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Four Faces of a Leader

By H. Robert Rhoden With Dean Merrill


Illustration by Gary Locke

Four Faces of a Leader speaks not only to where you are as a leader, it will summon you to a leadership journey that can potentially move you from simple survival … to success … and on to significance.

How do you know if you are an effective Christian leader? If you are like most in ministry, you first check attendance. “How many are coming on Sunday morning?” “What’s my percentage of increase compared to last year?”

Next, you look at your church’s financial record. “Are all the bills paid? Have we stayed on budget? Will the fiscal year end in the black?”

What if I measured myself by standards that told the real truth? Am I passionate about holding true to my original calling? Am I regularly doing acts of practical service? How good am I at casting vision and bringing about necessary change? These tell much more than a weekly head count or dollar total.

The Library of Congress has some 32 million books. Which world leader commands the most shelf space? George Washington? Abraham Lincoln? This may surprise you, but this auspicious place holds more books about Jesus Christ than any other person.

This confirms my inclination to use Jesus as a benchmark for effective leadership. In just 33 years, He accomplished more that has lasted longer with greater impact and wider reach than any leader in history. How did He do it?

In this article, I explore the four leadership faces of Jesus — the shepherd, the servant, the steward, and the seer. I summon you to a leadership journey that can potentially move you from simple survival … to success … and on to significance.

THE FACE OF A SHEPHERD

Jesus viewed himself as a shepherd (Greek: poimēn). He knew what He was called to do. The true shepherd focuses on the sheep (John 10). The sheep’s potential is the shepherd’s sole mission. The true shepherd stays with this mission rather than looking for ways to advance his or her personal career.

The Calling

To be an effective Christian leader, we must function within the borders of our calling. The point is not to move up some ladder; it is to fulfill what God has ordained for us.

Psalm 78:70–72 describes our calling. We are shepherds. We watch over groups of not-always-bright, not-always-strong creatures. We take care of them, providing what they need to become what God meant them to be.

This is not a glamorous job. It doesn’t put us among the elites. So why do we do it? Because it’s our calling. Like David, we seek to do our work “with integrity of heart” — an undivided heart.

The phrase “skillful hands” (verse 72) is about knowing what to do. We learn some skills, while other skills are intuitive. Effective leaders have both learned skills and intuitive decision-making insights that accrue over time.

There are challenges in ministry. There are cantankerous sheep that won’t follow directions, who get into the mud, who even bite. But we must shepherd them. Why? Because God has entrusted them to us. God commended them to our care. They are His sheep, not ours. They need a caregiver.

A calling or a career? Christ “gave … pastors … to equip his people for works of service” (Ephesians 4:11,12). Paul used the Greek word poimēn — “shepherds” or “feeders.” Jesus called himself “the good shepherd” in John 10:11 and this entailed “lay[ing] down his life for the sheep.” No claim of privilege, no angling for an easier way out. The Son of God freely took up His calling as the Shepherd.

If we are career-motivated, we will not focus on the sheep; we will be too busy looking for what will advance our career. A call-motivation responds to the Chief Shepherd, “Lord, I want to be where You want me to be. I will focus on the sheep You’ve called me to.”

Calling is not about who has the bigger flock. It is about knowing God’s assignment and willingly embracing it.

My first commitment as a leader must be to value the face of a shepherd. The extent to which I am a devoted shepherd has a lot to do with my effectiveness.

What Shepherds Do

The shepherd metaphor has a long history in Scripture. But we need to get down to specifics on what it entails. Four tasks come to mind:

Feeding. Shepherds feed the flock. They search out the right pastures. They find fresh water. They nurture their growth.

Providing the congregation’s nutrition is our primary job. Our people are looking for fresh, nourishing food. They want to know, Do you have a word from the Lord for me?

Adding Value. Shepherds seek to add value to their flock, to bring them into a healthy state, to guide them toward maturity (Ephesians 4:12–15). If sheep are healthy, they will reproduce. They will bring new lambs into the world. This is the kind of value shepherds seek to add to their flock. This doesn’t happen all at once; it is a process.

