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Time-honored Qualities of Good Leadership by St Paul
The following quotations are from Charles R. Swindoll’s book, “Paul---A Man of Grace and Grit,” published in 2002.
Most people of my generation would name Winston Churchill as one of the world’s greatest leaders. We remember the qualities that great British war hero not only wrote about but emulated in his life. Optimism. Kindness. Magnanimity. Gratitude. Independence. Justice. Self-criticism. Loyalty. Calmness under stress. And the rare ability to face and communicate bad news squarely. Every age enjoys a few remarkable individuals who, in times of crisis, rise to the occasion and lead with courage and integrity. Our man Paul was no exception. He is, in my opinion, in a league of his own.
Frankly, I am more impressed with Paul than I am with any other leader I’ve ever studied. He never led a nation in time of war, or stood toe to toe against a mad man who desired to control the world. However, he was constantly buffeted by the powerful forces of Satan and his domain as he set in motion a Christian enterprise that would impact the entire world for centuries.
Like fine gold thread, excellent leadership qualities weave their way through Paul’s ministry life. Admittedly, an entire study of those outstanding qualities requires more space than I’m allotted in this book. That’s why I’m limiting my discussion to those qualities implicitly stated in a letter he wrote to the Thessalonians while on his second missionary journey. During his extended stay in Corinth, some trouble in Thessalonica compelled him to write a pastoral letter to encourage that flock and defend his apostolic authority. The letter is filled with grace and grit. We’ll focus on eight essential leader ship qualities I observe in the first twelve verses of 1 Thessalonians chapter 2. The first four are negative; the last four are positive.
THE LEADERSHIP STYLE OF THE APOSTLE PAUL
1 You know yourselves, my brothers, that our visit to you has not been pointless.
2 Although, as you know, we had received rough treatment and insults at Philippi, God gave us the courage to speak his gospel to you fearlessly, in spite of great opposition.
3 Our encouragement to you does not come from any delusion or impure motives or trickery.
4 No, God has approved us to be entrusted with the gospel, and this is how we preach, seeking to please not human beings but God who tests our hearts.
5 Indeed, we have never acted with the thought of flattering anyone, as you know, nor as an excuse for greed, God is our witness;
6 nor have we ever looked for honour from human beings, either from you or anybody else,
7 when we could have imposed ourselves on you with full weight, as apostles of Christ. Instead, we lived unassumingly among you. Like a mother feeding and looking after her children,
8 we felt so devoted to you, that we would have been happy to share with you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, so dear had you become.
9 You remember, brothers, with what unsparing energy we used to work, slaving night and day so as not to be a burden on any one of you while we were proclaiming the gospel of God to you.
10 You are witnesses, and so is God, that our treatment of you, since you believed, has been impeccably fair and upright.
11 As you know, we treated every one of you as a father treats his children,
l2 urging you, encouraging you and appealing to you to live a life worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and his glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:1—12 NJB)
Before addressing those eight qualities, let me make a general observation, followed by a couple of impressions. I observe that the Thessalonian Christians knew Paul and his ministry well. He was no distant celebrity; no aloof executive in a pinstriped suit who communicated solely through interoffice memos. On the contrary, he walked among them and worked alongside them. Quite likely, he had enjoyed Sunday afternoon meals in their homes and getting to know their families. He knew them intimately and allowed them to come “up-close and personal” with him.
Several times in the opening verses he makes statements suggesting their personal knowledge of him and his work.
For you yourselves know, brethren. . . (v. 1)
After we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know... (v.2)
We never came with flattering speech, as you know. . . (v.5)
For you remember. . . (v.9)
You are witnesses . . . (v.10)
And on it goes. They knew all about his suffering, understood his words, and trusted his motives. He was no stranger to those folks.
Over and over he implied, “When you look back on my ministry with you, you remember, you know, you were witnesses, you were there, you saw it in action.” They knew the founder of their flock intimately. He was truly a shepherd among them.
