Lent: Christian Leadership – Humility is Critical

No man appears in safety before the public eye unless he first relishes obscurity. No man is safe in speaking unless he loves to be silent. No man rules safely unless he is willing to be ruled. No man commands safely unless he has learned well how to obey. No man rejoices safely unless he has within him the testimony of a good conscience.
— Thomas á Kempis

Written centuries ago, the sentiment still holds true today. God opposes the proud and exalts those who don’t puff themselves up (see Proverb 3:34 and 1 Peter 5:5)

It’s a bit of a concern that so many of the “big name” preachers are so high profile. Some of them are, admittedly, from very humble beginnings. Others give their testimony and demonstrate that they are not acting as independent ministers outside authority so they testify that they are under the authority of a local pastor.

As á Kempis noted, unless you can sit under authority, you should not be in a position of leadership. We are all accountab;e to each other, and it’s been refreshing to see the actions of the current Pope, Francis, in his humility and a genuine return to accountability and Holiness in the office, losing the pomp and ceremony in favour of humility and acknowledgement of Jesus’s redemptive power in his life.

Compare the attitude with that of prominent polititians. In South Africa, Jacob Zuma’s arrogance is second only to that of his neighbour, Robert Mugabe. British Prime Ministers, American Presidents. Most leaders display these megalomaniacal tendencies and place their own ego above all else. The days of the humility in leadership shown by the likes of Nelson Mandela and even Winston Churchill seem to be a thing of the past, to the detriment of society as a whole.

Jesus came washing His disciples feet when He could have called on a legion of angels to back Him up. He touched lepers, addressed women as equals and didn’t discriminate against anyone. He spoke freely and gently to anyone – including the pharisees like Nicodemus – who would seek Him with their hearts, but even Jesus declared Himself to be accountable to one higher – His Father.

He needs to be the example of a Christian Leader. Yet so many pseudo-charismatic leaders in Christianity pump themselves and their own image up. Self-named ministries abound, almost guaranteeing that if the leader were to die the ministry will cease to exist. Obviously there are exceptions to this, the most obvious being Billy Graham, where the leaders are humbe men who are known for their humility. But too often these leaders use emotion and manipulation to increase their power. People flock to hand over money to them as a “tithe” or an “offering”.

Now don’t get me wrong. I consider myself to be charismatic (to a degree) in my outlook. But I won’t try to play on emotions for profit. I hate when people have tried to label me in the past with a particular gift as a title. These people who call themselves “Pastor Bob” or “Prophet Jim” or “Apostle Harry” or whatever their gift may (or may not) be have their reward already. I’d rather be simply “David”. I don’t want accolades and titles. I see no point in them. If you have to tell people you’re a prophet or whatever your claim is, you probably aren’t. I have moved in prophecy, word of knowledge, healing, and many other gifts, but I detest the idea of someone classifying me as a particular “type” of preacher as I believe there’s more than one facet to my role in the Church. By labelling someone as a “Healing Minister” you run the risk of other messages being missed or rejected by the listeners.

Humility is essential in a leader. We need to be able to say “This is who God says I am: no more and no less”. There’s humility in acknowledging a gift you know that you move in. For years – over 2 decades – I refused to acknowledge that God had placed a prophetic gift in me, playing it down and minimising it until a local minister of a small congregation spoke to me alone one day and told me I was dishonouring God by belittling what He had placed in me. I realised he was right – it resonated in my heart as true. I’d been guilty of pride in the form of false humility, which had meant others had kept puffing me up.

It hurt to recognise it. It was hard to repent of it. I still fall into it.

God opposes the proud. The proud include the ones who make themselves out to be unworthy as well as the ones who make themselves out to be more than they are.

We walk a fine line. Jesus holds us straight on it, but He won’t stop us veering off it. The good news is He’ll wait for us to come back and then help us walk the line again. Just as He did when Peter denied Him. Or when he walked on the sea towards Jesus and took his eyes off Him.

