As Goes the LeaderBy Nathan Mates
As humans, we have an instinctive need for leadership. The history of nations, tribes, businesses, and just about all groups show that leaders are an integral part of any group. Moses was the leader who brought the Israelites out of Egypt, and then lead their wanderings in the desert. Joshua was his successor, and led the conquest of their God-given territories. Aaron and his sons (the ones that survived, anyhow-- Leviticus 10:1-2) led the priesthood. Later on, we see the series of Kings of Israel and Judah, from Saul, David, and Solomon down to Jehoiachim. Jesus called himself the "Good Shepherd" [John 10:11], a leader of his people. Peter was the leader of the disciples, preaching a sermon that converted thousands on Pentecost. [Acts 2:14-41]
Even the secular world has leaders: Kings, Emperors, Presidents, CEOs, Deans, Generals, Pilots, and many more titles show that leadership is an important part of any group. There are leaders in both God's people, and also leaders in those who are in outright rebellion against him. Quite simply, with or without God, humans have a built-in need to organize and be led. Those that have tried to deny reality and claim that a mass of humans can collectively self-organize into the best arrangement is deluded at best and highly dangerous at worse.
With leadership comes influence over the lives of others. Ask the captain of the Titanic how his leadership affected others. Or, a general who's made a blunder (aka World War I), turning a battle into a senseless slaughterhouse. There are also positive effects of leadership as well: as noted above, Peter's speaking out on Pentecost gathered thousands of believers. Paul's leading of many missionary journeys gathered a rich crop of believers as well, and planted many churches.
This is not a generic principle; God points out many times in his word how leaders affect those under them. In the list of sacrifices due to sin and guilt, God says this: ""'If the anointed priest sins, bringing guilt on the people, he must bring to the LORD a young bull without defect as a sin offering for the sin he has committed." [Leviticus 4:3] Joe Israelite (not his real name) may wonder how someone else's sins are affecting him, but all of humanity-- to say nothing of the whole world-- is also suffering for one set of sins: Adam and Eve's sins in the Garden of Eden. As the first leader of humanity, Adam had the chance to do well or poorly, and he messed it up: "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned-- for before the law was given, sin was in the world." [Romans 5:12-13a]
Throughout Israel's history, as the leader went, so did the people and the nation. A King who sinned repeatedly without seeking after God would bring God's judgment on the entire nation: "Then the word of the LORD came to Jehu son of Hanani against Baasha: "I lifted you up from the dust and made you leader of my people Israel, but you walked in the ways of Jeroboam and caused my people Israel to sin and to provoke me to anger by their sins." [1 Kings 16:1-2] The people of Israel looked to their leader for moral guidance, and imitated his actions, for better or for worse. God put the blame for his people's sins on their secular leader, the king, not just his priests.
Later on, we see the same principle with another wicked king: "Jehoram received a letter from Elijah the prophet, which said: "This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: 'You have not walked in the ways of your father Jehoshaphat or of Asa king of Judah. But you have walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and you have led Judah and the people of Jerusalem to prostitute themselves, just as the house of Ahab did. You have also murdered your own brothers, members of your father's house, men who were better than you. So now the LORD is about to strike your people, your sons, your wives and everything that is yours, with a heavy blow. You yourself will be very ill with a lingering disease of the bowels, until the disease causes your bowels to come out.'"" [2 Chronicles 21:12-15]
On the other hand, Kings of Israel that sought after the Lord were rewarded, as well as the entire nation: "Uzziah was sixteen years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-two years. His mother's name was Jecoliah; she was from Jerusalem. He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father Amaziah had done. He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the LORD, God gave him success." [2 Chronicles 26:3-5] The entire nation was blessed by this King's success with the Lord, just as it had previously with David and Solomon.
It was because of kings who did evil in the sight of the Lord that God handed over the nation to their Babylonian captors. It wasn't that the people were incapable of doing right on their own and ignoring their leaders; it was that things were rotten from the top down: "The LORD enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people: "It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses." [Isaiah 3:14]
This principle extends forward into the New Testament as well: "Then the disciples came to him and asked, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?" He replied, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit."" [Matthew 15:12-14] Once again, bad leaders are bad influences over the led.
Like the Old Testament, there's still the responsibility that lies in all the leaders for their actions: "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you." [Hebrews 13:17] Just as in the parable of the Ten Talents [Matthew 25:14-30], God demands that people effectively use their God-given abilities for his kingdom, and all leaders will be called to account for how well they used their skills.
Given this, we can extend something of a rule looking at things the other way: a leader will tend to bear appropriate fruit in their work. A group that withers and dies, fed by petty backbiting tends to have such a backbiting (or at least uninvolved) leader at the top. On the other hand, a rapidly growing ministry tends to have a great leader, one that spends much time in prayer and investing in the ministry personally.
All of human leadership does pale in comparison to Jesus's example of leadership: as God's son, he died as a perfect sacrifice under the Law so that believers could enter heaven. Human leaders have imperfect results in getting their followers to do anything good, but the divine leader of the Church has managed to keep it on track despite humanity.
Consider any areas you're in any form of leadership: at home, work, in the Church, or anyplace else. God will hold you accountable for your actions there. Also, pray for any leaders you're subject to, that they'll be godly leaders so that you'll be blessed by their work for God. For, as it is said, "Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever." [Daniel 12:3]