Leaders bear a heavy load.
Thank you for all the things you do that no one ever notices.
Thank you for caring. Thank you for serving. Thank you for your time. Thank you for you energy.
May God bless you as a leader, refreshing your strength, renewing your vision and providing all that you need to do the work He calls you to do! He is faithful to do so.
You are a gift!
And I am thankful for you.
Benefits for leaders who are quick to listen:
Leaders who are slow to speak and quick to listen have time to respond thoughtfully—instead of reacting—protecting leaders from rash and regretful words and actions. (See James 3:7-12).
Benefits for the community where leaders are quick to listen:
Allowing others to finish their thoughts communicates respect and gives less aggressive talkers the space they need to participate in conversations. This in turn creates a more hospitable and collaborative environment for problems to get solved and new ideas to blossom and grow.
Biblical inspiration and support:
The book of James gives us this direction:
“19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19–20, ESV).
Later we read the author’s very sober view of the power of our words:
“7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” (James 3:7–12, ESV).
Let’s take a moment and let that sink in.
Every kind of beast can be tamed, but not the tongue?
It’s a restless evil?
Our tongue is full of deadly poison?
Can you think of some words you’ve spoken in the last week that have caused harm? I can, and I only have to think of yesterday.
Then James continues to explain the phenomenon that salt and fresh water do not pour forth from the same spring. If we want to bless, we ought not curse.
As uncomfortable as it is, we leaders need to be reminded of the power of our words. It might be tempting to make excuses that we are tired or overwhelmed and our words just flow without much thought. Perhaps that is why James advises being slow to speak.
If we are concerned we may say things we will regret, the book of James offers this advice: be quick to listen. It suggests having our go-to posture be listening instead of reacting.
Being slow to speak gives us time to listen, consider and then respond instead of reacting. This helps us be less likely to become angry. Anger sometimes results from assumptions, whereas listening and asking questions can help us really understand.
If this conversation is making you feel uncomfortable, let me point out that leaders typically spend much more time learning to speak and write well than to listen or read well. Both sets of skills are required for effective communication. Many of us have not been trained in how to listen but it is definitely worth the time to invest in learning to listen well.
This illustration was contributed by a friend:
“As a Chaplain in the jail, it is my job to listen. There are many who desire a conversation, a person to share their worries and hear their story. As the time allotted slowly runs out there are the quiet ones who look longingly for a glance their way. How easy it would be to leave with just a smile and wave. But that is not what the Holy Spirit is calling me to do. You sit. You wait. Their story often starts confusing because of all they need to say. How I want to finish sentences and offer a quick conclusion to their story! But it's in the patient listening you come to hear their heart where Jesus longs to minister.” How powerful it is to be reminded what the Lord does in the hospitable space created when we listen.
Practice “slow to speak” phrases.
Take some time to think of times you feel pressured to speak, especially when it goes poorly. What are some other ways to respond? How could you be slow to speak in that situation? How could you be quick to listen?
Here are some suggestions to get your brainstorming started:
“I am not sure, I will get back to you.”
“Thank you, you’ve given me something to consider.”
“I’m not prepared to engage in this conversation right now, let’s schedule another time.”
A final word:
Leaders who are quick to listen create hospitable space for people to ask questions, point out problems, and suggest new ideas.
Comment: What helps you to be quick to listen?
Benefits for leaders who are powerful but not dominating:
1. Leaders sometimes become bitter, feeling their role requires an endless supply of energy that no human has. But, if God is the source of energy, leaders are able to draw on God’s endless resources.
2. Powerful leaders cooperate with God in the work He is doing and do not need to force their way. They are able to relax and trust in God.
Benefits for the community where leaders are powerful but not dominating:
When leaders trust in God’s power and see themselves as God’s servants, stewarding the gift of leadership entrusted to them, their confidence in God protects them from the fears that lead to using authority to suppress others. They have no need to dominate but are able, instead, to invite.
Biblical inspiration and support:
Christian leaders are powerful, but maybe not in the same way we often think about leaders being powerful. When James and John asked to sit on Jesus’ right and left hand in glory, Jesus taught His disciples:
“ …'You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'" (Mark 10:42–45, ESV)
So, those who were not God-followers lived a certain way, but Jesus taught His disciples not to follow their pattern. How did they live? Those who were considered rulers, or leaders, “lord it over them.” What does it mean to “lord it over” someone? The word used here is a Greek word that has the sense of subduing, bringing into subjection, and being master over. The leaders who were not following God were bringing others into subjection and acting as master over them.
