THE MAKING OF A GREAT LEADER
By Mark E. Hardgrove, D.Min.
Text: Acts 9:1-12
I want to talk to you today about the making of a great leader. I’m not just talking about being a leader in name or in title only, but I’m talking about the making of a great leader. Great, not because his or her charisma, or accomplishments in the estimation of men, but great in the Lord, great in faithfulness, great in doing whatsoever the Lord has commanded, great in word and in deed. I’m talking about the making of a great leader.
There are many definitions of leadership but the simplest I know of is offered by John Maxwell who said that leadership is influence. Given that, we all have some form of influence on others; we will all find ourselves filling some leadership capacity at some time. It may be a formal leadership role, such as a ministry leader, a business leader, or a civic leader. Our role may be more informal, such as a leader in the home or the leader of a fellowship group, but most of us, at some point in our life, will fill the shoes of a leader. The question is what kind of leader will we be? Will we be effective or ineffective? Will we develop and disciple other leaders around us, or will we selfishly guard our position and power? Will we be a leader who has to control everything and everyone, or will we reach, teach and release others to fill leadership roles in their own right?
When we study leaders in the Old Testament, we find that when the leaders heard from God and followed God, they led Israel to greatness. Leaders make a difference. Good leaders have a positive effect and bad leaders have a negative effect, but every leader will have some type of effect. The Prophetess Deborah sang in Judges 5:2, "When Israel's leaders take charge, and the people gladly follow — bless the LORD! (NLT)
Aside from Jesus, there is probably no leader more important or influential in the New Testament than the Apostle Paul. God used Paul in profound ways to expand the church. Paul moved the vision beyond Jerusalem and beyond Jewish converts. He took the gospel to the Gentiles and personally planted several churches throughout Asia Minor. Paul also laid a good foundation of leadership in elders and bishops who would insure the future growth and maturity of the church. God used Paul as a leader to raise the level of the church, to take the church to places it had never gone, and to challenge the status quo of the religious world of that day.
However, Paul did not begin as a leader in the church; he began as a persecutor intent on destroying the church. Paul was on his way to Damascus to imprison Christians. He had already held the coats of the men who stoned Stephen to death. So, Paul was the last man the church would have considered to be the next great leader in the movement. Paul was a man who despised Christians, but God made a Christian leader of Paul, and Paul made a difference by leading the church toward its destiny.
Don’t ever tell God that He can’t use you. If God could take a blaspheming, Christian killing, church-persecuting Pharisee like Paul, and turn him into a great leader in the church, then God can make a leader out of you.
Some of the most important leaders in a church have never aspired to the spotlight. They are content to lead that Sunday school class in discipleship and service. They have embraced the call to lead their small group into a deeper understanding of the Word and a deeper love for one another. They recruit nursery workers, head up Christmas decorating teams, and take the lead in serving others.
I) A DIVINE ENCOUNTER
So how is a great leader made? The first step is to have a Divine encounter with God. I do not believe that a man or woman can be a great leader apart from God. We may be an effective leader, but Hitler was an effective leader. We may be a Charismatic leader, but Jim Jones was a Charismatic leader. We may have a large following, we may have a big building, and we may have a famous name, but without God at the center of our life, we will never achieve true greatness. Greatness is not defined by human achievement but by godly standards and faithfulness to God in all we do.
The other side of that coin is that a man or woman may be a truly great leader and never pastor a large church, never lead a Fortune 500 company, never earn a college degree, and never possess great wealth. As God told Samuel when he was about to anoint one of Jesse’s sons to be the next king of Israel, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7, NIV).
Saul (who would later be called Paul), had no intention of being a great leader in the Christian movement. In fact, his intentions were just the opposite, but then he had a Divine encounter with the Jesus Christ.
This was a turning point in Paul’s life. What we find, when we go back through Scripture and look at great leaders, is that they all had a Divine encounter with God. Abraham had a Divine encounter and was instructed to leave his home and journey to a land that God would show him. Moses met God on a mountainside in a burning bush. Samuel heard the voice of the Lord in the night calling his name. David, Jeremiah, Elisha, and so forth, throughout Scripture great leaders had Divine encounters with God.
In our context, we would say that a great leader must experience the saving grace of God. Not in some intellectual, psychological sense of the word, but in a life giving, destiny imparting, soul stirring, heart pounding, transformational encounter with Christ.
II) A DEFINITIVE CALL
The second necessity in the making of a leader is a definitive call. A leader who does not know that he or she is called to that role, will never last. A teacher ought to know that God has called them to teach. A superintendent of a store, the manager of a restaurant, the leader of the youth group, every leader should have a clear sense of call and of purpose.
There will be times when all we will have to fall back on is the fact that this is God’s will for my life. This is where He has called me to serve. This is what He has called me to do and I’ll never know the joy of the Lord unless I do it.
Some think of calling only in the sense of a church or religious function, but some of the greatest business leaders who ever lived where devout Christians and they believed that they fulfilling the call of God in their life.
Paul would receive a definitive call. Jesus told Paul, “Go into the city, and I will show you what you must do.” Then Jesus told Ananias to anoint the eyes of Saul that the scales might fall from Saul’s eyes and he would see. Ananias had heard of Saul and was reluctant to pray for him, but God insisted and told Ananias, verses 15 and 16, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (NIV)
We know that Paul received this call because Paul would say of his ministry in Romans 15, “The grace of God gave me to be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles” (vv. 15-16, NIV). And in Ephesians 3:8, “Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (NIV).
Paul would never have endured the beatings, the stonings, the shipwrecks, and ultimately the death of a martyr if he did not know for sure that he was fulfilling his calling as a leader of Christianity among the Gentiles.
