Recently, I’ve been slugging through another personal apocalypse. Here and there throughout each day, God has been revealing truths, posing questions, unmasking false beliefs, replacing them with truth. It feels like my mind has been working on this while I sleep, as though I awake to discover several puzzle pieces I left orphaned before bed have found their place in my mind.
Where to start? This is all still very raw and unfinished… maybe I’ll just blurt it out and then back up and try and explain myself. Maybe this is old news to you, but it’s like an earthquake to me.
I’ve realized now, looking back, that my unconscious assumption has been that if I lead well, people will mature to the point that they can live their Christian lives without needing my (or any) leadership. That needing my leadership is a sign of immaturity. Jesus has challenged that assumption, opened his scriptures, and asked me to prove it. The problem is, the deeper I look into the biblical narrative, the more I’m confronted with my ignorance on leadership.
Think of it: The Bible doesn’t just follow individuals. It follows leaders. And the stories pile up, one after another, demonstrating how God’s people need to be led. From the children of Israel in Egypt, through the desert, into the promised land, into captivity… from Roman occupation, through Jesus’ ministry, through the formation of the church, and onward, God’s people need to be led. I dare you to find a story when Israel, or the church, or God’s people in general had a corporate problem that was resolved without a leader taking the helm and charting a course. From the very beginning, God called leaders. Joseph. Moses. Joshua. The Judges. The Kings. The prophets. Jesus. Even in the New Testament Church, where the priesthood of all believers had been unleashed, God worked through the Apostles and their proteges, instructing them to appoint elders, shepherds, and leaders in all the churches they planted.
“We all, like sheep, have gone astray,” the Bible says. That’s what sheep do without guidance and shepherding: wander and stray. Sure, Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, but Ezekiel 34 makes it clear that God appoints under-shepherds as extensions of his leadership and care. When Jesus walked the earth, “he saw the crowds, and had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). What do shepherds do for the sheep? Lead. Restore. Protect. Guide. Comfort. Prepare. Anoint. Feed. (Psalm 23). In Ephesians 4 Paul explains how God appoints leaders (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers) to prepare God’s people for works of service so the whole body can grow and rise up into its calling. Without these leadership roles being exercised, the church will not grow up. In Romans 12 he underlines how God gifts certain individuals to lead, instructing those who are to “govern diligently.” We are all to follow Jesus, but Paul also said, “Follow me as I follow Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1). The writer of the Hebrews instructed us, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith… Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account” (Hebrews 13:7,17).
Why would God gift leaders unless leaders were necessary? Why would be command us to obey them and submit to their authority unless we needed that? Is it possible that you need to be led in order to grow? That churches won’t rise up and reach their God-given potential unless and until God’s people let leaders lead?
I understand that leadership can be (and often is) abused (Ezekiel 34), but this in no way negates the central place God has given leadership throughout scripture.
Tomorrow: More on leadership and following.