THE ULTIMATE TEST OF LEADERSHIP: CREATING POSITIVE CHANGE

 

I am happy to be part of this summer series because if there is one thing the church needs more lessons on it is leadership. Unfortunately, there are less and less men who are willing to grow in this area and take on their God given role as being a leader in the church and in the home. There are far too many men that are being pushed into this role who are not ready for it and it brings about a negative change instead of positive one. Though women still seem to be more eager to do work for the church, there is a break down there as well, and when some women see that the men are not taking on the roles they should, they start trying to take over these leadership roles that are designed for men, which is not good thing. It is also becoming rarer to see the older women teaching the younger women as the Bible says they should. There is certainly room for every Christian to grow in this area of us embracing our God given roles.

 

The first thing I want to point is that leadership is essential to Godís people whether it be in the church or in the home. One example that shows what a difference leaders make with Godís people is found within the book of Judges. After Joshua died, there was a great lack of leadership and a whole generation came along who did not know the Lord or follow His ways and God allowed them to become oppressed by their enemies. However, God had mercy on them and raised up judges to deliver them as we read in:

 

Judges 2: 18 And when the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed them and harassed them.19 And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they reverted and behaved more corruptly than their fathers, by following other gods, to serve them and bow down to them. They did not cease from their own doings nor from their stubborn way.

 

We see this recurring theme throughout the book of Judges. God would give them a judge and that judge would get the children of Israel back on track. They would put away their false gods and God would deliver them from the hands of their enemies, but as soon as the judge died so did the children of Israelís faith in God. So, they would return back to the wicked ways and be oppressed by their enemies once again. When we do not have those who are willing to take on the leadership roles in the church and in the home, and who do not lead according to the will of God, then people are going to do whatever they feel like doing, which will put them in opposition to God.

 

While it is important to have leaders in place, it is also equally important that the leaders bring about a positive change and not a negative one. Many times we teach about how we need to watch out for change agents. This is true because there have been many congregations that been affected in a negative way by such leaders. There is a movement within the church called the progressive movement. These leaders want to free people from what they call the traditional teachings of the church of Christ. They are twisting the Scriptures by saying that we are misunderstanding them and that things like using musical instruments in church, the role of women, marriage, divorce, and remarriage, and many other fundamental teachings are wrong. They discount what the Scriptures say by saying it was just a custom or by saying ďwell the Bible does not specifically say you cannot do such and such.Ē While these new teachings can certainly open the door for us to be able to do just about anything we want and can make people feel like they are ok with God while doing them, this is a negative change because the leaders are blindly leading Godís people away from Him while making them feel good about it. Peter talks about leaders like this that are leading people away from the truth in:

 

2 Peter 2:18 For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error.19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.20 For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.21 For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.22 But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: "A dog returns to his own vomit," and, "a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire."

 

A good example of this kind of negative change comes from the O.T. example of Jeroboam. The background is that Solomon found himself opposing God because all the idol worship he was allowing and supporting because of his many wives. God lets Jeroboam know through a prophet that he is going to make him the new leader of Israel and that He going to rule over 10 tribes of Israel. Notice this important conditional statement that was made in:

 

1 Kings 11:38 'Then it shall be, if you heed all that I command you, walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build for you an enduring house, as I built for David, and will give Israel to you.

 

Jeroboam had the chance to be a positive leader and have God on his side, but this is not what happened because Jeroboam decided to change the will of God, which is a negative change.

 

1 Kings 12:26 And Jeroboam said in his heart, "Now the kingdom may return to the house of David:27 "If these people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn back to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and go back to Rehoboam king of Judah."28 Therefore the king asked advice, made two calves of gold, and said to the people, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!"29 And he set up one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.30 Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan.31 He made shrines on the high places, and made priests from every class of people, who were not of the sons of Levi.32 Jeroboam ordained a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the feast that was in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did at Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made. And at Bethel he installed the priests of the high places which he had made.33 So he made offerings on the altar which he had made at Bethel on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, in the month which he had devised in his own heart. And he ordained a feast for the children of Israel, and offered sacrifices on the altar and burned incense.

