The Sacrifice of Leadership

Okay, I promise this is not becoming a leadership blog. The fact that this is the second week in a row with leadership-type subjects is just a coincidence.

But I happened to notice something as I was reading the book of Acts over the past couple weeks.

It starts in Acts 15, where Paul and Barnabas are preaching to the people of Antioch about Jesus. These are Gentiles - meaning people who are not Jewish. Before Jesus, it was a big no-no for Jewish believers to have pretty much anything to do with Gentiles. But Peter had received a message from God that the news about Jesus being the Messiah, and making a way for people to be made right with God from their sin, was for everyone. So Paul had taken this seriously and got to work spreading the message to anyone who would listen.

But in chapter 15, some people from Jerusalem show up and start telling these new Christians that they needed to follow the Jewish rules. With a big one in particular: circumcision. This was an order for all Jews given by God - required to demonstrate their faith through an act of obedience which physically distinguished them from everyone else.

Paul and Barnabas had not been telling anyone who became a believer in Jesus that they needed to take this step. They didn't believe that belief required a cultural conversation as well.

After some healthy debate through out chapter 15, Jerusalem tells new converts they don't need to be circumcised. Paul, as well as Barnabas and Peter, are happy since they advocated this position, "vehemently."

Now, fast forward ONE CHAPTER. In Acts 16, Paul meets a young man named Timothy. Paul immediately recognizes that Timothy has potential, and takes him on as someone to mentor. Down the road, Paul will will put Timothy into places of church leadership. 

And one of the first things he does...well, let me let Luke tell you in Acts 16:1-3

"Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek.  The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him.  Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek."

The very first thing Paul does is require Timothy to go through the painful, inconvenient process of circumcision which he very clearly believed had nothing to do with salvation.

Why? Because Paul knew he would have less influence with some of the people he would need to minister to without taking that step.

As a minister, I frequently ask myself whether I'm behaving in ways that will put people off needlessly.

As I have matured, I have let go of many political views and sports rivalries, because both Republicans, Democrats, and people on other places in the political spectrum need to grow closer to Jesus. Ravens fans, Steelers fans, Patriots fans, Yankees fans and Duke fans all need to grow closer to Jesus.

Some light joking is fine, obviously, but making too big of a deal of any of these topics would make certain groups of people stop listening to me. I'm 100% unwilling to lose influence toward something of ultimate significance due to something so temporary as sports or politics.

As a believer, Timothy had no obligation to make such a drastic change in his life. But as a leader, Paul makes it mandatory. 

If you want to have leadership in the lives of those around you, are you willing to give up aspects which are, in the big picture, not a big deal?

Jesus tells us in Luke 14 to count the cost before we begin an endeavor. Being a leader doesn't make you a better person. Being in leadership is a constant struggle with feelings of inadequacy and second guessing yourself sometimes. But it's also an opportunity to make a bigger difference than you can make on your own.

It's rewarding, and it's also challenging. But like anything else in life, it has a cost. We are wise to ask whether we can give up our preferences in service of others rather than using leadership to make others conform to our own preferences. Perhaps that is the best gauge of whether a leader is healthy or not.