“But it shall not be so among you…” (Mark 10:43, ESV) Jesus confidently and authoritatively states. Christians should not follow that pattern.
Instead, Jesus says, “…whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:43-44, ESV). This is quite a shift, from subduing and ruling over those you lead to serving all.
Jesus redefined what greatness is.
Being great is being the servant of all.
Not only did He redefine it in His teaching, Jesus modeled it.
Jesus continues, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45, ESV). Jesus showed us what it looks like to be great as He laid down His life on the cross for people.
Christian leaders are not to dominate as we often see leaders around us doing, pressuring others to submit to our will and agenda. Instead, those who follow Christ follow His example of serving all.
What does that look like? I think Peter gives us an idea as he teaches:
“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:1–3, ESV, emphasis mine).
Leaders are to willingly oversee others, not eager for money, and not domineering (our Greek word from the Mark passage above) over others but “being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3, ESV). One of the ways we serve is by being examples. I would suggest we serve as examples as we imitate Christ, our example.
So, what about the power? I believe as we align our will with God’s will, His mighty power is released in and through us. Imagine a gas stove, as you turn the dial to align with “on”- poof! The power is released and the flame is burning! As we line up our attitudes, will and behavior with God’s will in the situation, His power is released in us.
Paul describes how he works with God’s power that works mightily in him:
“29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” (Colossians 1:29, ESV, emphasis mine).
Paul does exert, but it is with God’s energy.
As we seek to resist the common temptation to dominate and pressure others…
As we seek to serve as leaders, following Christ’s example…
As we seek to serve God, serving His agenda not our own…
God’s power is released in us, and through our obedience it is released into the relationships and situations we find ourselves in. And that, my friends, is truly great.
 Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 519). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
A few years ago I read about a concept called, “abandoning outcomes to God,” in Your Best Life in Jesus’ Easy Yoke by Bill Gaultiere. Before that time, I consistently found myself uptight in meetings, eager to share my opinion and use my influence to get my way. As I recall, one of the exercises in the book encouraged the reader to go into a meeting letting go of the pressure to share your own ideas and opinions and to instead, abandon the outcome to God. It seemed like a strange idea, but one day it came to mind as I was entering a meeting and I tried it. I let go of what I really wanted to persuade everyone to do and just listened. As I listened, I realized that people were not really hearing each other. I started praying for those in the meeting to hear and understand one another. I found myself realizing that the conversation did not need any additional new ideas so instead of injecting my thoughts I worked towards facilitating the conversation. I started praying to sense what God was doing and what He wanted in the meeting. This has changed how I approach meetings in general. I am much more open to what God wants to do in the meeting. I think sometimes His priority has more to do with relationships, communication and unity then decisions and action items. Giving up my desire to “rule” in the meeting and have my way “win” has given me the ability to be sensitive to and enter into what God may want to do in the meeting. It has allowed me to serve God and others.
1. Write down some ways you see leaders and rulers “lording it over” people in our world today.
2. Reflect on where you feel pressure as a leader to force your way and to subdue others.
3. Read Mark 10:35-45. Write down any insights you have.
4. Pray and ask the Lord to show you the way to be great as a leader, the way to serve in your situation.
A final word:
Powerful leaders do not dominate, they invite.
Comment: How have you experienced God’s energy working powerfully within you, like Paul describes in Colossians 1:29?
Benefits for leaders who are open to reason:
1. Being open to reason takes the pressure off the leader to have every good idea and solve every problem. The leader guides the group through the process of discovering possibilities, researching solutions and choosing the path forward.
2. Being open to reason can save the leader time, resources and emotional credit with others as they become aware of their blind spots and avoid pitfalls.
Benefits for the community where leaders are open to reason:
1. Leaders who are open to reason create environments where all ideas can be heard and considered, resulting in discovering more creative and effective solutions. It also makes space where it is possible to form plans collectively.
2. Being open to reason fosters the understanding that each of us needs the others.
3. The blind spots of leaders pose danger to the group enterprise. Having a leader that is open to reason protects the group from that danger.
Biblical inspiration and support:
Years ago I thought the leader of a group was the most opinionated person who exerted pressure to get their way. I no longer think that way. The following passage from the book of James is what made me start to re-evaluate what it means to lead and to be wise.
“13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:13–18, ESV, emphasis mine)
Selfish ambition, which makes self the focus and has the need to personally win all discussions, arguments and decisions, is the enemy of true wisdom. Bitter jealousy, which is incapable of celebrating the gifts and successes of others, is the enemy of true wisdom. These characteristics bring chaos and evil.
