Leading by Following

If you saw the movie Saving Private Ryan, you witnessed a reenactment of the D-Day invasion up close, in brutal detail. Imagine how General Eisenhower, in command of the invasion, must have felt as he sent those young men onto the beaches. What an awesome responsibility. In many ways, what happened behind the scenes, as Eisenhower was deliberating what to do, is as powerful a story as the battle that followed, and it illustrates several biblical truths about true authority. A man who was with Eisenhower in the days prior to the Normandy invasion paints a dramatic picture. England's General Montgomery was urging Eisenhower not to invade; other generals were advising the opposite. Eisenhower never said a word. He paced back-and-forth in the room while all eyes were upon him. The fate of the whole war was in his hands—perhaps the fate of the entire world. Finally Eisenhower stopped his pacing, turned to the Generals and spoke: "All right," he said, "I have made a decision. Here is what we will do." He could not have been entirely sure that he was right, but he certainly could not convey any sense of doubt either. He gave an impressive example of a leader who strikes that delicate balance of authority without falling into authoritarianism. How do we strike that balance? We are all leaders in one arena or another, whether CEOs of corporations or parents of small families. We all need to know the biblical principles of leadership and authority. And the key to avoiding authoritarianism is through a profound awareness that, even though you lead others, God is leading you. Just as others submit to your authority, you submit to His. The best example of this was Mother Teresa: ninety tiny pounds, quiet, and meek. Yet, when this powerless nun came to Washington four years ago for the National Prayer Breakfast, in the midst of a room filled with pomp and power, she spoke with incredible moral authority and power on the subject of abortion. Her authority did not come from worldly power; it came from her submission to God, her holy life—a life spent sacrificially, serving the dying. Scripture teaches that all true authority comes from God. That means even secular leaders like Eisenhower, whether they realize it or not, point beyond themselves to the true source and locus of their authority. Christians must do even more: We can consciously strive to get our own egos out of the way and use our positions of authority to show others that there is Someone beyond ourselves to Whom we are accountable. By our gentleness and respect, we show those under our authority that we, too, are under authority. This is ultimately what commands respect from others—not bluster or bullying, but humility and a sober sense of responsibility. We should remember that authority for even a small group is a weighty responsibility. We're helping people in their walks with Christ, and that's a responsibility we can't carry alone. It may have appeared that Eisenhower carried the weight of the world on his shoulders, but he and all good leaders realize that ultimately such responsibilities are a trust from God. If we in any way glorify ourselves we forfeit the right to lead. So, whether you are leading a prayer group or a national ministry, what you should seek is not power but authority--a moral authority that comes from God. And it comes as a direct consequence of putting Him and others first.


Chuck Colson


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