One of the most basic functions of leadership is the power of choice. Like pebbles tossed in a lake, leaders daily make choices that ripple in every direction. The choices leaders make, through action or inaction, will likely change more lives than they can possibly imagine.
Here are three important choices leaders face on a regular basis.
1. The Choice to Build Bridges
Barnabas’s choice to bring Saul to the fearful apostolic leadership team, skeptical of his conversion, may have been one of the most influential actions in all of church history (Acts 9). His choice to advocate for Saul, much like he would later advocate for John Mark, furthered the reach of the gospel and deepened Christian relationships.
Leaders have unique power to build bridges between believers. This side of glory there will always be a need for leaders to do the hard work of bringing fractured believers together. Stroll through the hallways of your church on a Sunday morning and you will rub shoulders with believers who are separated from other believers due to sin, disagreement, misunderstanding, or hurt.
Paul pleads with the Philippian church to help build a bridge between Euodia and Syntyche, “these women who have labored side by side with me in the gospel” (Phil. 4:3). Even godly servants will sometimes find their fellowship fractured. Being an agent of reconciliation is a messy task, but it provides a glorious opportunity to answer Christ’s prayer:
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20–21)
The choice to seek unity—or not—reverberates with spiritual power. What choice will you make?
2. The Choice to Pursue Humility or Embrace Pride
Pride comes naturally. Seeking positions of influence and power is the natural desire of the sinful nature (Mark 10:35–45). Ride on the highway during heavy traffic and you’re reminded that the natural disposition of humanity is not to “count other as more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). Humility is a choice. How much gospel ministry has been hindered because we choose to embrace pride rather than humility?
Jonathan Edwards wrote a powerful essay titled “Undetected Spiritual Pride: One Cause of Failure in Times of Great Revival.” The ease with which we slip into the pride he describes is frightening. Edwards cautions that “the spiritually proud person shows it in his finding fault with other saints. . . . The eminently humble Christian has so much to do at home and sees so much evil in his own that he is not apt to be very busy with other hearts.” Church leaders need to regularly evaluate curriculum, popular preachers, candidates for leadership positions, marriages, and much more. It’s impossible to lead well without evaluating, but we must seek to humbly guard our hearts in the process, lest we fall into a fault-finding spirit.
Faithful shepherding requires confronting sin and having “hard conversations.” For some, however, this becomes a mask for a harsh spirit rooted in pride rather than humble love. Certain leaders seem to revel in bold, in-your-face confrontation, but Edwards cautions us that “Christians who are but fellow worms ought to at least treat one another with as much humility and gentleness as Christ treats them.” The choice to seek humility reflects the glory of God in Christ. Which will you choose?
3. The Choice to Obey the Lord
The leader’s choice to obey Christ—or not—causes ripples in the lives of everyone around. Consider the life of Jonah. His choice to go to Tarshish rather than Nineveh prompted the Lord to send a great storm, which led the entire unbelieving crew to throw their goods overboard in fear for their lives. Jonah’s disobedience cost them their livelihood. Disobedience in the life of a leader always ripples beyond their personal life to their family, church, and community.
On the other hand, reflexive obedience to the call and command of God yields ripples of blessing in lives all around. Paul’s choice to follow God’s command to go to Macedonia rather than Asia was a vehicle to bring people from death to life (Acts 16:6–10). The apostle’s choice to obey God rather than the Jewish religious establishment laid a vision for allegiance to Christ above government that has inspired faithful Christians from Eric Liddell to Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Acts 4:19–20). Obedience and disobedience are never simply personal matters; in the life of a leader they become actions which affect a community.
Leaders, your power to choose is one of the greatest gifts God has given you for his glory and the good of those you serve. Avoid the danger of making decisions rashly, bereft of prayer and counsel, without concern for the many who will be affected by your action or inaction. Guard against the tendency to settle into a hyper-Calvinism that erroneously places so much weight on God’s sovereignty that it undercuts your responsibility to properly shepherd the people God has set you over. Rather than allowing the weight of choice to crush you, let it move you to pray, seek wise counsel, and grow in your walk with Christ—that your choices may reflect his light and love to a world that needs it.
Every choice of a leader leaves a ripple. What choices will we make?