Years ago I heard the CEO of a well-known restaurant chain speak to a group of Christian college students. He inspired the crowd with his speech and his answers during the Q&A session that followed. I was more impressed, though, after the event ended when our guest speaker got down on his knees to help the cleaning crew pick up trash. Leaders who demonstrate humble, Christlike service inspire me to follow them.
However, there’s a popular stream of thought in leadership circles today that would disagree. Busy executives, we’re told, must always take the macro view, not the micro view. If you want to be an effective leader, it is said, don’t get down in the weeds. Don’t waste time on minor issues that bog you down. Your job is to lead, not to weed.
As a general rule, it’s true that a leader should focus on the big picture. In the early church, the apostles devoted themselves to prayer and teaching God’s Word instead of waiting on tables (Acts 6:1-4), a task that others could perform. When every part of the body does its job, church members experience the joy of serving and their leaders won’t burn out.
There’s another side to this coin, though. Even a high-level leader needs to know what’s going on down in the trenches. A general must know the conditions his troops face on the ground. A hospital administrator needs to understand how her policies impact the nurses who work hands-on with patients. A head coach doesn’t personally mow the grass on the football field or wash the team’s uniforms, but he should appreciate the workers who handle those tasks.
Leaders gain credibility when they roll up their sleeves, get their hands dirty, and dive into the work at the ground level. Ineffective leaders remain up in the clouds, detached from the problems and frustrations their followers face. Paul taught all members of the church to use their gifts, but when necessary, he was willing to do a menial task like picking up sticks for a campfire (Acts 28:3). When necessary, wise leaders get down in the weeds.
If you’re a church leader, you can’t do it all—nor should you. As the church grows, you can’t visit everyone’s home, disciple everyone, and personally visit all of the sick. But you can visit some and disciple some. By engaging in the life of the flock, a shepherd better understands the heartbeat of the people, their hurts and hopes, questions and concerns. The more you know about the everyday lives of your congregation and empathize with their real-world struggles, the better you can connect God’s Word to their hearts and minds.
If you visit England, you don’t expect the queen to prepare your meals and wash your clothes. In Washington, D.C., you don’t expect the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to stoop down and tie your shoes. But in the little town of Bethlehem, the Word became flesh and began to dwell among us. Thirty-three years later, on a dark night in Jerusalem, the King of kings knelt down, took a towel, and washed his disciples’ feet. Jesus turned the leadership pyramid upside down. He demonstrated greatness by his willingness to serve. He is Immanuel, the God who gets down in the weeds with us.
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.