Leadership Through Encouragement

Hebrews 3: 13

But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

We all need encouragement and by this verse we might conclude that we need it daily. People need to hear that they are a blessing or that they are doing things well. I am learning that leaders are encouragers. Several times this spring God has impressed upon that a large part of leadership is encouraging others. I can’t say that I knew that before. I’ve probably heard it but it certainly never sank in. Now I see that encouragement is a key piece of leadership and effective management.

As the Father has impressed this on me I began to ask why we are not naturally better at encouraging others. I have concluded that we are not good encouragers because we are so needy ourselves. We are working so hard at getting what we need and what we want that we have little time or inclination to attend to the needs of others. It is not that we do not wish to be sources of light. It is just that we are consumed with our own stuff. We don’t even look up at others and attempt to be a blessing to them.

However, think of the people that are encouragers in your life. Their emails and phone calls are like a breath of fresh air aren’t they? You really know who these people are. They are the first ones to tell you that you did a good job. They compliment your work, your attire and everything they can find which is well done. And yet these people will never lie to you. They seem to know the value of speaking the truth. They won’t tell you something is excellent unless it is and that makes their praise even more valuable. Another thing about them is that you never have to solicit their compliments. They are free with earned praise. We love having these people in our lives. Now the next step is to become like them.

My sense is that this is an expression of the love and kindness of our Father. Encouragers have received the love of God in their hearts and they are compelled to share it with others. It just flows out from them like a river. They don’t seem to strain, they don’t have to concoct a compliment or cogitate over it. It just flows out from them easily and freely. They are satisfied that God loves them so their striving is done. They are no longer grabbing for all the comfort they can get so they are able to lift their eyes off of themselves and see the grace, beauty and hard work of others. They have peace in their souls so that they can hear the Father’s words of encouragement bubbling up inside them; then they ever so effortlessly just release those words into the lives of others.

Today I wish to celebrate all those people who extend themselves to others to keep us encouraged. I also wish to offer a prayer for all of us that our Father would fill our needy souls with the certainty of His abundant love and acceptance for us. Lastly I wish to exhort each one of you to speak a word of encouragement to someone today. Perhaps we could even make it a goal to encourage one person a day every day.

The Wise Follower

Hebrews 13: 7

Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.

On two occasions the Apostle Paul encouraged people to imitate him. The first occurrence is in 1 Corinthians 4: 16 where he wrote, “I exhort you therefore, be imitators of me.” I find that remarkable. What kind of confidence does it take to tell people to examine your life and imitate it? Isn’t that exactly what today’s verse teaches though? The second time Paul instructs people to follow him by imitating his life is in 1 Corinthians 11: 1, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” The key is in the last phrase. He was confident in his following of Christ. “Follow me as I follow Christ,” he might say.

No one walks this journey alone. There is no such thing as a self-made person. We all stand upon someone else’s shoulders. The wise among us are better at this than the rest of us. They don’t let their ego inhibit their growth. For some people, advancing on the journey is more important than trying to be their own leader. There is an expression in legal circles that an attorney who represents himself in litigation has a fool for a client. The same sort of wisdom can be applied to our spiritual journey. Only a fool would nominate himself as his own leader. How can I lead myself where I have not yet gone?

I am increasingly aware of and impressed by the number of times the Bible addresses humility. It is one of the overarching principles in the Bible. Humility goes with honor. Pride is associated with one’s destruction (Proverb 16: 18). Pride is often joined with foolishness while humility is the hallmark of the wise.   The reason this is important is that the number one reason we do not submit to another’s leadership is ego. If we can embrace humility, then we can benefit from the wisdom of those who have gone before us.

There are people in the body of Christ who have been appointed as leaders and they bear a tremendous burden because they have been given the responsibility for leading the flock. Having been appointed to positions of leadership has not made them perfect but still they lead the way for us. As today’s verse teaches, we are able to consider the result of their conduct, which is the same as beholding their fruit. If the fruit is good then humble yourself and receive the benefit of their instruction. 