Now my impressions:
First, Paul was not offering them leadership ideals. He didn’t write a theoretical textbook on Christian leadership. He wrote a personal letter, appealing to his readers’ intimate knowledge of him and his ministry among them. When he wrote them he reminded his readers of significant leadership essentials they would remember seeing at work in him. They are attainable qualities for all of us and worth the time to cultivate.
Second, Paul style of leadership was neither aloof nor secretive. He lived among them. They knew his address. He talked to them. He didn’t preach a sermon and then conveniently slip out the back door during the benediction. He remained approachable, accessible, and real. His life was an open book. Most would agree, that kind of leader is refreshing. They’ve got nothing to prove, no secrets to hide, no pretense or air of self-importance, never feeling compelled to remind you of their qualifications for the job. That was Paul. He was believable.
John Stott writes, “Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica had been public. It was exercised in the open before God and human beings for he had nothing whatever to hide. Happy are those Christian leaders today, who hate hypocrisy and love integrity, who have nothing to conceal or be ashamed of, who are well known for who and what they are, and who are able to appeal without fear to God and the public as their witnesses! We need more transparency and openness of this kind today.”
A leader who lives his life in the open has nothing to guard or fear. But if he is always on the move, forever hiding behind locked doors and drawn blinds, the public has reason to suspect he’s not genuine. Be careful about following a leader who is inaccessible and invulnerable.
In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian church, he looks back on his ministry there and writes, “You yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain.” How encouraging that must have been for them to hear! Many a pastor looks back on former ministries and sighs, “That was a frustrating ministry, a sad disappointment.” Paul thought the opposite about the Thessalonians. He enjoyed pleasant memories of effective service and loving fellowship.
Please remember, however, his ministry was no bed of roses. He literally limped into Thessalonica, his body bruised and tender from being beaten and imprisoned in Philippi. Thankfully, I’ve never had to endure such brutal persecution. Paul did. But here’s the good news: It didn’t impede his resolve. He writes, “After we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition” (2:2)
One of the secrets of the man’s success can be stated in three words: He plodded on. He led the same way whether the winds were at his back or blowing hard against him. Opposition and hardship didn’t matter. The only priority that mattered was that Christ was proclaimed. Every trail he blazed led others to the Cross.
Since Paul stands as the Bible’s sterling example of spiritual leadership, we would be wise to take a closer look at several of the qualities that made him the leader he was.
LEADING AS PAUL LED
I see eight principles for leading as Paul led. Four are negative, four positive. Let’s look first at the negatives. I call them negative because of Paul’s use of the word “not” or “nor” or “never.” In other words, the following principles demonstrate what spiritual leaders are not to be.
First, spiritual leaders are not deceptive. Paul writes, “For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit” (2:3). Look closely at the word error. The original Greek word means “wandering” and was used often to describe what appeared to be an aimless moving of planets through space. The word was eventually used when referring to people suffering under delusion. Paul reminded the Thessalonian flock that there was nothing manipulative about the way he led. He used the word “impurity” to buttress that point. Nothing off-color or under the table characterized his ministry. No religious traces. No double-talk in fine print designed to trap the unsuspecting. He played it straight. The words “not. . . by way of deceit” simply mean “nothing devious in method or motive.” Paul didn’t conceal the cost of discipleship. He told them it was a rugged journey. Neither did he hold out a promise of fraudulent blessings and benefits. No name-it-and-claim-it theology—--as if God promises to double your money each time you give to some fund-raising appeal. That’s nonsense. Paul knew it and said so. Some people give their lives in places of obscurity and never realize on this earth any significant return on their investment. More often than not, tangible rewards are deferred.
Paul avoided sleazy tactics. He deliberately stayed off the slimy paths of manipulation. He operated on higher ground. No verbal voodoo. No lies. No schemes. Honesty was his middle name. Integrity marked his steps.
