Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

June 2009
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Does the Leader Need Help or Give Help?

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

In our last Letter, we saw that self-giving love is at the core of healthy Christian leadership. For the healthy leader, the “fundamental focus shifts from what we need and from what others should be doing for us to what we can do to serve them… [This] is the very essence of what Jesus did in His life and ministry and it is at the heart of what He calls us to do (Matt. 20:26-28).”

So, does the Christian leader need help from others or is his focus to give help to others? Of course, the answer is yes!

Jesus was perfect and, yet, He needed the ministry of others to Him. Jesus had friends and He needed them; as a Man, He needed their fellowship and support. For example, Jesus was grieved when they fell asleep in the garden (Matt. 26:36-45). He needed them:

…My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me. (Matt. 26:38)

Paul also had friends, and they nurtured and strengthened him:

You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints. I urge you, brothers, to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work, and labors at it. I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. For they refreshed my spirit and yours also… (1 Cor. 16:15-18)

Significantly, Stephanas was Paul’s own convert! Paul was not too proud to receive nurture and support from his own spiritual son. Onesiphorus, also, was a friend to Paul and strengthened him in “many ways,” doubtless including emotionally and spiritually:

May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus. (2 Tim. 1:16-18; cf. 2 Cor. 7:6-7)

Romans 16:1-16 mentions several of Paul’s “dear” friends and even a spiritual “mother” in verse 13!

Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. (Rom. 16:13)

According to Ken Williams in A Model for Mutual Care, Paul’s “letters mention at least 75 specific friends and colleagues. These were significant people in his life, many of whom ministered to him.” Paul, clearly, had a strong personal commitment to community!

If Jesus, the Son of God, and Paul, the mighty apostle, needed friends, who are we that we don’t? It is not a sign of strength to be by oneself in leadership. It is a mark of weakness. Leaders need friends. Their community around them is like the soil in which the leader grows and thrives, and a plant is never independent of the soil.

…in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Rom. 12:5)

No leader ever grows to the point where he is so strong in God that he no longer needs vital relationships with others around him. Effective Christian leaders lead in a context of community – not as tough “ministry islands” off by themselves. In the body of Christ, no members are independent:

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. (1 Cor. 12:12)

At the same time, the healthy leader recognizes that his primary role is to serve – to be a giver. Consequently, his focus is on the people he serves.

…children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well… (2 Cor. 12:14-15)

The healthy leader honestly recognizes his own needs for help and, embracing those needs, puts himself in the place where he can receive nurture, encouragement and accountability, but he does not demand that his needs become the center of attention. In fact, Paul describes this demanding as one characteristic of the false teachers who were serving themselves at the expense of the people:

For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (2 Cor. 4:5)

In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face. (2 Cor. 11:20)

Even when Paul exhorted the people that they should give, it was for their benefit, not his:

I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me… I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances… I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles… Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. (Phil. 4:10-17)

Thus, the healthy leader recognizes his own needs and puts himself in the place where those needs can be met, but he does not make his needs the center of attention, selfishly and immaturely demanding that others put him first. The healthy leader is a giver – a servant.

…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28)

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