But true wisdom is pure. It does not change with the tide of opinion. It does not give way to ambition or envy; it is unpolluted.
True wisdom is peaceable and gentle. True wisdom does not demand or pressure, but pursues true reconciliation and connection.
True wisdom is open to reason. This implies that wise people really listen to others. We all need to have the foundations of truth set by the Word of God, but that leaves many issues open to discussion. Wise people are confident that God will work through His Holy Spirit in us as we discuss. Wise people know that every person only sees from their own limited perspective and so recognize God has given us one another as a gift–offering new perspectives and insights, and even challenging questions. It is not always comfortable to entertain foreign ideas. I think that is why it is somewhat uncommon to do so. But I believe we must be open to reason, open to the possibility that our understanding may be lacking and that God might be using other people in our life to uncover our blind spots.
The thing about a blind spot is, you usually do not know it is there until there is a collision.
Being open to reason allows our blind spots to be uncovered without the pain and damage of a collision on our team. (Another way of thinking of blind spots might be the “log in our own eyes” like in Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:3-6 and Luke 6:41-42, see practical application below.)
I have discovered that being open to reason requires faith in God. It feels vulnerable to allow the possibility of my mind being changed. Because of this, I need to know that God keeps me safe. To turn to selfish ambition and bitter envy is the opposite of putting our trust in God. When we engage in that kind of “wisdom” we are working to protect and promote ourselves.
We see in this passage that being open to reason complements being submissive, impartial and sincere. To be wise is ultimately to be a peace maker. How amazing.
I remember how stunned I was to read this passage and realize that God was defining wisdom relationally, not intellectually. That is not how I had commonly thought about wisdom. How about you?
Being open to reason helps us move one step closer to true wisdom.
Different people see things differently. I remember a time I was serving on a team and one member left to go on a trip. When this member was gone, it seemed like it was easier to make changes more quickly. So, we came up with an idea and implemented it while they were away without thinking much of it. When she returned, she asked us questions about our decision that uncovered caveats we had not considered. We had not thought about how many people were invested in the old way and we had not spoken with stakeholders and given them an opportunity to be part of the change. Speaking to her, and being open to the reason she offered, helped me see how I had made a mistake in how I had gone about making the change. Had I asked her for her perspective before I made the change, I could have avoided some unnecessary fallout. We probably still would have made the change, but we would have involved more people in the decision-making process and engaged more people in deploying the change. That experience helped put more value on the input of people who see things differently than me.
A friend offered this reflection: “When I lead, I could easily be offended by another opinion or answer, thinking it was targeting my ability instead of helping. That's not Godly wisdom in the body of Christ, it is focused on self. The Lord was gracious to me and I learned, finding that working and learning from others was the best leadership! God just put me there to put the puzzle pieces together!” How refreshing it is to realize our role is not to come up with every good idea or have all the answers but to put the pieces together.
Reflect on wisdom.
Take a minute to write down how you think our society would describe a wise person.
Next go through James 3:13-18 and write down how the “wisdom from above” is described. What differences do you notice? What surprises you the most?
Of all the attributes listed, if you grow in one, which one would you choose?
Pray and ask God to help you grow in that attribute and in wisdom.
Where is there chaos and disorder in your life or your team?
James 3:13-18 talks about disorder and chaos being the fruit of selfish ambition and bitter envy.
Take a moment to pray and ask the Lord to show you if ambition and envy are contributing to the disorder. If something comes to mind, ask the Lord for true wisdom in that situation. (James also shares the comforting and powerful truth: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5, NIV))
Who on your team thinks very differently than you do? Invite them to share their point of view on an issue your team is facing or a new idea you are exploring.
Then listen and really consider what they have to say. Count it a gift to be able to hear a different perspective. Offer a summary of what they said to make sure you heard them correctly. Ask clarifying questions as needed. Make sure to thank them for their time and for sharing their perspective and let them know you will consider what they shared as the team moves forward. (Note: No need to promise to do what they suggest, but do agree to listen well and fully consider what they have said.)
Blindspots… the log in your own eye?
Take time to read Matthew 7:1-6 and consider Jesus’ teaching about how we “…do not notice the log that is in [our] own eye…” (Matthew 7:3, ESV). How does this relate to what we commonly think of as blind spots?
A final word:
Being open to reason gives leaders opportunities to spot blind spots.
Comment: How has another person’s perspective helped you avoid a collision?
Hi! I'm Jeri Howe.
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