You can download the PDF to this article here: A Journal & Reflection on Authentic Leadership
Authenticity is something we all recognize as a valuable trait in a leader. However, how much this is actually realized in the majority of leaders, even though they may agree with its essential value to good leadership, sometimes comes up lacking. A big part of this is due to how prone we are to self-justification and pride. Leaders are no exception—and in fact, probably more in danger to these pitfalls. Truly authentic Christian leadership is actually quite hard to come by, and even harder to maintain. I do not claim in any way to perfectly model this in my own life, and it is a bit daunting to put your name to an article entitled Authentic Leadership (for I know I will sorely disappoint), but it is a goal to which I aspire. It cuts against our basic desires to be accepted, admired and acclaimed and so, the authentic Christian leader dies to self a thousand times a day. He/she knows that they lead those who follow to the same well-spring of life that they themselves desperately need. Indeed, if we go to any other source, including our own self-sufficiency, we’ll be drinking from broken cisterns (Jer. 2:13). I hope that this brief journal of some things I’ve found to be important to authentic leadership will be helpful to you.
Three Levels of Accountability
One of the biggest pitfalls to anyone who finds themselves in a position of leadership is a lack of accountability—and it is this which I will focus primarily on here, though there is much more which could be said, because it is what has impacted me the most in this current season of life. The more power and responsibility you are given, the more earnestly you should seek to submit yourself to accountability and set up structures of accountability. We are often blind to our own blindness. Christianity is meant to be communal and without that community of believers who are more than just a Sunday morning handshake, we will be susceptible to failure. So I think one of the most important parts of developing authentic leadership is to be involved in genuine community united by the Spirit, subject to His Word. So, I’ll be using the first three chapters of Philippians as a general guide for my thoughts here, and I have categorized this into three broad areas of accountability: above us, around us and under us.
Accountability Above Us
Accountability above us is what we may call mentorship. We need those who are more mature, have more experience and wisdom and have trod the path ahead to guide us. We see this modelled most clearly for us in Paul and Timothy. I was drawn this week to Philippians 2:22, where Paul says that Timothy served as a son with a father. Bearing in mind the first century context, where sons would apprentice under their father to learn the family trade—watching him daily work, learning from his mannerisms, his long term character played out in front of their eyes—this is a beautiful picture of what mentorship should be like. All of us probably pick up a lot more by imitation than by instruction. As such, I have actively sought out those who are older and have been in the faith longer than me (1 Pet. 5:5; Heb. 13:7). Elders are a precious gift and can save us so much unnecessary failure, heartbreak and pain by learning from their experience (Prov. 13:20).
Other than my dad, I have another godly older gentleman with much life experiences of tragedy and hurt who has agreed to be a mentor to me. His words of wisdom make me stop and pay close attention. Such depth of insight does not reside in any textbook. As I see close up the type of character which the Spirit of God has wrought in a man before my eyes, how he has skilfully broken, moulded, and shaped him—I am convinced all the more of my need for this very thing in my own life. My pastor and elders in my church as well are a great source of mentorship, working alongside them and seeing the genuine care and affection they have for the people they shepherd. I love also to sit down and listen to grandparents and other elderly persons—the bastions of wisdom and experience that they are!
**I’d like to stop and thank deeply these godly older men who have been mentors to me now and over the years.**
These are the ones whom I look to for guidance on planning life decisions and direction. They have gone before us on the path of life. Trod the dusty roads and climbed the peaks and weathered the valleys. They are the ones who can tell stories of God’s faithfulness in their lives, and give ready testimony to His steady hand amidst the storm (Psa. 145:4; 71:18) Also, they have an uncanny skill in calling me out on my youthful zeal and misdirected passions or folly. In terms of authentic leadership, this is vital for me—because those my age or under me will not always be able to spot or even feel equipped to call me out on certain failures and oversights.
Accountability Around Us
We also need peers to encourage and correct us—our accountability around us. It is true that there are some issues which older or younger generations will not as readily understand, and certain things which are easier to share with peers. Furthermore, there is also a necessary ‘comradery’ of brothers in arms which is needful for the Christian walk. My best friend Tristan has become as a true brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier to me (Phil. 2:25). He pushes me in Gospel ministry, I learn from his experiences as parent, and enjoy the joy of his kids—being their godfather. As was Paul’s desire for the Philippians, we are to be of the same mind, have the same love, be of full accord and minding the same thing, doing nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but counting others more significant and looking to the interests of others (Phil. 2:2-4). Earlier in the letter he says that he desired to hear that they were striving together side by side (συναθλοῦντες)—which has that idea of athletes competing side by side together on the same team toward the same goal. This is what we need as Christians—brothers in arms, fellow teammates who will come alongside us in the race. We are in a hard battle against the world, the devil and the flesh and likewise we need people who have our backs.
I have definitely experienced this both serving at church and on mission, but more intimately so in my small group where I have a consistent group of devoted peers who are transparent enough to share their struggles and bear one another’s burdens. There is no more profound feeling than to be fully known, even for all our filth and failures, but yet still be fully loved—for this is the love God showed toward us, echoed in human form and the community Christ established. In small group and with those men who are closest to me, I am free to bear my heart openly without judgment and be honest about my own struggles with sin, discouragement and doubt. There is great healing in such confession (James 5:16). We need each other’s encouragement also. Bonhoeffer was right when he said,
“Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.”
It is also an interesting dynamic, because I am a group leader—however, such transparency among leaders is encouraged, modelled and often of great reassurance to followers at my small group and church.