General Dwight Eisenhower wrote, “To have followers, one must have their confidence. Hence, the supreme quality for a leader is unquestionable integrity. If one’s associates find him or her guilty of phoniness, if they find that he lacks forthright integrity, he will fail. His teachings and actions must square with each other.”
Second, good leaders are not people pleasers. A sure sign of personal insecurity is wanting to be liked by everyone. Peace at any price. Remaining neutral lest someone be offended. Paul had learned to resist that trap by speaking not “as pleasing men but God, who examines our hearts.” Would that all ministers and ministries could resolve to maintain such a standard! Paul understood the perils involved in telling people what they wanted to hear, rather than declaring what they needed to hear. To him, the stakes were eternal. His motive for ministry wasn’t complicated: Please God, not people.
Years ago, while serving a previous church, I got caught between a rock and a hard place. A sticky issue had presented itself, and the board had reached an impasse. A vote was called to resolve the issue democratically. Of the seven of us voting on the elder board, three voted in one direction, and another three voted in the opposite direction. The tying vote would be cast by the pastor—--yours truly. It was your classic no-win situation. We adjourned for twenty-four hours to pray, but mainly to give me time to sort out the matter.
I went home and said to Cynthia, “I’m going to get away for some time alone. I’ll spend the night thinking and praying about the dilemma somewhere other than at home. I need a change of scenery.”
A good friend of mine, a pharmaceutical salesman I had come to respect, was spending the night in a hotel an hour away. I planned to spend some time in prayer with him and hopefully benefit from his wise counsel. En route to his hotel, a passage of Scripture hit me square between the eyes. I nearly drove off the road as I read from the Bible perched on the steering wheel. Pulling off to the side of the road I read aloud Paul’s words to the Galatians: “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10 NASB).
Boom! Like a heat-seeking missile, the truth of that passage detonated deep within in my heart and destroyed every objection to doing what I knew to be right. For me it was a turning point. It was time for me to be true to my convictions. Either I served Christ or men. You cannot be a faithful bondservant of Christ and spend your life making people happy. I made a U-turn and headed back home.
When I returned after less than an hour on the road, a surprised Cynthia met me at the door. “I know exactly what I need to do.” With some embarrassment, I admitted, “I knew what my heart was telling me; I just didn’t want three of those men not to like me.”
Some feared a church split over the sensitive matter. I didn’t let that intimidate me. Twenty-four hours later I voted my conscience, and the Lord honored that decision. Not only did we not split the church, attendance soared during the next eighteen months.
A warning is in order. Don’t take this as an opportunity to justify your abrasive style. I can almost hear some deacon slapping his knee, thinking, Hot dog! Now I’ve got a biblical reason for offending as many people as I possibly can. The Bible teaches I’m not supposed to please people. Stop! Don’t go there. That’s an extreme reaction which will help no one.
Notice also the word “flattering” in verse 5. You might ask, “How do I please God and honor people without resorting to empty flattery?” Glad you asked. Paul says focus on the Lord “who examines our hearts” (2:4). You listen closely to Him. If you don’t know, admit that. If you’re certain, say it like you believe it. Some may get up and walk out of the meeting. (Rarely have I preached a sermon where someone didn’t walk out of the place.) I see anger reflected on some people’s faces at times. Disapproval and disagreement aren’t uncommon either. The fact is, I’ve gotten to the place where when I don’t see opposition to truth, I’m a bit surprised. Invariably when you come down strong on an issue, you’ll have some who won’t like it. And they leave in a huff. My response? Adios! At my age you get a little ornery.
Leaders who focus on pleasing God gain people’s respect.
Third, spiritual leaders are not greedy. I like Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase in The Message of verse 5: “We never used words as a smoke screen to take advantage of you.”
Godly leaders avoid putting up verbal smoke screens. Sadly, some leaders, who call themselves “Christian,” use their giftedness to manipulate and mislead God’s people. Greed is a vicious master. And it’s not always related to money. You can be greedy for desire or power. You can be greedy for your own agenda. Greed can be a hidden motive that causes you to orchestrate events to move in your direction. Greed flows out of discontentment. Actions spawned by greed usually backfire, causing more heartache and pain for everyone involved.
