“I’m their leader! Which way did they go?” I have a cap with two bills on it, one in the front and one in the back with that slogan on it. It’s funny because it’s so often true.
Leadership is always such a rewarding and challenging calling. In fact, if you could get most leaders to share their deepest and most honest feelings, you would find that most leaders feel quite inadequate for that calling, and usually spend at least some time second-guessing their abilities to truly lead anyone, even themselves.
But self-doubt is such a common human emotion. The truth is leaders aren’t immune to these feelings anymore than most of the population. The difference is the sense of vision and clarity that leaders often have as to which direction they should go. Vision makes leadership possible, and a lack of vision reduces any leader to merely a caretaker of an organization or company or group.
The truth is, in one aspect or another in all our lives, we are called to “lead” at different times. And that is a scary place to be for most of us since leading makes you vulnerable to criticism and complaint. Leading makes you vulnerable to mistakes and leadership always makes clear the leader’s own weaknesses and failings. That’s the reality of leadership.
And yet, something terrible happens when there is no leadership – nothing.
It’s why I am particularly drawn to the wisdom today in our Epistle Lesson. It’s wisdom not just for those who would be leaders, but also for those who are called to the equally difficult task of following leaders. Both of these callings require being awake to the principles of just how any group forms and achieves their objectives and hopes and dreams.
Look at what it says: “Brethren, obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you. Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in you that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:17-21
The Book of Hebrews is written to a group of Jewish Christian believers of the first century. They have embraced our Lord Jesus as the expected Jewish Messiah and have become part (actually at this time in Church history, they are the majority population) of the Church established by Christ through His Apostles. And, because things have gotten tough for Christians, many of them are considering giving up their new-found faith and leaving the Church. The whole book of Hebrews is about one long “sermon” as to the truth of the Christian faith and the truth that this faith is the fulfillment and flowering of all that God promised in the First Testament.
And the writer of Hebrews ends his defense of the faith of Christ by admonishing the readers toward obedience to their leaders because these leaders have a grave responsibility for which they will be required to give account, namely the watching over of souls.
What I find particularly interesting is the beautiful way the writer turns leadership on its head when he says “Let them do this joyfully…” So, the leaders are called to watch over the souls under their care, and the followers, realizing the grave responsibility the leaders have are to serve their leaders, in effect, let their leaders, do this terrible task with joy. And that is accomplished through obedience.
Today you are going to be in a leadership role in some aspect of your life. Whether it’s as a parent, or a Church School teacher, or a parish council member, or on your job or even helping lead a Girl Scout troop. And that leadership will be strengthened by your ability to help those around you see the benefits of the vision you present to this or that group. But whether you are a leader or a part of the group being led, the spiritual principle of mutual service and love is absolutely necessary for any group to function well.
Today, do inventory on your own choices and actions. Are your leaders able to fulfill their responsibility joyfully because of your helpful participation? When you lead your leaders by strengthening their work through joyful service, you are the direct beneficiary. Leaders, help your team by serving them through sacrificial love. And team, strengthen your leaders through your obedience so their work will be joyful and not painful. Because painful saps strength, but joy gives hope to vision and peace to the whole congregation.