Isaiah 65-66, Philemon 1
What is the best way to lead people? You may be a leader in some area of your life, at school, at work, at Church, among your friends, on a sports team, in your marriage, with your children etc… Most of us have had some experience being a leader and I’m going to guess that everyone has had the experience of having a leader, probably many, in your life.
There are a number of leadership styles. Authoritarian leaders impose expectations and define outcomes. It’s a very top down approach. It’s efficient and sometimes required, but doesn’t always create a great experience for those being led. If you’re the parent of a 2 year old, it’s pretty much the only leadership style. But what works with a 2 year old doesn’t work as well with a 16 year old, or with your spouse. It might work okay if you’re the manager of a fast food restaurant with a bunch of first time teen-age employees, but probably not so well if you are managing a medical practice with a group of physicians.
Participative leadership is more democratic and helps people feel more engaged, but it can be more time-consuming and lead to poor decisions if the employees participating lack necessary information or skills.
Delegative leaders step back and let the members of the team set their own agendas, which in the right environment can produce a lot of creativity, but can also lead to disunity.
Transactional leaders use a lot of carrot and stick, reward and punishment. They give clear expectations and offer clear feedback and immediate rewards and punishments. It works well getting a 7 year old to clean her room or finish her vegetables, but doesn’t inspire a lot of creativity in capable adults.
Transformational leaders inspire with a vision and then encourage and empower followers to achieve that vision. They act as a role model. This type of leadership is not coercive and leads to high morale. To learn more check out: https://www.imd.org/imd-reflections/reflection-page/leadership-styles/
Great leaders adjust their leadership style to the appropriate context and situation. The little book of Philemon is a wonderful case study on Christian leadership. The Apostle Paul writes to his disciple, Philemon, about their mutual acquaintance, Onesimus. Paul and Philemon were brothers in Jesus Christ. Paul was responsible for Philemon coming to faith in Christ. Now, Philemon was a leader in the Church and actually had a congregation that met in his home. When he wrote the letter to Philemon Paul was in jail, probably in Rome awaiting his trial. While in prison he met Onesimus. Onesimus was a runaway slave who had been the property of Philemon. It seems that Onesimus became a follower of Jesus Christ through Paul while they were in prison. Onesimus had become a supportive helper to Paul. Paul has a dilemma. He has two Christian brothers, Philemon, a slave owner and Onesimus, a runaway slave. Paul wants Philemon to release Onesimus from his enslavement and either welcome him back not as a slave but as a fellow Christian, or allow him to return to Paul and support him while he’s awaiting trial.
So what leadership style does Paul use? He could have played the authoritarian card and said “Philemon, I’m an Apostle, I met Jesus personally, I brought you to faith, and now I order you to release Onesimus.” Under Roman law Philemon had the right to demand Onesimus’ return. He was not legally obligated to release him. Legally, under Roman law Paul had no authority to force Philemon to let Onesimus go. Paul practiced transformational leadership. He inspired Philemon and gave him a vision of how being a follower of Jesus Christ can transform a person and their values and relationships. He gave him a vision of Onesimus as more than property or an asset, but as a person, a child of God, as a fellow heir of the kingdom of God bought from slavery to sin and death through the blood of Jesus Christ.
In using this leadership style Paul creates space for the spirit of God to transform Philemon’s heart, and have a much wider impact on the Church (for nearly 2000 years). Hopefully, other Christian slave owners saw Philemon’s example and also chose to release their slaves and welcome them as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Paul uses his personal relationship with Philemon to persuade and inspire him to recognize what Paul had done for him and what Paul was inviting him to do for Onesimus. This is a great example of persuasive transformational leadership. In times when God calls you to be a leader either at school, at work, in your family, at Church, in community, or wherever you might be called to lead, remember Paul’s great example of how to be a transformational leader.
The passage in Isaiah also gives a glimpse of leadership. In this instance. God is leading his disobedient and rebellious children, Israel. God’s leadership style here might be interpreted as transactional. God has punished Israel for their idolatrous and rebellious ways. God also promises better days ahead for those who faithfully listen to God and walk in the ways of obedience. Ultimately, God is a transformational leader calling people to look to the vision of a new heaven and a new earth to inspire them to faithfulness now. God doesn’t enjoy punishing the disobedient. It’s true that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”(Provers 9:10), but ultimately God wants us to respond to Him out of love- to love him with all our hearts (Deuteronomy 6:5). God always leads in exactly the way we need, because He is the perfect leader. Let us follow Him and learn from Him just as Paul (and hopefully Philemon) did.
-Pastor Jeff Fletcher