Everyone is a leader in some realm. Whether you are a parent, a teacher, an older sibling, a coach, a manager or a cancer survivor….someone, somewhere is looking at you, and taking a cue from you. And that, my friend, is what it means to be a leader.
Sometimes we can operate under the misconception that a leader is someone with a charismatic personality and an ability to speak eloquently, and that feels very intimidating. But lately, as I’ve been studying through the book of 1 Corinthians, I’ve found myself chuckling and relating over the apostle Paul’s leadership experiences and realizing how much emphasis Paul puts on trying to debunk this very myth of big-name, ‘celebrity’ leadership.
I can practically see Paul sitting at a rough-hewn wooden table, thinking over the petty disputes and lofty debates of these churches and facepalming himself.
And I have to say, I love how snarky and sarcastic Paul gets with people. Take a look at 1 Corinthians 4:8, where Paul is tongue-in-cheek ‘applauding’ this church for thinking they are so rich – even “kingly”! – in their spiritual “maturity”….which he has just spent the previous several pages trying to correct, because they’re so off-base.
(Can’t you just hear Paul saying “Great job, guys…you’re now all experts, without any help from anyone! NOT!”)
And you get it too, don’t you? Paul’s sentiments. Because you’re a leader too.
You’ve lived something, experienced something, learned something the hard way. And SOMETHING is now, to you, more than a theory, an idea or a belief. It’s your reality. And you now have this gem in your hand, this hard-earned or learned lesson that you now have a responsibility to steward well and help bring to someone coming along behind you. And that’s what makes you a leader. Not a certificate or a degree that says you ‘are’ something. Those papers or accreditation (or lack thereof) don’t make you who you are, don’t mean you necessarily have something to offer. It’s the life you’ve lived that has really taught you things.
And I’d also be willing to bet that the things that you KNOW in your KNOWER…those very things that are the gems of wisdom and experience that you hold….they probably came at a pretty dear price. But that’s also what makes you a leader. Leaders are willing to pay the price.
Real leaders aren’t people that can learn some “lines”…some good arguments, some information, some facts, or some doctrines…and then “perform” those with great energy in front of a crowd. Those are actors.
Real leaders are the ones who are willing to get in the trenches of life, do the hard stuff, learn the lessons, take the hits….and then turn around to the watching eyes behind them and say “This way”…and keep on going.
This is essentially what Paul is chiding the Christians about in his Corinthian letter. He’s telling them…being mature isn’t about knowing (or thinking you know) a bunch of stuff. Maturity is cultivated in the “fire”, so to speak. It’s about drawing the “short straw”, sucking it up…and going for it. He compares the apostles “status” as leaders to prisoners of war being paraded in a procession to their death. The end of the line, “buck stops here” kind of thinking. Not exactly the glamorous “position” we like to associate with leadership. He’s essentially saying to them… “You guys SO don’t get this….” It’s not about being “top dog”, but rather, being willing to be the bottom rung so that others can climb on your shoulders.
But a few sentences later he expresses that he’s not railing on them in order to shame them, but rather to give them an accurate picture of what REAL leadership is, and to encourage it to embrace it for themselves. To go for it. To pursue being true leaders. He says “Look at what I’m going through, and imitate me…do what I’m doing!”
Does Paul do this because he thinks he’s just All That? Because he’s such hot stuff he wants everyone to be just like him? No. Not at all. Just like good parents don’t strive to set a good example just to make themselves look good (or at least that shouldn’t be the motivation). They do it because they want to pass something on. They want the next generation to get it. Paul says to this church…”You guys have a lot of teachers, but not many fathers…”
What’s the difference between a teacher and father?
It’s the fact that a father gets down and dirty and takes a whole lotta crap in order to give the best to his kids. Teachers are great, and good, and necessary. They impart important information and facilitate learning. But it’s a more detached role. It’s not nearly as personally invested as a parent.
But a dad (or a mom), or anyone that cares enough about another person to take hits on their behalf…that’s a LEADER.
We need more leaders. We don’t need more personas, more big-names, more celebrities. We need more “fathers” (and “mothers”). Essentially saying…we need more people that really, really care, and care enough to ‘go there’…to the difficult places…themselves.
We need people who are willing to look like fools, to take the heat to push through…and then who are willing to turn around, look someone in the eye and say… “This way. Follow me.”
You see, the very word describes what a leader should do. They aren’t called “senders”. They don’t stand, like a sign-post and just tell everyone where to go and what to do. They LEAD. They get out in front and they go where they want others to be able to go.
So you…yeah, YOU. Someone, somewhere is looking at you. They’re waiting for you to take the step. To say “I’ve been there.” To show them how to navigate the murky waters. They don’t want to just read a book, listen to a TED talk, or watch a YouTube tutorial (though all those things are great). They need YOU to get in the trenches, to be with them in taking the hits, to let them see you wrestle through the struggles. They need you to lead.
So don’t get hung up on whether or not you look good or sound good. Take a cue from Nike (and the Apostle Paul) and “Just Do It”. And take somebody with you. Because that’s what a leader does.