~~Leading People Who do not Want to be Led
I’ve often wondered about how Moses must have felt when he attempted to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. When he was a young man, he tried to stand up against the injustice Egypt leveled toward Israel, and he failed miserably. Forty years later, God told Moses that he would lead the Israelites from their slavery to freedom.
Even though he had been chosen by God for this gargantuan task, Moses fought against it at every turn. He argued with God on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 4), complained to God when Pharaoh increased the people’s workload instead of letting them go (Exodus 5), and leaned on God through the entire process (see especially Exodus 33:12-16). Yet, in spite of all the hardship and complaining, God never let Moses off the hook.
You would think that the Israelites would have been grateful that God had sent Moses to lead them out of the bondage and oppression they experienced in Egypt. In fact, when Moses first returned and announced to the elders the plan God had revealed to him, “they believed,” and “they bowed down and worshiped,” (Exodus 4:31). However, that response was short-lived at best. As soon as Pharaoh turned up the heat, they wanted Moses’ head on a platter. In fact, it seems at every sign of difficulty, the Israelites were ready to go back to the misery of slavery. In spite of all God did to prove His sovereignty and His love for Israel, still Israel did not seem to want to follow where God, through Moses, was leading them.
Sound familiar? Anyone who has ever tried leading knows that there are some people out there who just don’t want to follow. A clear vision by God may burn in a pastor’s soul, but the congregation digs in its heels and refuses to budge. Soon, accusations start to fly in both directions, chaos ensues, and the pastor, frustrated beyond reckoning can do one of three things: throw in the towel and resign, become a belligerent brawler and get fired, or learn how to lead people who do not want to be led. Here are five insights which might prove helpful in accomplishing this task:
• Do only what God is leading you to do. Far too many leaders have their own agenda and are not seeking to build God’s Kingdom but their own. In Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby states, “We do not sit down and dream what we want to do for God and then call God in to help us accomplish it,” (28). In John 5:19, Jesus concurs, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the son also does.” Make sure it is God’s will you are trying to accomplish and not simply your own will in His name.
• Remember that more is caught than taught. Are you willing to go where you want to lead others? Far too many church leaders complain about their church members not sharing the Gospel; yet, they haven’t intentionally shared the Gospel outside of their Sunday morning sermon in years. The simple fact is, we lead by example. Paul understood this fact, and so he said to the church at Corinth, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ,” (1 Corinthians 11:1; Cf. 4:16) People can spot a disingenuous leader a mile away. Make sure you are doing what you expect others to do.
• Patience, patience, patience. One of the greatest mistakes leaders make is assuming that they must be the one who produces the finished product. Like salvation, leadership isn’t an event. It is a process. God told Abraham the Promised Land was his, but the Israelites didn’t take possession of Canaan until the time of Joshua, several hundred years later. It takes time for people to buy into the vision God has given a leader. If we really believe that God is sovereign, we’ll be patient enough to allow Him to finish the “good work” He has begun in the lives of our church members (Philippians 1:6).
• It’s all about relationships. Being a pastor is 1% ability and 99% relationships. Before I began my very first pastorate, my own pastor pulled me aside and gave me some very valuable advice. He said I had no right to be these people’s pastor. In fact, I was only their pastor in position. In reality, I was nothing more than their preacher. It was only after I had built a relationship with them that I would become their pastor. That is why being patient is so important. It takes time to build relationships. It takes time to build trust. People will not follow a leader they don’t know or don’t trust. Take the time to become the leader, and people will follow.
• You don’t have to lead everyone. The most effective leaders understand that they do not have the time or energy necessary to have an intimate relationship with every member of their church. Paul put it this way in 2 Timothy 2:2, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” Invest yourself in the right people, and others will follow them as they follow you.
Leadership doesn’t have to be a daunting and unrewarding task. Those who are most effective at it are also those who receive the greatest amount of pleasure from it. When you are able to lead those who don’t want to be led, you are a successful leader indeed!