I want you to be a follower even if you have been chosen as a leader because only good followers make good leaders. I do want you to be wise in who you follow though. Let us look again at today’s verse. Beyond being a person who bears good fruit they also must be one who speaks the Word of God to you. I don’t care how wise or how awesome they seem, if their advice is worldly then they are deceived and will soon lead you in to deception. And by now we all know who the author of deception is. Paul intones, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” In like manner we might say, “Follow this advice which I have received from the Lord Jesus.” We also should follow those who are following Christ. There is no one of this earth who can give us wisdom that eclipses that of God. So, why would we listen to those fools? And yet we do. In plain language let us be clear. Do not take financial advice from someone who does not tithe. Do not take relationship advice from someone who does not have a deep and abiding relationship with the Father, Son and Spirit. Do not take business advice from someone who has not made Christ the Lord over their business. We have learned what happens when we follow worldly fiscal and business advice. We end up in an upside down economy such as we experienced in 2008 and the years following.

Lastly, I wish to strongly encourage you to honor those who are leading you. Read today’s verse again. Who does it bring to your mind? Who has spoken the Word of God to you? Of course our pastors spring to our minds and I wish for you to show them honor and gratitude because theirs is a difficult job to say the least. Perhaps there are some other people who have given you the benefit of their walk with the Lord. Hearken to their voice and bless them however you may.

Christian Leadership

Romans 15: 1 – 2           NIV

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

This is one of my least favorite scriptures in the Bible. I can hear that voice in the back of my head saying, “So … you think you are a strong Christian, do you? Well, here is what strong, mature Christians do.” Then I look at my life and I am not sure that I measure up and it causes my heart to seize.  

This was written by the Apostle Paul who learned these lessons himself. Then, as though, he just didn’t have time to soften his expression he unleashes this teaching upon us all. One gets the sense from his tone that this is something very important but also urgent. The church was growing by leaps and bounds but there was no leadership in place. Everyone was new so they had to grow up fast and Paul was the leader in teaching spiritual maturity. 

I feel that same sense of urgency today. We are living in the closing chapters of the story and the time is short. I do not believe that we can afford the casual Christianity of our past. We must each put on our big boy pants and grow in the things of the Kingdom. I know that I fall short of the mark but as I look around I am convinced that I am not alone. We have played around with our Christian faith and used it as a convenience rather than adopting it as a lifestyle. Now Paul is calling us to higher ground. Awaken! The time is at hand for all of the children of God to grow into spiritual maturity.

There are three clear mandates in this short passage. Each one of them is a message unto itself but you will have to preach those three messages to yourself since this format does not lend itself to that level of comprehensiveness. First, there is a recognition that there are those who are weak and whose weakness is seen by their spiritual failings, chief among these failings is their inability to live up to this passage. There is an assumption that we are not one of the weak but rather the strong. Everyone was new and weak at one time but by now we should have grown up a bit. So, the first admonition is the carry your brother who is not yet able to stand for himself, bear him up on your shoulders. This necessarily precludes our judging them, by the way.

Second, we are not to spend our energies pleasing ourselves. How, then, do we spend our effort? First in supporting those who are weak and secondly in the third admonition; please your neighbor building him up as you do. We really are not supposed to have ourselves on our minds all of the time. Our thoughts are not to be consumed with our perceived wants and needs. It is God’s job to meet all your needs and you know how to pray. So, you say your prayers thanking God for meeting all of your needs today and then that is the last time you have to think of your needs. Now you can use your mental and physical power meeting the needs of others. You have it in your power to bless others. What are you doing with that power? Look around you. What are the needs of your family members and friends? How can you be a blessing? Are there those at work who could use a spiritually mature person to help them? Of course there are. Everywhere you look today are people you could bless if you should choose to do so.  

It is time for us to go to the next level of growth. Are you with me?

My Kingdom for a Leader

Proverb 13: 10, 13, 14, 18, 20                        NIV

Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice. He who scorns instruction will pay for it, but he who respects a command is rewarded. The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death. He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored. He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.

