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Doing Quietly: A Reflection on Spiritual Leadership

One of my sisters went to college in rural New York state. There were cows everywhere. And at five o'clock every day you could see the long line of cows as they automatically headed towards the barn. You could set your watch by it. They moved as a unit, heads down, with that hip shifting waddle dairy cows have. They knew what to do at the right time. And they just did it because they knew that if they just showed up they would be taken care of.

As a leader, you are going to lead others in public to what you've been doing quietly.

Saul was a reluctant leader. It appears that he was in the right place at the right time, and he was the right height, standing head and shoulders above the crowd. He shied away at first, with a "but I'm from the smallest family of the smallest clan of the smallest tribe...". He only went to Samuel, "the man of God", as a means to the end: he had to find his father's mules (1Sam 9:10). And he never succeeds from this position. As a leader he is only a guy using the people around him to gather his own greatness. It's his undoing.

When the last straw falls, Samuel finds Saul surrounded by the bleating of sheep and cows that were supposed to have fallen silent by the sword. Saul was given command and control of the entire nation, and he was afraid of losing it. After pointing out the extent to which he had followed God's command, and realizing it wasn't far enough, Saul says, "I was afraid of the men so I gave into them" (1 Sam 15:24 TNIV). This fear lurks in the heart of anyone in control. As leaders, we are judged, it would seem, not by how we lead but by how many. We're asked to keep record of attendees each service. How many conversions? How many baptisms? How many have signed up for that class? You can't be an effective leader unless you have a throng clamoring for your attention.

And yet, it turns out, for Saul and for us, it isn't what we're doing up front that matters. It matters what we're doing behind closed doors to prepare ourselves for the battlefield. Right on the heels of Saul showing off the plunder he caught, Samuel replies: "Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams."

In the Kingdom, effective leadership is never judged outside of obedience.

"Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist (John 13:4 TNIV)." And with that movement, Jesus displays the grandeur of a leader. He was not concerned with what his followers thought of him. His focus was that they would follow him, do what he did. He was concerned that they would recognize the one whom he served, God the Father. He was concerned that when the time came when he wouldn't be physically with them, that they would care more about trusting Him than with the cry of the crowds.

And how can the leader really trust unless she is in the practice of following when far from the crowd? A leader can be someone who is found in the right place at the right time, and will be noticed for their very present skill (or height) when the circumstances arise for it. But the effective leader is someone that has been preparing for awhile to be no more than obedient to the quiet call on their life. They're only looking for the approval of the One who will one day say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

I can only do this by training my eyes on the One who leads me. You become like the one you focus on. I need to spend time with Him. This works out in my life in the amount of time I spend reading about him in his Word. I'm not just learning about how to be a Christian, I am learning about Jesus, who he is and what he's done and what he's doing. I learn his heart. Knowing who he is and what his focus is, I become like him. My heart reflects his.

And when that time comes, that five o'clock somewhere, I may be called to do something and lead a group of people, or one person, to where I know I've been treated well before. And, really, I'll be doing nothing more than doing in public what I've just been doing quietly for so long.

As a leader, you are going to lead others in public to what you've been doing quietly.


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