Blog

The ABC’s of Beginning Well: Believe in God’s Promises

Issue #287, October 28, 2020

As we saw in the last issue, Joshua began well in his new role by acknowledging the realities of his situation. As he began he heard God give him several promises. 

5  No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. 6  Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. 7  “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8  Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:5-9).

At the beginning of his leadership journey Joshua heard and believed these promises which would become foundational to his leadership practice. God gave three promises that all serving leaders rely on, not only to begin their journey, but also to continue well.

God promises His presence.

I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” God promised Joshua that whatever would happen to him as a leader, God would be with him. Leaders make difficult decisions and carry the burdens of knowing their decisions impact all those under their leadership. Sometimes there are choices which need to be made which will not be accepted by those they lead. The weight of these responsibilities can cause a leader to feel lonely. But God promised Joshua that in every situation, he would not be alone, he would have God’s presence with him. Serving leaders acknowledge that they need to draw on a source of wisdom and understanding especially as they step into new levels of responsibility or face unexpected challenges.  Serving leaders rely on God’s presence to give them wisdom for the challenges of leadership. His presence gives serving leaders an awesome advantage!

God promises His power.

Three times in these verses God tells Joshua, “Be strong and courageous.”  Joshua would need strength and power for his new role. He was to lead people into a new land and there would be battles ahead. Leadership requires strength. Joshua was expected to do his part, but it would not be enough. As he began this role, he needed to be aware that he would not succeed because of his own credentials or previous experience. He needed the additional power God promised. So God reminded him the land he would conquer was promised by God and would provide His power to help Joshua accomplish the task. The mission was His! Serving leaders receive training and learn from books and other excellent resources. They work hard and do all they can. But they also gratefully believe that God has promised them the power they need to do what He has called them to do.

God promises His plan.

God expected Joshua to lead well, but He also assured Joshua that He had a plan. He first gives Joshua personal instructions, to carefully obey God’s law so he would “be prosperous and successful.” God would later add more details to this plan but as Joshua began, obedience was the foundation. Serving leaders do not simply develop their own plans; they seek to follow God’s plans. They believe that God’s plan is far greater and more significant than what they can conceive on their own.

Joshua began well by believing the promises God gave him. Serving leaders do the same.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

(If you are not in a new role currently, consider how these question apply to the place where you now serve.)

  • In my current leadership situation, how clearly do I sense God’s presence? What difference does it make in the way I lead? Are there things I need to do to increase my awareness of His presence in my daily activities?
  • In what way do I need power right now in my leadership? Do I tend to rely only on my own power or do I regularly acknowledge my need for God’s power in my leadership?
  • God commanded Joshua, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.” In what way do I practice this in my own leadership? Are there changes I need to make to follow Joshua’s example?
  • Does my leadership focus primarily on my plans or discovering and implementing God’s plans? In what way is God inviting me to learn more about His plans for my leadership?         

In the next issue, we’ll examine how serving leaders begin well by connecting with people.

Copyright, Center for Serving Leadership, 2020. 

The ABC’s of Beginning Well: Acknowledge Realities

Issue #286, October 14, 2020

In the last series we learned from Moses how serving leaders transition well. Now, let’s examine the other side of that process, the beginning of a new role for Joshua, his successor. All leaders will experience times when they step into a new position of leadership responsibility or transition to a new organization or group. What does it look like to begin well? In this series we will examine at the ABC’s of beginning well from the life of Joshua: Acknowledge realities, Believe in God’s promises and Connect with people.

Leaders often begin roles with unrealistic expectations. They may expect it to be the best role ever or they may have doubts about their competence for the task. In either case serving leaders need to acknowledge the realities as Joshua did.

1  After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. 3  I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses (Joshua 1:1-3).

From Joshua serving leaders learn to acknowledge three realities as they begin new roles.

Acknowledge the past.