Bonding. Shepherds do not just treat a sheep’s occasional illness, like a veterinarian, and then jump back in their pickup truck to drive away. They live with their sheep. Jesus said, “I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10:14).

People want someone to hear their worries and also their joys. To the members of a flock, the pastor’s support is spelled p-r-e-s-e-n-c-e. How can we lead the sheep if we are not with them?

Bonding with the sheep is a central part of our calling to be shepherds. This is not just a technique; it is a lifestyle.

Protecting. The final thing shepherds do is create a safe place for their sheep. If people are afraid of how the pastor will react to them … or how he will speak about them behind their back … they will not feel safe. If a minister is flirtatious or sarcastic, people will question his or her sincerity.

When religious fads come, the wise shepherd keeps the people from chasing tangents. Pastors also need to manage certain excesses. The congregation needs to know that their pastor will guide things appropriately.

When there is disruption or dissension in the fellowship, you cannot shrug and walk away.

Sacrifices of a Shepherd

Nobody said that shepherds have a soft life. If you make a list of the hardships ministry entails, you quickly identify with Paul’s list in 2 Corinthians 4:8–11. Our list as modern-day shepherds:

Long (and odd) hours. Ministry is not a 9-to-5 job. It involves nights and weekends, with emergencies coming at all hours. Ministry is an irregular lifestyle. It always will be.

Isolation. Long hours are worsened by the fact a shepherd works in relative isolation. With 84 percent of American churches being under 200 in attendance, the majority of pastors have a limited team.

Low pay. The average evangelical pastor in America earns $38,000 a year. Hard work in the ministry doesn’t necessarily get you a raise.

Constant availability. The sheep need you when they need you. The fact you are on vacation, or sound asleep, is beside the point.

Limited privacy. Closely related to availability is the fact ministers have limited privacy. You are a public figure. Your life and activities are on display. So are your spouse and children.

High expectations (even perfection). Sheep expect shepherds to know what they are doing, to make good decisions, to keep their word, to act honorably.

When people trust us and follow us, they are affirming our call. They are saying that we have earned the place of leadership.

Negative feedback. When we fall short — or even when we don’t — those who watch us are quick to say so. Being in the ministry is not always popular.

THE FACE OF A SERVANT

Jesus called himself a servant(Greek: doulos). This part of Christian work has to do with character. To possess a humble character will not by itself qualify you for the ministry — but the lack of it will torpedo what you hope to do in ministry.

Strange Combination

The words servant leader is a jolting phrase, an oxymoron. These words do not fit together. In the past, leaders were the top dog.

In 1970, Robert K. Greenleaf, a well-respected business thinker, published his essay “The Servant as Leader.” Greenleaf, however, didn’t invent this idea. It goes back 2,000 years to the iconoclastic Rabbi who said to His followers: “ ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ ”(Mark 10:42–45).

We can assume that Jesus’ listeners didn’t fully get His point, at least by the way they reacted at the Passover meal. The borrowed room they were using did not come with a servant to wash everyone’s dusty feet. And none of them was about to volunteer. So their leader — the Son of God — did (John 13:4,5).

When Jesus finished, He asked: “Do you understand what I have done for you?” (verse 12).

Unspoken answer: Not really. So He spelled it out: “ ‘You call me “Teacher” and “Lord,” and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them’ ” (verses 13–17).

What a bold instruction. Jesus was not just putting on an act; He meant for this behavior to continue in the lives of His disciples.

Who is worth following? Insecure people have trouble being servants. They worry they will get walked on. The lack of servanthood, however, has a way of torpedoing leadership. People do not respect stuffed shirts. They warm up instead to those who are willing to get their hands wet, dirty, or calloused.

Jesus walked among ordinary people. Some wanted to crown Him, but He kept placing himself on ground level, tending to their practical needs for food, companionship, a gentle touch. He expects the same of us.

Getting Practical

So how do we practice servant leadership? The key is to focus our attention on people and mission (purpose) as opposed to systems. Systems and structures are important, but they are not what Jesus died for.

Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 12:22,23, that “the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.” We confuse prominence with significance. Not everyone in the church is made for prominence, but everyone is significant. We must treat each person that way.

If you have a sense of entitlement, people smell it. If you neglect to thank them for what they do, they will quickly sense who’s on top of the pyramid and who’s holding up the bottom. But if you treat them the way you like to be treated, they will respect you … and follow you.

THE FACE OF A STEWARD

Jesus showed the face of a steward (Greek: oikonomos). Jesus was careful about what He did. He never quit halfway. On the cross He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). He had done what He came to do.

Jesus was not competitive or jealous. He did not compare himself to others. He was too busy being a good steward, and He expects the same from us. We are to take conscientious care of what He entrusts to us.

Performance Does Count

The face of a stewardhas to do with our competence. Competence means the ability to do a job properly. For Christian leaders, competence is the combination of knowledge, skill, and behavior under the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

The apostle Paul specifically and clearly applied this to church leaders: “An elder is a manager of God’s household, so he must live a blameless life. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or dishonest with money. Rather, he must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must love what is good. He must live wisely and be just. He must live a devout and disciplined life” (Titus 1:7,8, NLT,1 italics added).

Stewards or managers understand that the operation is not theirs. They are to run it well on behalf of the true owner, which in the church is God.

Stewardship means that we give every effort to fulfill what God has in mind for us. He sets the agenda, and we follow it. We are members of His staff. Stewards in God’s kingdom are summoned to a higher standard.

The first step toward competence is to clarify the mission (or purpose). What is a church supposed to be? If we do not understand this, we will never get the right things done. Every leader has to come to terms with what is the purpose of the church.

Once the mission is clear, the next step is to nail down our core values. What do we believe? What are the nonnegotiables? Five to seven core values should be enough.

Mission and values are diachronic. They remain constant for long periods and are revised only as the environment demands. They are permanent anchors for good stewardship.

Next is vision. Vision is what we see as a possibility to fulfill our mission. The vision incarnates the mission and the mission informs the vision.

Concurrent with rolling out the vision, we set specific goals. We deduce we need to tackle certain activities in a certain order. If we do them successfully, we will bring the vision to reality … and advance the mission in a manner consistent with our core values.

Vision is synchronic. It changes from season to season, as do the goals that measure it.

Six Arenas to Manage

The call to be a competent steward/manager in God’s work has many facets. Here are some of the most important:

Speaking on God’s behalf.To open our mouths (or create text for any display, print or electronic) as a steward of the Almighty is a serious responsibility. It calls for far more diligence than the average conversation.

God lets us choose our nouns and verbs — and we should do so with excellence. But the content must always be His.

Serving as God’s diplomat. Another major part of stewardship is serving as the voice of reason and enlightenment to those who are in conflict with one another, or with you.

Since conflict is endemic to human nature, we must learn to manage it in the church. The church can only fulfill its mission when there is unity of spirit and purpose.

Managing God’s time.There are many things that clamor for our time. We talk about “prioritizing our schedule” — but we need to be more proactive; we need to schedule our priorities.

Delegating and organizing. One of the best things Moses did as a leader was to listen to Jethro and act. What a lesson — listen to good advice.

Moses selected capable men who walked with God and gave them a clear job description. The results saved his life and ministry.

Managing God’s money (at church, at home). A church seldom has enough funds, but it will have even less if leaders do not manage with wisdom. Church funds are “someone else’s property,” namely, God’s. They are not ours to manipulate.

Second is personal money management. If we cannot exemplify responsible spending with our money, how can we take care of a church budget? And how will people be inspired to follow our example?

Managing our personal walk with God.Finally, stewardship is about staying aligned with the One we serve. The steward holds to certain basic rhythms, as Jesus did: reading Scripture, praying, giving. It is easy to crave the big stage, the dramatic event. But underlying these we must have a consistent personal walk with God. God will fan into flame the fire of His presence in our life and ministry each day if we make time for Him.

