What’s Missing in Christian Leadership?

The movie The King’s Speech tells the true tale of a shy prince who becomes a King. “Bertie”—as only his family can call him—is the frog who becomes a prince who is crowned the King of England and who will lead the nation through World War II.

Bertie’s road to the throne is filled with potholes. It is his older brother who is the heir, not Bertie; the scars of his past create fear in this future king of a scared nation; and he stutters in an age Speech at Wembley 2when live speeches are the new way to lead.

At one point he mourns, “I am the seat of all authority because they think that when I speak, I speak for them. But I can’t speak.”

The movie opens as Bertie stammers through a speech at Wembley Stadium, a speech broadcast to the world. We share the prince’s anguish in his painful pauses and repeating c-c-c-consonants, every stutter amplified for the listening ears of the world.

Bertie reluctantly turns to Lionel Logue, an uncertified speech therapist. Lionel sees in Bertie a vein of gold. Lionel unearths this gold by teaching, cajoling, and even provoking the shy prince, until Bertie finally shouts:

Bertie: L-L-L-listen to me

Lionel: Why should I waste my time listening to you?

Bertie: Because I have a right to be heard! I have a voice!

Lionel: [pause] Yes, you do. [stands] … You’re the bravest man I know. You’ll make a bloody good king.

In the movie, a commoner helps the king find his voice. And that is the way it works in the world, underlings give overlings a platform to be heard. Christ turned worldly wisdom upside down. Now it’s the leaders who help others find their voice.

The thing is, few Christian leaders know how to do it.           

Worldly wisdom

The wisdom of the world overflows the bookshelves of Barnes and Nobles (and the pages and leafs of Amazon). It teaches time management, financial analysis, leadership skills, and resource efficiency.

Worldly wisdom is not the same as gospel-wisdom. Judas was a resource-efficiency guru when he mocked Mary’s wasted ointment. Jesus calls her a resource-efficiency genius.

Worldly wisdom says your life for mine; gospel-wisdom says my life for yours. Worldly wisdom says leave the one sheep for the ninety-nine; gospel-wisdom says leave the ninety-nine for the one.

Worldly wisdom says design products with interchangeable parts; gospel-wisdom says you can’t replace an elbow with a thumb.

The corporate church

Worldly wisdom says use the parts to cause the organization to thrive; gospel-wisdom says use the organization to cause the parts to thrive.

Worldly wisdom sacrifices the individual for the sake of the corporation. Such thinking was personified by The Soviet Controlled Economy. While initially successful, such economy was built on the backs of voiceless laborers at the cost of ten million victims. Ultimately the Soviet Union collapsed

Worldly wisdom says, “See the forest not the trees;’ gospel-wisdom says nurture each leaf, and the forest will be beautiful.

When the church is corporate, we arrange the parts to prosper the plans of our group. When the church is organic, we tend to the leafs and let God watch out for the forest.

True spiritual leadership

God has placed a vein of gold in each of us. He created us with unique voices, distinct perspectives, something only you (and I) can bring to this world. But we need other eyes to spot it in us and draw it out.

A Christian leader should be a gold prospector, finding the gold God hid in our hearts.

Worldly leaders grasp for their own “kingdom;” they use (and abuse) “commoners” to find a platform their own voice. The biblical view of leadership is the opposite:

He raises the poor from the dust, and he lifts the needy from the ash heap; to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. (1 Samuel 2:8)

The passage applies first to Christ—as he laid down his life to raise ours—and then it acts as a model for Christian leaders who are to lay down their lives in order to raise up others; to use our power to em-power others, to help them find their voice.

Kinging

In The King’s Speech, Bertie’s brother is actually king for a short time before abdicating. Bertie wants to talk with him, but the king has been busy. When Bertie confronts him, the irritated brother snaps,

Brother: I’ve been terribly busy.

Bertie: Doing what?

Brother: Kinging.

The problem with Christian leadership is we are so busy “kinging” that we forget to “raise the poor from the dust … and make them sit with princes.”

A plea

Leaders, instead of busying ourselves with “kinging,” let’s concern ourselves with crowning. Let’s lift the needy from the ashes and make them sit with princes.

Even if they sit on our backs as they learn to sit with princes.

Sam

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What do YOU think?

17 thoughts on “What’s Missing in Christian Leadership?

  1. Ahhh! If only today’s church leaders would truly understand what the implications are, what it could cost them,… if only their release of control.

    • Yup! We need to release control and see the value in the persons, gifts, and callings of the individuals.

  2. Sam, you have touched on one of the most overlooked teachings (and example) of Jesus who did not come “to be served” but rather came “to serve.” What is needed the most amongst us (the church) are the Lionel Logue’s of the world who are trained by God (no letters after his name) who can see and call out the best in people. One who fights for the God given glory in others that has been marred and buried from the tragedies of this life.

    • Okay Jeff, you touched a nerve.

      I was too nice (something I’m rarely accused of!). I ended the opening section by saying, “The thing is, few Christian leaders know how to do it.” The truth is, in my fifty-five years, I have NEVER seen a church (parachurch, or prayer group) that can genuinely say; “A huge part of our mission is to help each member find his or her voice.”

