Leading From Behind

In her 2010 article, “Leading From Behind,” Professor Linda A. Hill proposed that the most effective business leaders in the future will (as the title implies) lead from behind. She borrowed the phrase from none other than Nelson Mandela. Mandela stated that a good shepherd, “stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”

I am certainly not a business leader, so I can’t effectively comment on how such a tactic would work in the world of commerce. As an employee, I never ran into a business leader who employed such a tactic. In the places I used to work, someone told me what to do, and I did it. (Although now that I think about it, there were times when I led from behind as an employee. But don’t tell my bosses I said that.)

Not Everyone Agrees

One of our more recent presidents has been accused of leading our country that way. In fact, Richard Miniter wrote a book with the same title as Professor Hill’s article about that president’s leadership (or, from his perspective, the lack thereof). Apparently, not everyone agrees with Mandela.

From a theological perspective, I find Mandela’s statement to be fascinating. The reason for this is his statement that good shepherds lead from behind—or as we usually like to say, they drive their flocks. He is literally correct, of course, but there is one notable exception to this. In Israel, the shepherds lead their flocks—they don’t follow them. As we know, in the Old Testament, Israel’s kings were called their shepherds. Israel was to listen to the shepherd’s voice and follow him.

Then Jesus came along. He was referred to as the Great Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20). Jesus verified this in John 10 when he said (among other things), “He goes on ahead of them.” This metaphor would not have worked in another culture where the shepherd followed.

Then arose the church. Somewhere along the way, the church decided that pastors (another word for shepherds) should be like Jesus—they should lead, and the congregation should follow. Sounds a bit scary, but we basically said, “We’ll pay you to speak, and we’ll follow where your voice takes us.” It all sounds good on paper, but it’s neither Biblical nor practical.

Pastors Aren’t Jesus

First of all, the church is an all-volunteer organization for all things at all times. I’ve never run into the parishioner (let alone an entire flock) who does everything the pastor says to do. Secondly, pastors aren’t Jesus. I’ve never known a pastor who has it together like Jesus.

The fact is (at least as I see it), a good pastor can neither lead from behind nor from the front. Pastors can’t sit back and hope the church does everything right, nor can they bark orders and expect things to happen.

In actuality, a good pastor leads from among the sheep. That pastor understands who he (or she) is. [To be continued…]

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

The Picture on the Piano

Now that I’m retired, I often get to sit beside my lovely Bride during Sunday worship—a perk I seldom had in my long life as a pastor. Another perk, which I relish, is attending worship with a variety of congregations of all sorts, shapes, sizes, and styles.

This morning I worshiped with a few new friends in an independent congregation that gathers in the all-purpose room in a local school. Ah, the joys of independence. Not having your own building can be a pain, but the freedom it affords definitely offsets the maledictions it can bring.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the service, there was a single moment that stood out more than the rest to me. The preacher mentioned something that I think about from time to time. The fact that he mentioned it was not as startling as was the way he said it. If I remember correctly, his words were something like, “Someday you will be a framed picture on someone’s piano.” Let that one sink in for a while.

Four Generations

How many people do you remember from a generation ago—two generations ago? Most of us probably can’t pull up very many memories concerning such people. If you have vivid memories of people from three generation ago, you’re really lucky. Even seeing a photo of a family with four surviving generations is a rarity. That certainly didn’t happen very much in my family, and the opportunity for it happening again is fleeting.

It causes me to wonder how long after I’m gone that my framed photo will last on someone’s piano. How much of an impact did I make (even on my own family)? How much of an impression will I leave on the world? We’d all like to think we have some importance as we journey through this world. But most of us produce far less consequence than we’d like to imagine (Facebook not withstanding).

The Apostle Paul warns us not to think more highly of ourselves than we should (Romans 12:3). Still, since most of us are at the center of our own universe, it’s rather tough to follow his suggestion. Maybe that’s why we take so many selfies. After this morning, I’m tempted to come up with a decent photo of myself and get it copied and framed for all who have pianos. Someone’s bound to get the hint.

“A Distant Relative”

The real problem is that soon there won’t be many people left to tell my story. Somebody might be able to say something like, “That guy was a distant relative.” Beyond that, I will just be another pretty face (quit laughing).

Ultimately, the framed photo will end up in some antique shop. No one will buy it unless there’s something unique about it. Eventually, it will end up in a trash heap. I guess the best strategy at this point is to do the most we can with the time we have left. The good we do just might be the only thing that will last.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]