Co-authoring a book like Golden Rule Leadership has been a daunting task. Which of us thinks we have perfected Jesus’ style of leading? Certainly not Wyndham or I. Our primary goal in writing this book was to give insight and input as peers seeking to imitate Jesus, not as experts who have figured it all out. Our intention has been to prompt healthy discussion about leadership style at an important time in the movement. We have striven to be as humble as possible in addressing such an important topic, realizing fully that we are simply works in progress and not finished products.
All leaders are also followers in some settings. Therefore, when we read a book or an article on leadership, we can focus either on (1) how we are leading or (2) how we are being led. Perhaps it should go without mentioning that we should first think about how we lead others, but this is not our tendency, is it? We tend to immediately think about how we have been led, to contemplate whether our needs have been met, rather than contemplating how we may have met (or not met) the needs of those whom we lead.
Another part of the challenge in writing a leadership book is that some readers may respond in reactionary ways. For example, one such response might be anticipated as follows: “That’s how I always thought leadership should be, but it isn’t the way I have been led.” This is a predictable response, but not necessarily the most spiritual. I am reminded of a sermon about the nature of advice that Randy McKean preached soon after he became the lead evangelist of the Boston church. At that time, some leaders considered their advice to be fairly binding, but Randy took exception to that view in his lesson, insisting instead that advice is simply advice unless a specific Biblical statement or principle is clearly involved. Randy summarized his sermon by saying that three types of people would be challenged most in applying his lesson: those who had been wrong about the nature of advice; those who had been right; and those who had been wronged.
We find ourselves in a similar situation regarding the issue of leadership style. If you have led or have been led in less than a Golden Rule manner, your challenge is pretty much the same. Maybe you have been wrong in your exercise of leadership. You will have to be humble enough to admit this, repent and change what you can figure out needs changing. Or maybe you have been right and have seen leaders leading in a non-Golden Rule manner. You will have to guard your heart against self-righteousness, another form of pride. Jesus uttered some very appropriate words for situations just like this: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone” (John 8:7). Or lastly, maybe you have been wronged by leaders. For starters, I must ask, “Who hasn’t?”
In a recent author interview, Wyndham and I were asked why many leaders have not implemented better leadership dynamics sooner. My comments then fit well here. I wrote:
My children could easily ask this question of me as a dad. It’s a bit of a mystery that those most suited biologically to have children are the least experienced! As parents, we just have to learn as we go and do the best that we can figure out to do at the time. As spiritual parents, the challenge is the same. With our movement having grown fast, bringing fairly inexperienced disciples into leadership roles is a must. Remember that the apostle John started off as a ‘Son of Thunder’ long before he grew into being the ‘Apostle of Love.’ Sure, we have all made mistakes, some serious, as physical parents and spiritual parents. The two most important issues are our intentions and our progress. As a leader, I am not throwing stones, for even at my age (59), I still make mistakes and hurt people. But my intentions are good and my progress is real. Wyndham and I are simply trying to promote such progress by showing where changes are needed, while maintaining a grateful heart for all of the good we have experienced.
One of the greatest things about our movement is that we can look at ourselves and make changes as needed. Our leadership style has varied according to person, place and time. Many leaders have led by Golden Rule principles all along. Similarly, some ministries have been consistently blessed consistently with such leadership. The passage of time has brought changes in leadership style as we have learned from our mistakes. Al Baird wrote an article some years back entitled “A New Look at Authority,” in which he said that we had gone too far in how we applied authority to ordinary discipling relationships. As one of our most respected leaders, he was saying that we had overstepped certain Biblical principles in this area and should correct ourselves, which, in large measure, we have attempted to do. Wyndham and I are trying to prompt a similar result on a somewhat broader basis of leadership style.
Much has been right about leadership in the kingdom, without question. Forceful, visionary leadership is sorely needed in all groups, religious and otherwise, and we are grateful that our movement has been characterized by the raising up of new leaders. The Golden Rule Leadership book is about developing a leadership style and structure that is Biblically based and the most effective possible. In a nutshell, we believe that leadership style must change as congregations change in size and age, and this is the need we are addressing. Varying situations require different leadership styles, which must be selected or adapted to suit these different circumstances at any given time. Effective leadership depends upon many things: awareness of the nature of the task, the make-up of the group and its individual members, the environment in which the group is found, and particularly, the self-awareness of the leaders themselves. Younger and smaller churches will not have the option of working through strong leadership teams, but the leader(s) must strive to raise up other mature leaders who can share the load with them. I am thankful for our strong emphasis in the movement on leadership and “followership,” for God has blessed us in planting churches all over the world. Now we must take it to the next level of growing larger and larger churches, which will demand some paradigm changes in leadership style and structure.
In the end, it is a matter of faith in God⎯truly believing that he is directing us, even through our weaknesses and mistakes. All we can ever do is to do the best we can with our present knowledge and experience, trusting that God will continue to help us learn and change when needed. Paul put it this way in Philippians 3:15-16:
All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
The one thing arguably worse than having poor leadership is having no leadership at all. We are all works in progress, and if we were to wait until we had “arrived” before leading with confidence, none of us would ever lead! We can only do our best, pray about the rest, and trust that God will make up the difference as he continues to mold us.
As is often said, “Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.” Let’s avoid having a critical spirit regarding past mistakes on anyone’s part. Let’s remain very grateful for all of the good things that have been accomplished. And let’s trust that God is continuing to lead us all. Do we need more Golden Rule leadership? Absolutely. But that will only be possible when we all commit to being Golden Rule followers. Most of us are leaders in some sense, but all of us are followers. Rather than pointing fingers at others, let’s look in the mirror and be the best disciples of Jesus possible. God will surely be pleased with such an approach.
—Gordon Ferguson (March 2002)