Monday, November 5, 2012

Open Letter to Strong-Willed Christians

I don’t need to tell you all the good things about yourselves because you have already made the case, at least in your own minds. But let me iterate the qualities about yourselves that make you valuable people so that you know that I respect you for that as well as for letting other people who read this know.

You possess the drive to accomplish great things. You have integrity to your own ideals. You are capable of garnering the support and cooperation of other people. All of these things can be used to do great and mighty things in the Kingdom of God. I believe Peter was strong-willed. I believe Paul was strong-willed. So you have great examples in the Apostles for the work that God has for you.

But qualities like this can also be your spiritual downfall and many great Christian leaders have succumbed to their ability to overcoming obstacles to fulfill their sinful desires.

You see, you possess qualities that make you a great leader. But these qualities do not guarantee that your leadership will be good. Let me share a couple of principles to consider as you seek to implement your leadership in the Kingdom of God.

First, the strong must cater to the needs of the weak. This is a biblical principle from 1 Corinthians 8-10. These three chapters involve Paul spelling out how those who have strong faith must surrender their rights for the sake of not being a stumbling block to their brothers and sisters in the faith who are weaker in their faith. The Corinthians were threatened with disunity because people who thought they were strong were opposing people who they thought were weak. Now, I’m sure it seems logical that they strong should dominate the weak so that the weak are brought up to speed. However, weak people don’t grow the same as strong people.

This follows after Paul’s instruction earlier in his letter to the Corinthians that they shouldn’t think too highly of themselves. He says it that way to the Romans who had a similar problem, but goes into much detail to the Corinthians. It also follows after Jesus’ teaching in Mark 10:42-45. Jesus himself demonstrated this by washing their feet at the last supper. Sadly, we don’t often think this way when we think of leadership in the church. We think of people who dominate other people and lead with strength.

I work in manufacturing. We have machine operators who need to program their machines based on drawings of the parts that come from our engineering department. Most of the time the drawings as simple enough and the operators can add or subtract the dimensions quickly given in order to come up with coordinates that fit in the Cartesian coordinate system that the machines use. But sometimes drawings are too complex for the machine operators to deal with quickly. Dimensions are specified on the drawings that include relative positions based on angles. In order for the operators to calculate the coordinates they need to key into the machines, they need to use trigonometry. Most of them don’t know trigonometry and those who do would spend too long trying to set up the formula and key it into a calculator. Even then, the probability they will make a mistake is too high. So they usually have to leave their workstation and come to see me. I can open the drawing electronically and measure the coordinates they need easily and quickly and without error.

The idea in my example is that it is incumbent on the engineers to generate drawings that the floor can use efficiently. The people on the floor don’t have the education or the tools to be able to use the drawings effectively. They are in a position of weakness where the engineers are in a position of strength. The people in the position of strength must cater to those in the position of weakness in order to accomplish what they need accomplished.

How does this relate to strong-willed people? Especially with raising strong-willed children, I can find dozens of resources counseling the parents how to cater to their strong-willed children’s needs. I can also find resources on how to lead strong-willed people or deal with them in general. But I also have found many resources instructing people that if they are not strong-willed then they are weak. You see, you require others to cater to you, but demand that you be seen as the strong ones. As I have already pointed out, this is contrary to biblical teaching. In order to be most effective in Kingdom work, you must learn to cater to those you see as weak. Paul did as he pointed out in 1 Cor 9. He is your example in this.

One way that you often fail to do this is through your natural competitiveness. You are driven to win. But you end up competing against people who are geared to cooperate in Christian mission, not contend. So you force them to contend, not for the faith, but against you. That’s wrong. You might claim something like you are pushing them to do their best, but you have to understand that they aren’t motivated the same way you are. If you think that they are the weak ones, then don’t expect them to change to cater to your leadership. You must change to fit their followership so as to motivate them according to their temperament.

This leads me to my second principle: The qualities that God gives us to serve him are the same qualities we use to sin against him. This realization should provide two things:

The first one I have pointed out is how the great qualities you have as a strong-willed person can also be your downfall. If you heed this principle, you should be humbled enough to submit to the authority of God in your life. Many strong-willed people I know go off strong, yet poorly informed. You push hard with only some of the facts you need. The key is understanding that you will never have all of the facts. That means that you need to lead with the care that you might be wrong about something. If that doesn’t lead you to submit to God’s authority in all humility then you need to step down from Christian leadership.

The second is that all the wonderful qualities of the people you lead can also be their undoing as well as the undoing of the team. If you can’t submit to God’s authority in all humility, you can’t lead them to do the same. If you don’t understand the magnitude of responsibility you have been given and the glory that God deserves for it, you will forage ahead half-cocked and do more damage than good for the Kingdom. And any good that does happen is in spite of you, not because of you.

Do not take the strength of will you have been given for granted or assume glory for using it. Learn to serve others before you use your strong will to lead others lest you lead them to destruction. You have been given a trust by God in your strengths.

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