A week on a sailboat.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. My two sons and I spent a week sailing out of Constitution Harbor in Boston on a CSY44, a 44-foot sailboat. Joining us as honorary skipper: my 90-year-old father.
After a stint flying B24s in the European theater, Pop married Mom 65 years ago. They served 45 years as missionaries. (I was born in Tokyo.) Pop’s a terrific leader. Today he walks 50 minutes a day. He volunteers weekly with young people. He preaches at his church when asked. He and Mom count over 40 descendants, including a dozen great grandchildren.
Sitting at anchor, we asked Pop for wisdom.
We asked Pop: “What one message do you want us to pass on to the great grandchildren?”
Pop said he hopes each one would trust in Jesus Christ. He wants them to enjoy eternal life. And then he encouraged each one to abide in Christ. He spoke from John 15. He talked about the vine and the branches. The branches gain life from the vine. The Gardener’s pruning shapes their lives. Their lives produce fruit. And the fruit pleases the Gardener.
My sons and I soaked up the wisdom.
You’ll find many definitions for ‘leadership.’
I see leadership, at its core, as influence. Leaders influence people to change. Organizational leaders, says John Kotter, bring change. They set new directions for organizations, align people and resources to those directions, and motivate and inspire those people to contribute their best to those directions.
Leadership includes emotions, surprisingly. Motivating and inspiring are relational activities that require emotional bonding with others. The process for setting direction involves connecting with followers. In their research, Kouzes and Posner identify as a core leadership activity: “inspiring a shared vision.”
This is why leadership starts with relationships.
At Bethel, we see the heart of leadership as relationship—relationship with God, others, and self.
Relationship with God means connecting intimately with Christ and following the Spirit’s guidance. So divine wisdom, motives, power, and vitality fill the leader.
Relationships with others mean that godly leaders connect with followers’ deepest longings, giving followers the opportunity to do what they do best. Godly leaders are givers, not takers, and they sacrifice so that followers benefit.
All of this shows the importance of healthy self-leadership. Healthy self-leadership means following a discipline, a purposeful pursuit of growth in self-awareness, self-control, and self-care. Self-leadership is the most difficult kind of leadership. But spiritual and personal development of leaders is critical, for only a person who leads her own life well earns the right to influence others.
The Servant Leader paradoxically combines commitment and humility.
Some people have a stereotype of leadership. They think of leaders as dominating drivers (best case) or tyrannical egotists (worst case). The heart of leadership, in this stereotype, is pushing people to do what benefits the leader.
It is true that great leaders are tenaciously committed to mission. But an egotistical view of leadership is completely at odds with Servant Leadership. Servant Leaders combine tenacity for mission with investment in people. They follow God’s invitation into leadership in order that others may gain. See I Peter 5:1-4: “Be shepherds of God’s flock … not because you must, but because you are willing … eager to serve … not lording it over … but being examples.”
Becoming a Servant Leader is a spiritual formation process.
To grow in ministry leadership, then, absolutely requires, above all else, becoming a person of spiritual vitality, moral character, and emotional maturity.
Without these kinds of maturing, leaders will be tempted to use their influence to fill up an emptiness or neediness in their own lives. This is always dysfunctional.
Godly leaders, by contrast, are so filled up with Christ that they can lead out of that overflow. They steadfastly guide people and organizations to their God-intended purposes. This can involve correction and challenge. But followers trust such leaders because they lead from a place of fullness and satisfaction in Christ.
And that’s why we sat in awe as Pop shared his wisdom.
My sons and I felt the warm sun of God’s blessing, listening to a man we love. By living a life of humble self-leadership , Pop earned the right to influence us, and we delight to honor him.
Now imagine the purpose of seminary education.
Imagine a transformative Bethel Seminary education that puts you on a life-long trajectory toward becoming a Servant Leader like that.