There are so many great books on leadership. It’s a market in the literary realm that never seems to lose its demand.
And the leadership books in the Christian non-fiction genre are no exception; people want to glean all the information they can about how to be a leader so that they can influence people and change the world.
But what if becoming an incredible leader has nothing to do with pursuing leadership at all? What if the best leaders aren’t even really seeking to lead?
Leaders With Legacy
Moses was one of the greatest leaders in history. But he wasn’t seeking a leadership position when God called him. In fact, he was trying to convince God to change his mind and find someone else to do it (Exodus 4:13). God thrust him into leadership anyway, and was with him on the journey.
The same is true for Gideon, David, Esther, and Simon Peter, to name a few. They found themselves in leadership roles, and they were completely unqualified, by the world’s standards, to be there.
Joseph wasn’t seeking a leadership position, either. He had to go through hell on earth before his earthly success was realized. He went from the pit to the palace, with a lot of misery in between.
How did Joseph go from rags to riches, all before he was 30 years old? Was it because he had his 10-year plan perfectly in place? Was it because he was focused on the other leaders of his day who had what he wanted?
Or was it because of Genesis 39:2? “The LORD was with Joseph…”
God was guiding Joseph every step of the way. Joseph was just along for the ride, and God used him for His own purposes. And when Pharaoh placed his rings on Joseph’s fingers and gave him control of all of Egypt’s resources, Joseph honored God (Genesis 41:51-52). He didn’t try to take the glory for himself, He glorified God with his lips.
Sometimes it feels like it’s most difficult to praise God in the depths of the pit. But the real test is: will we praise Him from the heights of the palace?
Later on in Joseph’s story, when his brothers needed his help, he didn’t lord his power and position over them. He didn’t seek vengeance for how they had afflicted him. He took care of them, was kind to them, and received them with gladness.
Most importantly, he saw the purpose of all of the suffering he had endured, and shared it with them.
“So now it was not you who sent me here, but God: And He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 45:8).
Even after Joseph showed his brothers that he had forgiven them, they still couldn’t believe it. It was so otherworldly. They were cautious, wondering if it was all a trick, and continued to beg him for mercy, which led Joseph to say “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God?”
And then he spoke what became one of the most powerful verses in the Bible, Genesis 50:20:
“But as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”
The story of Joseph ends with him living out his life to old age, passing away, and leaving behind a beautiful legacy. But I believe, had Joseph fallen into ruins again, He would have taken it in stride and sought the purpose in it. He wasn’t seeking riches or power, He was seeking God.
There are so many Biblical examples of what it looks like to lead well. God wants to raise up leaders, but He isn’t looking for people who have lofty dreams of ruling people, for the sake of ruling. He wants humble servants. He wants people who seek good and God in every situation.
The Best Leaders Among Us
The Bible shows us time and again that the best leaders are the people who will do the right thing, no matter how unpopular it may be. They stay the course, even when no one is giving them praise or glory. They see their position in leadership as a weighty responsibility, not just a platform from which to do good works. They are willing to stand for the truth, for the unrepresented, for the oppressed, come what may.
Queen Esther chose to do the right thing at the risk of her own life, saying, “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16).
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood up to King Nebuchadnezzar before they were going to be thrown in the fiery furnace for not worshiping an idol. They said, “God is able to deliver us. And even if He doesn’t, we won’t worship your gold image” (Daniel 3:17-18).
Leadership is about so much more than having followers, influencing people, and changing the world.
And it’s not about our fancy titles. It’s not about our bank accounts. Worldly success is not a barometer for being a good leader. There are just as many (probably MORE) great leaders in the tiny church on the corner, or the at the mom-and-pop flower shop downtown, as there are in offices on Capitol Hill or in mansions on Martha’s Vineyard.
There is so much truth in the saying “God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called.” God wants people from whom He will receive the most glory for Himself. If Moses could have led the Israelites all on his own merit, efforts, and experience, what would he have needed God’s help for?
God, of course, will still use the people with the most worldly success, the most experience, and the most accolades. But he doesn’t concern Himself with our superficial labels. He looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
The World’s Greatest Leader
Is it any surprise that Jesus was the best leader that ever existed on this planet?
He was the firstborn of many brothers (Romans 8:29). He came before; He was before all things (John 1:2). He showed us the way (John 14:6).
How did he lead? In truth, with boldness, and authority. With kindness, grace and humility.
Jesus didn’t care if there were two people to hear his sermons, or 2,000. In fact, not only was he not impressed by the multitudes, he made it clear that we should be careful not to judge a ministry by its popularity alone (Matthew 8:18, John 6:66).
Jesus Christ was the leader that no other human has been, or will be. He was the priest, prophet, and king that all the wealthy kings, wise prophets, and holy priests before Him couldn’t be (Revelation 9:16, Luke 7:16, Hebrews 7:15).
And though Jesus no longer walks among us, Who guides us into all truth? The Holy Spirit does (John 16:13).
It should be no shock to us that the God of the Universe is the best leader there is.
How to be a Great Leader
We can read many great books on leadership. They are interesting, they are informative, they give us real world examples of what great leadership looks like. There’s nothing wrong with reading books on leadership, studying the traits of a good leader, gleaning all the information we can. Everything in this life is an opportunity to learn.
And there’s nothing wrong with having big dreams to glorify God, Joseph had them (Genesis 37:5). Or wanting to be put in the service of the Lord, as the prophet Isaiah wanted to be (Isaiah 6:8).
But what if being a great leader is actually just about being a faithful follower?
The best leaders know how to truly submit to leadership in humility.
And aren’t we bound to be exceptional leaders when we are following the greatest Leader of all time?
Jesus was here with us for a short time. There were many purposes for Jesus’ earthly ministry, most of all, to provide the sacrifice for sin that no other human or animal could provide. But another purpose of Jesus’ ministry was to show us how to live, and how to lead.
Jesus’ earthly ministry is recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The lessons in leadership in these books are many.
But let’s not forget that the Holy Spirit of God, the Counselor who came to teach us more about what Jesus taught while He was on earth, is with us now. The Old Testament leaders didn’t have Him in the same way that we do. Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would be even better than Him walking on earth among them (John 16:7). Do we even realize how incredible The Holy Spirit is?
Leading from Our Knees
As Christians, we aren’t naive: there are plenty of leaders who don’t love God, and don’t follow Him, who do not care one iota about what He thinks. They make it to the top, they achieve worldly success, they get people to follow them, and they change the world.
But oftentimes their legacy is marred by how they actually treated people behind the scenes, how they crushed others beneath them as they made their way to the top. And then, of course, they still do not live on this earth forever. They cannot take their status, riches, or title with them to the grave and the hereafter. They “have received their reward.” This form of leadership is nothing for us to aspire to.
In contrast, the greatest leaders of all time will give the glory to the One who led them. They will reach hands out to bring others with them on their path to the heights. They will lead with a humble heart, considering the school janitor just as important and valuable as the Supreme Court judge.
The greatest leaders of all time will be led by the One Who loved us first and leads us, still.