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These are draft notes for a sermon at a men’s breakfast at Calvary Bible Church in Burbank, CA. My assigned title was “Johnny Can’t Lead.”

          A leader is one who moves others to action. One type of leader looks like the man driving sled pulled by dogs. He stands at the back, holds onto the sled and drives the dogs on.  Another type of leader looks like a shepherd who walks before the sheep, leading them through dry and dangerous land, protecting them and caring for them when they stop.

          To race sled dogs through Alaska is crazy brave and difficult work. It is good and right lead dogs from a sled. But if you are looking to lead a family or congregation, the sled-driver presents the wrong picture. To merely note the obvious, People are not dogs.

          To lead a family, to lead a small group, to lead congregation requires very different skills.  The Christian leader, the spiritual leader must be one who leads like a shepherd.

          There is a third type of leader: one who doesn’t lead at all. He may have the position. He may a leader’s title, but he is not leader. He occupies space. He may like to be called “leader”. He may take some of the perceived benefits of leadership, but he is no leader. He occasionally make the demands of a sled dog racer, but he has not led. He may try to manipulate and plead and whine and ask to be protected, but he is no leader.

          I have seen all three types of men in work, in families, in churches.  I have known elders and pastors who are tyrants and bullies. I have known elders and pastors who were weak and ineffective. Those are both easy marks to hit. There are far fewer who actually lead in a godly manner.

          Now no man, aside from Christ, has ever consistently led as a true undershepherd. Moses became angry and struck the rock. David became lazy and self-centered and took another man’s wife.  Solomon wallowed in luxury only to wallow in idolatry. 

          Some men began well but ended poorly such as Joash, King of Judah. 2 Chronicles 24:2 tells us that “Joash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all the days of Jehoida the priest.” Yet, after Jehoida died, Joash listened to “the princes of Judah” (2 Chronicles 24:17). Then Joash fell into idolatry.

          Other men never used their leadership well.  Solomon’s son Rehoboam was so foolish that he lost ten of the 12 tribes in a single day. Other men such as Jeroboam used their leadership to plunge an entire people into idolatry. Jeroboam raised golden calves at Bethel and Dan  (1 Kings 213:25-33). He for centuries corrupted the worship of Israel.

          And some men grew in leadership over time. Peter was a natural leader in many ways, but foolish and impetuous. He failed miserably on the night of Christ’s betrayal. But shortly thereafter, the Spirit worked upon Peter’s natural gifts and Peter became a leader of the Church. Later we see James as perhaps the most important leader in the early church. James who had some time before had rejected Christ. And, of course, we may look to the Apostle Paul as great leader: a man who turned from a persecutor of the church to perhaps the greatest evangelist ever.

What I mean by “leadership.”

          A leader is not defined by a title: plenty of men have the title but lack the ability. Even if you have the title of a leader and the responsibility of a leader, you may still not be a leader.  Thus, leadership is not a title.

          One is not a leader if no one follows. By definition a leader leads others. If you look behind you and no one follows you are not leading.

          Now here is a more subtle matter for the Christian. Most of know Jesus’ admonition to the disciples:

42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. Mark 10:42–44 (ESV)

Thus, while leadership requires the work of a servant, we must not conclude that a servant is necessarily a leader. John MacArthur explains:

So while it is certainly true that leadership demands a servant’s heart, it is by no means the case that everyone with a servant’s heart is thereby a leader. There’s far more to leadership than that.[1]

A leader is one who leads, one who influences others to follow after him. 

          Think of Jesus.  John 1:37 records the first instance of the disciples of Jesus.  The text says when they knew who he was, “they followed Jesus.”  Jesus was such a powerful leader, that the first men who followed him ran brought others to see Jesus and follow him.  In John 11, Thomas called the other disciples after Jesus, “Let us also go that we may die with him” (John 11:16).  Jesus was a leader because others followed him.

Our Leadership Derives from Jesus’ Leadership

          The Christian leader, the godly husband, the Sunday school teacher, the small group leader, the pastor all have a single job – not to gain followers for themselves. We are permitted only to lead others after Christ.

