I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

Genesis 12:2-3

 

Implied "I owe you" written as I.O.U. in a black & white text image.

In Genesis 12:2-3, we learn that God will bless Abram, not mainly for Abram’s benefit, but so that he might be a blessing to others. “I will bless you, and make your name great,” says the Lord, “so that you will be a blessing.”

In the past couple of days, we have been considering ways that God has blessed us as leaders so that we might bless others. Today, I want to think with you about these “others.”

If we seek to identify the “others” whom we might bless through our leadership, the most obvious choice would be those who follow our leadership directly. If you lead a company, then your employees are in the center of your “others.” Or, if you are the leader of a team at work, then those on the team are some of our “others.” Your leadership can be a blessing to the members of your team. It can also be a curse, of course. Many people work for leaders who are narcissistic, overly demanding, even cruel. We who seek to honor God in our leadership should not only avoid such qualities, but, in fact, should develop in our leadership their opposites. If we want to bless other people, we should be other centered, fair in our expectations, and kind.

Because we are blessed to bless others, our commitment to the good of those who follow our leadership is not an option. Max De Pree, in Leadership Is an Art, describes leaders in terms of what they owe others. Leaders, according to Max, accept a certain kind of indebtedness that is essential to good leadership. Here are some of the things that leaders owe:

Besides owing assets to their institutions, leaders owe the people in those institutions certain things. Leaders need to be concerned with the institutional value system which, after all, leads to the principles and standards that guide the practices of the people in the institution. Leaders owe a clear statement of the values of the organization” (p. 14).

Leaders owe a covenant to the corporation or institution, which is, after all, a group of people. Leaders owe the organization a new reference point for what caring, purposeful, committed people can be in the institutional setting” (p. 15).

Leaders owe people space, space in the sense of freedom. Freedom in the sense of enabling our gifts to be exercised. We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion. And in giving each other the gift of space, we need also to offer the gifts of grace and beauty to which each of us is entitled” (pp. 16-17).

In my life as a leader, I have found Max’s discussion of indebtedness to be both intriguing and challenging. If I think of my leadership of the center that bears Max’s name as accepting indebtedness, then I am less likely to think that I can lead the center in whatever direction suits me. I am challenged to discover what I owe to the leaders whom the center serves, to my colleagues and collaborators, to Fuller Seminary, to our community, to the church, and to the wider world. Thinking in terms of indebtedness stretches my vision and keeps me humble.

When we “pay” what we owe those whom we lead, we are stewarding well the blessings given to us. We are using our blessings to bless others.

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

Who are the people whom you bless through your leadership?

In what specific ways are you able to bless those who directly follow your leadership?

How do you respond to Max’s notion of indebtedness? What do you owe to those you lead?

PRAYER:

Gracious God, thanks for the moving account of your call to Abram in Genesis 12. Thanks for how this story reminds us that we have been blessed in order to bless others.

Help us, Lord, to know those whom we are to bless through our leadership. Teach us how to think of ourselves as people who owe certain things to those we lead. Help us to faithfully “pay” what we owe, stewarding well the blessings you have given to us. Amen.

 

This post originally published on September 19, 2015.

 

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentaryServant Leadership (John 13:1-20)
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