Leaders Accept Responsibility
“We are facing a great challenge! All over the world, there is tremendous social change and population movement. Rural people are moving to cities. People are leaving their countries in search of better conditions. Many who come here have languages and customs different from ours. People from non-Christian groups are accepting Christ and looking for a place among us. A large group of immigrants in a distant part of this city has no gospel witness. The new Christians among them have no place to worship. They can’t come to our church because of transportation problems, but I feel that we are responsible for them. I would like to set aside part of our church income to help build a church there. I would like for several of you to act as
leaders in that church to help them get started.”
These words were actually spoken by a pastor. He had called a meeting of believers to ask their support for a project the Lord had placed in his heart. Some of the people began to object.
“But we hardly have enough money to pay our own expenses.”
“How could we give up the blessings and fellowship in our church to mingle with those folk? Anyway, we don’t have enough workers in our own church. And isn’t that neighborhood dangerous?”
Then, a young man stood and spoke out clearly. “My brothers and sisters,” he said, “I feel we must examine our attitudes concerning the purpose of the church. We can’t be satisfied to be a happy, comfortable community of God’s people. There is a more important goal. While we are having our own needs met in the church, we should be working toward the goal of reaching others and sharing our love. I will help in the new project.”
This true situation of our time illustrates some of the most serious issues related to Christian leadership: understanding the importance and the nature of objectives and goals and being willing to accept responsibility for attaining them. The Bible account that will guide us in examining these principles is the story of Esther.
Esther – A Willing Leader
People find themselves in positions of leadership in several ways. A leader often seems to emerge as a consequence of a group’s needs. The leader is followed because he or she appears to be the one through whom the group can have its needs met. There must be a goal (perhaps a problem to be solved) for a leader to be necessary. The kind of goal or problem will then determine or greatly influence the kind of leader needed. This is one reason why no set of leadership characteristics can be outlined. Most leaders seem to have some characteristics in common, but others can be very different, as we have seen from our biblical examples.
The story of Esther is a precise example of leadership emerging to meet a need. The book begins with a description of the problem situation. Can you picture the events described in this unusual chapter of history?
At a time when King Xerxes was celebrating his wealth and power, his wife, Queen Vashti, refused to obey him. In order to prove his power and authority, he made a public decree to divorce her and have her removed from the palace.
In that land, an official notice from the king was a law forever and could not be changed even by the king himself. The king began to miss his wife, but he was bound by his official decree so that he could not take her back. He was advised to fill the queen’s place with a virgin selected from the most beautiful girls in the kingdom. He would have a kind of beauty contest and choose a new queen.
Among the king’s subjects were the Jewish exiles. Many of them had adapted to life in captivity and, because of their character and ability, had attained positions of leadership. One of these was Mordecai. His cousin, Esther, was like a daughter to him, since her mother and father were dead. She was lovely and graceful. In the search for beautiful virgins, Esther was one of those selected to go before the king. Mordecai told her not to mention that she was of the Jews. The king did not inquire concerning her background. His interest was in her beauty and fine manners. He liked her better than any of the others, and chose her to be his queen. She was given the queen’s palace, royal robes, a crown, maids to serve her—all the privilege and luxury of her status.
On the king’s staff of high officials was Haman, a proud and selfishly ambitious man who hated the Jews. He became extremely angry because Mordecai would not bow to him. “Not only does he offend me,” Haman complained bitterly, “but he is one of those Jews. I’ll find a way to punish him and all his people with him!”
Haman made the king believe that the Jews were a danger and a source of trouble. He implied that they were disrespectful of the crown and should be abolished. He persuaded the king to sign a decree, and plans were started to kill all the Jews on a certain day.
When Mordecai heard this news, he realized that there was one possible chance for the Jews to be saved. Perhaps if the king knew the death order included his queen he would do something to save her and her people. She was the only person in a position to meet the need of this hour. So Mordecai asked Esther to go before the king and request mercy for all the Jews.