          I want to prove that point from a few texts. First, turn to Matthew 28 and we will take a look at the Great Commission. Here we find the marching orders for the church. Beginning in verse 18 we read:

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18–20 (ESV)

          First observation: Look at the middle of verse 18: “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” There we see that God has delegated all authority to the Incarnate, Glorified Son. Jesus has all authority. That means that any exercise of authority which is contrary to Jesus is rebellion against the King.

          Second observation: Jesus has given a command that we are make disciples who follow after Jesus. A disciple is one who learns, imitates, and follows a master. We have been given a task to make disciples, that is, to train others to follow Jesus. Look at the end of verse 19:

teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

Jesus has all authority. He has given a command to teach others to follow him. There is our responsibility.

Next text. Turn to Colossians 3:18:

18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Colossians 3:18 (ESV)

The wife is not obligated to submit to her husband in everything. The wife’s responsibility extends only to the boundaries established by Christ. The wife is not to ultimately follow her husband. Her true allegiance is to Jesus. We could look to Ephesians 5:25-27 where Paul shows that the husband is to lead his wife to Christ. The marriage is thus a discipleship relationship.

          Now, look at Ephesians 6:4:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4 (ESV)

That language sounds an echo of the command of Jesus in Matthew 28. Fathers teach your children to follow Christ.

          So there is a leadership of a father and husband: every father and every husband has the responsibility of leadership. That doesn’t make a you leader, it just means that he has the responsibility for leadership in his home. But what is the shape of that leadership? It is a matter of discipleship. You have the job to teach your wife and children to follow Jesus. You do this by means of instruction and by means of example.

          Let us look to the contrary element: those who use leadership to damage. Turn to Acts 20:28. In this text, Paul is addressing some number of elders from the Ephesian church. He warns them as follows:

28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Acts 20:28–30 (ESV)

Paul warns the elders to protect the flock which belongs to Jesus. He warns that men will come into the congregation. He calls these men “fierce wolves” or savage wolves.  The mark of these men will be that they “draw away the disciples after them.”

          The primary point of this passage is to warn the elders to watch out for false teachers. However, there is a secondary application. Any man who leads another person in any direction other than after Jesus is a man who is peeling a lamb off from the flock. You may not be starting a cult, but you may be drawing your wife and children away from Christ. I don’t want to make more of the text than warranted; but I do not want to even imitate the damage of the false teacher.

          One more text to make this abundantly clear. Turn to 1 Corinthians 11:1; we will begin reading in 1 Corinthians 10:31 to gain some context:

31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

11 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:31–11:1 (ESV)

Look there at the end: Paul calls for the Corinthians to follow him, because he is following Christ. If you want to be a true godly, spiritual leader; then you must understand that your job is to follow Christ and lead others to do the same.

The Conviction of a Leader

          Albert Mohler in his book The Conviction to Lead explains that Christian leadership derives from the leader’s conviction. The leader is taken by convictions and then transmits those convictions to others.

          I want to let Mohler unpack the idea a bit and then I want to show this to you the passage we have seen in 1 Corinthians. Dr. Mohler explains:

The command to believe is central to the Bible. Christianity is founded upon certain nonnegotiable truths, and these truths, once known, are translated into beliefs. The beliefs that anchor our faith are those to which we are passionately and personally committed, and these are our convictions….Put simply, a conviction is a belief of which we are thoroughly convinced. …we are convinced this truth is essential and life changing. We live out of this truth and are willing to die for it. (22).

The Christian story becomes the bedrock and basis of our understanding about the world. He continues:

But we do know these things, and these most powerful of all truths take possession of us and begin to rule in our thinking. While this is true of all Christians, the full strength of conviction is what sets the Christian leader apart. These convictions are the very essence of Christian leadership, and it has always been this way. 23

He then gives us an example of leadership:

Justin Martyr, one of the leaders of the early church, also serves as a portrait of convictional leadership. Leading members of his own congregation to their mutual execution at the hands of the Roman authorities, Justin encouraged his people with these words, written to the Roman emperor Antonius Pius: “You can kill us, but you cannot harm us.”

