Why does one team succeed more than others do? Why do some companies successfully break from the norm and others fail? Leaders make the difference. Entire countries can be devastated by a President and entire families can be built by the leadership of a parent. Leaders are everywhere, but only some leaders are successfully leading. So what’s the best way to lead? Is it confidence, is it vision, is it the influence that a leader holds that makes the difference? What makes a leader successful?
It is no different in the church that leaders make the difference. Look at the history of the church we’ll find the leaders of the early church in Acts crucified in a colosseum and yet in that very same colosseum today stands a cross to honor Christ. God used leaders to change history. Look throughout scripture and you’ll see that God calls on leaders to help carry out His plan. Those individuals are leaders who had to face the greatest odds to accomplish the most wild plans God had set before them. It was up to those leaders to carry out the vision, to have the confidence to stand up and lead, and be influencers. Joshua led a marching band to defeat an army and knocked down some walls. Nehemiah got a bunch of nobodies to build a wall. Esther changed an entire culture. So why were they successful? Only through God were they successful, but why would God choose them to be the leader to carry out His missions? What made them so special and unique?
Great leadership is not just defined by confidence, vision, and influence as most of the world would say. So what’s the most excellent way to lead? Are you sure you want to know? "The Most Excellent Way" is to lead is this: lead with love.
Now before you discredit this idea or click to the next blog, let me explain what I mean. The place I get this idea from is the Bible. More specifically, from a guy named Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament, including a chapter often read at weddings:1 Corinthians 13. Understand this, 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 both talk about spiritual gifts and church leadership, and I don’t believe that Paul stopped in between both chapters to write chapter 13 as a section that could only be read at weddings one day. At the end of 1 Corinthians 12 in verse 31 (right before he leads into 1 Corinthians 13 - or the “love chapter”), Paul says, “I will show you the most excellent way.”
The "most excellent way" to what? To be a great person? To be a great spouse? To be a great date? Yes those things can be applied, but I don’t believe that’s the biggest point Paul is trying to make. Paul is continuing his discussion about leadership here, and when he says he’s going to show the most excellent way, I believe he’s saying, “I will show you the most excellent way to lead.” So let’s crack open a Bible to 1 Corinthians 13. Everywhere we read the word "love,” from verse 4 to verse 6, we’re going to replace it with the word "leadership" and see how it applies:
"Leadership is patient and kind; leadership does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth."
Ok let’s break this down so we can really understand the leadership principles that Paul is teaching us.
First, we have to understand the love that Paul is talking about here is not a romantic love. The love that Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 13 is a behavior and attitude we all must choose daily even when we do not feel loving or lovable. Listen to his words, in verse 4 he says, “Love is patient and kind”. Sometimes as leaders you’re going to be stressed out. Sometimes you will be frustrated. Leadership is one of the loneliest places you can ever be, and that is why you will be asked more of than anyone else. When someone on your team is slow to make decisions, when they make the same mistakes over and over, when they continue to choose their own methods over the one you’re asking them to use, I’m challenging you to be patient. When someone on your team does something foolish or hurtful, when they choose to leave your side or abandon you in your greatest time of need, I’m challenging you to lead. When someone says they’re going to show up early to help set up the movie theatre, but skip and you’re there setting up by yourself, challenge yourself to lead. Leadership is patient. Leadership is kind.
Paul’s next words to us as church leaders should give us a quick gut check: Are we jealous? Are we boastful? Do we insist on our own way? As leaders we should be here with the intention and the mindset in our hearts that, “There is more to life than me.” We shouldn’t be jealous or boastful because this mission isn’t about us. You are here on earth to be a Kingdom builder. Just as the Father came not to be served but to serve, we are here to put others first before ourselves and lead others to do the same. Such behaviors and attitudes will prove to be productive, growing and joyfully contagious to your community. Are you leading your wife so that you look good or so you have a blessed union? Are you 'doing church' for yourself or so that people can meet Jesus?
Leading by love requires us to put the mission before ourselves.