How could she do that? Surely Mordecai knew she could not walk up to the king without an invitation. There was a strict law that any person who did that would be seized by the king’s aides and put to death. That law could not be changed. The decree to kill the Jews could not be changed. What could she do? Of course, if the king wished, he could extend his golden scepter to a person who approached him, but it would be a fearful risk.
“You know the law,” Esther told Mordecai, “and the king has not called me for thirty days.”
Then Mordecai reminded Esther that she was a Jew. “Just because you are the queen, you cannot expect to escape,” he said. “If you help the people now you will be helping yourself, too. Perhaps you have been allowed to have your royal position for such a time as this.”
It is interesting to note that the name Esther means star. She was in a high position because God had given her the qualities and the opportunities to be a kind of star. But for Esther, as for all others who are called by God, the position was not for her personal power and enjoyment. She could not be a star alone. Her position was for the benefit of her people. At this point,
Esther chose to be a true leader. “All right,” she agreed, “I will go even though it is dangerous. If I perish, I perish. I will take the consequences of my decision.”
Esther not only had some leadership characteristics but also began immediately to behave as a leader. Already, a plan was forming in her mind, and she realized that all the people should be involved. She needed their complete support. She asked them to fast for three days, promising that she and her household would fast also. She stated these details clearly.
During those three days, Esther did much more than fast. She was busily planning and making preparations. She designed a set of procedures. She would ask the king and Haman to eat with her so that she could select the proper time and manner to make her request. She would show respect for the law as much as possible and give the king a chance to think of a solution. She put her helpers to work making ready for the banquets.
Then, on the third day, she put on the royal robes and went to the throne room. She acted boldly but with quiet dignity. She put herself into a position where she could be killed for defying the king’s rules. She was willing to do this because of the importance of her goal, yet she was careful not to offend anyone needlessly. She wore the correct garments for the occasion and spoke in the accepted manner. The king was pleased. She reached out, humble in her victory, to touch the golden scepter.
Esther followed her plan rationally. She did immediately not cry out her concern for her people but asked the king to dine with her so the matter could be approached in the best possible way. Little by little, she led him to understand the situation and to be persuaded on behalf of the Jews.
Leaders Understand the Nature of Goals
You note that they both express desired outcomes, or some kind of end result toward which we can work. How are the two goals different from each other? When we remember the story of Esther we can see the difference. She wanted her people to be saved is the final goal for everything Esther did. In order to reach this final goal, she had to persuade the king to release them from the decree of certain death. The final goal is reached by means of making and reaching other goals. In Christian work, our final goal is spiritual and very broad. We call it our institutional goal. The greatest of all is to win the world for Christ. Within each local Christian body or project there are institutional goals. In order to reach them, we set operational goals, which we might also call objectives.
Notice again how Esther moved from one objective to another. She had to gain the approval of the king. She had to be sure that he understood the entire situation so that he could act appropriately. Since he could not overrule a previous decree, a way had to be found to save the Jews and still keep the law. When it was decided that the Jews could defend themselves, this condition of the king’s honor was preserved. Because she had a clear and important final goal, she was able to set for herself and her helpers a series of definite objectives. As each objective was achieved she moved closer to the final or institutional goal.
Why Objectives Are Important
Since the final or institutional goals of Christian work seem obvious, many leaders are not aware of the importance of stating clear objectives. They tend to feel that “doing the Lord’s will” and “winning souls” are clear enough. Some may be reluctant to state specific objectives because they wish to remain open to the Spirit’s leading. However, as we have learned in the lesson on planning, we must seek spiritual guidance in the planning stages in order to be at our best as leaders. People work better and are happier in their work when they have clear objectives. Much unrest and waste in church work results from failure of the leadership in this regard, and stating objectives can have powerful effects in your efforts as a leader.
1. Objectives help us save time, energy, and resources.
By stating clear objectives we can direct the use of our resources toward specific ends without waste and confusion. Without objectives, some tasks may be forgotten while others are duplicated. Money may be spent for something that is not essential, while a real need is unmet. One person may be doing too much and others too little.
