Effective Christian Leadership: Before You Can Do It, You Have to Know It

By: Joe Buckingham
By: Joe Buckingham

Before you can teach and lead others, you have to live it.  But in order to live it, you first have to know it.  I experienced this (or better put, failed at this) in my first experience as the senior leader in an organization.  To be honest, as I walked in the door I was questioning my own preparedness, unsure of whether I knew enough to be able to lead well.  But I had been given the opportunity, so I quelled my fears and jumped.

I arrived at a school that had longstanding, competent employees, and my relative youth probably didn’t help my reception.  Then, in my enthusiasm, I started to run without first taking the time to learn.  I began making changes (some of them drastic) and implementing new policies and procedures, but failed to take the time to study the history, culture, and people involved.  As a result, my actions stemmed from ignorance and arrogance rather than knowledge, and the result was conflict and disruption.  It wasn’t until I took the time to learn, developing the necessary understanding of the relevant information, that my actions of leadership could represent the right knowledge and therefore win followers and become effective.

But for Christian leaders, this truth goes much deeper: to be effective in your actions of leadership, you must first and foremost have a personal and in-depth knowledge of God and His Word.  Your knowledge of His truth is more important than anything else in your preparation.  Ezra, as a leader, provides a great example of this.  In the description of his preparation for leadership – and more pointedly, his preparation for a specific task – Ezra 7:10 states, “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.”  Clearly he had prepared himself for what he was about to undertake, but notice the order of the steps, because the order is important! The first step in the process was “to seek the law of the Lord,” which led him to living out what he knew, and in turn enabled him to teach and to lead.  People followed him because his life gave him the credibility to lead, but first having the knowledge gave him the capability to lead.

What does it mean, then, that he had sought the law of the Lord?  It means that he had spent time with God. He had studied the Scriptures intensely and diligently, learning who God is and what He says. And that took time and intentional practice.  At the core, this is a basic and fundamental part of the Christian walk, and so it shows up nearly everywhere that someone talks about steps of spiritual growth.  Gordon MacDonald, in Ordering Your Private World, discusses the importance of first having the private world of the inner man in order, and says that this must come from developing intimacy with God through regular time with Him and in His Word.  Tim Challies, in The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, explains that the ability to discern is directly related to knowledge of God and of His Word. J. P. Moreland, in Love Your God with All Your Mind, communicates that faith is also an act of reason, based on truth – specifically the truth of Scripture – and therefore Scripture must be studied for faith to grow.  Kevin DeYoung, in Taking God at His Word, explores the doctrine of Scripture, and in the process argues for the importance and necessity of reading and studying the Bible.  And the list could go on and on.  The clear understanding is that every Christian (not only leaders) needs to regularly spend time with God, studying Scripture and building that personal relationship.

Scripture itself supports this truth, as is seen in the examples of men and women of God (like Ezra), but as is also specifically stated in various passages.  Psalm 1 describes the person who will be blessed because of his moral choices, and states in verse 2 that this is someone “whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.”  In the book of Joshua, chapter 1,verse 8, as Joshua is preparing to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land, God challenges and encourages him with this statement: “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.”  The bottom line is, our thought processes, choices, and outcomes are directly impacted by our time spent in the Word of God.

As a crucial byproduct of studying Scripture, Ezra developed an intimate, personal relationship with God.  Because of that personal and deep relationship, he didn’t simply learn to know who God was and is; he also came to understand God’s nature and heart.  He had developed a relationship that enabled him to trust in God even in uncertainty and difficulty.  It was from this relationship that he was therefore able to move and act with confidence in God’s sovereign plan, and that he was able to see God’s hand and His purpose in the events that occurred.

This is a critical lesson for you and me. It’s been said that leaders must be learners; but Christian leaders must also be learners of God’s Word. Therefore, in our leadership development, we absolutely must study Scripture, growing in intimacy with God. We need regular time with God, in prayer and in His Word. This must be central and foundational to what we do, how we live, and to our call or purpose from Him. Doing this first is what makes us knowledgeable and gives us the capability to lead, because we will learn to see people and circumstances from God’s perspective, shaping how we think and act.  It is from this growth of knowledge and relationship with God that we are able to “walk the talk,” modeling and practicing what we know, and living authentic, genuine lives that inspire trust and result in effective leadership.

This is the second installment in an ongoing series on leadership lessons that can be learned from the book of Ezra.

 

 

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