That is authentic leadership in its clearest form—the willingness of people to die for their beliefs, know that Christ will vindicate them and given them the gift of eternal life….We know these things to be so true that we are willing to live for them, lead for them and if necessary to die for them. 23-24.

Justin Martyr knew for such a certainty that the story of Christ was true that he gave his own life for the story. He held the story with such great confidence, that he lead others to follow him to martyrdom. You see both his service and his leading. I know few leaders who could lead with such confidence and surety that others would be emboldened to stand in the face of death.

          Let me give you another example from the life of John Bunyan. Bunyan knew that he faced arrest for preaching without a license. He knew that men had come to arrest him on a particular day at a particular meeting. He was warned not to enter into the house lest he be arrested.  Here is how Edmund Venables describes the scene in his biography of Bunyan:

The time fixed for the service not being yet come, Bunyan went into the meadow by the house, and pacing up and down thought the question well out. [Bunyan explained:]

“If he who had up to this time showed himself hearty and courageous in his preaching, and had made it his business to encourage others, were now to run and make an escape, it would be of an ill savour in the country. If he were now to flee because there was a warrant out for him, would not the weak and newly-converted brethren be afraid to stand when great words only were spoken to them. God had, in His mercy, chosen him to go on the forlorn hope; to be the first to be opposed for the gospel; what a discouragement it must be to the whole body if he were to fly. No, he would never by any cowardliness of his give occasion to the enemy to blaspheme the gospel.”

So back to the house he came with his mind made up. He had come to hold the meeting, and hold the meeting he would. He was not conscious of saying or doing any evil. If he had to suffer it was the Lord’s will, and he was prepared for it. He had a full hour before him to escape if he had been so minded, but he was resolved “not to go away.” He calmly waited for the time fixed for the brethren to assemble, and then, without hurry or any show of alarm, he opened the meeting in the usual manner, with prayer for God’s blessing. He had given out his text, the brethren had just opened their Bibles and Bunyan was beginning to preach, when the arrival of the constable with the warrant put an end to the exercise. Bunyan requested to be allowed to say a few parting words of encouragement to the terrified flock. This was granted, and he comforted the little company with the reflection that it was a mercy to suffer in so good a cause; and that it was better to be the persecuted than the persecutors; better to suffer as Christians than as thieves or murderers. The constable and the justice’s servant soon growing weary of listening to Bunyan’s exhortations, interrupted him and “would not be quiet till they had him away” from the house.

I could give you example after example of such leadership, for the history of the Christian church is the history of many such leaders.

          What then drives such convictional leadership? Look again at the text from 1 Corinthians 10:

31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

Paul was taken by an idea; Paul had a conviction: do all to the glory of God. That idea drove Paul’s  conduct. Look again at verse 33:

just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved

He works for the purpose that God be glorified so that others may be saved.  That act of justification is the first step in the process of discipleship. We proclaim the Gospel. It is heard, believed and the one who believes receives the grace of God. Thus, begins the work of discipleship.

Next see that Paul’s convictions lead him to service:

not seeking my own advantage

It’s there in the middle of verse 33. Paul does not seek his personal advantage, he seeks the good of others. And that good is to give glory to God.  Paul, having explained how he seeks to lead unbelievers – by leading them to Christ – now turns to the Corinthians believers and tells them to likewise follow him as he follows Christ:

11 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1 (ESV)

You see here that leadership is an act of deliberate discipleship. Such leadership derives from a deeply held conviction of the truth and power of the Gospel:

Convictional leaders propel action precisely because they are driven by deep convictions, and their passion for these convictions is transferred to followers who join in concerted action to do what they know to be right. Mohler, 26.

 

The Church Needs Leaders

          Leadership in some ways is not negotiable. Every Christian has some sphere in which they must lead. Every mother must lead her children. Every father and husband must lead his family. We may abdicate our responsibility; we may lead poorly. But we all must in some manner.

