The Sacrifices of Being a LeaderBy Nathan Mates
In the Christian community, there are some who are servants, some who are merely faces in the crowd, some who participate regularly in the life of the church, and some who are the leaders. To some, the leaders have an enviable position: they're in the spotlight, doing things and making them look easy (most of the time, anyhow), and people look up to them. Position, power and glory are what some want, but they rarely look to the sacrifices that leaders have to make in getting where they are.
One of the biggest sacrifices in the Christian model of leadership is that it's nothing like the rest of the world. The world's golden rule is, simply, "He who has the gold makes the rules." In the world, leaders can do what they want, when they want, as long as there's not a leader over them trying to do something else. Kings, emperors, despots and dictators have done that continually throughout history, and as long as humanity is sinful, that model will continue.
As usual, Jesus reversed the world's model: "Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all."" [Mark 9:35] Jesus's words matched his actions, unlike so many worldly leaders; he washed his disciples feet-- the most lowly position of service for the age. [John 13:1-12] Afterwards, he commented on his actions: ""You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." [John 13:13-15]
Christian leaders who are in higher positions have served much. I know of those whose jobs included cleaning bathrooms at church before they headed for the pulpit. [Not immediately after cleaning, but after years of service.] Others have spent years helping in other areas within the life of the church. This is not merely a 'paying of dues' as some worldly organizations practice; it's following Jesus's example. Further, service does not cease once one becomes a leader, as Jesus demonstrated above.
One area of service that some are rankled at is the time commitment required. When I am serving by managing an event, I try and follow the "First in, last out" philosophy-- I am there before others, and one of the last to leave. While not all leaders can do that, they usually have delegated such responsibilities to other(s) so that the entire time period is covered in leadership. This is a huge sacrifice of time that cuts into the time that one would prefer for fellowship, for fun, for worship. While some of those activities can be folded in while serving or leading, leaders who want such things will have to dedicate other times to fellowship, fun, and worship.
While it is not in the back of a leader's minds at every time, God's standards are more exacting for them than the flock. James, the brother of Jesus, said it quite bluntly: "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly." [James 3:1] This is not an isolated incident-- God has said many times that in his fairness, his judgment comes first for those who should know him best. In Ezekiel 9:1-11, God's avenging angel was to slay the wicked Israelites, starting at the most holy of places: the temple.
Why are leaders held so accountable? Simply put, it's because through their words, actions or inactions, they can lead others astray. Damaging other's faith, beliefs, or life makes two (or more) people sin, rather than just a personal sin. Jesus was rightfully critical of such people when he said "And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck." [Mark 9:42] That's a huge burden for a leader to try and keep from inducing others to sin.
How exactly can a leader cause others to sin? First off is with words. If a leader says something that is unbiblical, and yet presents it as the truth, such as "murder your neighbor" [compare to Exodus 20:13], that is obviously sin. Less extreme cases can also happen, such as misrepresenting God's words in more "gray" areas. [The Pharisees did so, and Jesus called them on it in Mark 7:9-13]
Leaders can also cause others to sin by action or inaction. People can be weak in various areas, especially in regards to actions like alcohol, or areas where they've been weak in spiritually. For an extreme example, it would be highly stupid for a pastor to hold a meeting with Alcoholics Anonymous members in a bar. While the pastor may be able to come away from that meeting with no ill effects, his flock may not be so lucky. Paul's words on this are instructive: "Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak." [1 Corinthians 8:9]
One analogy I've heard related to stumbling is this: why would one try and get as close to a cliff as one could without falling off? It's better to stay a good distance away. Once again, a leader may be able to be on firm ground near a cliff, but one of those around the leader may go too far and fall. As leaders, we are held accountable for those who are entrusted to our care.
Another sacrifice of the leader is prayer. Once again, this is simply following after Jesus's example. Luke records "One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God." [Luke 6:12], but this is hardly an isolated incident, or something only to be done by Jesus. Later, Luke records "Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up." [Luke 18:1] Leaders (and all Christians) are supposed to be following the disciple's examples and anything taught them by Jesus, so this is to be practiced today.
Finally, leaders have a high standard set for them before they can enter that position. 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9 list off Biblical qualifications for leaders to measure up to. Those qualifications are not relaxed once one becomes a leader; they remain in effect. All Christians should be aiming to measure up to those qualities, whether they're leaders or not, as they're still worthy standards to follow.
What's listed above is just a small part of the sacrifices that leaders make on behalf of their flock. You may be a leader and can add more to the list. You may be a junior leader who's realizing the costs of what it'll take to move up the ladder. Or, you may be looking in, envying the position and authority that leaders have, and not realize what they're going through. In any case, the author of Hebrews noted how we are to relate to any and all leaders over us: "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. Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way." [Hebrews 13:17-18]