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Leading without Controlling

After praying for others for hours, at the close of ministry time, I would ask others from our team to pray for me. I will never forget one particular time when I had fallen out in the Spirit, and I was still resting on the floor when I heard God say these words: “Barry, you need to learn to lead without controlling.” I couldn’t believe this as I never felt I was a controlling person. If anything, people said I was weak and indecisive at times. But God challenged me to learn to lead by example instead of control and manipulation. The Apostle Paul would say “imitate me as I imitate Christ.” It is very easy for a leader to resort to the strength of personality and be outright directive toward others. But in the long run, this is not the best style of leadership.

At one point after listening to a series on “spiritual abuse” by Marc Dupont, and after doing a serious soul search, I was going to put the tapes into my credenza in my office. Just then I heard the Holy Spirit say, “Why are you going to hide this light under your credenza?” I changed my mind. I then made copies of the tapes to give to people in the church, and our leaders repented of some patterns that we realized were not healthy. In early years of pastoring when people would seek my advice, I would often simply tell them what they should do. But after repenting, from that day on I determined that my role would be to lead people in a process to discover God’s will themselves and not simply to give them mine. I began to ask questions before passing out my opinion. I also would force some to go to God rather than just ask me.

There are balances in this of course as the Bible encourages us to seek godly council and assures us of success if we do. However, I believe in the priesthood of all believers and feel that leaders must be careful not to stand in God’s place when people are making decisions. Will some go ahead and make foolish decisions? Yes, but that will be a learning moment for them. I do not believe that pastors speak for God and I refuse to let others put me in a place where I must make their decisions. I would rather guide them into a process of discerning God’s will than making a decision for them.

Jesus said that leaders in His Kingdom are not like those in the world that “Lord it over” their followers. Certainly, there are certain places where coercion is legitimately used by leaders. Examples would be police in keeping order, officers in the army where an absolute obedience is required, or to a lesser degree at a place of employment, or in the control of a small child. However, in general, Kingdom leaders must lead by example. We free people to make their own decisions and at times the authority of personal conscience must even supersede that of spiritual authority. Church leaders must learn to operate like a father does with older children rather than expecting absolute obedience.

Sometimes people will accuse you of being a weak leader when you don’t do what they want, but then turn around and accuse you of being too strong when they don’t like a decision that you made. Leadership is a tough role. Each person must take responsibility for their own decisions, and each of us will answer to God for what we did with our life and how we treated others, both leaders, and followers.

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