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Monday, June 24, 2013

What is Leadership? Part Two

I have no plans of posting a series titled What is Leadership? but sometimes I get inspired by something I read or experience, so I'm back at it.

This morning in Acts 15-16 I came across four quick snippets of leadership that made me smile and nod my head in affirmation. In Acts 15:36-41, we see disagreement between leaders:

After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

I sure have been in this situation a time or twenty... two strong-willed leaders hold their ground, and have to part company. I love this because first of all, it's in the Bible. This isn't a glossed-over, everything-was-puppies-and-rainbows-all-the-time story about how the church began. We see things as they happened. Secondly, it's an example of how many of our decisions as leaders do not fall within a zero-sum, black-and-white-, right/wrong construct. Here we see there were two different views of what to do with Mark as a leader; Barnabas (who had the gift of encouragement) wants to give Mark another chance, and Paul has had enough. So they part ways, and take the gospel in different directions.

Next, in Acts 16:1-5 we meet Timothy for the first time, who ends up being mentored by Paul. Again, I like what we see here about leadership:
Paul went on also to Derbe and to Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and had him circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they went from town to town, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily.

In keeping with the unlikely profiles of the disciples as leaders, we meet Saul (later Paul) in Acts 9, and here we meet Timothy, who is a Jew because he has a Jewish mother, but a sort of "half-breed" as well by having a Greek father. My friend Christena Cleveland wrote articulately about the varied cultural understandings of leadership, so I don't need to really expand on that. Suffice it to say, Timothy isn't a "superman" sort of leader. Nevertheless, he was "well spoken of by the believers." A crucial element of leadership that I look for is confirmation of calling by the community. Far too often I meet people who essentially self-appoint themselves as pastors and leaders. Not so fast, tiger. If someone approaches me and tells me they feel called to be a pastor (this happens fairly often, believe it or not), the first thing I ask is "Great. Have you started any Bible studies?" They don't have to be Joe Charisma, but they need to understand the consistent, hard work it takes to make stuff happen ~ and have others confirm that they have the gifts and graces to continue.

What follows soon after is one of my favorite stories in scripture. In Acts 16:11-16 we read of the conversion of a businesswoman and God-seeker named Lydia:
We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

In 2005 I visited the site outside of Philippi where this supposedly happened. My heart swelled with joy and no small amount of pride at "meeting" a woman whose legacy I carry on some 2,000 years later. Lydia went on to host the nascent church of Philippi in her home. Let's not forget that this was the first church in Europe. Whenever that lovely conversation bubbles up about whether or not women can be leaders in the church, I point to this passage as one of my favorite examples of how it has happened from the beginning.

What can I conclude from this section? That leadership is human, but infused with God's Spirit. It includes disagreement, no easy answers, and possibilities for anyone. Recently I plugged the word "leadership" into Amazon's search engine, and over 100,000 titles came up! But the world's understanding of leadership is not the template we blindly follow as we lead God's church. May we follow the Spirit first and foremost, in small and consistent ways, as we press forward.

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