Joshua was reporting for duty in his new role.  The first thing that God speaks to him acknowledges the past, “Moses my servant is dead.” Ponder that for a moment. With five simple words God acknowledges the great leader that preceded Joshua. Moses walked through the Red Sea and met with God on Mount Sinai! It was a tough job for Joshua to follow in his footsteps. God did not want Joshua or serving leaders to ignore the past as they begin a new role.

Serving leaders acknowledge their own past. They bring their personal history into the new role. They acknowledge what they learned in the past from their mistakes and victories.

Serving leaders also acknowledge the past which belongs to the organization they are joining. They are eager to bring their own gifts and calling to the new role and to bring change, but before they seek to change the future, they acknowledge the past! If they have a predecessor, they seek to learn about what that person did and why they led in that way. They speak respectfully of those who came before them no matter what their performance.  Serving leaders acknowledge and learn from the past but they don’t dwell on it.

Acknowledge the present.

God moves quickly from the past to the present. “Now then, you….” Moses was gone and would not return. Joshua is now the leader of the people. God wants him to acknowledge this reality. Joshua needed to learn to see himself in a new way for the new role. He was no longer the assistant to the leader; he was now in charge! Serving leaders accept the mental change that needs to happen in a new role but not with pride or confidence in themselves. They acknowledge with humility and gratitude their new position of service.  

Acknowledge the task.

Then God reminds Joshua of the work ahead, “Now then…. get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land…” God had work for Joshua to do and it was a huge task, leading a nation of people into hostile territory.  God has a task for all serving leaders who begin new assignments or carry on at old ones. Serving leaders have roles because there is work that needs to be done to accomplish God’s purposes for a particular place and time. Serving leaders acknowledge that God has given them a place to serve to accomplish His task. They recognize that leadership is not about them but the great purpose of God. They begin well by acknowledging the realities of the past, the present and the task at hand.  

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

(If you are not in a new role currently, consider how these questions apply to the place where you now serve.)

  • What history do I need to acknowledge to serve well in my present role? How do I speak about those who came before me? Is my tendency to focus on the past too much or too little?
  • Do I accept myself and the role in which I now serve? Is it easier for me to see myself less than or greater than I should see myself? What does this say about the condition of my heart? Take a moment to allow God to speak to you about the condition of your heart. Ask Him to bring to your mind ways that He wants you to bring yourself to your current role. 
  • What is the task to which I am called? Is it clear to me how God intends for me to use my position of influence to advance His purpose in the group I serve? If not, what do I need to do to clarify this call? 

In the next issue, we will look at how leaders begin well by believing in God’s promises.   

Copyright, Center for Serving Leadership, 2020. 

The ABC’s of Transition: Cherish the Relationships

We have looked at how Moses acknowledged the realities in his transition and how he blessed Joshua, his successor. In this final issue, we will look at how he cherished the relationships. The story tells us the profound impact of his death on the people. “The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over” (Deuteronomy 34:8).

The death of Moses was a monumental event for the nation of Israel. Moses led them out of Egypt and for forty years in the desert. He was the only leader they had known and now he was gone! Their mourning demonstrated the depth of relationships that Moses had with the people.

In the thirty days of mourning they must have recalled the many stories of his leadership. They remembered how he confronted Pharaoh, parted the Red Sea, brought them the Ten Commandments, covered his shining face after being in God’s presence, constructed the tabernacle, and ordained Aaron. They told stories of the time he brought water from the rock, watched the earth swallow Dathan and Abiram, put up the bronze snake to save them from the plague and appointed 70 elders.

Moses’ transition reminds us all that leadership is ultimately about relationships. His leadership was not about how many people he led or how many years he led them. His influence was not measured in the distance he took them from Egypt to the border of the Promised Land. His leadership was measured by relationships. In transition, servant leaders learn to cherish all the relationships involved.

Cherish the relationships of those you have led. Moses loved the people he led. The entire book of Deuteronomy is his farewell address to the people for whom he was willing to give up his place in heaven (see Exodus 32:31,32). As he came to the end of his leadership journey, he took one chapter (Deuteronomy 33) to bless each of the tribes. Moses’ transition reveals the grieving of the loss of relationships that was required.

