The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.” [Exodus 24:12]
Traditional leadership theory tells us that leaders are those who are called to the top of the mountain, receive a special vision and are sent back down to reveal what they have learned to the masses. The leader who feels they have been called to the mountain top and given a personal revelation tends to be dynamic, charismatic and often times arrogant and pushy. After all, they are “called” and set apart for a great mission and if you don’t agree with them, then you just don’t get it.
But there is a different type of leader, the type of leader that is sent by their community through a process of discernment and affirmation, to gain insight in submission to the needs of the group. These leaders tend to be more reluctant, collaborative and willing to listen to all sides of an issue before making any pronouncements and giving direction.
These are the ones I call LeaderSheep.
When I was growing up the church I attended had what they called a Gifts Discernment Committee. We had committees for everything, even a committee for deciding who should be on which committees. It was the job of the GDC to prayerfully consider who was best suited for each of the many jobs of running the church and then go and tap people on the shoulder saying something like, “you are great with kids, have you ever considered teaching Sunday School?” In this way, through the affirmation of the community leaders where constantly groomed and mentored in submission to the evolving needs of the group.
Sometimes the GDC had to ask the same person to do a job multiple times. Sometimes the best leaders don’t see their own potential and need to be developed and mentored by others around them. Sometimes sheep need a shepherd. But it has been my experience that this affirmation of leadership skill and potential is the best way to lead a community. Without the affirmation of leadership no one is going to follow.
As the apostle Paul said. “how can anyone preach unless they are sent?” [Romans 10:15]
It is the community that does the sending. And the community that also reaps a harvest from the one they have chosen to send. Being called is also a process of being sent.
In a LeaderSheep model the leader is first sent in submission to the community to learn all they can about a given project, program or issue. That person then returns and leads the community in the direction they need to go. The leader first does so in submission to the needs and will of the community and the community then submits to the knowledge and direction of their new leader. It is a beautiful process of mutual discernment, submission and direction.
Elsewhere in his letter to the Romans Paul says this:
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. [Romans 12:3-8]
This is not mountain top leadership. This is having knowledge of what your gifts are and doing what you are uniquely designed to do. Sometimes you need other people to help you discern those gifts but that process often creates more effective, happier and longer lasting leaders than simply deciding for yourself that you will lead a movement because you received a call from on high. That rarely works out.
The so called Community Hermeneutic is the process by which we learn from each other what God is saying, doing, and directing in our lives. We all have unique gifts that can be tapped and developed for the good of everyone around but we need close knit community in order to develop those gifts and grow both individually as a group.
True leadership must be nurtured in community and then sent forth in mutual submission to the greater needs of everyone involved.
For more information on my upcoming book “LeaderSheep: Leading from a Posture of Submission” or to book a speaker on the topic, write to firstname.lastname@example.org