What Is “Leadership” in the Kingdom of God in the 21st Century?

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I am sure there are many systematic, organized, books, courses, and classes available for those who want to learn to be leaders themselves, but what about the average working stiff? He has no leadership aspirations but only wants to support his family, be a productive member of society, and live a quiet, happy, peaceful life with his wife. 

However, even he cannot escape this leadership question that is the title of this blog posting. In America, he has the extremely rare, exhilarating freedom to choose who will lead him! How shall he evaluate potential leaders so he may—or may not—choose to follow them—on his job, at his church, etc.? That includes the ones he daily entrusts to educate his children, or what candidate he votes for to lead him in the civil government.  

It has been Western Civilization, anchored by the Reformation, through which this freedom to choose our own leaders came to us, and then, through us, to every other nation the West has touched (i.e., Japan, South Korea, etc.). To the degree they have embraced that same culture, they too have enjoyed the freedom to choose their own leaders. This freedom was largely unknown in the world for previous millennia. 

We have not fully understood the debt we owe to these 16th century reformers who unyieldingly stood on Jesus’ words, “And you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (both spiritually and physically – John 8:32). The Bible teaches us that it is this freedom from sin and death, won for us at the cross by Jesus Christ, that is the basis of all effective leadership in the world.

We all can recognize good leaders when we see them, because they unconsciously make us want to follow them—as employers, politicians, pastors, etc.—but what does the Bible say true leadership looks like? Keep in mind the modus operandi of always being the one being acted upon, rather than being the actor in God’s counterintuitive, backward, left-handed relationship with us. Then it makes sense that leadership is not sought, but, at the appropriate time, God thrusts it upon us! “Who, me?”, is our response at that time. 

On the other hand, some of us, because of our insecurities, have always wanted to be recognized as leaders because of the power, honor and glory often accompanying that “position.” As Moses discovered, this leads to disastrous results. When he became a “reluctant leader” God knew he was finally ready to lead. 

However, leader or not, wherever we go, the kingdom of God goes with us and God may, when the time is right, make us, in some way, leaders in it. How will I know He is doing so for me, and what will that leadership look like? 

I will know the time is right when, though I have not been a leader nor wanted to be one,  I become aware of a need and find myself wanting to step up and fill the vacuum! Can I trust God to let me know by giving me the “want to” to speak up, to make decisions, to initiate rather than always waiting for others to do so? At this point, if I do not “want to,” He doesn’t want me to (Philippians 2:13)! I am not yet ready to lead, and He may not ever want me to be ready. Living by faith is always “want to,” never, “ought to.”

When it is my time, the burning desire in my heart, irrespective of position or recognition, cannot be ignored. Leadership will result, official or not! What qualities does the law of God say He will be building in my life? I know that these qualities are “laws for leaders,” so I can repent to my Daddy for not expressing them consistently. As I walk in repentance for my failure, I begin to see that these qualities are promises of what His Spirit will do in my life, just as He promises! (Romans 8:4). What does the law of God say are the qualities of a leader in the kingdom of God?

There are two characteristics that are always present whenever and wherever the kingdom of God is expressed. They are present when it is easy, popular, or advantageous to do so, but also when they make leadership difficult, costly, or even vilified or ridiculed. They are: 

1. Firmness. The kingdom always functions according to the law of God as found in the Bible. It is based on that law. The law is always clearly proclaimed (there can be no misunderstanding what is expected), impartially applied (consistently for all equally), and then, when the law is broken, proper sanctions are imposed (commensurate with the severity of the infraction).

Kingdom leadership may involve those who have close, daily, loving relationships (in the family), those who are friends or associates (in the workplace), and also those who are only casual acquaintances, but in all cases, firmness is a necessity. The temptation is always toward leniency, i.e., to lower the standard, but in order for the law to do its job of making us face our inability to keep it, it must not be defanged. 

Firmness is often fallaciously confused with harshness. However, these are not synonymous terms at all. Firmness does not imply emotion or hostility on the part of the one in authority in the application of the law, as does harshness, but firmness is simply a reinforcement of the law’s efficacy, a refusal to violate its demands.

This brings us to the second characteristic of the kingdom of God that is always on display when the kingdom is present:

2. Love. The law, firmly applied with  love, is a beautiful, exceedingly rare occurrence. Children are spanked so firmly that tears often result (not always only shed by the child!), but that is always accompanied by words of love, hope and continual parental support “until we lick this rebellion.” When it is necessary to fire an employee, it is done with offers of help and a plan for learning to overcome temporal failure and become a successful employee in the future. Criminals are sentenced by judges with words of vision and encouragement for how they can still learn to be productive citizens and have a place in society.  

Thus, the law of God is never ignored or downplayed, but forms the basis for the lawbreaker to experience, for himself/herself, the love of God firsthand, an unconditional love that is not affected in the least by the transgression addressed! 

That is because that love is on full display through the life of the leader, for he knows that he is no different in his heart than this lawbreaker. He is simply further down the road of, surprisingly, not becoming a “good” person as most believe maturity entails, but of discovering what Paul discovered at the end of his life—he was the “chief of sinners!” (1 Timothy 1:12). Love, driven by a humility that genuinely claims, with Paul, this title, is a love that comes shining out of a leader’s life like a beacon as he applies the necessary sanctions.

Love and firmness—the fingerprints of kingdom leadership! We will apply this leadership specifically to family life next week.

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