Servant leaders learn that a part of cherishing relationships is to release them. A transition in leadership requires a change of relationships and a releasing of those you have loved. A servant leader may be able to maintain friendships with people after they move on, but they acknowledge that they will no longer be their pastor, boss, manager or director. Servant leaders cherish these relationships but do not expect them to continue in the same way.

Cherish the relationship with those who will lead. We have already looked at the way Moses blessed Joshua, his successor as he laid hands on him in the presence of everyone. Earlier, Joshua was by his side as he sang his final song to the nation (Deuteronomy 32:44).

Moses honored this relationship and demonstrates to all servant leaders how to cherish the relationship with our successor. There can be some tension or awkwardness in the relationship with the one who follows you. But servant leaders honor their successor by refusing to listen to the questions or complaints of those they previously led. They graciously point others in the direction of the new leader.

Cherish the relationships of the future. Moses’ transition was a final departure from this world. He entered into a new realm of eternal relationships. But for most of us, our transition will lead us from leadership in one group or location to another. The time of mourning will one day be over as it was for Moses.

While servant leaders grieve the loss of relationships in a transition, they anticipate with joy the relationships of the future. Their heart to serve will lead them to new relationships. And as they pour their life and love into those new relationships, with time these relationships will become as rich and full as those they are leaving behind.

Servant leaders transition well. Whether they are going through a transition or preparing for one they learn from Moses to acknowledge the realities, bless their successor and cherish relationships.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

  • In the transitions I have observed, how have I seen leaders doing well at cherishing relationships? How have I seen relationships handled poorly?   
  • In previous transitions in my leadership, how well have I done at cherishing relationships? What was the result?
  • In my current role, what do I need to do today to cherish the relationships God has entrusted to me?

The ABC’s of Transition: Bless the Successor

In the last issue we looked at how Moses accepted the realities of his transition. Now, let’s turn our attention to Joshua, his successor.

9Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the LORD had commanded Moses. 10Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, 11who did all those signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel” (Deuteronomy 34:9-12).

Moses blessed Joshua in several ways and shows all servant leaders how to bless their successor when they transition.

Prepare them well. Joshua was “filled with the spirit of wisdom.” This came after years of investment and preparation by Moses in his life. Moses shared responsibilities with Joshua. He provided opportunities for Joshua to encounter God and mingle with other national leaders. Joshua was able to gain experience in battle, make mistakes, and much more. When it was time for transition, Moses had already prepared Joshua well.

Servant leaders don’t wait for transition to invest in the lives of other leaders, it’s a part of their heart to see others succeed. They bless their successor by preparing them well. In situations where the leader does not have the privilege of choosing their successor, they do their best to hand over in a way that allows their successor to succeed. And they do all they can to prepare the people to receive the new leader.

Commission them well. Moses “laid hands on him.” This symbolic act was a significant part of Moses’ transition process. By laying his hands on Joshua, Moses publicly acknowledged that he was no longer the leader. His hands blessed Joshua to succeed him as he transferred his leadership authority. The outcome was beautiful, “the Israelites listened to him and did what the LORD had commanded Moses.”

When servant leaders transition well, God’s work continues without interruption. Servant leaders don’t quietly exit their roles. They openly bless the new leader and seek to transfer to him or her the trust and influence they have worked hard to develop. Publicly and privately they do all they can to ensure the success of their successor.

Leave them well. The final gift that Moses gave to Joshua was to disappear from the scene! He didn’t stay around to evaluate Joshua’s effectiveness or to point out mistakes. He left! Servant leaders transition well by leaving when their time finishes. Servant leaders don’t need to die to leave well! But they let their ego die and make sure they get out of the way of the new leader. They make it clear that they will no longer serve in their former role. When possible and appropriate, they provide physical distance of space and time to allow the new leader to pick up responsibilities without their interference.

