Aug 30, 2012

Whose Vision of Leadership?

I have three sons, all of whom were involved in the Boy Scouts. The oldest two, Thomas and Mark—though they are past eighteen and are now “graduated” out —both earned the rank of Eagle Scout, which is the highest rank awarded in Scouting. My youngest son Peter is still active and is hoping to become an Eagle.

One significant aspect of Scouting is leadership development. Now I happen to think that all three of my sons have good leadership ability, and I’ve seen it manifested in church activities as well as in Boy Scouts. But they practice leadership in different ways.

My youngest son is a quiet leader. He does not speak in a loud voice and tell people what to do. Neither is he a boisterous, cheerleader-type leader. He does try to set a good example. But mostly he leads by serving. He is very sensitive to the needs of those around him and is regularly looking for ways to quietly help out the younger scouts—usually without drawing attention to the fact that he is doing so.

Because he is not a loud, take-charge sort of person, however, Peter has been routinely overlooked for leadership positions. He is passed over in favor of younger boys who like to be in charge of what is happening, even though these younger boys often display behaviors that are counter-productive to the goals of the group.

We try to encourage Peter to continue to be helpful, and to be a servant, and to realize these really are important traits in leadership—that being a servant-leader is much more in the model of Jesus.  But the reality in our world is that quiet servants are often not perceived as leaders. They don’t fit the modern mold of the person who seeks authority.

I’ve even seen the same thing at work within Christian communities. For many years, the inter-denominational Christian student group at the college where I work selected their student leaders by vote. My wife and I would often witness the loud, enthusiastic student (who was good at telling others what to do) get elected. Sometimes that person really was a mature believer and a good leader. But often it was not the case; the take-charge person who got elected would actually be a less mature and less committed believer, while the more mature but quieter servant-leader Christian would be ignored.

God’s choice of David as king—not any of David’s older brothers, who appeared to be more natural leaders—sets an example of how God sees differently than people do. Jesus also seemed to choose as his disciples men who were not considered the natural leaders in the culture of his day: a collection of uneducated fishermen and even a tax-collector. And they were to lead the church when he was gone! Paul’s closest disciple, Timothy, seemed to be both timid in nature and given to frequent illness, yet Paul saw his faithfulness and godliness and made him the leader of the church in Ephesus. Of course, Jesus himself was the ultimate example of a servant leader, and he made that point to his disciples more than once, never more poignantly than when he washed their feet.

The question, then, comes to us: in our work environments, our churches, and even our clubs, who do we choose as leaders? Do we honor with positions of leadership the celebrity, the loud, the cheerleader, the take-charge persons? Or do we seek to find the sort of leaders God would choose?

Image by Cathy McCaughan. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Matthew Dickerson, author of The Mind and the Machine: What It Means to Be Human and Why It Matters (Brazos Press, 2011).

 

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