I want you to think of someone that you believe is a great leader. Go ahead… think of someone that you respect as a leader. Have you got their name in your mind? Now, answer this question. What qualities do they posses that make them a great leader?
I’m sure that if we surveyed 100 pastors with that question we would get some pretty consistent answers. We would hear qualities listed like visionary, entrepreneur, integrity, risk-taker, decisive, communicator, faith, courage, inspirational and focused.
And all of those certainly can be qualities of great leaders. But Hebrews 5 describes a spiritual leader and what is interesting about the passage is that we find some additional qualities that wouldn’t make the typical list.
Hebrews 5:1 (NIV) says Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.
I believe when God inspired the writing of Scripture, that there was an economy of words. In other words, I think every word matters. So, why does God make it a point to say that the priest is “selected from among the people?”
Here is my best conjecture. I think he is reminding us that those who serve in ministry are simply everyday, sinful, ordinary, flawed, human beings that God happened to tap on the shoulder. As pastors, we are not a different class of people. We are not better than or superior to those we serve. We are selected out from among the people.
Healthy leaders hold the belief that we are “selected”. We have a calling. God indeed has tapped us on the shoulder and chosen us to serve Him in ministry. That is an incredible privilege. But we also hold the belief that our selection is a calling of the ordinary.
Then the passage goes on to say that the priest is appointed to represent the people. That statement is a poignant reminder that my ministry is on behalf of people. That statement reflects unselfishness and self-sacrifice. A true, spiritual leader authentically cares for people.
Tucked away in the Old Testament book of Exodus is a poignant illustration that paints a picture of a very personal God who puts a high premium on people. In this passage, God builds into the regular priestly duties a constant reminder that ministry is about people. These two verses serves as a compelling example of how God wants us to view those we shepherd in ministry.
Whenever Aaron enters the Holy Place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart on the breastpiece of decision as a continuing memorial before the LORD.30 Also put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastpiece, so they may be over Aaron’s heart whenever he enters the presence of the LORD. Thus Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the LORD. Exodus 28:29-30 (NIV)
Every time Aaron went to perform his priestly duties, he was reminded of God’s heart for the people of Israel. Each gem in the four rows of stones represented a different tribe of Israel. Every man, every woman, every boy and every girl was represented in those stones. There wasn’t one person in all of Israel that God didn’t love or care about. And God wanted Aaron to authentically love and care for the flock.
I am struck by the last part of verse 30 Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart. The people were to be the filter by which Aaron made decisions. In other words, Aaron needed to constantly ask the question “what is best for the people?” It would serve us well to train ourselves and those who lead with us to ask the same question.
God wanted the people to be on Aaron’s heart. This seems painfully obvious, and yet we consistently lose perspective. It was possible for Aaron to carry these stones on the breastpiece but yet his own heart be far from the people. It was possible for him to carry out his priestly duties and yet be relationally distant from the very people he was called to serve. More than I want to admit, I have preached sermons and led meetings and cast vision and made plans not as a shepherd who loved his sheep but as a leader obsessed with a cause.
“The whole cause of our ministry must also be carried on in a tender love for our people. We must let them see that nothing pleases us more than what profits them. We should show them that what does them good does us good also. We should feel that nothing troubles us more than what hurts them.” Richard Baxter
So, in all your leading and preaching and planning and strategizing, don’t ever forget to have the people on your heart.