Where ya headed?
I get asked this question on a weekly basis. I spend a lot of time in airports because I love moving towards the women in our denomination. Airport terminals are a fascinating leadership lab. I have seen a mother of five lead like Moses parting the Red Sea as her family walks six abreast down the terminal. I’ve observed corporate leaders cutting the deal until the moment the flight attendant kindly asks everyone to power down electronic devices. And how about the fearless chaperones who are responsible for 25 young people shouting “Do you have your boarding pass, all your belongings, and does anyone else need to go to the bathroom before we board?”
Maybe you don’t consider yourself a leader, but I encourage you to look over your shoulder. You might have a 3-year-old, a corporate boardroom, a classroom of teenagers, or a women’s ministry team following you. There are many misconceptions about leadership. The word ‘leadership’ is not synonymous with authority or decision making. It has little to do with a title or a role. Leadership, biblically speaking, looks radically different. It is upside down. It holds within it the potential to be life-giving or life-taking. Biblical leadership is not positional leadership but rather servant leadership.
Popular TED talk speaker and author Simon Sinek understands this principle. In his book Leaders Eat Last he says, “Leaders are the ones who are willing to give up something of their own for us. Their time, their energy, their money, maybe even the food off their plate. When it matters, leaders choose to eat last.”
I had taught all day about how we image God as we live out our helper design. I was starving, but I could tell my words caused quite a stir with my dinner companions. The conversation quickly turned toward how women could have a seat at the table in terms of church leadership. It was not the first or the last time I have had this table talk.
What I saw that day was a group of women who sincerely loved the church but were sincerely wrong in their understanding of Biblical leadership in the church for men and women. Positional leadership is life-taking as it stifles the gifts and graces of others’. Leadership is not having a seat at the table, but rather an invitation to serve at the table. Jesus also sat at a table with disciples who were zealous to serve. They were so zealous they began to fight over who was the greatest. Jesus answers their question with a question. “Who is great?… the one who serves or the one who reclines at the table?….I am among you as the one who serves”(Luke 22:27).
Jesus had this discussion the night before He went to the cross to die. Life-giving leadership is not just an invitation to serve but at the most fundamental level, it is an invitation to die. We have to die to live and we have to die to lead. Death is painful and scary, but it is also necessary and glorious for His life to be formed in us.
“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me” (John 12: 24-26).
We hear the cry of leadership from Paul’s mouth, “follow me, as I follow Christ” (I Cor. 11:1). We follow Him to a specific plot of dirt where we are invited to die. It is different for each one of us. For me, it has been in my marriage, parenting, service to the church, and in my calling as Women’s Ministry Coordinator. Over the years the plot size has changed, but my calling has not.
The seed has to enter deep into the soil, break open, and die for new life to emerge. I have been called to die to my fears: the fear of man, the fear of failure, and the fear of the unknown. I’ve had to die to my reputation when I wanted to defend it. I’ve had to die to my plans, dreams, and agendas countless times. And every leader understands dying to comfort and convenience. Life-giving leadership is the call to die to sin and be the chief repenter. It is sacrificial and costly. And as Jesus reminds us, it is daily as we pick up our cross. It has the potential to be life-giving because as the plant grows and abides in Christ, it yields a harvest of gospel fruit. Apart from this, we can do nothing as a leader.
The Oxford English dictionary defines leadership as “someone who goes before or alongside another to get them to an intended destination.” This definition is good but it doesn’t go far enough for the church. We glean much from leaders who have gone before us, “who shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness” (Daniel12:3). More often, we are influenced by spiritual mothers and gospel friends who come alongside us as we do life together. These leaders fix their eyes on the destination: Heaven. They lead in light of eternity, investing in the only two things in life that last forever: the Word of God and the souls of men. They have the sacred privilege of participating with the Spirit as He prepares those in our circles of influence for eternity.
The leader I rely on most in my travels is our pilot. When he announces we are making our initial descent into Chicago, my eyes look out to the north towards our beautiful skyline. For me, those skyscrapers let me know I am about to reach my destination—home. Leadership has everything to do with where we fix our eyes. Task-driven leaders are fixated on getting stuff done. Personality-driven leaders are captivated by their own gifts or skills. But servant leaders see the bigger picture. So, friend, where are you fixing your eyes and where are ya headed? I am a weak leader who longs to fix my eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of my faith. But praise be to God; His grace is sufficient, and His power is perfected in my weaknesses— because when I am weak, He is strong!
About the Author:
Karen serves as the Coordinator for PCA Women’s Ministry, where she seeks to connect women and churches to one another and to sound resources. She is also having the time of her life serving alongside her husband Chris, Senior Pastor at Naperville Presbyterian Church in Naperville, IL. Chris and Karen have two children, Anna Grace (23) and Haddon (20) that round out “Team Hodge.” It is from the perspective of a wife, mother, leader, and fellow pilgrim that she hopes to offer insight from God’s Word to women concerning how she and they can most effectively learn to enjoy and extend God’s Glory.