Leading by Word and Deed

“The leadership displayed by apostles was one of moving the church to action rather than merely enjoying classroom teaching.”

We all know the famous quotes about leadership. We have used them time and time again in sermons, Bible studies, or when rallying the troops for service at the church.

“Everything rises and falls on leadership.” —John Maxwell

“Leadership is influence.” —J. Oswald Sanders

“Spiritual leadership is moving people on to God’s agenda.” —Henry Blackaby

“Leadership: The art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” —Dwight D. Eisenhower

“A leader is a dealer in hope.” —Napoleon Bonaparte

Quotes are great, but actions are better. Let me share a few thoughts about how to move from one to the other.

Make your words count.

Looking into the lives of great leaders, we often observe a mastery of language. Now, this does not mean a high-brow vocabulary. Too often, leaders think that using long, technical terminology is a substitute for directional leadership. Leaders bent on using specialized language at all costs will often only confuse those they lead.

As a person with multiple graduate degrees, I obviously believe in the power of words—even technical terms in my fields of missiology and theology. I’ve read and written a lot of them—and words matter. If believers can learn to order coffee at Starbucks, then they can learn theological language. But the problem arises when more time is spent showing off our academic prowess than in guiding people to act on our values.

On Nov. 19, 1863, Edward Everett spoke for two hours about the strength of America and the sacrifice of her soldiers in defending liberty. But I bet you have never heard of him. Why? Because after he spoke, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. The entire address by Lincoln was only 246 words, and it is one of the most memorable in American history. Everett tried to overwhelm the crowd with academia. Lincoln inspired them with words that made sense to them.

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What we say should inspire action.

One of the traits that separates a leader from a spokesperson is the movement of people. A spokesperson informs us of the circumstances in an almost sterile method. When given positional leadership, a spokesperson counts it as a success when people know more. We need to know what is happening but not just for the sake of information. In fact, as many have observed, our amount of information often outpaces our willingness to act upon it. In other words, we know more than we obey. Leaders help people move into action because of knowing more.

A leader interprets what should be done in light of the circumstances. As a church leader, your words—whether in a sermon, blog post, or in a newsletter—should help people know what to do next. In 1 Chronicles 12:32, it says that the men of the tribe of Issachar “understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” We need to be the kind of leaders who rightly read the times and speak up as to the actions to take. As you read the New Testament, the leadership displayed by apostles was one of moving the church to action rather than merely enjoying classroom teaching.

Our actions should be backed up by our words. And vice versa.

Think about these four elements: what we say we believe; our assessments of circumstances; what we say we should do; and the actions we lead people to take. If there is a disconnect between any of those components to leadership, then your leadership will falter. My encouragement to you is to make an honest review of your life and leadership. If you are saying one thing and doing another, it is the proverbial “low-hanging fruit” for change. But keep pressing yourself and allow others to do the same. Ensure that the understanding you have, the assessment you communicate and the actions that follow are all in accord with one another.

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Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, is the editor-in-chief of Outreach magazine, and a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He currently serves as interim teaching pastor of Calvary Church in New York City and teaching pastor at Highpoint Church in Naperville, Illinois.

He is also regional director for Lausanne North America, and is frequently cited in, interviewed by and writes for news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. He is the founding editor of The Gospel Project, and his national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates.