Leadership is a perilous venture, for the very attributes that make leaders great also carry the seeds of our downfall.
But surprisingly, there is a very simple cure — albeit a very unpleasant one…
In order to be effective, leaders must:
- Desire great things
- Get angry at threats
- Be comfortable wielding power
- Believe in a better future
- Trust in their abilities and vision
- Love the community they serve
- Know their domain
Yet the more a leader possesses any of these traits, the greater the risk they will flame out one way or another. Sometimes we love our community too much to recognize its faults, or we become so expert at operating in a particular context we refuse to notice that context is changing.
But on the other hand, attempting to scale back these traits merely creates less effective leaders.
Fortunately, the cure can be summed up in a single word: submission.
Submission is a dirty word in our culture, primarily because it is viewed as the absolute (even degrading) domination of one personality by another. But the Christian model is that of the Trinity, where the Son is glorified by submitting to the sub-mission of the Father.
The key to training healthy leaders is helping them master multi-level submission. That is, we must give them sufficient understanding and skills so they can continue growing in proper submission to:
- The Father
- The Son
- The Spirit
- The Truth
- The Bible
- The Church
- Pastors & Mentors
- Family Members
- Civil Authorities
- Employers / Masters / Teachers
Simultaneously across multiple dimensions!
This can be quite challenging, because:
- They sometimes disagree
- We often mis-interpret them
- There are different types and levels of submission
- Many of them are fallible
- Frankly, we don’t want to submit
- And under certain circumstances, we shouldn’t
The point, however, is that submission is the master skill of Christian leadership. It is the exceedingly hard problem that — once solved — makes everything else extraordinarily easy.
And importantly, it is not merely a one-time choice. It is a skill that can be learned — and must be learned. Even by Jesus:
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered — Hebrews 5:8
Though obedience isn’t precisely identical to submission, they are deeply intertwined. In fact, this suggests an interesting way to interpret the very last command of Jesus:
and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you — Matthew 28:20
The church has typically focused on teaching what to obey. But the focus of Jesus’ life seems much more on how to obey. How should we relate to God? What do we need from Him? Why should we lay down our lives?
Maybe our mistake was in confusing the who, what, and why of submission. It was all too easy for the church to tell people to submit to it. Instead, we need to teach — and model — how people should “submit themselves first to God, and then to us.” Even if it means their understanding of God diverges from ours! Otherwise, how would anyone ever grow?
If we can learn do to that, then I believe we will finally get the generation of new leaders we need.
Otherwise, I fear we will continue to get the kinds of leaders we deserve…