At Work

Why Biblical Leadership Is Usually Unglamorous

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Richard Foster points out in Celebration of Discipline that our flesh whines against serving others, but it screams against hidden service. We crave credit, recognition, and fame.

The larger-than-ordinary, flamboyant, “brilliant” leaders of fast-growth businesses, large companies, big churches, and trendy charity groups are practically worshiped in books and blogs. Little is written in Fortune or Fast Company about effective leaders working in unglamorous organizations.

But wide recognition is not a measure of leadership success.

Despite the narrative that fancy business conferences, major media, and entertainment creators want you to believe, there is no correlation between fame and effectiveness. There is no relationship between how well-known you are to the world and the value of your leadership contribution. A few leaders will be called to be public, large, and famous, but only a few.

This is not only okay, this is how God has designed the economy of leadership.

Consider the life of Thaddeus, one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. He’s mentioned by name only four times (twice as Judas, son of James—compare Matthew 10:3 with Luke 6:16). We have no biblical record of his individual words or deeds.

He probably wasn’t especially handsome, intelligent, or talented—but Jesus hand-picked Thaddeus to be with him, to be a founding leader in the movement, after a night of prayer.

What criteria did Jesus use to select Thaddeus and eleven others, above all the men who were following him? The Lord sees the hearts of men:

The Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7).

You and I might have given Thaddeus no more than a quick glance, but Jesus saw the heart of a man who would truly follow him and serve the kingdom.

Thaddeus was a leader who fulfilled God’s assignment for him. Church history records that Thaddeus evangelized and led ministry in a wide geographic area away from Jerusalem and was executed by being shot through with arrows.

Thaddeus didn’t get much historical fame. God arranged for Peter, James, John, and Paul to become far better known. God still designed a different plan for Thaddeus to contribute greatly.

Therefore, be encouraged if your leadership isn’t getting much attention in the world. Don’t be fooled into thinking you missed something, or become bitter because you aren’t recognized by the world the way others have been. God has all kinds of people in leadership roles, with a wide range of scope—including you.

Editor’s note: On “Flashback Friday,” we publish some of IFWE’s former posts that are worth revisiting. This post was first published on Aug. 29, 2014.

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