Obviously, there may be times when a transition involves a gradual transfer of power and the transitioning leader continues to provide some form of mentoring or coaching to the new leader. This can be a healthy transition. But there will always be a time when staying longer does more harm than good! Servant leaders are willing to leave and let others pick up their role.

Servant leaders long for the success of the group they lead. So, they prepare successors long before their transition. And when it is time to transition, they bless them with good preparation and public commissioning. Then they get out of the way!

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

  • In transitions I have observed how have I seen leaders doing well at blessing their successor? How have I seen a lack of blessing for successors? What were the long-term results? 
  • In previous transitions in my leadership how well have I done at blessing my successor?
  • In my current role, what do I need to do today to best prepare for another person to succeed me?

In the next issue, we’ll examine the “C” in the ABC’s of transitioning well:

Acknowledge the Realities

Bless the Successor

Cherish the Relationships.

The ABC’s of Transition: Acknowledge the Realities

Every leader will sooner or later come to a time of a change of leadership. This transition may happen by choice, circumstances, God’s call, or simply the passing of time. So, all leaders are either coming from a transition, working on a current transition, or laying the foundation for a future transition!

As I write, I’m facing a significant transition in my own leadership. So perhaps I’m writing this for my own benefit, but I invite you to discover with me how servant leaders transition. We’ll examine the final transition of Moses’ life where he models the ABC’s of transition: Acknowledge the Realities, Bless the Successor, and Cherish the Relationships.

1Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the LORD showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, …. 4Then the LORD said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” 5And Moses the servant of the LORD died there in Moab, as the LORD had said. 6He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. 7Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone.  The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over” (Deuteronomy 34:1, 4-8).

One moment Moses was a great leader of an entire nation. The next moment he transitioned to his eternal reward. The first thing servant leaders can learn from his transition is to acknowledge three realities.

Acknowledge the reality of what has been done. Moses had led the nation through some very difficult times. I’m sure as he climbed slowly up the mountain he reflected on the parting of the Red Sea, the 10 Commandments, the water from the rock, and other highlights of his 40 years of leadership. Much had been done.

Servant leaders acknowledge with gratitude to God all that has been accomplished. And when they have led well, much has been done. They are not proud of themselves but are able to celebrate the reality of what God has done!

Acknowledge the reality of what remains undone. God provided Moses with a glimpse of the land promised to his people. I can feel Moses’ pain as he heard God’s words, “You will not cross over into it.” For years Moses had kept the vision alive but now he was leaving, and much was undone.

When servant leaders face transition, they acknowledge that there are things which remain undone. Whether that is because of their own mistakes (as it was with Moses) or simply because the time has come to transition, they accept the reality that much remains undone. They understand that God’s vision is always greater than their own leadership and some aspects will not be achieved before they transition.

Acknowledge the reality of what will be done. As Moses scanned the land of Israel, he could see what would happen after he was gone. Another leader would do what he had not!

This painful reality is not easy for any leader to accept. Some leaders don’t acknowledge the reality that they are growing old! Or that they have done all they can do for the organization. Or that others are needed to step in with new gifts to breathe new life into the vision. But servant leaders learn from Moses to acknowledge this reality when it is time for transition.

Servant leaders in transition celebrate what has been done while acknowledging that God will use another leader to accomplish what remains undone. They acknowledge these realities as they follow God’s direction in transition. They cry out to God to guard their hearts against pride, jealously, or a sense of failure. They are willing to keep serving in the place to which God will lead them.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

  • In transitions I have observed, how have I seen leaders doing well at acknowledging the realities? How have I seen them not acknowledge realities?     
  • In previous transitions in my leadership, how well have I acknowledged what has been done, what remains to be done and what will be done?
  • In my current role, what do I need to do today to best prepare to transition well?

In the next issue, we’ll look at the “B” in the ABC’s of transitioning well:

Acknowledge the Realities

Bless the Successor

Cherish the Relationships

The Act of Choosing Leaders: People Development

We have already looked at several biblical ways that leaders were chosen in the book of Acts. Some leaders were chosen by divine commissioning. Others were chosen by the people while some were simply appointed by the founders. In some cases, there was a mix of different methods. Now we will examine a final way that leaders were chosen, best illustrated from the life of Paul. “He sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of Asia a little longer” (Acts 19:22).

