3 "Weaknesses" of Great Leaders
The best leaders know they are broken humans. But you wouldn’t think that by looking around at the “greats” of our society. Usually, the projected image is they are anything but part of normal humanity; they are powerful, put-together, relevant, and too busy for the ordinary. Sadly, although we should be distinct from the world, sometimes the “greats” in the Christian realm look similar.
Regrettably, there’s an itch in me to follow suit. I see the attraction of a perfect façade with a powerful strut; the pull to be recognized by many. I like the idea of control and strength. Yet, oh, how the temptation keeps us from the vision of leadership that Jesus gives of his church with each member desperately in need of grace! The hierarchy of importance is the opposite of what Jesus taught.
Jesus spoke of the “great ones” of the Gentiles. (Mark 10:42) He took their example and flipped it on its head. They lorded over the people, but Jesus called for servanthood. Leaders following Jesus are great through weakness.
Some recent reading has given me insight into leadership in weakness. Here are three qualities of great leaders; we could call them three weaknesses even. We’ll talk about three more in the next post.
1. Great Leaders Walk in Confession
Followers of Jesus, even those who are in leadership positions, are sinners. Shocking, right? It can seem that way when a leader never acknowledges sin or asks for forgiveness. It is then intimated that the good deeds of the leader invalidate the need to confess. Without realizing it, the leader's example is subtly teaching a false gospel that achievements and power can cover sin. How tempting is for us to project our sufficiency and perfection so that we do not need to deal with the acknowledgement of sin.
Yet, our only honest choice is to recognize our sin. Following Paul, we healthily admit to those around us that we are the organization’s chief sinner. As we confess our sin, the log can be removed from our eyes, so God-willing, we can see more clearly. This rescues us from the web of worrying about how others see us. For once we’ve admitted that we are sinners-saved by grace, we don’t have any reputation to protect! Even the greatest of Christian leaders, even *insert favorite celeb teacher here*, is a sinner, clinging to grace. While this can be terrifying at first, it is the first step in our admission that we are not the Christ, and it is ultimately freeing.
Our confession is safe and good, because we do believe that the cross was enough to pay for us, and his grace continues to transform us. Dan Allender writes in Leading with a Limp “He calls us to brokenness, not performance; relationships, not commotion; to grace, not success.” If we obscure and lie about our sin, our feet will soon be stuck in quicksand of hypocrisy and self-righteousness. Confession is the only deliverance from such a pit.
2. Great Leaders Walk in Vulnerability
If we are desperately desiring to be powerful and relevant to others, vulnerability will not be where we land. Feigning authority and expertise is much easier. We like having the answers and quick clichés. Yet Christian leaders must be ready to give and receive love, which means owning our own weaknesses and knowing that we, in ourselves, do not have all together.
“The Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self,” Henri Nouwen said in In the Name of Jesus. That sounds good, but how do we get to this place of vulnerability and love? It’s not by insecurity or trying harder, but by looking to the love of Jesus. When we know we are loved by him, we can be honest about our weaknesses while offering the love of Jesus to others, not something from our own strength.
Our identity must be set in knowing Jesus before we can lead in vulnerability. Posturing, power positioning, and achieving will rule any other way. We will feel the need to control, assert our value, or fall into insecurity. Christian leadership is not founded in how well informed or smart we are, rather it must be rooted in a permanent and intimate relationship with God himself.
Christian leadership is always based on honesty about our being an imperfect human. In vulnerability, we stop hiding. We admit who we are. This allows us to call out for help, to listen to others, and to learn.
3. Great Leaders Walk in Humility
After vulnerability comes, humility naturally follows. When I’m honest about my abilities, I know I’m incapable of doing all the Lord puts before me. I quickly come to the place of realizing that I am not the one who has the words or power to help those around me.
“It is Jesus who heals, not I. Jesus who speaks the words of truth, not I; Jesus who is Lord, not I.” Henri Nouwen says, and my heart quickly agrees. I only point to Jesus. I help others see him. You and I, we don’t do the work; Jesus does. There is no magic coming from my abilities. God may use me to speak or serve, but it is always because of his strength and truth, not my own.
If the truth comes from God and not from me, then I need the people I lead to speak the truth to me just as much they need me to do the same. This forces us to walk the path of humility and equality. We proclaim the truth about Jesus to each other; we walk in community together.
In using God’s message, we cannot proudly turn to the Bible into a tool kit to make our programs work or our messages applaudable. These are “the words of our Beloved meant to help anyone anywhere find the way home,” Zach Eswine writes in his book The Imperfect Pastor. You and I are not God. We do not use God’s word for our own praise, and we do not play God. We are only human.
Jesus Our Example
Jesus did not have sins to confess or weaknesses to show, so he did not have to be vulnerable in the same way we are. But he did walk in humility, lowering himself to human form; he became finite and limited in his state on earth. The he lowered himself to death on a cross. (Phil. 2:7-8) Following his example, we choose to acknowledge our weakness and walk in confession, vulnerability, and humility.