Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Leader Submits

The most important thing I can do as a leader is walk in submission. I know this is the truth, even when I struggle to abide by it. Leaders have a natural bend to, well, lead. Leading comes naturally. Submission--not so much. However, while I've never found a single verse in the Bible that commands believers to lead, there are over 30 that command us to submit. Leadership is optional. Submission is not.

We are to submit to governmental authorities:
For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. Romans 13: 4-5 
We are to submit to our co-laborers in the Gospel:
You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it. I Corinthians 16:15-16
We are to submit to our spiritual authorities:
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. Hebrews 13:7 
We are to submit to our brothers and sisters in Christ:
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:21  
I am to submit to my own husband:
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. Ephesians 5:22
And above all we are to submit to God:
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:7
Consider Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, the one who was in very nature God--he submitted to the will of the Father. He agonized in the garden, he begged for another option, and then he said, "not my will but yours." The equal of God yielded to God.

Jesus taught us that submission isn't about surrendering or following or giving in. Submission is about positioning yourself fully behind the will (and hopes and dreams and needs and desires) of another.

Submission isn't throwing up your hands and saying, "Fine, have it your way!" Submission is rolling up your sleeves and saying, "Tell me how I can help!"

Submission has nothing to do with being defeated or resigned. Submission has everything to do with choosing to serve the cause of another as enthusiastically as if it were your own.

And the truth is, if I am not submitted in all aspects of my life--to Jesus, to David, to my pastor, to my co-laborers, to my brothers and sisters in Christ, and even to my government--I have no business leading. Submission is the safety-net that God gives leaders, and when I neglect it I put myself and others in danger.

Let me give you an example. Whenever I preach I run my sermon by David and/or my pastor in advance. These two people have theological training that I don't have and I want them to review my sermon for accuracy and clarity. In voluntarily submitting to them as brothers in Christ and spiritual authorities, I protect myself and our congregation from heresy. As a leader, I want to teach truth and I want to serve our church family well. Submission helps me to accomplish those goals. Now neither David nor my pastor require me to submit my sermons for review. They aren't at all worried about my capacity to teach. I am the one who chooses to come under their authority. However, if someone ever takes issue with something that I have preached, I will have two defenders by my side. They would be eager and willing to explain my point because they would have already signed off on it. Submission is  a safeguard for me, for our fellowship, and for the integrity of the Gospel. Why on earth would I resist it?

I find it easy to submit where I question my own capacity. Like with preaching. But in areas where I feel competent (dare I say, "gifted"?), I can struggle to bow my will. When I really think I know best, then I am tempted to neglect my God-given authorities.

And there is a balance because often, as a leader, I have a vision and a strong sense of direction. If others say, "Let's do it this way!" or "I think we should go that way!" it takes a great deal of discernment to know when to submit to them and when submitting to them would take me out of submission to the Father. Which is why constant and continual submission to God is essential. But I believe it is possible to walk in God-given authority and total submission at the same time. That's what Jesus did. It wasn't either/or, it was yes/and.

And it seems that submission is not just a women's issue. It's a Christian issue. All believers are called to submit. So while wives may have wrestling matches with learning to submit, I don't think that men are off the hook. I can say with total confidence and great joy that I am called to submit to my husband, David. But David recognizes the power of mutual submission that Paul was talking about when he wrote "submit to one another." As the head of our family, he submits too--because, well, leaders submit. God gave us a metaphor for how this plays out in our lives:

Early in our marriage, David and I took a walk in the woods. We were following a trail, but it was overgrown, and tree limbs often jutted out across the path. Because the trail was narrow, we were walking single file with David leading the way. Eventually we came to a large tree branch and, being a gentleman, David held it out of my way and let me pass in front. Then I was leading for a while. But soon we came to another obstacle, and this time I held it back and allowed David to pass me and re-take the lead. Since we had agreed on the path and the overall direction, neither of us really cared who was in front. We just wanted to help and serve and enjoy each other along the way. I think most of life is like that. God gives a vision--that's the path. But we share leadership along the way.

Now if we had come upon a bear, I definitely would've wanted David in front because he's stronger and braver and he doesn't scream like a girl. So when the path God reveals has a bear warning sign--David stays in the lead and I happily follow. But if we had come upon a river, David would've asked me to dive in first to check out the water because I'm a good swimmer and he sinks like a rock. So when the path God reveals has a water feature--I stay in the lead. In either case, we stay submitted to God's leadership while honoring the strengths and shielding the weaknesses of the other.

And while it would be nice to be able to stand behind my husband in the case of a bear attack, the real reason I submit to him (and anyone else, for that matter) is out of reverence for Christ. I don't submit to someone out of reverence for the other person, because no matter how great the other person is, he or she is bound to make mistakes. I submit because I revere Christ, and Christ asks me to submit. Submission says, "I don't have to be in control because I trust Jesus." I can be comfortable following new leaders and struggling leaders and even clumsy leaders because my faith isn't in earthy authorities, it's in a holy God that calls me to submit to those authorities

The one thing submission can never be is forced. By definition, submission is willingly yielding to another. If coercion or manipulation or subjugation is present, then submission is absent. Therefore as a leader I can receive submission from followers, but I can't extract it from them. It is their gift to give. But I find that if I am walking in submission as a leader, others naturally follow suit.

As I learn to walk in submission I see the Lord do wonderful things. Teams flourish. Individuals excel. Collaborative efforts increase and results often exceed expectations. Above all, God is glorified. He is glorified because HOW we accomplish something is as important as WHAT we accomplish in God's economy.

Submission is good for the soul.

For thought and discussion: How to you react to the idea of submission? As a leader, to whom do you submit? How are you "holding back branches" for the ones you are called to lead?

1 comment:

  1. Good to read, and be reminded! Well stated... :)