A couple I read about recently was having a double celebration. Both of them were celebrating their sixtieth birthdays, and their fortieth wed ding anniversary. During their quiet evening together, a fairy appeared and said, “Because you have been such a loving couple all these forty years, I want to grant each one of you a wish. The fairy pointed her wand to the woman first. Being a faithful, loving spouse, the wife wished for an all-expense-paid cruise to a romantic Caribbean island for her and her beloved. Whoosh! Instantly the tickets appeared in her hand. She squealed and beamed with delight. Next the fairy turned her wand to the husband to grant whatever he asked. The man pulled the fairy aside and whispered, “In all honesty, I’d love to have a wife thirty years younger than I am.” The fairy wiggled her nose, waved her wand and poof! He was suddenly ninety years old.
Greed backfires. When people follow greedy leaders, they get hurt. Ministries suffer. Worst of all, Christ is dishonored.
Finally, spiritual leaders are not self-serving. Apostles were a rare breed. To qualify they had to have seen the resurrected Christ. They performed miracles and founded churches. They possessed supernatural discernment and wisdom. They served as the Lord’s chosen men at crucial junctures during first-century church history. Paul stood in their ranks.
By the time he wrote to the Thessalonians, he had proven himself a worthy apostle and exclaimed with a clear conscience that he did not “seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority” (2:6). I admire that sense of authoritative restraint. One of the marks of genuine humility is the restraint of power; it’s what’s held in check that reveals true leadership. No throwing their weight around. No taking unfair advantage. Paul said they could have done that, but they didn’t.
In his excellent book Empowered Leaders, Hans Finzel writes, “There is nothing about leadership that says we have to make people think we are powerful and important. On the contrary, servant leadership finds great strength in serving the needs of followers. . . Top-down leadership is out of place in the church.”
Hans’ words cut across the grain of current church leadership trends. The apostle says, “We never once sought the glory of men.” That’s a remarkable statement. Good leaders are not self-serving. They are passionate about meeting the needs of others.
Enough of the negative. The final four principles for leading as Paul led are positive in tone. The contrast occurs in verse 7 with the tiny-though-powerful word “but.” (Anytime you see that word in Scripture, prepare yourself for a sharp contrast.) Where deception, flattery, greed, and pride did not mark Paul’s ministry, gentleness, affection, authenticity, and encouragement did. The final four principles represent what good leadership is supposed to be.
First, good leaders are sensitive to the needs of others. Paul compared his ministry to a mother, who tenderly cares for the needs of her children. I love that word picture. I watched my wife nursing our children when they were tiny, without giving one thought to her own needs. It has been my joy as well to witness my grown daughters caring for our grandchildren too. It’s a precious sight to behold.
Watching my wife and daughters gently cradle their little ones close to their breasts, and lovingly providing for their needs, helps me understand what Paul meant by “gentleness.” His ministry was marked by a gentle nurturing of the flock. Paul says, “I was like a mother nursing a child, in my manner among you.”
If God has placed you in a leadership responsibility, I urge you to cultivate a spirit of gentleness. It is after all a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23). Your tenderness will work wonders in the lives under your care.
In the aftermath of the September 11 tragedy, the world watched in wonder as powerful leaders spent time tenderly listening to the gut-wrenching stories of rescue workers and grieving New Yorkers. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani impressed the world day after day standing before the people of that great city chronicling the grim progress reports from ground zero. He spoke softly and compassionately, sometimes with tears, as the gruesome figures stuck in his throat. Somehow he made it through each meeting. Holding back his tears seemed as futile as trying to recover victims from the ten-story mound of twisted Trade Center rubble. Americans needed to see gentle leaders weep.
