God is leading. He is bringing redemption and restoration to the world.
And God leads through leaders. He gives them a vision to lead people from where they are to where they could and should be.
So, the first question in leading is, where do I want to lead people? The next question is, how do I get them there?
One of my favorite summaries of the principles of leadership is in the Bible in 1 Thessalonians 5:14. Here’s what it says: “And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”
This passage teaches us three crucial leadership principles for leading well. In the diagram above, these are principles for moving people along the arrow to where the “there.”
1. The leader needs to do the hard thing.
The word translated “idle and disruptive” refers to someone who has gotten out of line in a military formation. The leader has to confront those persons and things that are keeping people from moving in the right direction.
Oftentimes, this means talking to someone who is disruptive about what they are doing. If you are a leader, that’s what you’ve got to do.
Doing the hard thing may also mean making a decision that is best for the whole group or organization, even when particular people disagree or complain (who also may need to be confronted).
It may mean going first. When no one wants to do what needs to be done, leaders may need to take the first step.
Leaders need to do the hard thing.
2. Meet people where they are.
It’s easy to go overboard with principle #1. We think that whenever people aren’t doing what we want them to do, then we need to confront.
Principle #2 teaches us something different. Sometimes people are fighting against you, but at other times people are discouraged or unable to do what you are asking. This is why the Apostle Paul says next, “Encourage the fainthearted, help the weak.”
This isn’t always a matter of people being weak or discouraged. Sometimes meeting people where they are is just a matter of paying attention to what people actually do.
Here’s a very simple example. When I came to my current church, we got about a third of our children to come to Sunday School. Over the years, the leaders had tried all sorts of ways to get people to bring their children to church an hour before worship to Sunday School. It was only modestly effective.
Then, we wondered, if people don’t want to come early, would they stay once they were already ther to fellowship while their kids did Sunday School? What if we did Sunday School after church? We did so, and we got nearly 100% participation.
This is trying to meet people where they are.
3. Leadership is a process.
Whether you’re dealing with the disruptive, the weak, or the disheartened, remember that leadership is a process.
This is why Paul tells us to “be patient with everyone.”
It’s so easy for a leader to think, “I’ve got a great idea. Everyone should see it immediately!” No. It’s a process.
Someone once told me, when you’re tired of saying something, people are just beginning to get it. It takes time to communicate a vision. People need time to process it.
Be patient with everybody because leadership is a process.
God calls Christians to be leaders who are patient, compassionate, and firm. The best example is Jesus Himself. He did the hard thing, even when it meant the cross. He’s patient with us. He meets us where we are.
As believers in Christ, we have His example, and because of His resurrection we have His power. By His grace, we can lead others forward, even though it’s not easy.