The last few weeks, we’ve been looking at leadership through the lens of what Paul taught the leaders of the Thessalonian church and how we can apply these 1st Century principles in our 21st Century world.
There is one thing about leadership that, really, only leaders truly understand. I’ve experienced it myself. I’ve watched other leaders experience it. When leaders gather, it’s one thing they always talk about.
In spite of the perceived glitz and glamour of being the one out front, leading the charge ….
Leadership is lonely.
How can that be?? Everyone wants to be with a leader. How could the leader ever get lonely? Right?
But it’s true. The loneliness hits at the oddest times. It hits when we’ve made a big decision and aren’t sure it’s the right one. It hits when we need to have a difficult conversation with a team member and know the message will not be well-received. It hits when the team is enjoying a significant achievement and my mind has already moved on to the next objective.
At those times, we may question if we are really cut out for this. Is it really worth it?
Yes, of course it is worth it. What makes it worth it? Paul writes about three fruits of leadership that make it worth the loneliness, the effort and the sacrifice.
And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it. 1 Thessalonians 1:7-8 (NIV)
A strong leader builds a good reputation and that reputation opens doors of opportunity. Seizing those opportunities bears fruit of growth in the leader’s life and when the leader is growing, so is the organization.
A good reputation is not only for the benefit of the leader, but can also be conduits of growth and opportunity for their followers. I’ve been blessed with opportunities to learn and grow because people I serve under are well-connected. Together, we are building something special and other people want to be involved and support us. It’s the value of have a good reputation.
But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 1 Thessalonians 3:6-9 (NIV)
Nothing brings a leader more joy than seeing the transformation in their followers. As leaders in Christian ministry, it’s what we are all about. Paul saw how the church at Thessalonica had turned from the immoral ways of their culture to live a life pleasing to God, and had been faithful over a long time. Nothing could make him happier than to see these friends standing firm.
The fruit of true leadership is followers who stand firm.
And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 (NIV)
Leaders develop other leaders. Raising up new leaders who will one day take your place ensures the long-term stability of the ministry or business.
But it takes a leader who realizes it is not all about her. She recognizes when God is at work in someone around her and seeks to replicate her success by pouring into others. Paul saw God at work in his Thessalonian friends and helped them become leaders that others in the early church respected.
So the old saying is true. It’s lonely at the top. But the funny thing is … the best leaders never feel like they have reached “the top”. They are too busy building relational reputations, transforming others and replicating their success to be truly lonely.