So do Christians. Spiritual leaders need to be just as real, as gentle, as understanding, and as empathetic. You and I appreciate spiritual leaders who consistently reveal their human sides. Contrary to popular opinion, Paul, the strong-hearted, passionate, gritty leader was also known for his gentleness and grace.
Second, good leaders have affection for people. Paul writes, “Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God . . .“ (2:8). Is that great, or what? Paul didn’t shrink from sharing his emotions with his flock. That strong man, an apostle of Christ, looking back on the Thessalonians said, “Oh, what an affection I had for you. How dear you were to me.” Those are affectionate words of intimacy.
To keep this simple and easy to remember, I want to suggest that affection for people can be demonstrated in two ways: Small yet frequent acts of kindness and stated and written words of appreciation. Those you lead should have a few notes of appreciation and encouragement from you by now. They should be growing accustomed to your expressions of affection that include small yet frequent acts of kindness. No one is so important that he or she is above kindness. That aspect of leadership takes courage and a spirit confident in God’s grace.
I came across a couplet that summarizes this point nicely:
Life is mostly froth and bubble.
Two things stand in stone.
Kindness in another’s trouble.
Courage in your own.
I’m grieved by strong leaders who consistently walk over people. We wonder how people like that make it into significant places of influence. Here’s some free advice. If you don’t enjoy people, please, do us all a favor, don’t go into leadership. Choose another career stream. Everyone will be better off. Say no when you’re offered an opportunity to lead.
Neither the world nor the ministry needs more bosses. Both need more leaders—--servant-hearted souls to lead as Paul led, with sensitivity and affection toward others. Love and affection, when appropriately given, fills the gap when words alone fail to comfort. If people know you love and value them, they’ll go to the wire for you. Paul told the Christians at Thessalonica that he loved them. They never got over it.
Third, good leaders demonstrate authenticity. Paul continued, “We were leased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own yes.” He reminded the believers at Thessalonica that he gave them himself. I can already hear your question: “Chuck, are you saying that the gospel isn’t important?” I’m not saying that. I am saying the gospel alone isn’t enough. Simply delivering truth doesn’t make you a leader. A computer or commentary can do that. So can tracts and tapes. Paul went a step further and said, “I had such affection for you, when it came time to serving I gave you my whole life.” How refreshing!
It gets better.
Paul continued, “For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” Hey, this is Macedonia. Not Newport Beach. Times were hard. Thessalonica didn’t enjoy the strong, vibrant economy of Corinth. Folks lived lean, dirt-poor lives. Paul wrote, “Knowing that it was hard for you I paid my own way. I earned my own living.”
He’s not bragging; he’s reminding them of his diligence and sacrificial commitment to them and to the ministry. He had a job to do and he did it. Plain and simple, he had no expectations.
A leader who isn’t authentic will never break through the tough layers of self-preservation so prevalent in our culture. Being real melts away those barriers and lets in light.
Fourth, good leaders are enthusiastically affirming. Again, Paul writes, “You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children” (2:io—ii). He started with a mother tenderly caring for her children. Now we see a father encouraging and exhorting his kids.
Ever sat on hard bleachers, in front of the father of the high school quarterback? He’s his own cheer section. ‘Why? He’s a dad! The kid on the field’s going, “Dad, come on, knock it off” But his old man’s standing up there, yelling at top volume, loving very minute of it.
Perhaps you’ve longed for more affirmation from your father. Let’s face it, encouragement goes a long way in preparing a child for life. No one should be getting more encouragement from us than our own children.
Pretty convicting stuff, isn’t it?
What’s true of children is true of all God’s people. Good leadership balances the tender nurturing of a mother with the loving affirmation of a father. Encouragement is like an oasis in the desert. It brings needed refreshment to weary individuals whose souls are parched from time spent in the desert of self-doubt. There’s also the desert of failure when we’ve tried so hard to succeed and the desert of no progress when we so wanted something to happen. And there’s the desert of family rejection, abuse, and a thousand other arid, barren landscapes of life.