2. Objectives inspire cooperation.
People see the need to work together when there is a clear reason for their cooperation. They sometimes fail to respond to a leader who says, “Now, let’s all work together on this.” Just “working together” seems aimless if the desired result of their effort is not clear.
3. Objectives provide a basis for evaluation.
The best performance of any activity can be assured only when there is some way to measure it. If results are not evaluated, people can be satisfied with a very low standard of performance. They are just busy and don’t know what they accomplish. If we state the objectives in advance, we can
measure results. In this way we can help workers see the need for improvement, or, on the other hand, we can give them the satisfaction of knowing exactly how well they have done. We can discover weak places in organization and direct our efforts intelligently.
4. Objectives help us discover gifts and talents.
When a desired result is stated, people realize more clearly what gifts and talents are needed in order to accomplish the purpose. We begin to see in ourselves and others specific competencies related to the proposed task. Esther probably never thought of herself as capable of what she ultimately
accomplished until she understood the need that had to be met. When we are thinking of specific objectives, we can assign workers whose qualities are best suited. Workers are more likely to volunteer, and new leaders emerge as a result.
Leaders Accept Responsibility
Setting clear goals and objectives for yourself and your workers is one of the most difficult tasks of leadership. It is difficult because it requires absolute honesty and the willingness to accept responsibility at any cost
Remember our example of the city church. The pastor said he felt responsible. He was willing to make some sacrifices by using part of the church funds and some of the workers to start a new church. He was willing to risk criticism from his people by asking them to make sacrifices, too. It was a similar situation with Esther. As Mordecai challenged her, she began to feel responsible for her people. When people think in terms of the church’s true purposes, and the objectives are made plain to them, they become willing to make commitments and assume responsibility.
The young man who volunteered to serve did so because he had begun to understand the church’s true purpose. He was willing to face reality and take responsibility.
Some understanding of how to face reality and accept responsibility has come to us from a psychiatrist, William Glasser. As he worked with unhappy people who could not adjust to the demands of their society, he found that much of their failure came from their refusal to face reality. They continually made excuses for themselves. They blamed their problems on other people and on circumstances. If Esther had had such an attitude, she would have said, “If only I were not a woman. If only the king were not so stubborn.” But she was willing to admit the facts and work with what she had.
This, according to Glasser, is the only way to have a successful and productive life. Certainly it is the only way to be a successful leader. Glasser suggests that satisfaction in life comes from willingness to endure privation, if need be, in order to reach goals. He says that commitment brings freedom. If we consider the consequences honestly and then decide to take appropriate action, we gain self-confidence and become more effective leaders. Christian leaders have the extra advantage of knowing that self-confidence comes only as a reflection of confidence in the Lord.
How did this commitment bring her freedom? Don’t you think she was now free from much of her fear? She had freed herself from excuses. She had proved to herself that she was capable of making a difficult decision. She was free to move forward in faith.
Leaders Help Workers Face Reality
Objectives must be realistic. There may be a temptation to claim great results “in faith.” Certainly, faith and confidence in God should be expressed. But if people become emotionally involved and have unrealistic expectations, they will be easily discouraged and less likely to cooperate in the future. The leader is responsible to be absolutely certain of his or her position of faith before he or she makes claims and involves the emotions of others. You can test a goal’s reality by asking yourself if you are willing to measure and report the results to those who work with you. Do you believe it can be attained with reasonable effort?
The obstacles must be explained. A leader, guiding his or her people toward real goals, does not try to make the task look easy or gloss it over in any way. Most workers appreciate a leader who admits difficulties and requests their prayers and suggestions. When a worker expresses doubts and difficulties, the leader should not try to smooth over the facts. He or she should admit that the worker has problems and show concern. For most workers, it is more helpful if a leader says, “I know that is a difficult task.” The leader who says, “Oh, come on, it’s not hard,” may find himself or herself rejected.