 

Jeroboam took what God gave him and turned against the way of God. The reason he received this leadership was because under Solomonís leadership, toward the end of his life, the people were following after false gods, and now Jeroboam is doing the same. He was afraid if the people went back to make their sacrifices at the temple and went back to participate in the festivals they were suppose to attend that it would remind them of where they came from and cause them to go back and stay.

 

This is the same method used by leaders that are involved in the progressive movement. They want to keep their people away from those who still hold to the Bible as being their only authority and they try to tell their people that we are trying to enslave them with laws of the N.T. instead of giving them the liberty they should have. They know, just like Jeroboam knew, that if they keep them away from the truth and those that teach the truth long enough and if they can offer them similar truths and make them feel comfortable then they can change them to their way of thinking causing them to shun the truth. This is the kind of change we have to look out for because any changes we make that causes us to violate Godís Word and what it teaches will separate us from Him and cause to be on that broad road that leads to hell.

 

The other side of the coin is having leaders who bring about a positive change. When I say positive change, I do not mean a change in the will of God or anything that will add to His truth. We have no right to change anything Godís Word says to fit our traditions or customs. The idea of a leader who makes positive changes has to do with making themselves and others grow stronger in their faith and service to God. There is a constant need for us to change our ways because if we are standing still and just doing the same ole same ole then we will become stagnate. It is a sad sight to see when a Christian does the least he can each day, and it is more sad when you see an entire congregation do the least they can.

 

Jesus talks about a church just like that in:

 

Revelation 3:14 " And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ' These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God:15 ∂ "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot.16 "So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.17 "Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing' -- and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked --18 "I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.19 "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.20 "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.21 "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.22 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." ' "††

 

Unfortunately, you can find many congregations in our great nation that are just like this church at Laodicea. Why are they like this, it because of poor leadership. I can promise you that if the leadership in the congregation does not care, neither will anyone else. Those who are leaders in the church and at home must realize that you are the measuring stick that those around you use to judge to see if they are doing enough. If the leader is lazy, the followers will be lazy. If the leader shows little concern for the lost, the followers will show little concern. In the home if you show your children that God is not that important, then you children will have the same attitude.

 

One of the first steps we must realize as a leader is that people trust us and they are looking to us for guidance. We will be judged by God if we fail to lead as we should.

 

Hebrews 13:17 Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

 

This text is primarily talking about elders, but I believe the same principle certainly applies to all who lead. If a Christian dad is not leading His family in the way of the Lord or if the Christian mother is not fulfilling her role in the family as a wife and a mother, do you not think they too will be judged by how they did their part?

 

Once you let it sink in that you have the ability to lead people that trust you, your goal should be to lead them to make positive changes in their life. Before you can do that you must first make positive changes in your own life and realize that you must continue to make positive changes if you ever hope to continue to grow in your faith. A great example of this is the apostle Paul. I do not know of anyone who that would deny that Paul was a great leader before and after his conversion. Before his conversion, he was a very active leader who inspired other Jews to seek Christians out and have them arrested and killed.

 

His people could use him as an example and see how much he cared about his cause. At first, he believed in what he was doing, but he soon found out that he was leading himself and his people in a negative way because he was making them fight against the truth of Christianity. While Paul was not an easy guy to change, when he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus it was enough for him to see that he had to make some serious changes in his life and he did.

 

Paul took that strong leadership that he had and turned it from being negative into positive leadership, but before that could happen he had to change himself. Once a person can learn to continue to change themselves for the better, then they are ready to start helping others change their ways. That is exactly what Paul did because once he changed himself he went out into the world and began to set up churches everywhere he went and he converted many men and women to Christ.

 

One of the best ways to lead people in a positive way is by showing them how it is done. Jesus is our greatest example of this because He did not just talk the talk, He walked the walk. In fact, He spoke out against the leaders of his day who simply talked the talk.

 

Matthew 23:1 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples,2 saying: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat.3 "Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.4 "For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.5 "But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.6 "They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues,7 "greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, 'Rabbi, Rabbi.'

 

These are the kind of leaders that know what Godís Word says and donít mind telling people what to do, but they do not get involved in the work. Instead, they just want to impress people with their knowledge and with the work they made others do. If they do actual lift a finger, they only do it to be seen by others. Again, this is not going to be a leader who brings about a positive change because they are only concerned about themselves. A good leader, like Jesus, is more concerned about those they lead then about themselves.

