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Community serves a twofold place in the life of the leader.
First, the healthy leader is built in community (Eph. 4:13-16). No healthy leader will ever be developed in a vacuum. The hottest ember grows cold in isolation.
When we come together we are given copious opportunities to be patient, kind, forgiving and loving, to walk in servanthood and grace toward one another. It has been said that the Christian life would be easy if it weren’t for the devil and people, and it’s true! We only mature and grow as Christians in the context of community (Prov. 27:17, Col. 3:9-14).
Jesus grew in community, subject to His parents and a part of the community around Him (Luke 2:41-52). Paul was built in community in the school of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3) and then in the church after he was saved (Acts 9:19, 27). According to church tradition, even the apparently individualistic John the Baptist matured in community.
Second, the leader leads in the context of community (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:12-27).
The Bible says that “in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Rom. 12:5) Notice: he never grows to the point where he no longer needs vital relationships with others around him. Effective Christian leaders lead in a context of community – not as tough “ministry islands” off by themselves. In the body of Christ, no members are independent (1 Cor. 12:12).
Jesus ministered in community – He was, except for brief times of solitude and prayer, always with the twelve and the other disciples. Jesus had friends and He needed them. Jesus needed their fellowship and support. (Matt. 26:36-45)
Paul also had friends who nurtured and strengthened him (1 Cor. 16:15-18; 2 Tim. 1:16-18; 2 Cor. 7:6-7). Romans 16:1-16 mentions several of Paul’s “dear” friends and even a spiritual “mother” in verse 13. The churches at Jerusalem and Antioch supported Paul with affirmation, fellowship, material resources and accountability. They commissioned him, built him, prayed for him – and he in turn served them, encouraged them, corrected them, and ministered to them. This is even outside of his personal ministry team and the churches he planted.
Paul, clearly, had a strong commitment to community.
If Jesus and Paul needed friends, who are we that we don’t? The community is like the soil in which the leader grows – a plant is never independent of the soil!
In particular, every leader needs to be rooted in soil made up of four kinds of community: his family, his local church, the various ministry teams of which he is a part, and the world.
A leader’s family should be a small spiritual community, providing him with his first-priority spiritual relationships. His family provides experiential “practice” in leadership (1 Tim. 3:4-5). He must have a strong physical and emotional relationship with his spouse so he is protected from temptation.
The leader’s relationship with his local church should be multi-faceted. He needs to share in the mundane responsibilities of everyday life, and not only “big” leadership responsibilities. The leader needs this opportunity for the development of his own patience, servant-spirit, humility, long-suffering, etc. Like Jesus, the leader must maintain relationships with “normal” people in the church and not only with an elite club of “ministry peers.” Many are the leaders who have lost touch with reality by being out of touch with “normal” people.
The church community provides accountability, security, and support. The author can testify from his own life about two personal crises he has endured. The first one was relatively minor but almost crushed him since he was not part of a strong community at the time. However, he was able to much better endure the second crisis – which was far greater in magnitude – because of the strong spiritual community surrounding him at that time.
The leader is complete when he’s part of a team. In the team we have the whole balance of many gifts and strengths – individually we are crippled (Rom. 12:4-5). Every leader needs friendship, encouragement and insight from peers in ministry. In the context of a team, the individual finds true and healthy accountability.
In the eyes of the world, the spiritual leader must have integrity (2 Cor. 4:2; 1 Tim. 3:7). He should treat the lost with respect, care and kindness (Tit. 3:1-2). United with Jesus’ heart of compassion for the lost, the Christian leader should be a soul winner, although not necessarily an “evangelist” (Matt. 11:19; 1 Cor. 9:19-23). The leader should willingly and joyfully endure persecution for righteousness’ sake, through which he will establish right priorities and be refined and matured (1 Pet. 1:6-7).
Too many spiritual leaders report a lack of healthy friendships with others. It seems like it would be easier this way – and in some ways it is! The “spiritual lone ranger” is not tested as deeply as the man who lives in community. However, a healthy leader will never grow without a loving and accepting relational “blanket” around him.
It is not a sign of strength to be by yourself in leadership. It is a mark of weakness. Leaders need friends.