A New Definition of Leadership

Before we get started, it may be good idea to explore what we are talking about. Some people do not like the word leadership in reference to Christians. After all, we should be servants. While that is true, the Bible uses the word leader to talk about people serving the church body. What is leadership?

1 Tim 3:1 — “Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.”
Being an overseer is noble, not inherently wrong.

Heb 13:7 — “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”
Here leaders are spoken of highly and considered a model for behavior.

Rom 12:6–8 — “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”
Here leadership is listed as a gift given by God. They are admonished to lead diligently.

1 Tim 5:17 —  “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.”
Those who lead, and do it well, are worthy of good pay and respect.

Mark 10:42–45 — Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Here the kind of leadership is emphasized, but not the negation of leadership. We are to look like Jesus and serve others. That is how we lead.

I would contend that it is always right to examine ourselves and question whether what we are doing is right and just and of God. Although there are many examples of failure all around us, I am more interested in scripture holding up a mirror to my soul and being honest about what I see there. Things should look like the Kingdom of God inside of me and inside of the church. Too often they look similar to what is going on around us in culture. Leadership in my mind simply means those going first and out front, and if we couple that with a culturally-informed, conquering, superiority mindset, we get into all sorts of trouble.

A Leadership Example

In pursuit of a new and better definition of leadership, let’s look at one of the greatest biblical examples of leadership:

Exodus 1:15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah,
16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.”
17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.
18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”
19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”
20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous.
21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.
22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”

As the Jewish people entered into a time of increased affliction, the leadership of the midwives became crucial to their survival.

6 leadership lessons from these midwives

1. A midwife fears the LORD.
What are we chasing? What is important to us? We must settle in our hearts what we worship. It is not lost on me that in Matthew 4, the temptation of Jesus happened before he entered his public ministry, not once he was well known. I suggest those temptations were present and with Him the entire 3.5 years. If you are just starting out, are you truly examining your motives and what you hope to get out of ministry? Settle now that you will be pure in worship. We are not chasing fame or glory or success or even good feelings. We are simply obeying — and paying the cost of obeying faithfully.

2. A midwife adopts the values of God’s Kingdom, not the values of the Egyptian empire.
The values of the kingdom of Egypt are different then the values of God. The enemy always tries to use an insider first to do his dirty work (v22). That’s us, leaders. We are the insiders. We must always put people above profit and people above institutional authority. Especially when it costs us personally. Consider how perceptive each of these quotes by Dr. King are:

“When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Martin Luther King Jr from ‘Revolution of Values,’ 1967


“If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”

Martin Luther King Jr., The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King is wanting a new kind of leadership.

3. A midwife puts themselves in the position of danger to protect the most vulnerable.
Paul knew something about this and makes this point a descriptor of ministry in 2 Corinthians 4:11–12: “For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” So many times I see leaders gaining life (money, power, prestige) from the congregation. It’s death at work in the congregation so life can be at work in the leader. Nope. This ain’t easy. It’s costly. We don’t use others for our benefit, we give our lives to benefit others.

4. A midwife has to answer to the empire for their actions — there is an accounting.
People won’t like what you are doing. The spirit of the age will confront the spirit of God. The two are incompatible. Stand firm anyway.

5. A midwife births something that is not of their DNA.
God is birthing something in His people. Who is helping that come into existence? The values of the world around us want to destroy it. Let me use some harsh language, many leaders are aborting the work God is trying to do because they have adopted the values of the culture around us.

6. The midwife receives kindness, and is established, by God.
These midwives are potentially unmarried women. Israel would not have survived without these single women. In our male-dominated culture, single women can be on the bottom of the hierarchy. A new paradigm for leadership recognizes that these women are establishing what is right in all the right ways. If we establish a ministry using the tools of the culture, those tools are the only thing that will maintain it. We will be working against God all while praying and asking for His blessing. We must always be after Spirit-led leadership and the Spirit gifts anyone and everyone, not just the people who fit an American ideal version of success.

Takeaways

In my life and in my leadership, I want to be like these midwives.

  1. I want to fear God first. That He is my ultimate priority. We must be faithful in our worship to be faithful in our witness.
  2. I want to deny the values of the culture around me and promote the values of the Kingdom of God.
  3. I want to worship God well with a life of sacrifice for others.
  4. I want to boldly stand up for what is right when I am tested.
  5. I want to help birth what God is doing, especially when it does not directly benefit me.
  6. I want to be established by God not by my own ambitions.

The role God has for us is to act as midwives to the Church that He is birthing. We won’t be in charge. We won’t be able to maximize the return.
We will have to serve, assist, comfort, care, nurture and advise.
That is very different than resource, strategize, implement, quantify, and maximize.

As one final thought—these are the meanings of the names of the midwives:

Shiphrah — beauty, harmony; to be pleasing or harmoniously composed
Puah — splendid, radiant; to shine or be beautiful

What a great descriptor of God’s church and the leadership that helps to mold her into the image of Christ. That’s what I want to be about.

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