In those desert experiences you long for an oasis where you’re able to get a cool drink of water. Though it didn’t come from your father, at last it comes from the affirming words of a leader, who, in speaking, dips his ladle deep in ice water, and as he pours it out, it cools your spirit and refreshes your soul.
Paul understood the importance of enthusiastic affirmation. It motivated people to better living. In fact, that’s the goal of all these leadership distinctives. Paul writes, “so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (2:12). That’s it. We lead like this so others will live like that!
Question: Where did Paul learn how to lead like that? He started out as Saul of Tarsus, that once arrogant, pretentious Pharisee. Remember? He was a vicious savage around Christians back then. What happened to transform that vengeful, Christian-hating crusader into a dynamic model of Christian leadership? He met his Master. He went from being in charge, to submitting to another. Again, I invite you to consider the words of Hans Finzel: “Servant leaders must be willing to live filled with submission on many levels: submission to authority, submission to God the Father, submission to one’s spouse, submission to the principles of wise living, and submission to one’s obligations. Though conventional wisdom says everyone should submit to their leaders, the real truth is that leaders, to be effective, must learn to submit.”
What happened to the proud, self-sufficient Paul? It was the same thing that happened to Joseph and Moses and Joshua and Samuel and the magi and Peter and John and Mary and Martha and Cornelius and Lydia. He met the Master. He came under new management. He met the Master! And after meeting Him, he surrendered control to Him. That’s the first step to leading as Paul led.
I had walked life’s way with an easy tread,
I had traveled where pleasures and comfort led.
Until one day in a quiet place,
I met the Master face to face.
With station and rank and wealth for my goal,
Much thought for my body but none for my soul,
I had entered to win this life’s mad race,
When I met the Master face to face.
I built my castles and reared them high,
Till their towers had pierced the blue of the sky;
I had sworn to rule with an iron mace,
When I met the Master face to face.
I met Him, and knew Him and blushed to see,
That His eyes full of sorrow were fixed upon Me;
I faltered and fell at His feet that day,
While my castles melted and vanished away.
Melted and vanished and in their place,
Nothing else could I see but the Master’s face.
My thoughts are now for the souls of men,
I’ve lost my life to find it again;
Ever since that day in a quiet place,
Where I met the Master face to face.
Somewhere between the Damascus road and the visit from Ananias, Paul’s life was transformed forever. He started taking orders from Christ his King. He advanced on his knees.
BRINGING IT HOME TO YOUR PLACE
Searching stuff, isn’t it? What is it going to take to convince us that the last will be first and the first will be last? For some it will take a lifetime, for others only a few semesters in seminary.
Each May, at the end of the spring term at Dallas Seminary, we have the joy of listening to the school’s top preachers. They’re nominated and selected by pastoral-ministry professors. One year a talented young man preached on that pivotal passage in John 13 where Jesus washes His disciples’ feet. After a compelling exposition of that simple text, the young senior class preacher leaned low into the microphone, looked across the faces in Chafer Chapel, and asked his fellow students, “Do you want to have a great ministry. . . or do you just want to be great?”
The packed-out chapel went silent. Nobody blinked. I’ll never forget his question. None of us will. I hope he never does either.
In a single question he captured the crucial issue: Greatness. Not as the world defines it. But greatness according to the standard of Almighty God. Great leaders are servants first. Like Paul . . . like his Master Jesus Christ.
This is for you and this is for me. If you’ve never submitted fully to the Master, this is your moment. If you’re still arrogant, you probably won’t be struck down with blindness or find yourself shackled in a Roman prison. That was Paul’s experience. But now that I have your attention, I suggest you take a good look within.
You do know how strong-willed and proud you are. So do the people you lead. You know how slow you are to encourage and how reluctant you are to affirm. They do too. You know if you’re greedy. You know if you’re self-serving. Frankly, it’s time to give all that up. We’re back to the crucial question: Do you want to have a great ministry, or do you just want to be great?
How you answer will determine how you lead. (216-230)
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