      Christian leaders focus on the organization’s needs (ushers, Sunday school teachers, deacons, etc.) but they don’t focus on discovering what “gifts” God gave them in the individual callings of the members.

      We act like the Soviet controlled economy, telling people what to do, assigning them based on what we need instead of focusing on who God made them.

      The best chess players use the chess pieces in the way they are made, and then they try to turn pawns into queens (in the non-sexual meaning of the word 🙂 ). Instead, we turn knights into pawns; as Lewis said, “We castrate the stallion then bid the gelding to be fruitful.”

      It’s no wonder the USSR had ten million casualties, victims of an organization-centric mindset. I wonder what our casualty rate is.

  3. The cool thing is nobody “ordained” Lionel Logue. What he learned, he learned from experience (from God alone). The established religion tried to discount Lionel and that will always be the case. So often the true elders amongst us are “outside” the camp working undercover with no letters after their name. We will meet them all one day in heaven… you’ll be one of them Sam.

  4. Dear Sam,

    This really hit a big spot in my heart; as I have served under quite a few Christian leaders over the years. So many are in “leadership”, either ill-prepared, ill-gifted or there for the wrong reasons. We’ve seen precious few who lead as Jesus led. The world’s model has permeated the church leadership sphere to such an extent that it isn’t even recognized as such.

    The corporate model is to grow for growth’s sake, no matter if the individual in the group is only used as fodder to get to the goal of BIG!!! It seems that pastors never tire of comparing each other’s ministries almost exclusively in terms of numbers, such as, “We’re runnin’ about 500 in Sunday School, how about you?” or “We had 27 conversions last year, how many did you have?” Really sad. Humility doesn’t seem in vogue in our churches today.

    Servant leadership is given lip-service, of course, but is seldom demonstrated.

    Thanks for putting this teaching in print. I’m sending it along to some of my friends who think along the same lines.

    Love In Him,

    Bruce :~)

    • Hi Bruce,

      Yes, servant leadership is given lip service, but genuinely think most leaders don’t know how. It’s not something so “bad” in them as much as they haven’t been cared for themselves.

      We all need some help!

  5. Great blog Sam! How do we influence christian leaders to move from practicing “worldly wisdom” to Kingdom Life?

  6. Sam, Ya got it! I think that we are supposed to be in the world and not of it, however, the pull, the draw seems to wash over us like a tidal wave and our leaders succumb and are washed away with (as my wife says) title on the door and Bigelow on the floor. If only we could truly walk in the shoes of the Fisherman!

  7. Leaders are broken, too.

    Not that that’s an excuse. But it works for me when I have a leader to forgive.

    My route from being the center of my own attention to finding all my joy in God’s joy is pretty circuitous, and I figure the average pastor is on the same road. When I was younger I was pretty impatient with my leaders’ clay feet, but having been humbled by more than a few experiences of my own, I can now appreciate the fact that everyone’s learning experience requires an object. Sometimes it’s me. It’s kind of a privilege to be a part of the process when you look at it that way.

    The Lord knows I’ve prospered under leaders that nurtured me and gone dormant under leaders that didn’t. But in the end I’m responsible for finding my own “voice.” And for speaking with it, for that matter. And I get to make choices to improve the nutrients of my environment.

    Like exposing myself to encouraging, challenging leaders like you, Sam.

    • Hi Martha,

      Great comment, again, as always! I agree we need to forgive leaders; they are human and they are broken, just like us.

      My goal was not to lambaste leaders (not too much 🙂 ); but I did want to spur leaders on.

      God answers prayers, but he doesn’t always answer the way we plan. He often–VERY often–answers our prayers not with words of direction but with people. When Israel was in Egypt crying out to God, God sent Moses. And when Israel was under Roman occupation, God didn’t send a plan, he sent a person, Jesus.

      As leaders long for vision from God, we need to recognize that His answer to our cries is most often met with … the people he has brought us. If we are to know God’s plans, we need to discover the gifts and calling of the people he brings.

      In Jesus, God didn’t give us an air-tight argument, he gave us an air-tight person.

      Thanks for your comments.

      • Yes. I can hear your longing in “we need to discover the gifts and calling of the people he brings.”

        I think the big challenge for the average leader is just to mature into the capacity to love and enjoy other people’s gifts. I mean, it’s common for leaders to have been drawn to leadership because they value being capable and gifted and they feel comfortable out front. (I think a lot of them get into leadership positions because they are encouraged by an entire culture that confuses charisma with charism.) So becoming a leader who is excited about someone else shining takes a lot of purification, years of being humbled and wooed by God. I think that’s what it takes—really falling in love with God. A leader who is in love will always be alert for some gift of the Beloved, some trace of His image in the person in front of him. And when he glimpses it he is excited—partly because he has found his Beloved in the other, but partly because he realizes he is enjoying the other with his Beloved. Nourishing the other’s gift and honoring that Image is now life-giving to him. And, of course, it’s life-giving to everyone he leads.

        That kind of leadership is exactly Christian, but maddeningly rare—and that’s your point, of course.

        My (complimentary) point is that it takes a catastrophic interior reorientation and I’m inclined toward patience, since I’m going through it myself. But I think you’re right. Considering the condition of the Church, spurs may be more appropriate.