 

Jesus certainly set the example when He washed His disciplesí feet:

 

John 13:12 So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you?13 "You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.14 "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.15 "For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.16 "Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.17 "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

 

What Jesus was teaching them was this:

 

Mark 10:45 "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

 

Though Jesus is the Son of God and the greatest leader that ever walked the face of the earth, He led by example and was willing to give His life for those He was leading. Because of the positive change He was teaching and since He was willing to give His life for us, He made it possible for us to have the forgiveness of our sins. So, all leaders must follow His example by being an example themselves, so they can show those who are following how it is done. They must be willing to put others before themselves and even die for the truth if necessary though the chances of that happening in the USA would be very slim.

 

Another thing that will help bring about a positive change is for the leader to realize that even if he must not do everything on his own no matter how good he is at doing it. No, he must get others involved and train them how to carry out the tasks that he performs, and he must train others to take his place because every leader must realize that he is not going to be around forever. A good leader will make himself replaceable in that if he dies or moves off that others will be able to step up and take his place without slowing down the progress of the church. Whenever leaders do not get others involved and teach them to take their place then the fail part of the responsibility of being a leader.

 

There is also another side to this and that is the followers. Even the greatest leader in world cannot not accomplish much if there are not people willing to follow or people who willing to be trained. So, we need people that are just as eager to follow and be trained as leaders who are eager to lead and to train.

 

Paul understood this idea, which is why he told Timothy:

 

2 Timothy 2:1 You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.2 And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

 

If we do not train other Christians how to preach the Word, teach Bible classes, reach out to the lost, or any other work you can think of, we are doomed to make history repeat itself as we talked about earlier from the book of Judges. So, do not try to be a keeper of the knowledge, pass on what you know to as many people as you can because that will bring about more positive change in the church than you can possibly bring about by keeping your knowledge or skill to yourself.

 

Jesus could do many great things on His own, but He trained His disciples and gave them many opportunities to go out and practice what He taught them to do. We read about Him sending them out by twos to proclaim that the kingdom was near. He gave them the power to heal people and works signs just like He could. Jesus knew that He was going to die on the cross so He made sure that His disciples would be able to continue the work He began and we must do the same.

 

We must also realize that being a leader does not make us a dictator. We cannot view ourselves as a boss over a business. Instead, we are like shepherd with sheep. Sheep are followers, and a person is not going to have much luck if they try to drive them. Sheep develop a trust for their shepherd, and they will follow them wherever they lead them. The same is true whether we are leading in the church or at home. So, let us never forget that we create a more positive change when we lead instead of trying make people do what we want them to.

 

As leaders, we must also learn to put our faith in God and encourage our people to put their trust in God. When we can achieve that, we can cause great things to happen for the cause of God. A great example of this comes from the book of Nehemiah.

 

Usually when you study this period of time, you will study Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther and the minor prophets, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. These books cover about 100 years of time after the children of Israel had returned from their 70 years of captivity. The first group of Jews returned back with Zerubbabel and the second with Ezra and then the 3rd trip to Jerusalem was when Nehemiah went back with a full military force.

 

In chapters 1 and 2 of Nehemiah, we learn that Nehemiah was a cupbearer for the king. This was an honorable position and Nehemiah had a very comfortable life, but when he found out that his fellow Jews were being oppressed by their enemies, and that the walls in Jerusalem lay in ruin because of that, it caused Nehemiah to weep bitterly, and he prayed to God that he might be able to do something about it, which is another important quality of a leader because every leader should pray to God daily asking God to help them make the right decision and to lead in the right way.

 

After 4 months, Nehemiah came before the king with a sad face and this was a dangerous thing to do because no one was supposed show sadness before the king. But Nehemiah had been a faithful servant to the king so the king wanted to know what was troubling him. Nehemiah explained to him about what was happening to his people in Jerusalem and how he wanted to go and help them rebuild their city, and by the providence of God, the king let him go, and he even sent him with a military escort.

