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Lead by fear?

In a Christian ministry a godly man was trained for several years to succeed the founder when he retired. This protégé seemed to be a perfect successor. Once he was installed into the position he quickly won the hearts of many followers by his kind demeanor with other people in the organization.

This leader could fire a person when necessary, but he did it in a way that respected the individual and did not destroy him.

However, the board of this organization did not like this new style of leadership, believing that the necessary element of leadership was an authority that generates fear in its underlings, especially fear of being treated harshly or fired at any moment without explanation or defense. It is believed that without this harshness, the authority of the leader will never be respected and chaos will ensue. In spite of being the top authority in that ministry, the board removed him from his position effective immediately with the explanation that he was not harsh enough to be a good leader.

Insensitive aloofness

I once asked a leader of a large ministry, “Do you have any friends here?” He immediately responded, “Of course not. How can you fire someone if he is my friend?”

Being “thrown under the bus” by a colleague is all too common in Christian ministries, often to demonstrate the capability of insensitivity to hurting others or harshness to his superiors, perhaps to give evidence of the ability to make tough decisions in order to be promoted someday.

It is easy to discredit potential leaders in organizations, raise subtle suspicions or twist constructive criticism into antagonistic opposition. Gossip is prolific in many Christian ministries and spread by the leaders! Fear of being reported to superiors often keeps gossip under control among staff personnel. Sometimes this makes it difficult for non-leaders to discuss how to improve work situations without appearing to complain and thus get reported for insubordination.

Biblical leadership at any level is totally dependent on trust and perceived integrity. “Bad-mouthing” a colleague is common in conversations. Differences of opinion are seen as threatening or treasonous in the opinion of unquestionable leadership. Paranoia is the fear that staff people are prone to rebel against their absolute authority. There is no learning from the bottom up or attempting to win agreement from the top down, rather a demanding of total, unquestionable submission.

Fault finding manipulation

A second means of establishing this fear-based authoritative leadership is to find a fault, however small, in the work or life of an underling. Minor issues are then blown out of proportion to justify receiving harsh rebuttal or corrective treatment by the authorities. The demoralizing impact of this defacing treatment is intended to crush the staff’s self-confidence or self-image. The only way to get any self-respect back is to gain the approval of these same leaders. This style of fear-based manipulative leadership is all too common in Christian ministries.

Unquestioning followship demanded

“Teamwork” takes on the definition of a total, blind, unthinking submission and allegiance to an individual who alone can decide what the will of God is for others. Any questioning of this authority is seen as rebellion and sinful rejection of God’s anointed one and is treated with ostracism, reassignment and minimizing of influence.

Usually this person has the purse strings of the organization. The practice of the political “Golden Rule” is all too common: “He who has the gold, rules.”

Those who adjust have learned by watching how their cohorts were treated when they questioned decisions. Their defamation generated a fear ripple throughout the organization and taught everyone to be careful of taking any initiative or “constructive criticism.”

Institutional priority

Only the leader can think of effective ideas. The paternalistic patterns build security to some followers and too much confinement to others, who seldom last long in such an organization. When people leave they are seldom missed because they never were important personally. Only the organization is important. People are only to be used then discarded for someone more useful to the organization.

If many “successful” ministries are practitioners of this model of leadership, what kinds of missionaries are we sending overseas to replicate this necessary type of leader? Failure is deemed as not measuring up to this style of leadership.

Cliques of big leaders

These types of leaders think in terms of power-persons, shakers-and-movers, giants, and great leaders. Others have little value, or are made to feel like they have little value in comparison to them. Others are only there to serve the needs of the “big” leaders. What a contrast with what Jesus said!

What about Jesus?

Once two ambitious disciples wanted to be the highest authorities in the universal kingdom of Christ (Mark 10:37). Apparently all the disciples wanted the same authority (Mk 10:41). Jesus takes this opportunity to teach His leadership model, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them” (Mar 10:42 NKJ), that is, the style of leadership mentioned earlier in this article.

Then Jesus makes one of His strongest prohibitions: “Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant” (Mar 10:43 NKJ).

The secular leadership model should be found nowhere among Christ followers in families, Christian institutions or church organizations. Peter never forgot this lesson when he wrote, “nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1Pe 5:3 NKJ). “Lording over” means to “bring under one’s power, to subject to oneself or master, to hold in subjection, or gain dominion over.” Do you think someone can lead without threats, or demanding total unquestioning submission to a leader?

