It’s hard to believe that we wrapped up our ELEVATE series this past weekend. I hope you’ve been both challenged and encouraged by this study of the life of Joseph, one of the great heroes of the faith. Evaluating how he handled such real-life issues as VISION, INTEGRITY, FAITH, MONEY, GODLINESS, RELATIONSHIPS and COURAGE has encouraged me and I hope looking deeper into these areas has encouraged you as well. Let’s look at one final trait from the life of Joseph together today: LEADERSHIP. I don’t consider myself an expert of anything, but I am a student of many things and one of those areas is leadership. I study it, I teach it, and I try to live it and get better at it every day. I’ve read many books on the topic and listened to many people speak about it, and, by far, my favorite source for studying leadership is the Bible itself.
I have two favorite definitions for leadership:
1. Leadership is INFLUENCE. John Quincy Adams said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” God is wanting you to use your influence to impact the people around you.
It seems to me that there is a vacuum of strong leadership in our world today; a vacuum of virtue and character. We usually think of a leader as the person in charge of some large organization: a school principal, the CEO of a major corporation, the coach of a football team, a military general. But there are many other vitally important, so-called smaller, leadership roles: the teacher of a third grade class, a doctor or a head nurse, a class officer, the captain of a football team, a policeman, fire chief, foreman, pilot, mayor, supervisor, etc. I believe that everyone is a leader. Everyone has influence. The question is, are you using your influence for good or for evil? How are you at influencing others in a positive and godly way?
How about those especially vital leadership roles: a parent – is there really anything more important, if you are a parent, than leading your children into a relationship with the Lord? How about your role as a grandparent, an older sibling, an influential aunt or uncle, a close family friend or a neighbor? How are you doing at influencing those around you, particularly in the area of spiritual leadership? I would challenge you to seize every opportunity to influence those around you toward a closer relationship with the Lord.
Perhaps the most important role of leadership – and the least talked about – is self-leadership. If you don’t lead yourself well your influence will be limited at best and poor at worst. The role of self-leadership will impact all of the most important relationships in your life: your marriage, your parent/child relationships, your relationships with your work associates, extended family, your testimony to others, etc. Leadership is influence, so use your influence for good. Use it to help bring the people within your sphere of influence into a deeper relationship with the Lord.
2. My second favorite definition for leadership is SERVANTHOOD. Stephen Covey says, “People are supposed to serve. Life is a mission, not a career.” And Jesus said, “If you want to be great in God’s Kingdom, be servant of all.” (Matthew 20:26)
Today, principle-based leadership and value-driven leadership can been seen in some circles, but this is very different from what many espouse in corporate America or what we often see in politics. Instead of a dog-eat-dog, manipulative, succeed at any cost, use and/or step on people mentality, servanthood is about serving others and validating them, it’s about investing in people, listening, caring, respecting and valuing those within your sphere of influence. Servant leadership is the type of leadership taught throughout the Bible and is certainly seen in the life Joseph (Genesis 37-50), and, of course, Jesus (Philippians 2:1-11).
Servant leadership, when embodied and embraced, builds strong marriages, strong families, strong teams, strong working environments, strong communities, and strong churches. So today, as we wrap up our ELEVATE series, I want to take a look at LEADERSHIP. Let’s compare our approach to life and leadership, applying it to our past, present and future, and see how we stack up. How do we compare to Joseph? To Jesus? And what course corrections do we need to make to be the kind of leader God intends for us to be?
It has been said that everything rises and falls on leadership. The point is not “Are you a leader?” as much as it is “What kind of leader are you?” and this goes to the core of what kind of person are you? The Bible has much to say about leadership, and it can be largely summarized in the acrostic SERVANT:
- A great leader is selfless. Whether you are the president of a major corporation, the leader of a missions organization, a teacher or a parent, strong leaders are sincere servants.
- Antietam, the Private Soldier Monument at the National Battlefield in Maryland, is, to me, such a powerful symbol of selfless service. It was dedicated on September 17, 1880 and on its base is the inscription, “Not for themselves but for their country.” Antietam was part of the Maryland Campaign in September of 1862 in the early months of the Civil War. It stands as the bloodiest day in US History with a combined loss of 22,717 lives. Since the Confederates withdrew, it was considered a Union strategic victory which gave Lincoln the confidence to announce his Emancipation Proclamation. The countless men and women who give their lives in the service of their country exemplify servant leadership to a degree few others ever will.
