Invisible Leaders

shepherdIn 550 B.C. the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu defined the essence of effective leadership. “A leader,” he observed, “is best when people barely know he exists. Not so good when people obey and acclaim him. Worse when they despise him. But of a good leader who talks little when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say ‘We did it ourselves.’”

The challenge for 21st century leaders remains to understand and model this leadership axiom. The concept is more easily understood then practiced. While most readers will say “Amen” to the principle, considerably less will model it.

The Salvation Army’s military structure affords the Movement remarkable advantage. With commission and command, William Booth efficiently and effectively spread the Army’s mission around the world. A stroke of the pen and young, obedient officers were ordered to the far reaches of the globe. When it comes to deploying soul-saving troops and taking swift decisive action in the field, the Army’s structure is ideal for the task. When it comes to team ministry, however, the mission’s military structure presents significant challenges.

The New Testament model for servant leadership is giving aid, comfort, direction, nurture and protection to those in their care. It is the picture of the shepherd; not the monarch

Military structure and its accompanying nomenclature better serves authoritarian rather than collaborative leadership. While leaders must at times make unilateral, unpopular and lonely decisions, every effort must be made to approach challenges and decisions in collaboration with the leadership team. Gone are the days when, without team support, a leader can say “do it” and it is done.

Leadership is one of the 20 spiritual gifts revealed in the New Testament. A complete list of spiritual gifts is compiled by combining the gifts mentioned in Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, 28 and Ephesians 4:11-12. The original word translated “leadership” in many contemporary translations is proistamenos (pronounced with an emphasis on the second syllable, “sta”). It simply means, “giving aid; becoming a protector or guardian.” The Greek word is translated differently in various versions of the Bible. For example, the King James Version uses the word “ruleth,” the J.B. Phillips Paraphrase translates “the man who wields authority.” The Revised Standard Version stays close to the heart of the meaning with the translation “he who gives aid.”

The New Testament model for servant leadership is giving aid, comfort, direction, nurture and protection to those in their care. It is the picture of the shepherd; not the monarch. As Henri Nouwen notes: “When Jesus speaks about shepherding, he does not want us to think about a brave, lonely shepherd who takes care of a large flock of obedient sheep. In many ways, he makes it clear that ministry is a communal and mutual experience. First of all, Jesus sends The Twelve out in pairs (Mark 6:7). We keep forgetting that we are being sent out two by two. We cannot bring the good news on our own. We are called to proclaim the Gospel together, in community” (Henri J. M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership).

Servant leaders must keep a balance between doing things themselves and encouraging others to participate. Although the leader may appear to have a team attitude, a person who does the team’s work alone is not a genuine servant leader.

Team ministry means going with others on mission to do what God has commissioned his leaders to do. Individualism is not a philosophy of servant leadership. Servant leaders empower members of the leadership team to achieve the shared goal. In Why Leaders Can’t Lead, Warren Bennis explains that: “Basic changes take place very slowly, if at all, because those with the power generally have no knowledge, and those with the knowledge have no power.”

We can never go wrong following Jesus’ example. He spent over three years with twelve of his closest followers, empowering them to carry out his mission in community after he had ascended to the Father. Empowerment is both the spiritual leader’s daily goal and method.

francis_william_cmsr_smlCommissioner William W. Francis is the Territorial Commander of The Salvation Army Canada and Bermuda Territory. His wife, Commissioner Marilyn Francis, is the Territorial President for Women’s Ministries. Commissioners Francis have two adult children, Captain William Marshall and Susan Marjorie, plus six grandchildren.

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