Rather Peter commands, “but lead them by your own good example” (1Pe 5:3 NLT), or by being their “servant” (Mk 10:43) committed to meeting the needs of others, rather than manipulated them by open or subtle threats to meet the leader’s needs. His measure of success is not bigness, but by building a reputation of relationships: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35 NKJ).

However a leader’s staff perceives his style of leadership, all those under his responsibility will attempt to duplicate his leadership style throughout the organization. The more a person can bring others under their authority however cruel the tactic, the more likely he will be seen as a “great leader” and rise in the organization. As long as such an intimidating leader is successful followers tend to swallow their hurts and pride, just to be part of something big or popular.

Do you believe Christ’s words will work in any organization? If one does not believe what Jesus said, then His directives will be ignored and whatever leadership style brings “success” will become the final authority.

Servant leader: myth or goal

A professor I met said he is sick of hearing about “servant-leaders” because they always mean, “You are the servant, and I am the leader.” He wondered if anyone read what the Bible said about servant-leaders.

Specifically he was referring to Jesus’ statement to his disciples, who all selfishly wanted to be next to the highest authority in the Messianic world kingdom (Mark 10:37). Then Jesus described the basic secular leadership philosophy, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them [katakurieuo “bring one under power, to subdue, master, hold in subjection or be the master of”] , and their great ones exercise authority over them” [katexousiazo, “wield power,” “become master, gain dominion over,” or “tyrannize, domineer”] (Mark 10:42).

This is not a condemnation of this authority but an observation of it’s existence. Perhaps this is a necessity in the military and governments to function. Jesus’ contrast is pointing out that we are to be people-builders instead of empire-builders.

The lust for this level of power is the drive of the fallen angels who craved for God’s authority over creation (Isa 14:13-14), willing to usurp even God’s throne to obtain it.


Jesus is not saying there will not be “great among you,” but rather how one becomes great and what his responsibility becomes as a great leader is radically different from the secular powers. A Christian executive once told me that he did not think strict biblical principles would work in an institutional leadership role. People will take advantage of the situation and inefficiency would result. Perhaps there are some misunderstandings, but one should never “throw out the baby with the bath water.”


Christians should not practice dictatorial, narcissistic, self-promoting, intimidating, fear or threat based style of leadership. Regrettably, many “successful” ministries are led by this style of leadership. The patrón style leader is often sought out for key leadership positions. He can make things happen. This is the businessman leader.

Hendriksen writes, “They spend all their energies to get to the top and once having reached tat peak, they cause all others to feel the weight of their authority” (Mark, p. 413).

Jesus’ definition

How does this fit with Jesus’ directive? He began, “whoever desires to be great among you…,”(Mk 10:43), which is not a bad or selfish desire if it is not self-serving. “Great” means according to Louw Nida, the “upper end of a scale, with possible implication of importance” (78:2).

Desiring to be a leader that is not self-seeking is the first requirement to be a pastor or elder (“bishop” or Overseerer) (1 Tim 3:1).


Jesus continues, “… shall be your servant” (diakonos, “one who executes the commands of another”). In parallel fashion, the next verse reiterates the principle with a synonym, “And who ever wants to be first among you must be the slave [doulos, “devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interest”] of all” (Mk 10:44 NET).

This paradox is to mark Christianity as distinct. The leader is to live for the interest, needs and wellbeing of others, rather than himself. All the prerequisites (1 Tim 3:1-8) describe a person who is internally and socially healthy to the point that he can be devoted to the needs others.

Jesus gave himself as an example as one who “did not come to be served, but to serve [diakoneo] and to give his life a ransom for man” (10:45). Obviously, we ccnot be the ransom for sinners, but we are to similarly sacrifice our lives freely for the benefit of other people.

Institutional priority

Some live for Christian institutions and use people for the greater good of the organization until such persons are deemed useless. Then they are discarded with little sympathy or care. Jesus’ focus appears to be to serve the needs of people over (or at least parallel with) Christian institutions. This balance act is the struggle of Christian leadership and requires great wisdom to keep Jesus’ priority.

Serving needs

The key is meeting the needs of others. Every believer has the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:9), and thus is given a manifestation of the Spirit’s care for others through the “spiritual gift [that] is given to each of us so we can help each other” (1 Cor 12: 7 NLT). No spiritual gift is self-serving, rather other-serving. Our primary serving to others is through our spiritual gift.

The greater roles are therefore, reserved for those who can meet the needs of more of God’s people.

What do people need?

Paul told the elders at Ephesus to “watch out for yourselves and for the flock of which [not over which] the Holy Spirit has made you overseerers, to shepherd the church of God (Acts 20:28 NET). The plural command to “watch out for yourselves” or “watch out for each other” refers to the group of elders who were to keep accountable to each other for obedience in their lives as well as their care of the flock.

