Are all leaders equal? Do the roles, responsibilities and functions of leaders differ according to the size of their followers? Does the very nature of the leadership of a visionary leader of a mega-size church differ from that of a youth leader or a small group facilitator? The answers to these questions are both yes and no.
The leadership of leaders of small and large groups are at the same time similar and yet very different. The leadership of these leaders are different in that the duties and roles of leaders differ significantly according the number of followers, context of the leadership role and specific duties of the leader. But at the same time these leadership roles are similar, because the ethical and moral requirements of all leaders always remain the same.
The leadership scholar, Peter Northouse, defines leadership as a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.
Good leaders influence their followers by doing four things well:
- They construct a compelling vision;
- They communicate that compelling vision to their followers in a very clear manner;
- They empower their followers to follow the vision; and lastly,
- They instill good and appropriate values in their followers by modeling the way themselves.
But the four actions described above look very different between a leader of thousands and a leader of tens. One major difference is how these leaders operate with regards to vision.
A senior leader of a congregation is called to construct, communicate and live the vision given by God to the congregation. It is the call of this kind of leader to hear from God and to communicate clearly. A small group leader of tens leads not by constructing vision, but by interpreting and applying the vision or direction given and communicated by the senior leader. Leaders of tens seldom construct vision. Such leaders lead by finding ways to implement the vision in their respective contexts.
A great example of this kind of dynamic is the differing roles seen in the leadership of Moses and Aaron in the Book of Exodus. Moses functions in a visionary leadership role when he encounters God in the famous burning bush and receives the vision to liberate the Israelites from slavery to the Egyptians (Exodus 3:10). Aaron, the brother of Moses, leads by supporting the arms of Moses and helping him find ways to implement the vision (Exodus 17:8-13).
Confusing these leadership roles can be detrimental, if not outright disastrous for leaders and followers alike. The Books of Exodus and Numbers record that Aaron twice misunderstood his role as a supporting leader and tried to take the place of a visionary leader: the first time it resulted in Aaron fashioning a false idol in the shape of a golden calf (Exodus 32: 4) and second event saw Aaron together with his sister Miriam publicly criticizing Moses for marrying a Cushite (Ethiopian) woman (Numbers 17:1-13). Both events caused great suffering and pain for Aaron and his followers.
Freedom and healing come to leaders who in humility recognize their rightful place and accept the particular role that they have to fulfill in leading.
Even though the specific roles and duties of leaders of tens and thousands differ, the moral and ethical responsibilities of these leaders remain the same. Once again, the Book of Exodus tells of an event in the life of Moses, where his father-in-law, Jethro recognizes Moses’ folly in trying to fulfill all the leadership roles and wisely counsel him to appoint leaders that will lead groups of “thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens…” (Exodus 18:21). Jethro explains the differing roles of these leaders and then provides Moses with three main criteria in the selecting of “capable men” (Numbers 18:21): they must fear God, be trustworthy, and not lead for dishonest gain. These three moral requirements of leaders are the same for any leader, whether they lead tens, fifties, hundreds or thousands.
Jethro’s list of the ethical requirements of leaders (Exodus 18:21) continues to serve us well in the selection and formation of leaders. Leaders who fear God are known for boldness in their decision-making because they no longer aim to merely please men, but they have found the door to eternal wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). Trustworthy leaders are people of integrity and are consistent in always doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons, and to the right people (1 Timothy 3:2).
Lastly, godly leaders do not use their position of leadership to gain prestige, power or wealth. They do nothing in leadership out of selfish ambition, but always consider their followers as higher than themselves (Philippians 2:3-4).
How do leaders move from leading tens, to leading fifties, and then to hundreds and maybe even thousands? The key in Scripture seems to be the virtue of faithfulness. Jesus, in a parable he told about people receiving differing gifts and abilities in life, describes a master praising his servant: “'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things…” (Matthew 25:23, NIV, emphasis mine). The Apostle Paul, in instructing his follower Timothy in the selection of future leaders in the congregation, advises: “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2, NASB, emphasis mine).
Faithfulness opens the door to leadership promotion.
Find the leadership role that God has called you to, embrace the specific duties and role, and then most important - stay at it. Remain faithful in service and leadership until the end.
I like the maxim that Charles Wesley taught his followers: “…do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” This is good advice for any leader, be that a leader of tens or thousands.
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Dr. Corné Bekker joined Regent University in 2005. He previously served as the associate dean for academics of Rhema Bible College in Johannesburg, South Africa and now as an associate professor for the School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship. Dr. Bekker teaches in the doctoral programs of the School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship and is actively involved in research on the use of biblical hermeneutics and spirituality to explore leadership. He is the editor of the Journal of Biblical Perspectives in Leadership (JBPL) and the co-editor of Inner Resources for Leaders (IRL).
Dr. Bekker is an ordained minister and has traveled in Africa, Europe, the East and North America to present at churches, ministries, seminars and academic conferences on the subject of Christian spirituality and leadership formation.
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