Theology: spiritual gifts are for followers, too

What about the theological belief that the Holy Spirit empowers believers and gives spiritual gifts to all who know him? In John 16, Jesus unpacks the Holy Spirit for the disciples he leaves behind, promising that they’ll be even better off with God-as-Spirit than with God-in-human-form.

Certainly, the idea that the Holy Spirit works in and flows through a leader has implications on a leader’s role. Many have written on this subject. In fact, our leadership book discussion group at Wycliffe is getting ready to read Bill Hybels’ The Power of a Whisper. I may have more to say about the leader’s need for discernment and his role in “drafting the Holy Spirit” after I’ve read that book. Instead, I want to focus for a minute on another question.

What does it mean for a leader that every believer has spiritual gifts? It means all followers are empowered. First, leaders must listen to their followers, because the Holy Spirit might speak through a prophetic gift or someone with a gift that complements the leader’s blind spot. Second, leadership is just one part of the body. Just because there are fewer heads than fingers doesn’t mean the head is more important or any less needed. That’s hard for most leaders to believe. Leadership seems a more important gifting.

But leadership is just one of the spiritual gifts mentioned in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12. It is not given special prominence in the Bible; in fact, leadership falls under the principle that “the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” Certainly, Jesus said that leaders shouldn’t “lord it over people” but should be “servant of all.” So where do we get the idea that leaders should be rewarded disproportionately to other gift-holders?

Let me offer a biblical perspective on leadership from Fast Company magazine. Yes, you read that right. Fast Company. Author Nancy Lubin offers this zinger in the midst of her article, “Do Something: Let’s Hear it for the Little Guys”:

The working world would be a happier place if more of us aspired to roles that were just right — if we valued job fit and performance at every level and stopped overemphasizing the very top.

Lubin says we should honor chief operating officers, midlevel managers and staffers. She would probably add career placement people, whose job it is to get staff into the right positions. So, let’s hear it for the followers!

I think Lubin has a little prophet in her:

The underappreciation of followers has a major bottom-line consequence: crazy redundancy. You can see it in the not-for-profit sector, which has a gazillion little organizations replicating one another. We all want to run our own thing, so not-for-profits never die. As a result, we have huge inefficiency and ridiculous amounts of overlap in the sector. This is wasteful, and this is fundamentally bad business.

When you consider Christian non-profits, it also reflects a lack of unity. Considering that Christ said the world would know we are Christians if we’re unified, Lubin’s statement is a complete indictment of Christian leadership. So, a failure to understand that the Holy Spirit has empowered all believers leads to a misunderstanding of the importance of followers. Bad theology leads to misprioritized values, pride, redundancy and waste, not to mention derailing our witness.

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Efficiency vs. learning

“Stop wasting water!” One of my pet peeves is when I’m busy at something, vaguely conscious that my kids are doing something in the bathroom and then suddenly realize that the water has been running a long, long time. I’m not sure why wasting water bugs me so much. Is it the cost or the environmental responsibility of living in a state with a draining aquifer? I clearly value efficiency when it comes to water. If you have any doubt, just look at my lawn.

I recognize my hypocrisy, however. My kids are simply doing the same thing I did when I was their age. There’s no way to explore without a little waste. I used to love pouring water from one vessel into another, inverting a glass and pushing trapped air beneath the surface, finding the best way to turn my hands into a cup to bring water up to my mouth, or watch greasy water flee from a drop of soap. Water is fascinating, and you don’t learn about it without wasting a little.

The older we get, the more we value efficiency at the expense of discovery, joy and innovation. Organizationally, the bigger we get, the more we value efficiency, too. We love the economies of scale that come with standardizing processes. And in so doing, we squelch innovation.

As leaders, how can we assure that doesn’t happen? First, allow room for dreaming. I recently read a colleague’s summary of Leadership Divided – What Emerging Leaders Need and What You Might be Missing, by Ron Carucci. Here’s an excerpt that caught my attention:

The explosion of enterprise-wide technologies has fueled efficiency and standardization. A negative consequence, though, has been the tendency to approach challenges in terms of process compliance rather than allowing for dreaming. There exists a tension between standardization and innovation as a result. Incumbent leaders often view dreams in terms of precision rather than desire.

Of course, we know the tension that results when dreamers encounter one of these big, immovable objects. Too many  emerging leaders have given up on established businesses, churches or organizations and fled to start their own where they could dream, innovate and bring about the change they long for. But established organizations need dreamers and innovators lest we become dinosaurs.

What’s the solution? I think Carucci hits on a good start: “Dream first, set targets later.” I like that approach to planning. We should include a time for dreaming before getting down to process and rigid goal-setting. Leadership IQ wrote an article called, “Are SMART Goals Dumb?” in which they challenged the traditional view of goal-setting: to create goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. The data shows that there’s a better way to create goals that will be implemented. Make sure they’re HARD:

  • Heartfelt – My goals will enrich the lives of someone besides me — customers, the community, etc.
  • Animated – I can vividly picture how great it will feel when I accomplish my goals.
  • Required – My goals are absolutely necessary to help this company.
  • Difficult – I will have to learn new skills and leave my comfort zone to achieve my assigned goals for this year.

Picture the end. How great it will feel. Leave my comfort zone. Not the traditional way we approach goals, but the territory of dreamers. Start with a vision of the future and then set targets toward making it reality.

Second, be sure to leave room in your business model for waste. Experimentation and learning are not always easy on the bottom line. For that matter, it’s almost always easier and more efficient to do things yourself than to pass on your knowledge. But a truly healthy organization is like a family. You have to be passing on and empowering the next generation. They’re going to make mistakes, and they’re going to waste resources as they experiment. Then, one day, they’re going to make a discovery that we “adults” never saw. That’s the way with innovation.