Jesus gave a primary focus of the ministry to be “teaching them to obey all things that [he] commanded” (Matt 28:20).

The secret of life’s success is living by the Word of God. No greater service can be given than to teach, explain, exhort, comfort, encourage and preach obedience to all that Jesus commands all believers to obey. The personal psychological, emotional, relational, moral, and corporal needs are foundationally built upon God’s Word.

Symptoms of a servant

Perhaps the key is communicating to each other how import they are personally to you and to Christ. The opposite is all too true about leaders as the tittle of Les Carter’s book on Narcissism, “Enough about you, let’s talk about me.”

The one who obviously is more interested in others than in himself is the one who should be entrusted with leadership roles. Pay attention to how much people love to talk about themselves with little interest, except criticism, for others.

Servant team

Leadership is always a team effort with each one contributing their strengths and giftedness to the benefit of each other and to the whole task, while keeping each other true to the principles of God’s Word. What a purposeful life!

How to live out the ideal servant-leadership role without a strong natural dominating leader taking over is the challenge of any team ministry. The Body of Christ is not a football team led by a quarterback, rather perhaps the analogy of a soccer team who learn to blend their strengths together helping each other perform their best and reach their goal.

Any organization that is committed to making every member a success and never communicates rejection or failure is bound to succeed. Someone said, “the more people you make successful, the more they will make you successful.”

Strategic thinking on missions

On a recent trip to Colombia in discussions with missionaries I kept asking what was the most significant lesson that they wished new missionaries would have learned before coming to the field. One topic kept surfacing: how to do strategic planning.

Every ministry or field of ministry should have a strategy statement that expresses its long and short-range plans. Without this clarity of thinking everyone is in a fog of ideas about what to do next. The home board, field director, supporters and the missionary himself has no idea what to do or if what he is doing is in line with the goal of the mission or not.

A Strategic Statement

Here are some benefits of a clearly written strategy statement:

  1. It enables the board to evaluate the direction of the mission’s work periodically and determine the quality of work being done.
  2. It enables the board to make intelligent evaluations of requests and activity changes which various personnel are requesting to make.
  3. It enable the board to help in terms of recruiting of future personnel and financial support.
  4. It enables the board to answer responsibly to the supporters as to the progress of the work on any given field.
  5. It makes clear to potential candidates the type of work being attempted and where he could fit into the gran panorama of the ministry.
  6. It enables the missionary to know just how he fits into the broader picture of the field’s objectives as well.
  7. It enables the missionary to follow a pre-planned series of actions and activities over a number of years on the field. He is never without understanding of how his task should be done.
  8. It enables the entire field conference to work together as a team for a common objective; thus will aid in minimizing personality conflicts and dominance of stronger personalities, when all activities are reviewed for compliance within the strategy decided upon.
  9. It gives the entire missionary conference a sense of accomplishment, meaning and purpose.

Elements of a Strategic Statement

A strategic plan originates in a clear Mission Statement (What is our general/ specific purpose for existing), which is then refined by a Vision Statement by adding numbers, dates, and personnel to the Mission Statement (What our mission will look like in 1, 5, 10 years). The Strategic Statement is the practical strategy steps to realize the Vision Statement. It tells what is going to be accomplished and the methods to be employed.

Likewise a Strategic Statement must define the lines of authority and the relationships between the field conference and the home board. This declaration should be in the hands of all personnel home and abroad. It should include the following items.

