It is no shock to us that God is the greatest leader of all time. And, if that is the case, it should be our earnest desire to lead like He leads!
I know as a young man, it is easy to get caught up in the work of the leadership “gurus” of our day (and they certainly have their place), but never has my leadership been more radically transformed than when I stopped to meditate on how God leads me forward in my own spiritual journey.
God Leads Gently
I’ve come to realize that I am not the quickest learner in God’s “Academy of Spiritual Maturity.” That is a tough pill to swallow! Yet too many times I find myself expecting so much from the people I am leading, and I push them to go further and faster, and these aren’t necessarily bad things, but the bad thing comes when I think less of them because they aren’t necessarily where I imagined I was (often I am not even close to where I imagine I am.)
But as I have pondered how God has cultivated my walk with Him, I realize that most of my growth is slow and steady. There are some periods of crazy growth, which usually occur after a period of intense trial, but most of what God does is day by day.
God’s desire for us today is to simply grow a little more in the knowledge of Jesus and in conforming our lifestyle to that knowledge. We are then to accept His free grace for where we are not yet perfect (both in knowledge and practice). Then the next day, we grow a little more like Him, accepting even more mercy and grace. I am so thankful for His infinite mercy that allows me the time to be conformed into His image (This should go without saying, but the grace is not there to be abused as a license to sin, it is merely there to inspire us to actually try despite our failures. But that is not the point of this writing).
In Genesis 33:13-14, we see a wonderful example of how God leads and we see it illustrated in the way Jacob leads. Jacob has just seen Esau for the first time in a long time, and Esau asks Jacob to journey with him. But Jacob is wise, and he expresses the tender love of a father for his children when he tells Esau that his children and young cattle need to be led gently or else they will die. In much the same way God leads us. I know I have experienced it. God knows that we cannot take all of the steps of our Christian journey at once, so He leads us at His perfect pace.
Just as God leads us gently, we should recognize the need to lead others gently. We should be willing to bestow grace on those who are growing even as God Himself bestows abundant grace on our own growth.
God Leads From Love
This point has revolutionized my relationship with God and my thought process on leadership as a whole. Everything God does is done in love. The scripture states that “God is love.” Many take that statement to mean that God is a pushover, or that God is controlled by emotions.
But 1 Corinthians 13 shows us exactly what love is. Love and holiness are one and the same. They produce the same effect. Romans 13 tells us that love literally fulfills the law! Love and holiness are inseparable. They are, in fact, two sides of the same coin. The one who truly loves will be truly holy, and the one who is truly holy will truly love. You cannot be holy without love, and you cannot love without being holy.
This is so important to grasp. This is why Jesus loved infinitely. He held the balance between personal holiness and patience with sinners. And by balance I do not mean that sometimes he was personally holy and other times he was patient with sinners, instead I mean that He showed us that it is possible to be both. In fact, the only way to be personally holy is to love our enemies (not agree with them).
We live in a day where many think you either love or you are holy, and by creating this false dichotomy they lose both love and holiness. You do not truly love someone if you are not striving for their personal holiness. And you are not holy at all if you do not love every person alive (no matter their gender, lifestyle, religion, etc.)
This is the power of the new life in the Messiah. It allows us to live holy, separate lives that still love and are patient with unbelievers.
Now true love does confront sin. Don’t think for a moment that patience with unbelievers is equivalent to tolerance and acceptance. God does not tolerate sin, nor does He accept sinners (they must have their sin removed by the sinless substitute). God still hates sin!
But why? The answer to that question will allow us to be the best leaders and soul winners that we can possibly be. God hates sin because it destroys. It cannot destroy God, but it does destroy God’s creation. It destroys relationships. It destroys lives. It destroys trust and our ability to truly love one another. Sin hinders man from experiencing life the way God intended it to be lived, and it mars the image of God we were intended to be.
And so God, in complete selflessness (love) wanted to take care of the sin problem by doing the most selfless thing possible… accepting responsibility for our sin. Our sin was literally imputed to His account.
This is how God leads. He leads with love. Every commandment, every scathing rebuke, every interaction is bathed in selflessness.
Now, why did I take valuable time to explain this? Because when we see how God leads, we can begin to imitate Him. And, by the power of His indwelling Spirit, we can see our motives cleansed and changed from self-preservation (stop sinning because you are polluting my space) to giving ourselves up for them (I’ll tell you to stop sinning, even though you might hate me for it, because I know sin is destroying you and God’s way is best for you).
So now when we rebuke somebody, it is not to protect ourselves from their filthiness or inadequacy, but rather because we want what is best for them.
Now when you correct those who you are leading, whether in ministry or anywhere else, you can do it with completely pure motives. This will give boldness and sincerity to your leadership.
I could write a book full of detailed examples, but I hope this has helped you as much as it has me. May we lead gently and with love, just as God leads us.
Addison Smith serves as the youth pastor at Harvest Baptist Church in Medford, Oregon.