 

When Nehemiah arrived at Jerusalem he surveyed the work that needed to be done in secret. After he saw what needed to be done, he stood up and spoke to his fellow Jews, and he encouraged them to rise up and build because God was on their side and so was the king. This was enough to cause the people to be recharged and united to serve God, and the Bible says the people had a mind to work.

 

Now think about this. Obviously, Nehemiah was a good man, but he could have just stayed with the Persian king and do nothing. He could have had the attitude that some have today and said, Oh, I feel sorry for my fellow Jews in Jerusalem, but I just donít have enough time to mess with them because I have plenty of problems to deal with right here. But, thankfully Nehemiah didnít have that attitude and his desire to help his fellow Jews caused him to leave the comforts of his home and to reach out and inspire his fellow Jews to get back on track with God and the work at hand.

 

This is what leadership is all about. It is putting Godís will and His people first. It is about inspiring them to work together to build up the kingdom of God. Thanks to Nehemiahís leadership we learn in Chapters 4, 5 and 6 that the people were able to rebuild the walls in 52 days despite the difficulties they faced.

 

As they were rebuilding these walls, Sanballat and the other enemies of the Jews tried to discourage them by mocking them. This tactic had worked before, but it would not work this time because Nehemiah was willing to fight for the Lord and encourage his people.

 

When their mocking stopped working, they planned to attack them, but Nehemiah found out about their plans. So, he prepared for it, and the Bible says that he had the people working with one hand, and in the other hand, they were carrying a sword so they could defend themselves. They were willing to take care of the work at hand, and they were willing to defend the work they were doing.

 

Under Nehemiahís leadership, not only did the Jews rebuild the walls, they also made a covenant with God that they would remain faithful to the Law of Moses, and they made a lot of changes to make that happen, but unfortunately many in the priesthood were corrupt and some of them had married foreign women and they had become friends with the world, which was against the Law of Moses.

 

At some point, Nehemiah left Jerusalem for about year to go back to the king of Persia, and while he was gone that short period of time, the Jews started turning back to their old ways and they were not keeping the Law of Moses. The high priest even cleared out one of the storage rooms that were supposed to hold the offerings for the Lord, and he set it up for Tobiah, who was one of the enemies of the Jews. This shows how fast things can go down hill when there is poor leadership.

 

When Nehemiah got back and found out the condition of his people, it made him sad and he took action. He did not say oh well I tried. No, he got busy once again and rose to the occasion and had Tobiahís things thrown out and the room was for the Lord. He got the people giving tithes again and made them stop working on Sabbath, and he got the priest back on track, and he forced them to get rid of their foreign wives. In fact, the bible says that he physical pulled their hair out and even beat on them until they would agree to stop marrying these foreign women. Nehemiah was dedicated to serving God and living by His Word. He was the kind of leader that we need today because even when things went bad he did not give up, he kept with it and lead the people in the right direction.

 

So, as you can see, Nehemiah is a great example of the kind of leaders we need today. Now I am not suggesting that we go around and beat on people or pull their hair until they agree to be faithful Christians, but we should have the same zeal that Nehemiah did. He didnít worry about what the world thought about his actions because his number one concern was being pleasing to God and restoring His way. You and I must not allow our society to dictate how we do things. Instead, our number one priority should be putting Godís way first because as Jesus said,

 

Matthew 10:28 "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

 

To summarize, in order to bring about positive change:

 

  • A leader must recognize that people look up to him and will follow his lead.
  • A leader must never try to change the Word of God by adding to it or taking away from it. Instead, they must learn to change themselves and then lead others to change in ways that will help them grow closer to God and help them learn how to love Him more deeply, which will cause them to become better at keeping the commandments of God.
  • Our leaders must always put God first and have His peopleís best interest at heart.
  • Our leaders must seek their guidance from the Word of God and through prayer.
  • Every leader must train others to take their place and be able to do the things they do otherwise the leader fails.
  • Our leaders must do their best to inspire those around them to get busy for the Lord so that everyone is active and not just a few.
  • Our leaders must strive to keep the church pure and their homes pure because there are always those who are willing to rise up and lead people astray.

 

Whether we are talking about the men leading in the church or at home or about the women leading other women or their children, we can all bring about a continual positive change that will help us grow closer to the Lord and strengthen His kingdom if we choose to lead people in the way of righteousness instead of the way of error or laziness.