Jesus leads by example. He calls us to do the same. After Pentecost the disciples understood that, finally. They recognised they needed to look for people who were anointed to perform certain tasks within the Body and not to abandon their own call or micro-manage others. Leaders were men and women, as can be seen in Paul’s letters where he addresses the mother and Grandmother of Timothy and the church meeting in various people’s homes in others. When Paul says he won’t allow women to have authority over a man, he was not being sexist. He was acknowledging God putting the husband as the head of the home and making the likeness. He would have known well about Deborah, Rahab, Bathsheba, Esther and the other strong women who led Israel at various times during it’s history. But he would also have been aware that women at the time of writing were often not educated in the Roman Empire. QWhen he writes they should be silent in church, he was more likely referring to the constant asking of questions rather than gossip, which people have suggested. His call for wives to submit to their husbands is tame when taken in the context of a husband’s responsibility to give himself for his wife, to the point of laying down his life for her as Jesus did for His Bride – the Church.

Paul’s own leadership was an example. Although he could have been a first-century equivalent of a televangelist and pulled on emotions to get donations and had a Rolls-Royce donkey or a Cadillac carriage and Armani togas. But instead he chose to make tents. He even begged places to stop giving when they begged to give. That kind of integrity is what the Church and the World needs in a leader. Again, Francis has hit the nail on the head by his lifestyle. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela saw his salary and was horrified at the amount – he believed it to be too much. There would never have been the kind of money-grabbing or power-mongering behaviour from a man of his calibre that we see in other world leaders today. Or Christian leaders.

I don’t think Paul would have recognised a megachurch as a realistic place for intimate Christianity based on relationship to flourish. I’m not attacking megachurches, there’s a place for them as long as within the structure there is a place for an intimate group, platoons of no more than 10 people who live in each other’s lives and are accountable to one another.

I’ve been in churches where the “cell-group” mentality has been used well, and some where I found it exasperating. In some the leaders felt the groups should be shaken up every six months or so – which would be fine except it prevents real depth of knowledge of one another. Others where the groups had been the same people for years and new members to the church couldn’t break into the clique. The balance needs to be maintained. And that balance needs to be kept by the pastor
overseeing the church as a whole – who should himself be a member, rather than a leader, of a small home group. If a man cannot follow, he should not lead.

It all comes back to humility. Moses is described at one point as the humblest man in Israel. And Moses wrote the book in which the accolade is recorded. It’s not proud or boastful to declare yourself to be what God says you are. But it is to make out yourself to be more or less than His description of you.

For me – like most – it’s a work in progress. Just ask my wife! I have days where I get it right, and days where she stays out of my way. I tend to not like the latter part of me. Neither does she. It’s a part I have to work on.

Finally, a thought to bear in mind. All of us are leaders. We have people who follow us and who we influence. Leadership is not a title necessarily. A Leader in Christianity is anyone who is emulated and respected as an example of behaviour – irrespective of title or position in the local establishment. I have enjoyed the wisdom of some amazing men of God (and women of God) since I chose to follow Jesus in 1985. Some of them were ordained ministers, but most were lay people who simply had a close relationship with Jesus. One of the wisest was a farmer who lived in the middle of the moors in Devon. He was in his 70s and still working his land, praying and talking to God all day, every day. When he spoke, you could feel the Holy Spirit in him. When he prayed his words were few and filled with almost unbearable power. He spoke little at the meetings I went to, but when he did everyone was silent until he finished because the depth of his relationship gave him a genuine humility and holiness I’ve never met in any other individual. Yet he was, in his own words, just a farmer who loved his Saviour and allowed his Saviour to love him back on His terms, not his human conditions.

Ultimately, that’s the key.

Be humble enough to accept what God says you are and not make more or less of it. Be honest enough to recognise your limitations and your strengths.

And remember: Whether you know it or not, someone is following you. You are a Christian Leader simply by being a Christian.

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