          As you have seen the proclamation of the Gospel to an unbeliever is an act of leadership. In Spiritual Leadership, J. Oswald Sanders sets out the picture of leadership as follows:

True greatness, true leadership is found in giving yourself in service to others, not in coaxing or inducing others to serve you. True service is never without cost. Often it domes with a painful baptism of suffering. But the true spiritual leader is focused on the service he and she can render to God and other people, not on the residuals and perks of high office or holy title. We must aim to put more into life than we take out. (15)

Although true spiritual leaders are true, they are necessary for the good of the church:

Churches grow in every way when they are guided by strong, spiritual leaders with the touch of the supernatural radiating in their service. The church sinks into confusion and malaise without such leadership. 18

          When one considers the Christian church broadly, it is plain that the church has few leaders who are so taken by the conviction of the Gospel that they draw others along behind them toward Christ. There are plenty of men and women who do something—often something good, but to call them leaders would be to overstate the case. When you hold up their example to men such as Justin Martyr or John Bunyan you can’t imagine them as men who could lead you into prison or death.

          Before you point to hard at church leaders, look to your own homes. Would your children or wife trust you to lead them anywhere?

          And, if our families will follow some distance, or perhaps some in the church will follow us a bit, we soon find that they wander off and do follow us further.  Sanders explains the problem:

We can lead others only as far along the road as we ourselves have traveled (28).

Too many Churches are led by men who cannot lead. They may have activity and noise and money and attendance and festivities and activities, but they are not going somewhere.  True leadership leads to a sight of Christ.

What Shall We Do?

          There is a great deal which I have not discussed. I have not discussed the mechanics of leadership. I have not spoken about how to lead.  I have only told you a bit about what a leader is: A godly leader is a man who follows Christ and brings us to follow along, too.

          Here is what I can do for you.  I can encourage you to follow hard after Christ. You do this first by knowing the Scripture:

Your word is a lamp to my feet

And a light to my path.  Psalm 119:105.

 

          You can do no following until you get your feet on the path. You do this by reading, studying, meditating.  You turn your knowledge in prayer and desires. Your turn your prayer into action, into obedience.  You must first have a heart which is fired by a passion and sight of the glory of God in Jesus Christ. That passion then spills out. Christians are built to desire to see Christ and follow Christ. Christians want to follow a man who radiates Christ and who can lead us to see Christ, also.

          When you look at Acts 4:42-47, you see the picture of a church on fire, a church with fellowship, worship, praise, study, evangelism. How did that happen? The apostles taught the people with such clarity that the Christ was brilliant among them. The Holy Spirit used the words to transform the hearts of those who heard. And here was the key, the people of the Church had a sense of awe.

Conclusion

          Christian leadership first takes place in the leader’s heart. He has a sight of Christ, a sense of awe before the wonder of the King. He translates that to others and shows them the way. The Holy Spirit will use and improve the natural gifts of a man to make a better and more effective leader, but in the end it is not the man’s ability alone. The Spirit uses the man’s abilities, but those abilities are raised and transformed and submitted to the glory of God in Jesus Christ.

          The true Christian leader spends himself willingly for others, because he sees Christ so brilliantly before him.

          Think of it: Hebrews 2:10 calls Jesus the “one who goes first”. Jesus is the pioneer, the author, the founder: Jesus has cut a path through this world that runs through death and to a kingdom of light and love and eternal life. Jesus has led us out of this present evil age. 

          There is a path through this world, but this way is often difficult to see. More than that, the path is dangerous. David called it the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  There are thieves and lions lurking along the way. There are wolves and traps which may end us at every moment.

          But God in his grace and mercy has appointed that there should be guides, leaders to help the people along the way.  When we fail to lead in the space which God has appointed to us, we have left the people vulnerable. We have all been called to protect someone, but we too often fail to do so.

          When Christ comes to see our families, our groups, our congregation will he see safe and glorious sheep, or will his view be more that seen by the Savior as recorded in Matthew 9:36

36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36 (ESV)


[1] Called to Lead, paperback, vi.