You cannot lead others to some place you have not been.
Most of the reading I’ve done this year has been focused on leadership: principles, goals, fundamental practices, etc. Tonight while I was mowing the yard, I started reflecting on all this reading and I tried to sum up my own beliefs and thoughts on leadership. That’s when this phrase sort of developed in my mind’s eye: You cannot lead others to some place you have not been.
Generally speaking, I believe this to be true. I think it’s nearly impossible to lead any organization or group to excel when you’ve never achieved anything yourself. In nearly every setting I can think of, this principle is something of a leadership maxim. Successful CEOs have demonstrated success in lesser management roles where their decision-making ability and interpersonal skills are honed. As a result, spheres of influence increase, leading to greater opportunities to lead and develop.
But like I said, this principle can be applied in nearly every setting I can think of. One of the few exceptions is ministry. Now, obviously, there is a certain sense of competency and legitimacy along the Way of Christ that people expect out of their spiritual leaders. And in a general sense, I think it’s still near impossible to lead people into a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus when you’re not a fully committed disciple yourself. That’s not in question. But at the same time, the life in Christ ultimately points beyond, to something transcendent and illusive. It’s a matter of faith and hope. It’s a journey we share together and, as fellow sojourners, we understand that none of us have “arrived” yet.
So where does that lead spiritual leadership? Back to our phrase, I made one slight modification as I continued to mow: You cannot lead others to some place you have not been OR that you are not actively pursuing. It’s not that any of us are “spiritual experts”. There’s no greater myth than that of the shaman, the holy man, the spiritual guru. No, none of us have arrived yet. (That’s my beef with most books you read about heaven. They’re written by guys who make it sound like they’ve been there and come back to enlighten all of us like some sort of cosmic tour guides.) But we can lead others as we pursue the Kingdom of God. As Paul says, we urge people to imitate us only to the extent that we imitate Christ. We understand our fallibility, but we call others — and ourselves — to embrace the life of a Christ follower, a life of ever-growing love, joy, kindness, and faithfulness.
I like this definition of leadership.