- In his book, Good to Great (and in sequels like How the Mighty Fall), Jim Collins studies major sustaining and successful companies and notes they are run by self-effacing leaders who are more concerned about the success of others and their companies than any personal glory or notoriety. It is about the mission, it is about the people. These successful leaders lack arrogance. They are selfless.
- Joseph gives us many examples of selfless leadership through our key text of Genesis 37-50. Joseph served his father, his brothers, even his slave-owner, Potiphar. He served his prison guards, the baker and cupbearer. When he was released from prison, Joseph served Pharaoh, the Egyptians, the Israelites and, ultimately, God Himself. You do not see Joseph using people to get ahead, there is no manipulation of power, no disrespecting others. You see servanthood – and that is why he is seen as a picture of Christ.
- Jesus said, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
- Can you imagine the impact those 4 things would have on your marriage, family, team, company, community, church, etc.?
- No self-ambition — Instead, “How can I bless you?”
- No vain conceit — Vanity and conceit are polar opposites to the life of Joseph and Jesus.
- Rather, in humility — Bow your heart to God. Say, Lord, there is only one great and that is you. May I be your instrument of blessing in this world. May I leave every conversation, encounter and assignment better than I found it. May I love God and love people. May I be Your hands and feet and mouth piece.
- Value others above yourselves — This is an impressive and all-consuming value statement. Think about this next time you’re angry at someone, the next time you’re tempted to have road rage or you’re arguing with your spouse. Think about this on the job. Putting others first is not a weakness; it is a strength. It is what great people, like Joseph and Jesus, do.
- How can you elevate the level of selflessness in your life?
- Locally: The holidays are a great season of outreach
- Globally: You can give to our new Global Church Partnership in Albania, or any of the other 80+ missionaries and missions projects we support worldwide.
- Giving: You can give a special year-end gift and end the year on a note of generosity.
- Laurie Beth Jones says, “The principle of service is what separates true leaders from glory seekers.”
- Great leaders are servants and servants are big-hearted. They value, validate, and encourage people.
- Joseph: Even in prison, he served the guards, the baker and cupbearer. He served the people of Egypt. He served his brothers and father, despite what they had done to him.
- Jesus: He encouraged, and ultimately saved the life of, the woman caught in adultery, the blind man and countless others. He was constantly encouraging and lifting people up.
- Take a look at Philippians 2:1-2 and notice what flows from being united with Christ. “Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”
- This is what we have received from Christ and it is what must flow from our lives. We must share this with others. We must be big hearted, not narrow. Go out of your way to include, not exclude, and to encourage, not discourage.
- It is easy to discourage, to be negative, but these are not the traits of a good leader.
- What negative people have failed to understand is that influence and leadership flow from encouragement, not from berating, beating down, or belittling. Sarcasm, demeaning, minimizing… these are all opposite of encouragement. Remember, “To belittle is to be-little.”
- The powerful leader, parent, teacher, supervisor, husband or wife is able to bring encouragement to the table, even when there are difficult and challenging things that need to be addressed. Sometimes people need to change or bad behavior needs to stop. The biblical pattern of leadership is lifting people up and helping them climb, or elevate, to a new level. Anyone can shoot someone down verbally. Spiritual maturity and vitality is about encouragement.
- Characteristics of an encourager:
- Encouragers build others up. I Thessalonians 5:11 “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…”
- Encouragers comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:4 “…who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
- Encouragers foster unity and oneness. Ephesians 4:3 “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
- Encouragers are tenderhearted and kind. 2 Peter 1:5-7 “…make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge self-control; and to self-control, perseverance, and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.”
- Encouragers show compassion. Colossians 3:12 “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
- Sam Walton said, “Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.”
- Philippians 2:4 says, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others.” This is a great verse that speaks to the idea of mutual respect.
- Any great relationship, whether it be a marriage, parent/child, friendship or even employment relationship, requires two people willing to respect each other and see things from the other person’s point of view.
- Someone once said, “You can tell a lot about a person by how they treat someone who can do nothing for them.” How do you treat people? If you say, “Well I’m just blunt and not good at relationship stuff” you probably suffer from a lack of respect. And truthfully, a lack of respect for others is a sign of your lack of respect for God. The Bible says to “…show proper respect to everyone.” (I Peter 2:17) so if you respected God you’d obey Him by respecting others.