It requires us not to be resentful when we may not agree with every piece of the mission or be irritable when little things don’t go according to our standard. The biggest challenge facing the church is the church itself. We are called to be the body of Christ, and until we accept our unity, we will continue to fail in our division. Unity creates community. I believe when Jesus was searching for his twelve disciples he was looking to find those who could play well with others. Luke 5, Jesus is still building His team. He’s got some guys out fishing and they haven’t caught anything, and I wonder if Jesus was going to see how they dealt with adversity as a team. As fishing professionals they had been fishing all day and not caught anything, how frustrating is that in front of the new guy you’re trying to impress? About this time Jesus tells Peter to, “Let down your nets.” If we break down the Greek here, we discover in the original language here that Jesus is looking directly at Peter saying, “YOU let down YOUR net.” Peter’s answer said, “WE will try.” Do you fall into the “I” camp or the “we” camp? How often do you give away credit, incorporate others, play a part of the team, and how often do you do things on your own?
In 2015 when my wife and I moved the Charlotte, the Carolina Panthers were doing very well. As a Browns fan, it was fun to experience what it was like to have the hometown team in the SuperBowl. But they didn’t do well because their Coach Ron Rivera is in such good shape, runs a 40 in 4 seconds or has the hands to catch like Kelvin Benjamin. A good football coach never has to touch the ball. I was fascinated to read about Rivera's coaching style and the way he interacts with players.
Now I assume you all have figured out that football and leadership alike is not all sunshine and rainbows and touchdowns. There are losses in football and there are failures in leadership. Rather than being pleasant, we’re sometimes easily irritated or angered. So not “if” but when you fail to live up to this ideal of not being irritable or resentful, simply admit when you’re wrong and ask to start the conversation over. Christian leadership suggests a strange double standard: When those we lead are irritable, we are to be patient. When we are irritable, we are to ask for forgiveness. We can faithfully and trustfully do this because this is Paul’s last piece of leadership wisdom in this section, it says, "Leadership does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth." How wonderful is it that we can rejoice with the truth together as Christians? Isn’t that what are really here to do, to rejoice the truth and get as many people to see the truth and rejoice in it with us?
Leadership by love requires us to speak with love. What does this mean? It means the words you use as a leader matter. Your words, your language and how you communicate matters, drastically. Whether its a conversation with your team, spouse or employee, your words set the tone. Your team is on a mission that requires you to put other people’s needs ahead of your own. "People may not remember the exact words you say, but they will remember how your words made them feel." Bill Hybels says in his book Leadership Axioms, “The truth is, leaders rise and fall by the language they use. Sometimes whole visions live or die on the basis of the words the leader chooses for articulating that vision." When you put the right words to a vision or a principle, it becomes easy for your team to replicate. It becomes easy for your team to take ownership, it becomes self-evident. When you put the wrong words to a vision or a principle, it becomes a self-benefit. Think about the last time someone came to you with an idea: were you on the problem side or on the solution side of the equation? Great leaders are on the solution side of the equation. Not “how it should be” or "ought to be” pointing out problems, but putting ourselves on the solution. When we look at critical problems our church is facing, we must focus on the solution. And the solution may not always be what we think it should be.
There's a big thing that separates a continual growing organization from an organization that just sees one quick growth period and stops. This big thing has to deal with not only our words and how we approach situation but also our attitudes. It is the same thing that leads to long and healthy marriages: forgiveness. There has to be freedom to make mistakes in leadership otherwise everyone who leads would be out of a job and out of leadership. Your next big challenge is going to be a learning process. Be ready to forgive others and yourself.
As you lead your teams and families this year, I challenge you lead by love. Some say you’ve been tasked with an impossible project. Some say you’ll never make it. Others will quit; they cannot join you for the rest of the journey and this is as far as they can continue with you. Some say you’ve been asked to move a mountain. Here’s what Paul says at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 13 in verse 2 about moving mountains:"... and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” If we do not have love, we are nothing. The key to moving mountains with faith is leading by love. Lead by love and you will lead those who love others. This is a guaranteed way to live with success. In 1 Corinthians 13:8, there’s a promise to this whole “leadership by love” method. It says, “Love never fails.” If we lead by love we cannot fail. If you lead by love you cannot fail.