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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

13 Jul '11

The paradox of Christian leadership

Good Christian leadership has built within it a divine paradox. Think of the qualities of a good leader: self confidence; clarity of direction; good emotional intelligence; ability to task and empower others; courage to make hard decisions; faith that God can do amazing things; and ability to chart a strategy for success. All of these qualities are marks of a good leader and they are the qualities we ought to concentrate on if we lead.

The apostle Paul exhibited these leadership characteristics. But, he also added another characteristic of great leadership which would surprise Fortune Magazine: humble weakness.

We who lead often accumulate experiences and success that fuel our confidence and that confidence allows us to lead even better. But it can also bring with it pride and the tendency to rely more on ourselves than on God: after all our success is proof of our skill and gifting. Thus the very skill that is needed to lead well can take my eyes off of the One who gave me that skill and move my inner leadership compass from God to myself which will ultimately compromise my leadership. It is a paradox and a threat to my leadership.

Paul faced the same temptation. In 2 Corinthians 12:1-6 he recounts amazing experiences he had including being given visions and revelations that would make any of us prone to pride. And good leaders all have experiences and successes that could lead them to pride.

Which is why we read this significant passage that impacted and formed the very best of Paul's leadership:

"To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in  my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)."

I believe there is a pattern here for Christian leaders. Those He uses to lead, He humbles through circumstances of life. Lead well and one will experience pain - a gift from the Father who does not want our leadership success to move our focus of confidence from Him to us. Confidence in myself is simply pride. Confidence in Him and His power keeps us humble because we realize that He is the source of our success and it is His power that allows us to see that success.

Why is God's power made perfect in weakness? Because it is in weakness that we put our chips with God and humbly ask Him for success. In strength we put out chips with our ability. Here is the paradox again. When we lead out of our weakness and are forced to trust and rely on Him, His power rests on us. And it is His power that makes us the best leaders.

All this led Paul to make a statement that every leader ought to consider: "That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 

One of my leadership heroes is a pastor who has walked through amazing health challenges for many years. In those seasons when he was bringing the most change and spiritual renovation to his church those health challenges increased. Over the years I have also watched his leadership ability, courage and faith grow exponentially. Physically he could be seen as week. As a spiritual leader he is a gentle, courageous giant! He is a recipient of Paul's paradox: When he was weak he became strong. His hardships forced him to rely on God and His power rather than his skill and leadership acumen. 

So we add to the list of characteristics of a great leader: humble weakness that results in powerful strength as we lead in His wisdom and power. If you lead, embrace the paradox.