Some Simple (but not Simplistic) Summer Reading, part 2

As our country prepares for the presidential election, there will, no doubt, be a lot of conversation about leadership. For the next 5 months, there will be all kinds of talking heads talking about what kind of leadership qualities are necessary in a president.

But it’s not just the folks at the top who need to better understand, and live out, leadership. All of us could benefit from a better understanding of that. For true leadership isn’t about the leader, but the led. As the writer and pastor Eugene Peterson puts it, the leader should ask him/herself: “Who are these particular people, and how can I be with them in such a way that they can become what God is making them?”

To that end, let me commend to you two articles that help us see leadership, and those we lead, in a very helpful light. These articles come from Randy Gariss, who also wrote some helpful stuff on the personal element of faith. (In fact, I blogged about those last week; if you haven’t read those yet, let me encourage you to start with those two. You can find them here, and here.)

The first one on leadership, simply asks the question: How Should We Define Leadership? In this article, Randy Gariss gives us 3 models of leadership: The Storefront Model, The Foreman Model, and The Shepherd Model. All 3 are prevalent today, but only one is true, faithful leadership. I’ll bet you can guess which one; read the article, though, to find out why.

The second article also asks a question: How Do We Make Disciples Who Look Like Jesus? Whether you have a title or not is not the point – all of us should be leading someone. And if you are going to lead anyone, how is it done? The truth is, all of us who are followers of Jesus should be helping at least one person learn how to follow him, too. Randy offers a simple, but not simplistic, perspective on how that happens. Read it, and be encouraged to tune your life into the ways you can lead others.

So, four simple articles that, frankly, are foundations for much of what we who follow Jesus are called to become, and do. If, after reading these four, you’re ready for more, you can find more of Randy’s writings here.

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Leadership Lessons from George Washington

What does leadership look like? Is it posture, or position, or title? Well, those things can give you the role of leader, or the look of a leader, but none of those are leadership. If you have to tell people you are a leader, well … you’re probably not.

Interestingly enough, our country’s first great leader understood that. In fact, George Washington didn’t feel up to role he was asked to fill; he was reluctant to take on the title of Commander of the Continental Army. And maybe with good reason. As David McCullough writes in his book, 1776, when Washington took over command of the Continental Army, his only prior experience was in backwoods warfare – very different from what he would now be doing. When he took his new command, Washington had never led an army in battle, never before commanded anything larger than a regiment, and never directed a siege.

In his formal acceptance of the role, he told Congress: “I this day declare with utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I (am) honored with.” He wrote to his wife Martha that “far from seeking this appointment, I have used every endeavor in my power to avoid it…. It has been a kind of destiny that has thrown me upon this service” (David McCullough, 1776, page 49).

Washington’s first major engagement was the siege of Boston. Four times Washington called for an attack on Boston; four times his generals wisely said no (1776, page 87).

The Battle of Brooklyn was almost disastrous. Though Washington was a man of details, he let the Jamaica Pass stand unguarded. Only through a decisive retreat, aided by the cover of bad weather and fog, was Washington able to lead his army back until it could fight another day (1776, pages 193-94).

Later, Washington would mistakenly open a letter from one of his associates to another, where one of his generals questioned Washington’s indecision. Later, Washington would tell one of them, “I was hurt not because I thought my judgment wronged by the expressions contained in (the letter), but because the same sentiments were not communicated immediately to myself” (1776, pages 254-55).

What do we learn about leadership from those meaningful snippets of Washington’s life? Well, I’m sure some come immediately to your mind. Here are some that come to mine:

  1. None of us is ever really ready to assume the role of leadership. The arrogant leader is no leader. The humble leader is at least one step closer to understanding what leadership really is.
  2. Even on our best days, we are dependent on the wise counsel of others. True leaders never go it alone.
  3. Leaders understand the moment. They may not feel completely adequate to the task ahead, but they see the opportunity, and they have the courage and the faith to step into it.
  4. Which means, of course, that a good leader never stops listening and learning. True leadership is first good “listener-ship.”
  5. Which also means that a truly good leader learns from her mistakes. Good leaders aren’t the ones who don’t fail; they are the ones who know how to learn from those failures.
  6. Sometimes you need a little help you couldn’t have planned on – weather, an unexpected ally, or simply the grace of God. Of course, we always need the grace of God – but sometimes that grace shows up in surprising ways, like a foggy day.
  7. Good leaders don’t hold grudges. They deal with difficult issues and difficult people (sometimes decisively), but a good leader can learn even from his opponents.

Of course, George Washington would go on to learn, and grow, and become a strong General and our country’s first president. But much of that was because he knew how much he didn’t know – and he kept learning, and growing, and leading. And who knows where our country would be if he hadn’t?

Blogging the Bible – 4 Lessons from Judges

Is there a book anywhere else in the Bible that has as many interesting characters as we find in the book of Judges? There’s Eglon, a man so corpulent (to put it nicely) that he tended to lose things (inside himself). There’s Jael, who must have been an expert camper (read the story; you’ll understand). There’s “a sword for the Lord, and Gideon” – and the golden earrings that ended up being a snare to Gideon, his family, and all Israel.

There’s Abimelech, whose worst nightmare is dying at the hands of a woman (though he is taken out by one with great aim). There’s Jephthah, who makes a horrible vow – and still keeps it. There’s Ibzan, who had 30 sons – AND 30 daughters. He led Israel for 7 years, but I’m wondering: when did he have time? Then there is Samson; everyone knows Samson. Strong as an ox, but sometimes, you have to wonder if he’s also dumb as one, too.

And then there’s the odd and awful story of a Levite and his concubine – perhaps an indication of how low and detestable things had gotten during the time of the judges. As the book says as it ends, “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.”

So, what can we learn from the book of Judges – and all its interesting characters, and the interesting choices we see in its pages?

One: God uses a variety of people. He uses Gideon, despite his flaws. And Samson, despite his weaknesses. And in an age when there weren’t many women leaders, Deborah leads the people of Israel. She even gets her own song! So, if God used a variety of folks, don’t you think God can use you?

Two: Faithfulness doesn’t happen by accident. No one slouches into sanctification; we don’t just fall into faithful living. We see that so clearly in Judges. Like a yo-yo, the people of Israel seem to trust God when they need Him, and fall away when they don’t.

Faithfulness is a commitment to receive the love of God, and then intentionally live it out, day-by-day. Both are vital; and both must work together. As Paul says, “Work out your own salvation … for it is God who is at work in you….”

Three: We will always live in the midst of people who don’t live as we live; whose faith is not our faith. We shouldn’t be surprised, or annoyed, or offended that many in our culture don’t choose to live life as we do. Israel had this as a regular reality. Judges makes it clear that there were plenty of non-Hebrew people left in Canaan when Israel finally settled in. The people of God have always been surrounded by people who don’t follow God. Don’t let that be a reason to wring your hands or get upset; instead, let it be a call to be faithful, and to love those who don’t agree with you.

Four: Leadership matters. When Israel had good leadership, the tide turned, and they were able to see God more clearly, and trust God more fully. When leadership diminished, so did their faith.

Do you think the same is true today? Is leadership still as vital now as it was then? Good, humble, servant-hearted leadership always helps people become what they can’t — or won’t — be on their own. Good leadership does the hard work of pointing people to What matters, and to Who matters. So, Judges leads us to ask: who are you following? And who’s following you?