THE FACE OF A SEER

Finally, Jesus was called a prophet, a seer (Greek: prophetes). He was the greatest change agent who ever lived. It was not easy for Him. He came into a world filled with conflict. The times in which we live are no more challenging than those Jesus faced. Jesus was a transformational leader, and He expects us to be the same.

Do You See What He Sees?

God’s work stands in need of those who can see what others miss — opportunities, hazards, societal trends, future attacks, and coming waves of revival and renewal. Whenever God gives us a new level of ministry, it demands a new level of growth from us. Change is often unsettling — and this is when the ability to see is most crucial.

Implementing God’s idea.Sometimes the new vision is a sovereign initiative from God. What is it that God might want to shake up in your situation? What would He like you to see about the future that is unlike the past?

Trying to bring back yesterday will not produce a visionary tomorrow. You should bless the past and use it as a teaching tool to present a visionary future, an extension of the past. The future of your church or organization begins in the prayer closet of the seer.

Needed: New thermostats. The pastor is not simply to keep a lid on things, to maintain the status quo, to keep the wheels greased. A leader is to be a thermostat, not a thermometer. Leaders seek to know what is in God’s heart, then set the tone of the discussion. This calls for boldness, for being secure in one’s calling. But that’s the essence of leadership — courage in action.

Cultural winds.It is important to keep current with the shifting cultural winds — so long as they do not become our master. If we become obsessed with chasing whatever is “hot” at the moment, we will lose our tie to the One who called us to serve His interests.

The family of God desperately needs wise, perceptive leadership to bring diverse people together under the common rule of Christ.

Advancing the Bigger Picture

The need for vision, for farsightedness, comes up in multiple aspects of church life. Here are several:

New populations (faraway, but also nearby). When we think about missions, we naturally affirm that God wants people in Bolivia and Botswana and Bulgaria to know about His saving love and grace. But we need vision that will touch new populations in our own backyard. The leader who is a true seer takes stock of who in the community is not receiving the gospel.

Music styles.Another area of church life that is taxing many current congregations’ ability to be family together is worship repertoire and styling. Many pastors are struggling to accommodate strong opinions on this subject. Others have simply opted to go with one genre and dismiss all others as unimportant or impractical.

A pastor must say repeatedly, “I am the shepherd of all the sheep.” Part of discipleship is to model and teach mutual respect for those who do not share your>

Conflicts can arise if methods get turned into values. Sometimes managing change is simply a process of building a consensus in advance. The seer does not always need to come thundering off the mountain with a unilateral word of direction. Though he or she may know on the inside what God wants, it’s helpful to bring others gradually to the same understanding.

Potential leaders for the future. One of the most important — but often neglected — things for a seer to notice is God’s call on a person’s life for ministry. It may be a gangly teenager; a 20-something already in the early stages of a career; a soldier finishing active duty; a married couple approaching early retirement. Part of the prayer needs to be for us to see those individuals God wants to develop.

I want to be part of that effort. I want to stay connected to the next generation of leaders. They don’t want me to be like them. But they crave the experience and wisdom that the years have brought. They are looking for models.

Where Do You Stand?

One or two of these faces motivates most people. But it is important to embrace all of them.

People can be servants — but if they can’t shepherd the flock or be a steward or a seer, their leadership is severely crippled. Christian leaders do not get the luxury of specialization. If we’re going to follow the Jesus model, we can’t say, “Well, my strong face is such-and-such … and the rest of the church staff will have to pick up the slack on the other three faces.” We are leaders of people, not directors of programs. Mature leadership involves all four.

When you and I finally admit to ourselves and to God that we don’t have all the answers … but we want them, He will guide us. We must be still and wait, however. We must listen for His instruction — then take appropriate action.

H. ROBERT RHODEN, D.Min., Glen Allen, Virginia, is an executive presbyter and former Potomac District superintendent.

DEAN MERRILL, former editorial director (David C. Cook, Focus on the Family), Colorado Springs, Colorado

This article is abridged from Four Faces of a Leader (Springfield, Missouri: My Healthy Church, 2012).

Note

1. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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