What was happening in this situation? Paul was raising up leaders and developing Timothy and Erastus. Then he sent them to lead in Macedonia. Servant leaders can learn from Paul to choose leaders by developing people.

The process of choosing by people development. How did Paul choose leaders by developing people? Paul’s DNA included a passion for church planting but the fuel for his amazing impact was his pattern of multiplication and people development. Everywhere he went he went with a team of people that he was developing. He chose leaders from those he had developed. This process of developing and commissioning people as leaders is one of the reasons for the Apostle Paul’s lasting influence on the church.

It appears that Paul was not developing people for specific positions, he simply developed people, then chose them for roles that suited their calling. (See Acts 18:19 for another example.) Some may argue that they were not given official roles or positions of leadership. But Paul sent them with the authority to lead and act on his behalf.

Servant leaders see the process of people development as a part of their call from God. They recognized that our world needs leaders and they seek to develop them with or without positions. Developing others is at the heart of servant leadership.

The power of choosing by people development. This method of choosing leaders has several advantages. This is perhaps the most proactive approach to appointing leaders. The other methods we have examined require a leader to be present and then he or she is chosen.

Paul didn’t wait for leaders to develop, he invested in their lives! As he developed leaders, he had a group from which to select leaders needed for a specific location or assignment. This way of choosing leaders provides much time for the potential leader to be well known by the current leader. No interview is needed, they have been working closely together for a long time! There is a strong relational bond between Paul and those he developed.

Servant leaders acknowledge the power of choosing leaders from those they have developed. They see the way this can multiply leaders for God’s purposes, and they follow Paul’s example by investing in developing those around them.

 The pitfalls of choosing by people development. There can also be challenges with this approach. Some leaders may develop people only to fill their own agendas or to accomplish their own visions. This is ultimately a selfish motive and may lead to unhealthy patterns of relating. Another danger is that a leader may not look beyond the persons he or she knows personally when selecting a leader. They may overlook others with great potential. Servant leaders wisely avoid the pitfalls of choosing by developing people as they follow the example of Paul.

Servant leaders see the option of choosing by people development as one of the ways God can direct the building of their team. But they continually seek God’s direction for the process of selecting leaders. They seek to follow His direction in every situation and are careful to recognize that at different times, God may lead in a way that is not their preferred method. They acknowledge that there is more than one biblical way to choose leaders.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

  • How have my previous experiences and the thinking of those around me shaped my view on whether or not choosing by people development is a good way to choose leaders?
  • How likely am I to use choosing by people development to choose a leader? If I am very likely to use it, have I consciously avoided the pitfalls of this method? If I am unlikely to use it, in what ways might God be calling me to consider this method as a practical option for my situation?
  • In what situations might choosing by people development be the best choice for me to choose leaders? In what situations might choosing by people development be a poor choice for me?        

(To fully comprehend the methods Paul used to develop others, there will be a future series on this subject.)

In the next issue, we’ll examine The ABC’s of Transition!

The Act of Choosing Leaders: Leadership Appointment

Getting the right person in the right place is one of the greatest challenges of leadership. We could look at the selection of leaders from a human resources position and examine resumes or CVs.

Servant leaders certainly can use these resources, but they also want their selections to follow God’s direction. Many will point to the early church to validate their preferred style for choosing leaders as the ‘biblical’ style and the best approach. But what does Acts teach servant leaders about the correct method of choosing leaders?

There are at least four distinct ways leaders were chosen in the early church. We have already examined “divine commission” and “popular selection” as different ways leaders were chosen in the early church. But here is another way. 21They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’ they said. 23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust” (Acts 14:21-23).

In this situation, Paul and Barnabas as the church leader appointed elders in each church. Let’s reflect on this kind of leadership appointment.