I prayed many years for a mentor and when one appeared I learned a quick lesson. This learned and wise man suggested that I participate in a conference call which occurs weekly. Even as I clicked on reply to affirm my acceptance I realized something very important, I had already eliminated the option to say “No.” When you ask someone to mentor you or you ask God to provide you with a mentor, then “No” is no longer an option. This is called discipline and obedience and although they are very alien concepts in our modern culture, they are part of the bedrock of the Judeo-Christian ethic. We talk about discipleship a lot in Christian circles but one of the things it seems that we fail to realize, much less underscore, is that discipline is at the root of discipleship.

What do you think about when you hear the word discipline? Many of us think of punishment. I do not. I think of athletic prowess. Athletic competition taught me much about discipline, for which I am, to this day, grateful. When I hear the word discipline I think of the well-honed athletes that we admire. They have had to discipline and deny their flesh. They have had to discipline their minds, overcoming every negative thought, fear and impulse that would constrain them. And they have submitted themselves to coaches and trainers in order to become excellent in their chosen field. This, I believe, is an ideal model for discipleship.

No one attains any great level of success on their own. You may hear people claim that they are self-made but it is not true. When you pull back the veneer of their success you will find that they had mothers drive them to practices at ridiculous times in the morning, dads pitching the ball with them into the twilight hours and wives who have taken care of every detail of their lives so that they could focus on their one central goal. Neither do we become spiritual giants of our own merit. We must always lean on those who have gone before and we are just foolish if we try to learn it all on our own. Why spend 80 years of your life learning what the guy who went before you learned. First learn what he can teach you and then take that wisdom on to the next level. This is how it was meant to be. This text says that whoever walks with the wise will be wise. Why? It is because they share their wisdom with you so that you may avoid the potholes which cause misalignment and also because you get to stand on their shoulders. I remember when I was a small child and we went swimming, I would stand on my dad’s shoulders. All of a sudden the water wasn’t over my head. Instead I was well above it.

I can only think of two reasons why we do not subject ourselves to authority more readily, perhaps you can think of others. The first reason, I suspect, is just ego. We do not want to bow to anyone. That is pride and you know that nothing good comes out of pride. 

The second reason is fear. Anytime there is a spiritual problem if you look behind the curtain you will often find fear lurking. Fear comes from not having a full realization of the love of God. In here is weak self-esteem, anger issues and about everything else but including not being able to submit oneself to authority. It is hard enough to submit ourselves to our bosses and pastors who have legitimate positional authority over us. How much more difficult is it to willingly submit yourself to the authority of someone who does not exercise any substantive power over you. Fear makes you feel that you will be made small when you submit yourself to another but that is a lie. Willful submission to a mentor or intentional discipleship will make you stronger and wiser. Is there ever an occasion for a rebuke? Well sure. If your mentor loves you, they will correct you and correction is okay. It helps us to grow and to make right choices.

So this is my suggestion, if you are the locomotive of your train, find someone who can be a leader and an advisor for you. The people following you need for you to be a good disciple to someone else so that you can be a good leader to them. Leadership always begins with followship (if you will allow me to coin that word). If you have never allowed yourself to be led, mentored or discipled today is a great day for you. Do not delay. First ask God for a mentor. Second, recognize that one may appear quickly and humble yourself. Do not let the fear that they may take advantage of you or “Lord” it over you prevent you from receiving that person and their wisdom. Just keep your mouth shut and learn everything they know. If you outgrow their knowledge, God will assign you a new mentor. Just remember, if he has not yet assigned you a new leader then there is still something that He wants you to get from the one you have. The person that God wants you to shadow may be in your life right now and in fact, probably is. They won’t be perfect so stop looking for the perfect but they have something you need.

Lastly, if you perceive yourself as the leader of your group I suggest this little exercise. Stop leading for a moment. Turn around and see who is behind you. Who is following you? If your following is not what you want it to be or expect it to be, then run quickly to find your mentor. Submit yourself to their direction. Never let yourself be a leader without a leader. Make sure that as you lead others there is someone leading you. Foremost that is Christ but God has also provided people to disciple and mentor us. If you do not have someone filling that role in your life, pray to the Father for your leader and make it your determined goal to receive that person. 

Wisdom, honor and success accompany discipline.