October 5, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture—1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work.
If you’re in a position of leadership in business, education, community, church, non-profit work, and/or family, you should lead by giving direction, teaching, admonishing, and guiding. You are right to exercise the authority entrusted to you. But remember, you have been entrusted with more than just authority. There are people entrusted to your care. If you’re going to lead in a caring way, then you need to see them as people created in the image of God, not just subordinates or employees. You will be committed to their personal wellbeing as well as their professional productivity.
This devotion is part of the series: Encouragement from 1 Thessalonians.
When people hear that I work for a leadership center, most are intrigued. But every now and then I run into a confident critic. They’ll say something like, “Leadership, huh? You know leadership isn’t really a biblical idea. It’s a modern invention.” Even if this were true, that doesn’t mean leadership isn’t something to be taken seriously. Electricity is a modern invention, too, but we don’t deny its importance for our lives.
There is a small measure of truth, however, in the critics’ claim about leadership. It’s true that ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, the languages of Scripture, didn’t have a word precisely equivalent to our word “leadership.” In the Bible, the closest we come to a word meaning “leadership” appears in the phrase “forms of leadership” in 1 Corinthians 12:28. The Greek behind the word “leadership” is kybernēsis, which literally meant piloting a ship. “Piloting” people in the church would be something we’d identify as leadership.
I Thessalonians 5:12 uses a word that is close in meaning to our verb “to lead.” The NRSV reads, “[R]espect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord.” The Common English Bible says the Thessalonians are to “respect those who are working with you, leading you.” The Greek verb translated as “have charge of” or “leading” is proistēmi, which the lexicon renders as “to exercise a position of leadership, rule, direct, be at the head of.” The use of this verb in 1 Thessalonians shows that certain members of the church were exercising what we would call leadership, which included teaching and correcting as well as working hard.
Yet there is a nuance in the verb proistēmi that also deserves our attention. If you were to look up this word in the standard Greek lexicon of the New Testament (BDAG), you’d find, in addition to “exercise a position of leadership,” a second definition: “to have an interest in, show concern for, care for, give aid.” In light of this option, the NIV refers to “those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord,” avoiding the language of leadership altogether.
So, 1 Thessalonians 5:12 does speak of those who lead in the church, but it uses a word that reveals something crucial about the character of those leaders. They are not puffed up with their own power and prestige. They do not seek to dominate those they lead, lording it over them. They don’t see their people as cogs in some kind of church “machine.” Rather, their leadership is an expression of deep personal care. Because they care, they lead. When they lead, they do so in a loving way.
My De Pree Center colleague Dr. Scott Cormode, a professor of leadership at Fuller, talks about leadership as serving “the people entrusted to your care.” Yes, these people might be called employees or subordinates or followers. But Scott emphasizes the relational dynamic of leadership by thinking in terms of “the people entrusted to your care.”
If you’re in a position of leadership in business, education, community, church, non-profit work, and/or family, you should lead by giving direction, teaching, admonishing, and guiding. You are right to exercise the authority entrusted to you. But remember, you have been entrusted with more than just authority. There are people entrusted to your care. If you’re going to lead in a caring way, then you need to see them as people created in the image of God, not just subordinates or employees. You will be committed to their personal wellbeing as well as their professional productivity. You will listen attentively to them, hearing their ideas, dreams, longings, and losses. Your leadership will always be informed by your love for those you lead, even when you’re called upon to say hard things or make tough decisions.
Can you think of people who have been your leaders and who cared for you personally? If so, what it was it like to be led by them?
Sometimes we might think that caring leadership is appropriate in an organization like a church, but not so much in business or government. Do you think it’s possible to be an effective business leader if you care in a personal way for those you are leading?
How do you respond to Scott Cormode’s emphasis on “the people entrusted to your care?” Who are the people entrusted to your care? How do you express your care through your leadership?
If you are a leader in some context, do something intentional as a way of caring about someone you lead.
Gracious God, thank you for leaders, for those who “pilot” businesses, schools, non-profits, churches, families, and so many other organizations. Thank you for those who lead with wisdom, justice, and humility.
Today I thank you especially for leaders who care personally for those they lead. Thank you for how they think of their followers as people entrusted to their care. Thank you for their kindness, empathy, and generosity.
Help me, Lord, to be such a leader. May I never be so focused on the tasks at hand that I ignore the people entrusted to my care. May I never be so impressed by my authority that I cannot humble myself in serving others. Help me, Lord, to care in a personal way for those I am called to lead. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Trinitarian Servant Leadership.
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.