The process of choosing by leadership appointment. The process used by Paul and Barnabas seems quite simple, they just “appointed elders” in these churches. It does not appear that they asked for input from the church members and they did not hold an election. However, they did include “prayer and fasting” as a part of this process.

Servant leaders learn from their example that when choosing leaders this way it is helpful to seek God’s direction. Servant leaders do not use this method to put their friends or family members in leadership roles. They use this method as an act of service to those who will be under the newly appointed leaders. When servant leaders use this process in the marketplace, they are careful to consider the impact of their decision on those who will follow.

The power of choosing by leadership appointment. There are several advantages of choosing leaders by appointment. It is a simple method and can be done quickly if there is an urgent need for action. In some situations, the leader doing the appointing may have a better assessment of the person’s gifts, calling, and capacity than those who are following.

In the case of these churches, Paul and Barnabas may have realized the level of maturity in the new believers was not yet strong enough to choose the right leaders. So, this method may be an advantage in a young group. The leaders who were chosen in this way had the clear support of Paul and Barnabas, the founders of the church, and would be seen as their representatives.

Servant leaders learn from this example to carefully consider the gifts and calling of an individual and to seek God’s guidance before taking any action. Then they confidently appoint leaders for the good of all.

The pitfalls of choosing by leadership appointment. While there seems to be no problem with the appointments made by Paul and Barnabas, this approach needs to be used with caution. The power to appoint with no input from others can feed a leader’s ego and lead to bad appointments. Leaving people out of the process may work in some situations but in other contexts will result in resentment towards the leader chosen. And the loyalty of the appointed leader may be more towards the person who appointed them instead of a commitment to serve those under them.

Servant leaders wisely avoid the pitfalls of leadership appointments. Like Paul and Barnabas, they seek direction from God and appoint a team instead of individuals. They don’t allow this to be the only way leaders are ever selected.

Servant leaders see the option of choosing by leadership appointment as one of the ways God can direct the building of their team. But they also recognize that there are times that God will lead them to choose another method. In the next issue, we’ll look at the last method of choosing leaders.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

  • How have my previous experiences and the thoughts of those around me shaped my view of the benefits or disadvantages of appointing leaders?
  • How likely am I to use appointing leaders to choose a leader? If I am very likely to use it, have I consciously avoided the pitfalls of this method? If I am unlikely to use it, in what ways might God be calling me to consider this method as a practical option for my situation?
  • In what situations might appointing leaders be the best choice for me to choose leaders? In what situations might appointing leaders be a poor choice for me?

In the next issue, we’ll look at selecting leaders by people development.

The Act of Choosing Leaders: Popular Selection

Leaders choose other leaders to join their team and help carry out the vision. But the process they use to choose varies depending on the context.

The Book of Acts provides at least four different ways that the early church selected leaders. One of them was used when the need arose for the role of deacons.

1In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” 5This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism” (Acts 6:1-5).

Servant leaders recognize that empowering others to make a decision may sometimes be the best way to choose leaders.

The process of choosing by popular selection. In this situation, seven deacons were chosen. But the apostles did not make the selection; they invited the group to select the individuals who would become the leaders. This was popular selection, close to what we might call a democratic process in which a vote is taken. This could have been a frightening step for the apostles. What if the people choose the wrong person?

This method is used in many churches where votes are counted, and the ‘winner’ is announced. This may not happen often in a business, but a servant leader who is the owner or leader may invite others to participate in the process by giving their thoughts, feedback or evaluation. Even if the ultimate decision is not determined by a vote, a servant leader is willing to allow others into the process. This method requires humility and deep faith in the people and God! Servant leaders are willing to release their power to others.

The power of choosing by popular selection. This method has several advantages. One obvious advantage is that those who will be led are empowered by being involved. “This proposal pleased the whole group.” When people are involved in a decision, they are less likely to complain about the outcome!

