that they are strong in Christ.
Paul’s model of leadership was the same that Jesus used to bring salvation to world—humiliation, suffering, hardship, and death. This knowledge is why Paul could write, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10 NIV)
Christian leaders need the power of Jesus’ resurrection in their leadership. But that can only be accomplished through participation in Jesus sufferings—becoming like Jesus in death.
When power is pursued, it will constantly be pursued. When advantage is sought, it will be sought again and again.
Our vision of leadership power and leadership advantage must die. Jesus’ life must form the life of a Christian leader. Not only does our leadership depend on it, so does our maturity in the life of Jesus.
Jesus distilled his leadership theology, leadership strategy, and leadership style in just two words…”Follow me.” Let us remind ourselves again and again that, “He must become greater; I must become less.” Let us take 80 steps down.