Accountability Under Us
In addition to accountability above and around, I’ve also seen the need for those under us—and by this I mean discipleship. Every Christian should not only be being discipled but also be discipling someone—we are disciples making disciples making disciples… It is at the core of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) and imperative for every believer, not just the job of pastors and missionaries. Especially in the area of authentic leadership, this is vital, since if we think we lead but have no one following, we’re only taking a walk! Inbuilt into this is a certain level of authenticity and accountability. If we are genuinely discipling someone under us, doing life together, there is a natural (and healthy) pressure on us not to be hypocrites—to live what we preach, to model what we prescribe. Honestly, I feel like this is my weakest area of accountability right now and one I’m actively looking to improve upon. The business of managing seminary, work and interning had made me push discipleship off to the side—however, I am convinced it is necessary not just for others, but myself also.
No Superstar Leaders
On the tombstone of Andrew Carnegie is written, “Here lies a man who knew how to enlist the service of better men than himself.” Good leaders also recognize that they are not amazing in every aspect. There are areas that I will be weak in. Good leadership recognizes its short comings and delegates capable persons to fill in the void where they lack. This takes humility and also the advice of people who love you enough to tell you the areas you suck at and need help. There are no super-stars in the Kingdom except the One whom we serve. There is need for every part of the body and a culture of discipleship fosters the authentic realization of the interdependence and importance of every member. Paul understood this well when he wrote, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). The more I grow, the more I realize that character is less passed off than it is rubbed off (iron sharpening iron – Prov. 27:17).
Secondly, something which has stuck with me was from a book by Matt Chandler:
“God ultimately raises up leaders for one primary reason: His glory. He shows His power in our weakness. He demonstrates His wisdom in our folly. We are all like a turtle on a fence post. If you walk by a fence post and see a turtle on top of it, then you know someone came by and put it there. In the same way, God gives leadership according to His good pleasure.”
It is with good reason that Paul directs us to Christ’s example in Philippians 2:1-11. We are to do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit. This is in stark contrast to those he had told us of in 1:15-17, who preach Christ out of envy and rivalry. It is so easy for us in Christian leadership, especially if we’re involved in teaching or proclaiming the Word of God, for pride in that most sacred of callings to creep in—but oh what irony is there! If the only thing we contributed to our salvation was the sin which made it necessary—then what a twisted irony if we push our fame, not for what we have done, but for telling of what He has done! It is like saying, “look at how great I can tell you how great someone else is!” and expecting applaud—yet this is the same temptation I and many others who teach, lead or preach can find ourselves wrestling with often.
The Hard Work of Servant Leadership
Another danger which A.W. Tozer warned of was that of leaders and preachers thinking they do what comes naturally and take it easy—turning into a privileged idler, as ministers are often not required to keep regular hours, they can work out a comfortable pattern of life that permits them to loaf, doze, and play. Tozer said,
“To avoid this danger, the minister should voluntarily impose upon himself a life of labor as arduous as that of a farmer, a serious student or a scientist. No man has any right to a way of life less rugged than that of the workers who support him. No preacher has any right to die of old age if hard work will kill him.”
Tozer’s point is a bit exaggerated, but makes a good point. Whatever we do, we should work heartily as unto the Lord (Col. 3:23) and avoid slothfulness. Our goal should be that “He must increase, and I must decrease.” (John 3:30) I think Paul gives us the cure to this prideful entitlement or languid apathy in the subsequent verse though. He says, “in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also the interests of others.” (Phil. 2:3b-4) It is hard to puff out your chest when you’re carrying someone else on your back.
Our task is to model servant leadership, where, the greatest is the least (Matt. 20:26-27). One of the best pieces of practical advice I got on this was from a former pastor of mine who just simply said, the way he avoids this is by stacking chairs after service—to never think of oneself as too high for even the most menial of service. “Only where hands are not too good for deeds of love and mercy in everyday helpfulness can the mouth joyfully and convincingly proclaim the message of God’s love and mercy.”
As I continue to reflect on my own life and the authenticity therein, or lack thereof—I realize that much of the matter lies in the heart and these measures of accountability are simply ways of getting to and exposing it. The mind which Paul exhorts us to have is that of Christ (Phil. 2:5), who though He was of utmost worth and deserving of honour, laid it aside and humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death on a cross. This is the model of Christian leadership we aspire to—one which I consistently fail at—and were it not for Philippians 3:12-16, where even Paul admits he hasn’t yet arrived there, I’d become discouraged. But we press on to make it our own, because Christ has made us His own!
Again and again, I’m drawn back to the Gospel, not just as the starting point of my salvation, but rather every point of my continued walk. “As you received Christ,” as poor and needy beggars in need of God to do for us what we could not do for ourselves, “so walk in Him” (Col. 2:6). The authenticity that we display as leaders, as imperfect persons desiring to follow after the Lord, gives permission for others to not feel discouraged as if they’ll never live up to that perfect model of leader, but also gives inspiration for perseverance as they see the Lord carry along and work in that leader’s life. Thereby, God—not the leader—is shown as great, and so “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Cor. 12:9) At its most basic level, authentic Christian leadership is growing in dependence on God and leading others to likewise look to the One Shepherd of us all.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community. Translated by John W. Doberstein. New York: HarperCollins, 1954.
Chandler, Matt, Josh Patterson and Eric Geiger. Creature of the Word: A Gospel Centered Church. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2012.
Tozer, A. W. Tozer on Christian Leadership: A 366-Day Devotional. Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2001.
 Yes, I know that sounds like a three-point sermon outline.
 The anonymous poem “When God Wants a Man” aptly and beautifully puts words to this for me. You can read it here: http://livingtruth.ca/pdf/For%20our%20dark%20times.pdf
 Compound word coming from the preposition σύν, meaning “with” and ἀθλέω, from which we get our English cognate—athlete—meaning “to compete.”
 Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 23.
 Chandler, Creature of the Word, 176.
 Tozer, Tozer on Christian Leadership, Jan 20 entry.
 Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 100.