Saturday, May 9, 2015

What Makes a Good Leader? The Essence of Christian Leadership

            This week, I will continue with my six-sermon series on “Christian Leadership.”  (The entire series is listed at the bottom of this post.)  We began the series last week with the question, “Who does God call to leadership?  In that exploration, we concluded:  “Everyone is called to be a church leader some of the time, but no one is called to be the leader all of the time.”

            In the second exploration in this series, we will attempt to define what Christian leadership is.  In other words, What is the essence of Christian leadership?  To ground our examination, we turn to the story of King Solomon in the Hebrew scriptures.  Solomon was the third and final king of the “united monarchy,” which included both the lands of Judea and Israel. 

Solomon ascended to the throne upon the death of his father, King David.  Solomon had a long and prosperous reign, filled with honor and achievement.  He was a “winner” in the sense that he was always victorious over his enemies, vanquishing them in battle.  Under Solomon’s reign, the Hebrews became an international power among the other nations in their geopolitical sphere.  It was King Solomon who built the first Temple in Jerusalem.  Yet, despite all of his other accomplishments, King Solomon is best known for his wisdom in governing. 

            Our foundational scripture reading for this Sunday concerns Solomon’s actions and decisions as he begins his reign.  The passage is 1 Kings 3:  1-15.  The principal storyline concerns Solomon’s journey up to the “high place” at Gibeon, where he offers “a thousand burnt offerings on the altar” to God.  During the night, God appears to Solomon in a dream.  In the dream, God asks what special gift Solomon would like to have as ruler of the Hebrews, God’s chosen people.  Solomon responds, “Give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.” 

God is impressed.  Solomon could have asked for long life or riches or victory over his enemies.  Instead, Solomon asks for understanding and discernment, in order to be a wise leader.  God agrees to bestow great wisdom upon Solomon but because of Solomon’s purity of intentions, God also promises to give Solomon all of the other things that he could have asked for, but did not.  God promises Solomon riches and honor and longevity of life, under the condition that Solomon remains faithful and obedient to God’s laws and commandments.

Within the Christian tradition, Solomon is highly viewed as being an extraordinarily wise and faithful king.  King Solomon is traditionally viewed as the role-model for faithful, Christian leadership.  Yet on the contrary, our scripture is ambivalent about Solomon.  On the one hand, Solomon does come across as a humble leader who is faithful to God, and completely focused on becoming the best leader he can be.  On the other hand, the scripture also portrays Solomon as self-centered and negligent. 

The negative dimensions of Solomon are manifested at the beginning of the story, before Solomon goes up to Gibeon to pray and worship.  First, Solomon establishes a marriage alliance with Egypt, marrying an Egyptian princess and bringing her to live in Jerusalem.  This decision violates divine commandments and indicates Solomon’s unfaithfulness to God.  Further, the writer of 1 Kings 3 observes that Solomon has prioritized building his own royal palace in Jerusalem over building a Temple for the worship of God.  Since Solomon had put his own house ahead of God’s house, the Hebrew people ended up going out to “high places,” such as Gibeon to worship , since there was no Temple in Jerusalem.  For the historical writer of 1 Kings, this represents supreme selfishness and negligence by Solomon.

So, when we read this scripture completely, taking into account all of its nuances, we end up with a mixed assessment of Solomon.  In some respects, Solomon appears as a humble, self-sacrificing person, who is exclusively focused on ruling wisely as King.  Yet, in other respects, Solomon appears to be a negligent leader who is completely self-centered and focused on his own self-aggrandizement. 

At this point in our study of King Solomon, we must ask:  What does the story of King Solomon tell us about the essence of Christian leadership? 

It seems to me that the story of King Solomon highlights five key attributes that contribute to the essence of Christian leadership:

1.      Love for God.  From the beginning, Solomon’s relationship with God is grounded in Solomon’s love for God.  Despite the flaws and disobedience chronicled at the beginning of chapter 3, Solomon has a great love for God.  The writer of 1 Kings lifts up Solomon’s great love in verse 3, as his motivation for journeying up to Gibeon to make offerings on the altar at a “high place.”

2.      Obedience to God.  When God asks Solomon what gift he would like as he begins his reign, Solomon first acknowledges that God has “shown great and steadfast love” to his father, King David, because David was obedient and faithful to God.  Solomon recognizes that this obedience and faithfulness to God is a critically important attribute for a Christian leader and, accordingly, he pledges to begin putting God’s interests and will ahead of his own personal interests.

3.      Self-sacrifice.  Similarly, when he chooses a gift from God, Solomon asks for discernment and understanding so that he may become a wise and effective ruler.  As God observes, Solomon could have chosen something for his personal self-gain, such as wealth or honor.  Instead, Solomon sacrifices personal self-gain in order to be a better and more faithful leader.

4.      Wisdom.  Wisdom enables Solomon to discern God’s vision for the people.  Throughout history, God is always inviting the faithful into a partnership dedicated to establishing God’s Reign on earth.  When we seek to become disciples of Christ, we are committing ourselves to this reign-building work.  Yet, in order to work meaningfully and effectively, the workers need a plan, a vision.  A Christian leader must discern and understand God’s vision for the community of faith that they lead. 

5.      Empowering.  Not only must the Christian leader have wisdom to envision God’s plan, but the Christian leader must also have the ability to describe God’s vision -- and empower the faithful to work effectively to realize God’s vision.  Although this attribute is not manifested in our passage, throughout his reign King Solomon was able to articulate God’s vision and empower his followers to work on implementing God’s vision.

These five attributes are the essential requirements for faithful, Christian leadership.  In the Hebrew scriptures, Solomon possesses these attributes and demonstrates the essence of good, faithful leadership.  Yet, at the same time, Solomon was flawed and sinful.  He disobeyed God’s laws at times as well as succumbing to selfishness.  Solomon was far from being a “perfect leader.”  Yet, Solomon recognizes his own weaknesses and flaws.  Out of this self-awareness, Solomon responds to God with an attitude of penance and humility.  This humility is also an important attribute of Christian leadership.

Come and join us this Sunday, May 10th, as we celebrate Mother's Day and continue our exploration of what Christian Leadership means.  Our church is located at the corner of Main and Dawson Streets in Meriden, Kansas.  Our classic worship starts at 10 am. 

Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.
List of Topics in the “Christian Leadership” Series

May 3   “We Are All Called to Leadership”

May 10  “What Makes a Good Leader?
                                 Defining Christian Leadership”

May 17  “Power – And, Vulnerability”

May 24  “The Spiritual Dimension of Leadership”

May 31  “Inclusivity and Openness”

June 7   “Care and Maintenance of your Next
                              Pastor:  A Congregational Guide”