  1. The definition of the field in terms of its geographical, cultural, affinity and linguistic identity. Today it is becoming common to identify the target audience by its ethnic identity or affinity group regardless of the geographical boundaries. The field as defined by affinity group might be located in a multitude of geopolitically defined countries, but remain the same people group to reach.
  2. A clearly defined statement of the objectives of the mission in the specific field or target area. Is the mission in the field as a holistic service agency primarily or as a disciple-making, church planting objective? These objectives form a circle of operations focusing all strategic activities while avoiding other activities that deviate or drain resources from the main objectives previously defined.
  3. A broad list of specific activities, which are designed to bring about the desired objectives. This list may be quite long and more than the present personnel are able to engage in. Another list may be appropriate to include activities to avoid. This will define for all the work of a missionary.
  4. Every individual should develop a series action points, phases or levels of development for every ministry. This may or may not include a time-table but preferable a “scope and sequence” of developmental events for a ministry that flow into one another. By this scale the board and each missionary will know at what stage he is engaging in the development of the objectives. For example: Phase one: Missionary orientation to the field, accountability supervisor or director, language and culture learning expectations and what he is expected to learn. Phase two: the missionary is to settle into an area, define the activities to get acquainted with the population and beginning to focus on ministry. Phase three: A clearly defined strategy for evangelistic activities, which may include visitation, literature distribution, open-air evangelism, market-day evangelism, etc. A fourth phase: the establishing of house church or church meeting in a rented facility. A fifth phase: the training of National Christians for the work of the ministry. Each phase should include learned lessons from past successes and failures and be written for future missionaries and National pastor/missionaries.
  5. A statement of authority lines. What is the relationship of the field council to the home board? What is the autonomy of the field council or field director? What types of decisions can be made on the field without consultation with the home board? How is the field leadership selected and when? Does everyone have a full voting privilege or are there distinctions? (New missionary, Short-Term missionary, etc.).
  6. A statement should be developed to define the relationship with national personnel. To whom are they accountable or is the missionary accountable to the national leadership? Who evaluates the work of the national? Can the national ever evaluate the work of the missionary and have his recommendations listened to? When does the national begin to take the leadership of a ministry? Are there phases of development for the national as well as the missionary?
  7. A schedule of the reports to be made to the field directors, and home board must be clearly defined. This should include whatever the report should include, the format of the report for consistency, to whom it should be sent along with the absolute deadline for such reports.

This line of thinking strategically should characterize the entire organization from the board, to the field , to the field director, to the missionary, then to the national leaders. This strategic planning should be incorporated into every fiber of the mission.

No strategy is ever written in “concrete” or forged into metal. It must constantly be revised, updated, adapted to changing situations and personnel. Decision-makers must be decided upon, with a sequence for making changes. For example, if a mission begins with an urban ministry in a major city, then someone wants to launch a new ministry to a rural or jungle ministry with an unreached people group: how is this approval and strategy change going to be made? It must be contemplated before the issue surfaces.

Additional information in the strategic statement:

  1. A map of the field showing all communities where ministries are identified, where future ministries are possible, and any significant geographical factors to consider.
  2. Define the commerce, economics, politics, culture and major religion of the field.
  3. Include a brief history of the region and how the mission came to the area.
  4. As the Strategy statement is developed to include a Program of Events possible, a list of personnel to accomplish these programs will likely be larger than the actual personnel on the field. The recruitment for the blanks in the list of required personnel become the task of the home board and furloughed missionaries.
  5. A job description should be developed for each type of personnel on the field, coming to the field and for whom the field is praying to join them. This latter groupings of needed personnel for the strategy and program is the key tool of the representatives and recruiters.
  6. A financial statement of how monies are invested, along with a list of needed projects, which might be used by interest supporters and donors.


Such a declaration as this should be compiled and produced in an attractive format for wide distribution especially for anyone interested in joining the field team or supporting the work.

Any missionary coming to the field will be interested in knowing:

  1. Language requirements and proficiency expectations for teaching, preaching and general witnessing.
  2. Living conditions, locations, and types of housing.
  3. Climate expectations throughout the year.
  4. Financial support principles for raising support and perpetuating support level.
  5. A schedule of activities from the time of his arrival on the field as a new missionary until he will be given responsibility for a new ministry start-up.

The objective of such a Strategic plan is to clarify and focus the gifts and talents God raises up on a field, to minimize the disillusionments and false expectations, and to preclude misunderstandings before the erupt. The more transparent and well-defined a ministry the more secure the team will work with each other without competition and unwarranted criticism.


Adapted from a MARC publication written by Gordon MacDonald, “Reflections on Mission Strategy.”



Developing your Purpose part 1

The first stage of our personal development was to join a group of believers in a church setting and learn the kind of lessons possible in a larger group setting. This video will give you the panorama of how the local church can help you develop spiritually, until you are ready to take the next step.

The second stage of our personal development is to join a small group of belivers for mutual accountability, development of serving concepts, and leading Bible studies.

The third stage and fourth stages will define how we can be equipped for ministry and ultimately for our life’s purpose or mission.

Now what are we to learn from the panorama of the initial church membership stage of our development for a life purpose.

Discipleship Development Stage 2

The second stage of our personal development is to join a small group of belivers for mutual accountability, development of serving concepts, and leading Bible studies.

The first stage of our personal development was to join a group of believers in a church setting and learn the kind of lessons possible in a larger group setting.

The third stage will be the learning experiences of engaging in a ministry participation once the lessons of the discipleship-stage have been at least initiated if not mastered to the point of being able to teach them to others.

Now what is the panorama of the discipleship stage of our development for a life purpose.