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ANALYSIS: Biblical heroes provide models of positive Christian leadership

EDITORS’ NOTE: Part one of this series focuses on unhealthy models of pastoral leadership: The Terminator — whose purpose is to make things right; Superman — who places too many expectations on himself; Captain Kangaroo — who probably works too hard at helping people have a good time; The Lone Ranger — who works hard at doing good anonymously; and Underdog — who feels his back is against the wall.

These leadership styles are described by Brooks R. Faulkner, senior LeaderCare specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, and author of “Getting on Top of Your Work: A Manual for the 21st Century Minister.” Part two of this series examines biblical models of healthy leadership styles as described in Faulkner’s book.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–There is a little of all of the unhealthy leadership models in many of us. A path to better health is learning to smile at the flaws and warts and to correct them just as the apostles Peter did with his temper, James and John did with recognition and Paul did with his thorn.

Consider seven models of healthy leadership from biblical evidence:

— Paul. Believe in something bigger than yourself.

“I have placed you as a light for the Gentiles, that you should bring salvation to the end of the earth” (Acts 13:47, NASB). He was thoroughly subservient to the will of God, and he was committed to a specific, meaningful mission. Paul had courage in the face of opposition because he had limitless horizons in his mission. He believed in himself, but he believed in something bigger than himself — Jesus Christ and him crucified.

H.L. McClanahan was a mentor to literally hundreds of pastors in Black River Baptist Association in Kennett, Mo. His personhood never got in the way of showing the model of Christ. He was caring, forgiving, understanding, nonjudgmental and fun to be around. He was bigger than life to a young preacher boy, but he always represented his Lord, who was bigger than he.

— Nehemiah. Build on what God has given you.

Nehemiah’s leadership was built not so much on ancestry from the Jewish lineage as on faithfulness. He would build the walls of faith. He was obscure in comparison to other great Old Testament heroes, but faithfulness separated him from mediocrity in history. God has given each leader specific gifts. Some are not as visible. All are useful.

Some pastors’ gifts will never be acclaimed. Some pastors’ lives will be spent in out-of-the-way places and unheard of names to the adoring public, but God knows. The measure of a man is faithfulness, not notoriety.

— Joshua. Bring the best people to the table.

Joshua had been in the presence of God. “Put off thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so” (Joshua 5:15 ASV). Because of this special blessing, he was appointed as one with judicial powers and responsibilities in Joshua 14:6-15. He was courageous as indicated by the spy scenario in Numbers 13:31. He was most likely the envy of other young leaders.

But Moses brought him to the table of leadership because he was the best person for the job. My guess is that he had skills Moses admired.

Pastors need to bring the best people to the table and then trust them to do their work. Healthy pastors encourage staff. They believe in them because they have skills that are better than their own.

— Barnabas. Bridge the gaps of differing opinions.

Barnabas was nicknamed “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36, RSV). He bridged the gap between the Greek and Jewish worlds. Born a Cypriot and reared a Levite, he linked the Hellenistic world and the Jerusalem church.

He was not an “out front” kind of person but rather stayed in the background as a fan and supporter of Paul.

The most memorable aspect of effective leadership of a pastor is when he has survived the polarities of differing opinions and modeled having each side respect the other.

— Moses. Blind your eyes to petty criticism.

Moses was seen as a patient leader of a people with little faith (Exodus 16:8, 16-20). They complained and whined at every inconvenience (Exodus 15:24, 16:2-3). He did get disgusted. He struck the rock and disobeyed God, but his patience had worn thin. He had had enough.

The wise leader will work hard at blinding his or her eyes to the pettiness of church members’ criticism. If that doesn’t work, he outlasts them. Just about every pastor has “struck the rock” at one time or another, but then, like Moses, the same pastor usually has the resilience to see things through.

— Elijah. Bind the ties of love and courage.

Today’s nomenclature calls it tough love. Some call it a tough mind and a tender heart. Elijah had both. He loved God. He had the courage to speak to the evils of his day. Where is your God? he asked. “Perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27, RSV).

His sarcasm showed his disdain for those who had forsaken God. In every effective leader’s life, there is a time for love but also a time for courage. Effective leaders have the courage to speak even when it is unpopular to speak because they speak the truth with love.

— Peter. Bounce back after you are knocked down.

In Matthew 16, Peter was seen as both a “rock” and a “stumbling block.” He was both blessed and disgraced almost in the same breath. Discouraged by the disapproval of Jesus, yet blessed by the warmth and affection of Jesus, Peter was down but not out. Resilience may be the cornerstone of effective leadership. You get knocked down, but you bounce back.

There is a little of The Terminator, Superman, Captain Kangaroo, Lone Ranger and Underdog in most of us. These cause us to examine closely our unhealthy characteristics of leadership.

Fortunately, there are models to emulate in biblical types of leadership.

Adapted from The Alabama Baptist, newspaper of the Alabama Baptist State Convention. Used by permission. “Getting on Top of Your Work: A Manual for the 21st Century Minister” is published by Convention Press: Nashville, Tenn., 1999, and may be obtained from LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention at 1-800-458-2772.

    About the Author

  • Brooks R. Faulkner