Not only this, but the leaders chosen by this method feel the support of those that they will lead from the very beginning. They begin leading with the confidence that those they are leading want them to serve in that role. Another advantage of this method is that the people making the decision are likely closer to the potential leaders than the leaders who are at the top of the organization. Servant leaders acknowledge that they are not the only ones who can choose leaders and that others may wisely be involved.

The pitfalls of choosing by popular selection. Servant leaders acknowledge that there are some practical dangers in the democratic system. One danger is that popular selection may leave God out of the process! The choice can become a popularity contest.

Another danger is that the focus on pleasing people may become more important than the call to lead people. This is a danger especially for those whose personalities love to please others.

But servant leaders can wisely influence and guide the selection process even when others make the decisions. The apostles did set some parameters here before the vote; they required candidates that were “full of the Spirit and wisdom.” Leaders can call for fasting and prayer before and during the process. They can also provide instruction on what kind of leaders are needed.

Servant leaders see the option of choosing by popular selection as one of the ways God can direct the building of their team. But they also recognize that there are times God will lead them to choose another method. In the next issue, we’ll look at one of these: appointments.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

  • How have my previous experiences and the thinking of those around me shaped my view of whether or not popular selection is a good way to choose leaders?
  • How likely am I to use popular selection to choose a leader? If I am very likely to use it, have I consciously avoided the pitfalls of this method? If I am unlikely to use it, in what ways might God be calling me to consider this method as a practical option for my situation?
  • In what situations might popular selection be the best choice for me to choose leaders? In what situations might popular selection be a poor choice for me?    

Copyright, Global Disciples 2020.

The Act of Choosing Leaders: Divine Commission

Choosing other leaders is one of the greatest challenges of leadership. Most leaders have had some success and likely some failure in this area. The ‘cost’ of failure is high when the selection process does not bring the right person. What is the best approach to find others who will build the team and help carry out the vision?

Many times, our cultural environment combined with our previous experiences, both positive and negative, shape our approach to how we choose leaders. Business leaders may learn to rely on a proven system of screening potential candidates to get the right person. Church leaders may lean towards a more ‘spiritual’ method that works well for their context. Then they will point to the early church to validate this method as the ‘biblical’ approach. But a look at the early church in Acts teaches servant leaders that there are at least four distinct ways leaders were chosen.

Servant leaders learn that all of them can be useful when applied in the right context and manner.

The first method of choosing leaders in the book of Acts is when God called a leader directly. This happened to Paul at the time of his conversion (see Acts 9:15-16) and again when he and Barnabas were commissioned for mission work while in Antioch.

2While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off (Acts 13:2-3).

The process of choosing by divine commission. With this method, there is no direct human intervention in the selection process. God spoke clearly through the Spirit and called Barnabas and Saul. Yes, they were uniquely qualified and already proven in leadership, but there was no application process for the role and no vote was taken!

Servant leaders acknowledge that God ultimately directs the choice of leaders. They are willing to spend time fasting and praying for His guidance. And when God speaks clearly, they lay hands on the person and bless them!

The power of choosing by divine commission. Divine commission has an obvious advantage: God has spoken! Who can argue with that? This method may be more commonly used in churches than in business environments. But even in the business realm, when servant leaders seek to follow the direction of God’s Spirit, there may be times when God’s voice overrides the voice of the Human Resource department!

Servant leaders acknowledge that God is the ultimate authority and when His direction is clear, they willingly obey!

The pitfalls of choosing by divine commission. Choosing leaders by divine commission also has some clear challenges.

First is the challenge of correctly and clearly hearing God’s voice. Much damage can be done when a leader uses the language of divine commission to give credibility to a personal choice. Servant leaders should be very cautious about saying alone, “God told me that this person should be the leader.” In Antioch, there was discernment by a group.

Another danger of using this method of divine commissioning is when a leader chooses this method simply because they don’t want to do the difficult work of discerning who the right person is. They aren’t willing or are not equipped to evaluate gifts, experience and calling of a potential leader. So, they give the choice back to God!