- Joseph modeled respect, loving-kindness and compassion to Potiphar and Potiphar’s wife, to his fellow prisoners and even to his brothers.
- Jesus modeled loved like no one else. He offered healing and compassion, and died for all mankind. He even showed love to the soldiers who nailed Him to the cross.
- Adam Grant wrote, “You never know where somebody is going to end up. It’s not just about building your reputation; it really is about being there for other people.”
- Vision is “the picture of a preferred future.” It is the first self-assessment we looked at week 1. A man or woman of vision knows who they are and knows where they’re going.
- God had a great vision for Joseph’s life. (Genesis 50:20) and He has a great vision for your life and mine.
- Jesus understood the big picture for His life. Philippians 2:9-11 says “…Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
- Do you see the big picture for your life? God wants you to! Matthew 22:37-39 says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” In short: love God and love others!
- God wants you to honor him and to lead others to do the same.
- Helen Keller said, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”
- Joseph had a great attitude; a positive one. You don’t read of him grumbling and complaining – although he certainly had much he could have complained about!
- Philippians 2:5-8 says, “…in your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” There are 2 things to unpack here and Joseph and Jesus had both:
- Humility: there was a decrease of self and an increase of God (v. 7).
- Passion: there was a desire to be obedient and a willingness to die to accomplish it (v.8)
- Humility: Momento Mori.
- Momento Mori is a Latin phrase translated “Remember your mortality; remember you will die.” The phrase originated in ancient Rome with a tradition that as a general was parading through the streets during a victory triumph, a slave walked behind him, tasked with reminding the general that, although at his peak today, tomorrow he could fall, be brought down, and die. The servant conveyed this by repeating the words, “Momento Mori.”
- Live with passion. Have no regrets.
- William Borden, the heir to the Borden family fortune, was given the graduation present at age 16 of a worldwide tour by himself. It was during this trip that he was called to be a missionary, even thought he was in line to take over the family business. When he came home and announced his calling to his family, they were somewhat distraught. He enrolled at Yale University at the age of 17 and during his first year there, he started a Bible study. By his senior year, over 1,000 students (out of 1,300 total students in the school) were involved in Bible studies every morning that he led. At the age of 25 he felt called to the Katsu, a Muslim people group in China. On his way there, he stopped in Egypt for Arabic language training. While in Egypt William Borden contracted spinal meningitis and, after only a few days, passed away at the age of 25. When they shipped his body back and his possessions back to America, his family read his last journal entry, written knowing he would soon die. The simple words on the page were, “NO RESERVES…. NO RETREATS… and NO REGRETS.”
- Strong leaders are great servants. Their lives revolve around the needs of others, not around their personal needs.
- Look at Philippians 2:5-8 again and notice verse 8: “…and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross.” Jesus was focused on the needs of others!
- Joseph was not into self-preservation. His life revolved around others and, in the end, he saved the people of Egypt and Israel.
- A 6-year-old boy was sitting in church with his mother when he leaned over and whispered to his mother, “Who are the people in the colorful windows up there?” “Saints,” she replied simply. The next day during a discussion at school his teacher asked the students, “What is a saint?” to which the boy replied, “They are colorful and transparent, and the sun shines through them.” May we be colorful and transparent, and may the light of the SON shine through us.
- In this season of giving, consider the needs of others with great care and compassion
- Bethany Compassion Ministries/Bethany Compassion Center.
- Our 5 Global Church Partnerships
- Helping a student go to youth camp.
- Sign up to serve in a weekly ministry, like children’s ministries, first impressions, etc.
- Jesus, as always, is our example. See the story in John 13 where He washed the feet of His disciples.
- Helen Keller gave us an excellent exhortation: “Earn your leadership everyday.”
- Joseph was trustworthy. There is no record of him not keeping the trust of those in his sphere of influence.
- Jesus is trustworthy, as we read in Philippians 2:6-7: “Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his advantage, rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”
- Can others trust you? Like Joseph, and of course Jesus, determine ahead of time to be trustworthy.
- Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
- Determine ahead of time to be trustworthy and to be a man/woman of character, even when life goes sideways.
I have so enjoyed this journey through the life of Joseph. I hope you will come back to these topics often, as you evaluate, seek to emulate and ultimately elevate your level of living to the life God desires for you.