Loving Leadership vs. Manipulation

bossWhat makes people want to do or not do something?

Think about your workplace or church…
• What if you could see everything that is pushing or pulling a person’s heart?
• What if you could know what motivates a person?
• What if you could lead in a way that pulls out the best in people?

Knowing how a person is wired (personality traits) and what makes them tick (motivation) are key elements to being an effective leader—whether that’s as a parent, a department leader at church, a shift manager at work or a little league coach. And while this conversation carries a tension between manipulating others for selfish gain versus learning and leading another person for their good, tapping into the specifics of how to lead effective is a worthy topic of conversation that Christians can and should engage in.

A New Testament Leadership Lesson 

Have you ever read the small book of Philemon? It’s a personal letter written by the Apostle Paul to a convert named Philemon who lived in Colossae. Philemon was a wealthy man and a slave owner. [As an aside, the slavery of the New Testament was not the form of chattel slavery practiced in America].

One of his servants, Onesimus (on-ay’-sim-os), had fled from Philemon. While on the run, Onesimus heard how God sent his son Jesus to suffer and die in his place, for his sins and how, by faith alone, he could go from being separated from God to adopted by God; Onesimus heard the gospel and was saved. Onesimus also began to serve the Apostle Paul while Paul was incarcerated for sharing the gospel. Imagine being in jail and alone and having this friend, Onesimus, who would come and see about you and bring you small items to make sure you were ok. It’s easy to see why Paul went to bat for Onesimus.

Philemon surely would have known who Paul was. After all, Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles. People like Philemon (and you and me) have the gospel through God’s grace to us via the Apostle Paul’s efforts. To have the Apostle Paul, who had given the better part of his adult life to planting churches and preaching the gospel amidst persecutions and imprisonments write Philemon a personal letter asking him to do anything would have been a great honor and Paul’s authority to command Philemon would have been unquestioned as would the presumption that Paul was morally correct, if not divinely inspired in his request.

Leaders, at your church, do you appeal to things like, “God told me we need to…” or “As the set man I have the vision for this house and it’s going to be like this…”? When you take this approach, you’re saying that God speaks only to and through you and you place your instructions on the same level as holy writ. You rob the Body of Christ of its proper functioning by making one part of the Body all important. Surely, each part has a function to play and giving instruction and direction is certainly a key role for leaders but Paul’s example in Philemon shows us that even the most senior of leaders can lead in a different way—let’s see what Paul does.

In Philemon 8-9, Paul writes to Philemon, “Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you.”

Paul recognizes that he has the authority and right to command Philemon but instead he comes by appeal. Paul does not put himself in the seat of the judge who has already issued a ruling. No, Paul is the appellant seeking a just verdict from a just judge. Paul actually puts Philemon in the judge’s chair—what humility and grace! If the people you lead (your children, your co-workers, your team at church) were asked to give 10 adjectives to define your leadership style would humility or grace show up? Do you lead by fiat or by faith? Do you appeal for love’s sake or do you lay down the law?

In verses 13-14, he continues: “I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord.”

There’s power in empowering. When you bestow honor upon an honorable person they will act honorably. If and when you bestow honor on a person not deserving of the honor, they will show you who they really are. Believe them the first time and adjust your approach. But, if you have no basis for not bestowing a particular person with honor, then do it! Believe the best about the people you lead. Believe that even in their failings they can grow. Don’t forget your own journey. You weren’t always “leadership material.” In fact, were everyone to know the ins and outs of your life, thoughts and conduct, you’d have to admit that its only by the grace of God that you get to lead anything or anyone. That’s exactly where we need to stay—gracious leadership empowered by the grace of God.

Biblical leadership is all about God’s glory and one way that glory is seen is through the loving way his people lead. Take the time to build relationships with the people you lead. Pray for them. Pay attention to what makes them tick. Take time for those long conversations about how they grew up and the things they care about. Don’t do it to manipulate them. Do it because you love them and want to know them so that you can lead them well.

When casting vision, stand on what God has given you but don’t make the mistake of assuming that its for you to do alone. Trust that its God’s plan for His people and realize that you are but one part of seeing the vision become reality.

Use your authority to correct error and protect the weak, not to bully or make things easier for yourself. Lead with love and bestow blessing and honor as often as you can. Expect the best from the people you lead and help them to tap into the best of who they can be. Suffer long and don’t give up on people because God hasn’t given up on you. Reciprocate His love and reproduce loving leadership in those you lead so they will become loving leaders themselves.

That’s what I see Paul doing in Philemon. That’s what I want my leaders to do for me. That’s what I want to do for those whom I lead.

Roland Hairston

Roland Hairston loves God and loves people. He wrestles with ideas about life, faith, leadership and church and wields strategy, technology and communications to move people to action. As Publisher of Gospel Today, Roland has the joy of sharing information, inspiration, education and empowerment with the world.

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