In Matthew 20 Jesus tells another parable. It is the story of the landowner and the workers that he hires at different times during the day. In the parable the landowner goes and hires men first thing in the morning and tells them he will pay them the daily wage. They agree and get to work. Then at 9 AM, 3 PM and 5 PM he goes out and finds others promising them a just wage for their work if they start right away. They all go. At the end of the day he pays them all. He starts with those hired at 5 and pays them a full day’s wage. Then he does the same with those he hired at 3 and at 9. Finally when it comes to those he hired first, they think that he will pay them more. But he doesn’t. They complain about the “injustice” because they got paid the same as those who started only a short while ago. The landowner says that it is not unfair. He paid them what they agreed to. He says who are they to challenge what he does with his own money and asks if they are envious of his generosity.
Now people can read this a lot of ways. It’s actually a really tough parable. I think first when we read scripture it’s important to think about what it meant to that group of people at that time. Jesus was in the middle of many confrontations with the Pharisees and teachers of the law. The heat is getting turned up as we are approaching the time when they would look to kill Jesus. One of the things that they are most mad about is that all sorts of “sinners” seem to be allowed into this kingdom that Jesus keeps talking about and they seem to be on the outside and they don’t like it. After all, they’ve followed all the rules. They’ve been in this since the beginning. They should be first, not last.
Today I want to look at what we might call Christian leadership. Really at the end of the day that should be our goal as believers if we want to lead. This is not as simple as “lead like Jesus” although obviously we want to look at Jesus who was without a doubt the greatest, most effective leader of all time. And He still is.
So what does it mean to be a Christian leader? How do we do it?
Think about the following short list of people who could be considered great leaders in history. People who were effective by my working definition of effective leadership: “An effective leader is someone who has followers and gets them, through his/her leadership, to accomplish something. The more followers they have and/or the greater the accomplishment; the more effective the leader.” Some of these are more moral than others but we’ll leave out the completely immoral examples. Here’s the list:
Martin Luther King Jr
Pope John Paul II
Joan of Arc
Now I could list a ton more people in every context. Religious, business, countries and causes. This is just a few that came to mind right away that I think most people would say had a huge impact. They had lots of followers and accomplished real change in their context.
Obviously most of us, or more accurately probably none of us, will be on any future list like this. But I think we can learn something here about leadership from these folks. What do they have in common? What made them effective leaders?
I’m a big lawn guy. I love a good looking yard and I work probably too hard to have one. There are a lot of keys to a good lawn and I’ll come back to this analogy at another time. But today I want to talk about preparing the soil for seeding.
If you want to have a good lawn you have to prepare the soil. If you just throw seed on top of the bare spots nothing will happen. You can water it and everything else, but it won’t matter much. What you need to do is till up the soil. Get at least three inches deep. You need to get rid of anything else growing there as well as any sort of rocks or debris. Then you rake it smooth and if you’re really into it, which I am, then you get a roller and roll it smooth. Then and only then do you drop some seed, spread evenly of course. Then you gently rake it in to the loose top soil. Then I typically throw some straw on top of it to protect it from erosion and getting washed out. Finally you water it . . . . for a while. You have to keep it moist until it grows. This is to say nothing of the maintenance of the yard to keep out weeds and encourage deep rooting. It’s a continual process.
The same is true of our hearts when it comes to the soil we become for the word of God.
We’ve been spending some time in previous posts looking at the idea of leadership. Really what I’m trying to do is demystify the whole thing a bit. I think we have been told a lot of things about leadership that aren’t necessarily true. Last time we looked that the difference between being a moral leader and an effective one and how one really has nothing much to do with the other.
Today I want to talk about leadership style. When I asked my friends on social media about who great leaders were I got a huge variance in answers. I knew that I would because I have friends of all sorts of different backgrounds, ages and beliefs. The secondary question was this; What makes this person you chose a great leader? I got all kinds of answers. Here are a few:
Last week we began to look at the parable of the sower from Luke 8. Today I want to take a closer look at what these soils look like.
The first soil is that by the road. This is the soil that the seed falls on but then the devil comes and steals the word before it can take root.
This soil is what we might call the people who reject the word outright. They have a hard heart and therefore the word just stays on the surface. It’s like when I seed my lawn and some of the seed gets on the driveway or sidewalk. It has no chance.
I’m blessed to have a lot of different types of friends from different walks of life. Lately I’ve been asking some of them on social media questions about their opinions of leadership. It’s been really good to hear different perspectives on who people see as a great leader, who they think is an effective leader and what they think constitutes good measurements of effective leadership.
As I shared last time, I think we often seem to lump a lot of different things into the idea of leadership and because of that sort of overthink it. It’s not that any of these ideas are bad. I’m just not sure they are leadership in the purest form of the word. Also a lot of times they don’t really add up. We mention things that we think make a great leader but then we mention “great” leaders that frankly don’t exhibit many of those things. This is especially true when we list great world leaders.
In Luke 8:4 Jesus shares the parable of the sower. Jesus tells of how a farmer spreads seed. Some falls on beside the road and is trampled or stolen by birds. Some falls on rocky soil and grows quickly, but withers quickly because it has no root. Some falls in the soil where there are thorns and grows well until a certain point and then it is choked out. Other seed fell on good soil and grew and produced much fruit.
Jesus later explains this to the disciples. He says that the sower is God and the seed is the word of God. Those on the side of the road are those who have heard the word but devil comes and steals it from their heart so that they can’t be saved. Those on the rocky soil are those who receive the word with joy, but then, because they have no root, when tempted fall away. Those who are among the thorns are those who receive the word and grow but are choked out by the worries, riches, and pleasures of this life and don’t produce fruit. The final group are those who receive the word with an honest and good heart, hold fast and produce much fruit through perseverance.
This is a tough parable for a lot of reasons. First, it appears that only 25% of people end up producing fruit. Although to be fair, it doesn’t say anything about percentages. Heck 90% of the seed could have fallen on any one of the soils. But as someone who has tried to spread the word to people for over two decades, it sure does seem like 25% of people being the good soil seems about right.
A few weeks ago I was watching The Last Dance. This is the ten part documentary on the Chicago Bulls and the final of their six NBA Championship season. But really it’s more a documentary on Michael Jordan. And man is it good. I grew up on Magic, Bird and then Jordan and the Bulls.
It was interesting to learn more about the inner workings of the team and Jordan. A lot of the stories I’ve heard about but it’s different to hear it from them. Jordan was simply the greatest of all time. The thing that separates him to me was his drive. The guy hated losing. Absolutely hated it.
Jordan was singularly focused on the goal. And he brought others along with him. Jordan was a leader. But he wasn’t a “nice” guy. We’ve talked a lot about not being the nice guy here at the blog over the years. I’m not going to dive back into that today. Just go to the front page and search “nice”. What I want to talk about today is leadership.
Luke 7:36-50 tells an interesting story that I think is often misinterpreted or glossed over. Jesus is at the home of a pharisee who has requested dinner with Jesus. Let’s push pause right here before we go further.
One of the mistakes we make reading the gospels is that we often turn the Pharisees into one monolithic group. They were not. They were actual people. And Jesus loved them too. Yes they got a lot wrong. Yes many of them did not like Jesus. But Jesus didn’t hate them. He loved them. He kept loving them all the way through the end. Even when He was challenging them He was doing it to try to get them to see the truth. He asks them once – who will save you from hell?! Jesus was trying to get them to get it. Just like everyone else. And some of them were interested. Obviously this Pharisee was curious.