Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Imitable Leader

He who thinks he is leading and has no one following him is only taking a walk. African proverb

We all want to be inspirational leaders. But we are all called to be imitable leaders – those with a life and a character worth imitating. Hebrews 13 instructs us in this regard.  Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you, consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 
We are not called to imitate our leader’s personalities, or their idiosyncracies. That’s what I call an ‘imitation’ leader. We are called rather to imitate their faith, remember their words, and consider the outcome of their way of life.

Paul said, “Follow me as I follow the example of Christ.” This is a weighty thing to say. But this is the difference between a pastor and a disciple maker. A pastor can give good counsel, prayer and compassion, and this is all necessary. A disciple maker says, “Look at my life and do what I do.”

Every single one of us have areas of our life that are more imitable than others, and part of authentic disciple making is being honest about those tough areas and how we are applying the grace of God to them. People need to see our victories as well as our struggles. Being imitable doesn’t mean being superhuman. It should be a human in full view under the influence of the Spirit. This gives hope to people.  However, when authenticity is worn as "a badge of honor and trumps holiness,"(Brett McCracken) we miss the grace of God that teaches us to say no to ungodliness. In our struggles, people should be able to see not only our weakness, but our progress. (1 Tim 4:15)  Imitation infers transparency – a person is living in view of the follower, but also integrity – we are living what we preach and there is therefore something  worth following.

Rynelle and I recently learned to ski for our 20th Anniversary. Our friend Dan who used to be a ski instructor, patiently coached us on the beginners slopes, but by the end of the second day I felt like I was ready to do some real skiing. My first attempt on a ‘green slope’ was much harder than I thought, partly because it was steeper than I thought, but also because he was trying to find the easiest route down for me. It didn’t really work.  The next time we went down I said to him, “Just pick the best route and I will follow in your tracks as best I can.” That made all the difference. Even though it wasn’t the easiest route, I had confidence that it was the best route.” Leaders are those whose tracks others can follow.

Hebrews 13 gives us some of the important marks of a Christ follower, and then speaks to leaders about possessing these qualities for others to imitate.

1. Devotion. It is good for your hearts to be strengthened by grace. v 9
A disciple is by definition disciplined. Most Christian leaders fall over into either license of legalism. This passage warns against ritualistic legalism in worship, but points towards the grace of God that strengthens us to be disciplined worshippers. The Bible calls this ‘devotion.’ (Acts 2:42) It is a discipline of the heart as a response to God’s gift of grace. We applaud discipline in almost every arena of life except spiritual discipline which we quickly dismiss as legalism. Leaders are those who have embraced the grace of God that saves them and also strengthens them to be devoted followers of Jesus.
2. Consistency Jesus is the same, yesterday today and forever. v 8
We love to claim this verse as a promise about Jesus' faithfulness to us. It is that, but it is a promise in the context of leadership. “Remember your leaders, imitate their faith. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.”
It is both a promise and an appeal to leaders to be consistent like Jesus is consistent. Jesus is not a fair weather friend. If we are to lead people we need to learn to lead ourselves:  to learn composure in conflict, humility in criticism and to fight for joy in discouragement. Emotions are a wonderful servant but a cruel master and leaders need to learn to speak to their souls by the grace of God.
3. Generosity Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “never will I leave you or forsake you.” v 5
Isn’t it fascinating that the motivation for being free from the love of money is Jesus’ promise to be ever-present? I think that what the writer is saying is that money is a fickle and unsatisfying lover compared to Jesus. It will leave you as fast as it came to you. It will leave you wanting more. Jesus said that you cannot love both God and money, and loving God enables us to stay free from the love of money. Generosity is a massive marker of leadership, because it is a marker of our love for God. Where our treasure is there will our heart be. Every time we are generous, we are breaking ourselves free from the love of money, reminding ourselves that our possessions do not possess us. Consistent financial generosity to the local church in which a leader leads, is one of the truest measures of their love for that church.
4. Fidelity Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed be kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.v 4
In a county with a divorce rate of 72%, faithfulness to one partner for life is not only a biblical injunction; it is a radically counter-cultural quality. Because the church is a family, not a corporation, a healthy marriage and family are qualifiers for leadership in the family of God. Having led a church in which there was previous marital infidelity amongst the leadership, I have seen the damage it does to a church family. Within the context of the proliferation of pornography, the Scripture speaks against adultery but also against mental and emotional impurity, as measures of marital faithfulness.
5. Hospitality Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have entertained angels. v 2
The passage assumes that people are engaged in hospitality to the family of God, but exhorts them to remember to open their homes and hearts to strangers. This is the truest definition of hospitality –  a love for strangers. A leader models a life that is engaging those who are strangers to grace and strangers to the church. They are willing to embrace the discomfort of this, and are calling the people they lead to be on mission with them.
6. Mercy  Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. v 3
This quality speaks to both empathy and practical support for those who are suffering (particularly those suffering for the Gospel), but also connectivity with the universal Body of Christ, especially those who are in more hostile Gospel contexts. Leaders should have a growing sense of the strengths and challenges of their own cultures approach to Christianity, and be leading people to connect with other Christians who have different strengths and challenges.

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