Excuses must not be accepted. Beginning in the Garden of Eden, people have tended to make excuses and blame other people, the devil, and circumstances for their problems and failures. Each time people make an excuse, they put responsibility away from themselves and therefore weaken their own position, especially in their own sight. Therefore, when we accept excuses, we are not being kind; we are escaping from responsibility ourselves. Responsible leaders will take upon themselves what Glasser calls the greatest task of all mankind: teaching others to be responsible for their own behavior.
Each person needs to feel that he or she is capable of accomplishing some goal. Excuses allow people to avoid reality. In order to help them be successful and thereby add to the church’s success, leaders must set standards for performance. If a person offers an excuse, the leader must not say, “That’s all right.” He or she must show love and respect for the person, and then help him or her live up to the required standards. This takes patience, love, and a certain amount of risk on the leader’s part.
Give people full credit for the success they have made. Point out to them that they have good qualities and have made improvements, then explain exactly what is expected. Set goals and standards. Give specific instructions and be sure that they understand how they are to proceed. Pray with them and let them know that you are expecting them to accomplish the objectives.
Leaders Face Their Own Reality
There is a price to pay for leadership. Our biblical examples have shown this. Only one fact can make the price seem reasonable and easy. That is the one goal toward which our efforts are directed. Christian leaders know they have a special place in the universal plan of God. Their purpose is His purpose. Their goal is His goal. Even so, there are times of frustration and discouragement. Most of them can be overcome by prayerfully applying reality thinking to our own lives. There will be problems and conflict. We cannot face these successfully unless we are willing to admit the absolute truth of the situation, just as Esther did. Here are some facts we must face:
1. Leaders are servants, not masters.
Even in the business world, leaders are no longer considered to be a “boss” or a “chief.” They are considered an instructor, a guide, and a helper to make plans and organize workers. Long ago, Jesus instructed us in this style of leadership. Throughout Christian history, the greatest leaders have followed His example, even to the point of giving their lives.
2. Leaders work harder than those they lead.
A study was made to determine which factors were common to most successful leaders. It was found that leaders have very different sets of qualities and very different personalities. Some are more authoritarian and some are more democratic. Only one fact applied to every successful leader in the study: they all worked hard. They kept longer hours, studied more, and put more effort into self-improvement than those who worked for them.
3. Leaders are criticized and blamed.
It must be expected that some will not understand our motives nor agree with our methods. Also, we will make mistakes. We will offend people without intending to. If we accept this and do not resist or try too much to justify and defend ourselves, criticism can be a blessing. We can judge ourselves realistically and look to the Lord to help us make needed improvements.
4. Leaders suffer loneliness.
Leaders seem popular and privileged when we see them in public, but good leaders are lonelier than any class of people. Most of us like to talk things over with others and share our burdens and problems. We can do this to some extent in our work with people, but when major decisions are to be made and real responsibility is to be assumed, then we are alone with God. We must respect the confidence and the feelings of others. We must not involve our families and friends in church business. We must spend time and energy in ways that others cannot share or even understand.
5. Leaders suffer stress.
We feel the pressure of time. There is so much to be done. We feel the pressure of expectations that others put on us. Most people in leadership positions in the church, as we have seen, are middle leaders. They are supervised by pastors or other church officials, and they are responsible to provide leadership for other groups. This creates a double pressure, as they are in the role of follower at one time and that of leader at another. We
are subject to feelings of inadequacy and fear of making wrong decisions. We want people to like us, and yet we must be firm in leadership roles.
What we have called reality thinking requires us to consider the importance of Christian goals in relation to the real situation, with all its problems and obstacles. The conclusion of this experience is that we can accept leadership positions with full understanding of what is expected of us. Then, we will never enter uncertainly or on an impulse into some position for which we are not qualified and to which we are not prepared to make the kind of commitment that Esther made: For a cause this great I offer myself completely. I will take the consequences.