From Leading to Being Led


Power will always be a temptation for leaders. Nouwen said it well: "The long painful history of the church is the history of people ever and again tempted to choose power over love, control over the cross, being a leader over being led."[1]

Leadership is actually about love, the cross, and being led. It is action taken for the benefit of another person. Good leaders do not control people; we serve and inspire them. The best leaders are also the best followers. They have learned submission, vulnerability, humility, and the power of fitting into a community. The greatest Christian leaders are those whose primary focus is following Christ. As Paul mentioned several times in one way or another, "Follow me as I follow Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul led with confidence. He wrote,

We put no confidence in human effort, though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could.... I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done.... For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.
— Philippians 3:3-4, 7-8

Paul released control. However, he did not become passive with regard to his efforts to reach the goal.

When Christian leaders relinquish control to God, it leads to happiness because God determines the outcomes of our work as well as the level of recognition. There is great freedom in not trying to orchestrate how people respond to our actions. You have likely seen people bowling and how they contort, lean, and twist their body after they have released the ball. They may even yell at the ball as it drops into the gutter, as though all that noise and motion can determine results. Once the ball has left the bowler's hand, there is nothing left to do. Once you release your actions, have done your best, then live freely, knowing that God alone will determine results.

Again Nouwen spoke to this new direction:[2]

The way of the Christian leader is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross. This might sound morbid and masochistic, but for those who have heard his voice of the first love and said yes to it, the downward-moving way of Jesus is the way to the joy and the peace of God, a joy and peace that is not of this world.
— Henri J. M. Nouwen

This new way of life is determined by being able to hear God's voice. Only the sound of God's voice can satisfy the human need for affirmation and direction.


[1] Henri J. M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (New York: Crossroad, 1989), 77-79.
[2] Nouwen, 81-82.

Written by Bill Hull

Taken from The Christian Leader by Bill Hull. Copyright © 2016 by Robert W. Hull. Used by permission of Zondervan.