III) A DOGGED DETERMINATION
The third thing required in the making of a great leader is a dogged determination to see the vision through to the end. Paul would not quit. He was rebuffed, but he always returned. He was beaten up, but he refused to be beaten down. He was determined to fight the good fight, to finish the race and to keep the faith (2 Tim. 4:7).
Great leaders have a God given vision and they will not quit in their determination to complete their call. They may think about quitting and they may pray about quitting, but great leaders will come out the other side of the valley of despair stronger and more determined than when they went in.
After David and his men returned to Ziklag and found that their families and their possessions had been carried away, they lifted up their voices and wept. David’s men were talking about stoning him. Then the Bible says, “David found strength in the Lord his God” (1 Sam. 30:6, NIV). Great leaders may get down, but when they get back up, look out. David inquired from the prophet, then he inspired his men, and they went to the enemy’s camp, took back what was stole from them, and plundered the enemy. Great leaders just refuse to quit.
Moses was ready to quit, but he didn’t. He led the people to the banks of the Promised Land. Elijah was ready to quit, and prayed to die, but he didn’t. He completed his mission and his ministry and passed on the mantle. Paul was discouraged about an infirmity in his body. He prayed three times that God would remove this thorn in his flesh, but God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So Paul said, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me” (NIV).
Great leaders just won’t quit. They may be afflicted, but they won’t quit. They may be attacked, but they won’t quit. They may be wounded, but they won’t quit. They may weep through the night, but they won’t quit. They may be hard pressed, and buffeted on every side, but they just won’t quit. If they get knocked down, they bounce back up with dogged determination and they keep on, keeping on.
IV) A DISCIPLE TO CARRY ON
Finally, great leaders raise up others to carry on. Abraham had his son, Isaac. Moses had Joshua. Elijah had Elisha. Jesus had twelve disciples and Paul had men like Timothy and Titus. The vision does not die with the great leader. Great leaders are always mentoring others to take their place. Great leaders are preparing the next generation to take the vision forward.
Bill Lee was preaching at campmeeting about passing on the mantle. He said something very poignant. Brother Lee noted that Elijah gave everything he had. He took nothing with him. He even dropped his mantle down to Elisha. However, we find that after Elisha was dead and buried, years later a soldier was killed and placed in the tomb where Elisha’s bones were buried. As it turned out, when the soldier’s body touched Elisha’s bones, there was enough anointing left in Elisha’s bones that the soldier came back to life. We often shout about that, but Brother Lee observed that Elisha never passed the mantle on to anyone else. He never raised up a successor. In fact, he took his anointing to the grave with him. Elijah passed it on, but Elisha died with his double portion anointing.
Great leaders give all they’ve got, for as long as they’ve got it, and along the way, they are passing the torch the next generation. We need to invest in our youth. We need to think about the future of this church. We met for a brainstorming session last week, and we’ll have more, but we are determined to raise up the next generation so that if the Lord should tarry, this church will keep moving forward and achieving greater goals through those to whom we pass the mantle of leadership.
God needs leaders in the church. He needs teachers to lead the class and not just to teach a class. He needs elders who will be leaders and examples in ministry. He needs staff members to be equipping saints for ministry. He needs deacons to lead in the management and care of finances, facilities and resources. He needs leaders to plan a program and execute the plan. God needs leaders who have had a divine encounter with God, who have been anointed and appointed by the Holy Spirit, and who know that God has called them to this role, for this purpose, at this time.
God needs leaders who have a vision and a passion, who will not quit when the going gets tough, but will pray harder, worship more fervently, and will work more diligently in the task to which God has called them. God needs leaders who have the end in sight at the beginning of plan.
We are birthing a vision for an expansion to the church to facilitate the children’s church and Excel Christian Academy.
We are birthing a vision of a church were people from every kindred, tongue, tribe and nation can come and know that they welcome, they are wanted and they are loved.
We are birthing a vision of church that is able to take sports away from the world as a means to keep people out of church, and use sports as a ministry, with an integrated sports complex, to bring people into the church.
We have not even begun to reach our potential. This past six months have been the best six months (with respect to attendance and income) that this church has seen in over six years, but we’re just getting ready to bust loose as we raise up leaders who have had a divine encounter, a distinct call, a dogged determination and are developing disciples.
Unfortunately, it is when Israel is on the banks of their blessing that the devil starts a messing. It is when the church is about to break out in revival that Satan will try to distract and discourage leaders. It is when we are on the brink of our breakthrough that the devil will whisper divisive words into the minds and hearts of some people.
This church has some great leadership on this staff. We have great men and women working in important positions in this church and we will achieve our dreams and visions because we won’t quit. We know that we were called, anointed, and appointed, and we will see the prophesies and promises concerning this church come to pass. Some folks may not go with us into our destiny, some may turn back, but nobody is going to keep us from the promises and the blessings that God has given this church.
Are you ready to let God use you for a purpose? Are you willing to confirm your call? Are you willing to pursue the vision of this church in harmony with the leadership of this church? Are you serving as an example of hope and possibility to those around you, or are you speaking discouragement and doubt?
God said that if ten men come back with a negative report and two men come back with a positive report, the ten men and all who listen to them might miss their blessing, but the two who choose to believe God will not be robbed of their blessing. Caleb and Joshua did not die in the desert, they went into the Promised Land and they achieved the vision that God had given to their mentor Moses before they ever left Egypt.
I want some people who want to be great leaders, leaders in the home, leaders in business, leaders in the schools, and leaders in the church, I want you to step up and claim your call.