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False Modesty

This post is for leaders with a tendency to exhibit false modesty.

Me? Surely not.

I rest my case.

Let me start with a quote:

Leadership has nothing to do with rank. Leadership is a responsibility . . . I know many, many people who sit at the highest levels of organisations who are not leaders. They have authority, and we do what they tell us because they have authority over us, but we wouldn’t follow them. And yet I know many people who have made a choice . . . to look after the person on the left of them . . . and the right of them. And we would follow them anywhere. And that’s what leadership is; it’s the responsibility to take care of the people around us, the people with whom we work.

- Leadership guru, Simon Sinek

What is leadership? Is it accomplishing a set of tasks? Is it casting vision? Does it involve serving people? Is it all about power?

If you’re a leader, then it’s critical that you have a clear idea of what leadership entails. If you don’t, you’ll probably just wander along accomplishing a set of tasks. Sermons. Meetings. Public prayer. And that’s not really leadership, is it? In fact, ‘just doing the job I was given’ feels very much like the man who was given a talent and buried it in the ground. ‘Hey, I just held onto what I was given.’

A bit harsh? Perhaps.

Take another look at that quote from Simon Sinek. He’s not writing about the church; he’s writing primarily for those in business. Isn’t it fascinating, though, that he sees leadership in terms of service and care?

Serve people. Care for them. Two fundamental Christian values. (For more on servant leadership, see Paul Coulter’s article.) They underpin so much of what we do in the church, and they are vital if you want to be a leader. So far, so obvious.

But there’s something in there you might have missed. It’s this sentence . . .

We would follow them anywhere.

Leaders inspire. They provide a model for how to live. We follow leaders. Your people follow you. Because you’re the leader. This is good and right. At times, however, I sense an awkwardness in some quarters about taking on the role of a leader.

It leads to false modesty.

Me? I wear the fancy dress but I’m just part of a team. I’m not even the most important part.

Excuse me, Uriah, but this isn’t working for me.

Not all leaders are like this, of course, but some are. I’ve met them. (If you’re a power junkie, this post isn’t for you.) In fact, it looks like there might be a biblical precedent. When Paul warns the Corinthians against following him or Apollos, it almost looks like he’s downplaying the role of the leader.

We’re all servants, aren’t we? We’re all the same: I'm just revved up and sometimes wear a fancy mic/sport a funny collar/grow an evangelical beard, but I'm – false modesty here – no more important than anyone else.

True and completely false. At the same time. Seem odd?

It is true that we’re all servants and God does indeed value us all equally. We are all loved by God, all the recipients of his grace. But it is NOT true in terms of the influence we each hold within the community.

As Peter Scazzero writes, As go the leaders, so goes the church.

The head of the church is Christ, and our people ultimately answer to their Lord. However, it doesn’t follow that because all in the church answer to God, and all are called to be servants, the leader ‘is therefore just the same as everyone else in the community.’ Churches, like most organisations, are usually top-down cultures. St. Paul knew this. That’s why he wrote these words to the Corinthians:

Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. 1 Cor. 11.1a

Bold words. It takes courage to be a leader. Many people are watching you, because the culture is top-down. And in the church, people have high expectations.

Perhaps you’re terrified of being seen as proud. Imitate me? That’s pride, isn’t it? Isn’t selfless humility the template for Christian service? Was St. Paul proud? I don’t think so. I believe he was bravely taking on the mantle of leadership. If you want to be a servant leader, or rather, as Paul Coulter puts it, ‘a servant willing to fulfil the task of leadership,’ then you must bravely step forward and lead.

Accept that your life provides a model. That’s part of the job. Acknowledge that not just your expertise but also your character is under review all the time. Who you are is reflected in the life you lead, and that life, while observed by many, is laid down in service to your Lord.

The only way to cope with the pressure which arises from a community’s expectations, is to walk the path of humility followed by Christ. Humility isn’t saying ‘oh don’t look at me. I’m just the same as everyone else.’ It’s being faithful with the tasks laid before you, honouring Christ in all you do. Self-deprecation can be very funny, but it’s not always honest. At times, it can even be disingenuous – ‘not me,’ which really means ‘please love me.’

So be honest. Stand up and be counted.

Lead your people to their Saviour. Help them see him afresh every time you teach or preach. Be a leader whom people want to follow, because they see their Saviour’s Spirit living within you.

As you imitate Christ, your people will see him more clearly, follow him more nearly, love him more dearly.

You got it . . . day by day.

We are constantly updating our library of resources. The latest addition to our library of articles is Is My Church Homophobic? - detailing lessons learnt about being part of the local church by a same-sex attracted christian.


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