Interestingly, in Acts 1, Matthias was chosen by casting lots, a divine process. But first, the apostles set criteria for the role and chose two persons who met the qualifications. Then they allowed God to make the final selection through the casting of lots. Servant leaders learn from this that if the basic qualifications are not met, they will be in a ‘lot’ of trouble with this method!

Servant leaders see the option of choosing by divine commission as one of the ways God can direct the building of their team. But they also recognize that there are times that God will lead them to choose another method. In the next issue, we’ll look at one of these: popular selection.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

  • How have my previous experiences and the thinking of those around me shaped my view of whether divine commission is a good way to choose leaders or not?
  • How likely am I to use divine commission to choose a leader? If I am very likely to use it, have I consciously avoided the pitfalls of this method? If I am unlikely to use it, in what ways might God be calling me to consider this method as a practical option for my situation?
  • In what situations might divine commissioning be the best choice for me to choose leaders? In what situations might divine commissioning be a poor choice for me?            

In the next issue, we’ll look at choosing leaders by popular selection.

Copyright, Global Disciples 2020.

The Sound of Silent Leadership…in Self-defense

We have examined many ways in which servant leaders need to learn to be silent. But the most difficult time to remain silent is when we are personally attacked or accused of doing wrong. When this happens, our natural response is to defend ourselves, often loudly! Self-defense is often considered a universal human right. But when Jesus was on trial, He modeled a very different way.

59The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. 60But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward 61and declared, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’”  62Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” 63But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God”(Matthew 26:59-63). Jesus’ ability to remain silent in this situation is remarkable and has much to teach us about the power of silence in self-defense.

Silence in self-defense reveals humility. Jesus’ silence revealed a deep humility. The accusation they made against Him was a misrepresentation of what He had said in John 2:19. Surely Jesus would set the record straight! But He humbly remained silent, refusing to defend Himself.

Proud people argue their case, they defend themselves loudly. They cannot accept any accusation that makes them look bad whether they are right or not. But servant leaders demonstrate humility as they remain silent when wrongly accused.

Silence in self-defense reflects confidence. Jesus demonstrated remarkable confidence with His silence. He didn’t need to argue about His identity as the Messiah. He did not need to defend who He was. He knew who He was. His silence shouted that He had nothing to prove.

Silence in self-defense speaks more loudly than shouting and arguing. It reveals a deep confidence that I don’t need to prove I am right; I know I am right. Sometimes the strongest sound is silence. Servant leaders express confidence by keeping quiet when accused.

Silence in self-defense requires trust in God. The silence of Jesus while on trial shows that His trust was not in any human verdict that would condemn or release Him. He knew that only God would determine His destiny. Peter, only a few moments after Jesus’ silence, would vigorously defend himself (see Matthew 26:69-75). But years later as he recalled Jesus’ death said, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).Jesus’ silence influenced Peter who now challenges us to follow the example of Jesus.

Leaders who trust in themselves need to speak loudly and persuasively in self-defense. But leaders who trust in God’s judgment can quietly wait for His verdict. Servant leaders express trust in God when they remain silent in self-defense.

Is there ever a time to for a leader to speak up when accused? Jesus, right after this silence, was commanded by the high priest to speak. At that point He calmly spoke the truth about His identity. There are times when it is right to speak in defense of truth on our own behalf. But servant leaders only use this right after they have learned the painful discipline of silence. They cry out to God for wisdom to know when to speak and when to influence through silence.

Silent leadership speaks loudly in self-defense! Servant leaders move up by shutting up!

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

  • Am I humble enough to be quiet when wrongly accused? What is it within me that rises to defend myself?
  • In what life situations have I kept quiet and simply trusted God to determine the outcomes? What was the result? If I have not done this, is there a current situation in which I should follow Jesus by keeping quiet?
  • In what situations is it good for me to share a verbal defense of my actions? How do I know when it is the right time to talk and when to keep silent? What do I need to do before opening my mouth?
  • Is there a difference between defending myself and defending others who are falsely accused? How do I determine the difference?

In the next series, we’ll look at choosing leaders God’s way.