Leadership and discipleship

If we want a ‘textbook’ definition of leadership, it’s not hard to find – a quick google search will come up with lots of definitions which circle around the idea of motivating people into achieving a common goal.

Notice that definition doesn’t have anything necessarily to do with specific positions within an organization, just the function of someone who can help people work together for a purpose.

When it comes to leadership in the context of understanding what God calls us into together, that’s an important thing to keep in mind.  Because when we think of ‘church leadership’ or ‘ministry leadership’, we might tend to think of the Pastor, whoever she or he may be.  Or of church officers, people elected to a leadership function with the church, like the Diaconate chair or the Church Moderator, or members of those leadership teams.  We might even think of people who have agreed to lead a ministry team or class or small group.

Those are all important roles, and this post and series is addressed to them.  But leadership isn’t just about the few people who have “official” positions – it is about living out of our calling as followers of Jesus.

What happens when we think of leadership through the lens of discipleship that Jesus calls his followers to?

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” – Matthew 28:19-20

“You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8b

Leadership then takes on the overarching question of how we encourage one another in living out this calling together.  As Paul puts it in his letter to Christians in Thessalonica: “Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” – 1 Thess. 5:12

To be sure, there are specific leadership tasks within that overarching mission, roles we take on within the church family in living it out.  But leadership in the larger sense is simply exercising the gifts that we have that encourage others further into that shared mission.  We don’t have to be elected by the church to exercise that kind of leadership.  In 1 Peters, we read that we are a ‘holy priesthood’ (1 Peter 2:5, 2:9) — whether we feel called or gifted to specific roles of leadership, we all have ways that we can lean into the kind of leadership that lifts others up as we live as disciples bearing witness to Jesus together.

The point– showing leadership is something we are all capable of, and all called to.  It will look different in all of us, but ultimately – our individual styles of leadership are to be shaped by the example (and empowering!) of Jesus, who described greatness in God’s kingdom as serving others: who are we lifting up, empowering, helping to live out their identity and calling as God’s children and as disciples of Christ.

My question for us to ponder this week is to think about how we are exercising leadership in our lives?

  • What formal leadership roles do you have?
  • What is the goal or purpose of your leadership in that role?
  • What informal ways has God positioned you to exercise the kind of leadership that encourages or mobilizes others to live out God’s calling in their life?

(But wait — we all know what happens when there are too many cooks in the kitchen; isn’t it disingenuous to suggest that we’re all capable of leading?) — tune in next week for the flip side of that leadership coin.