NASHVILLE—Though I believe strongly that all leaders should grow and that they should continually increase in their character and leadership skills, there is one sense in which all leaders should decrease.
When Jesus first began his ministry in Galilee, some of John the Baptist’s followers were concerned that this new teacher might gain a larger following than John. Even some of John’s key disciples (like Andrew) had started following Jesus. When John’s disciples brought this concern to his attention, John’s response was completely counterintuitive from a leadership perspective: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
John’s decrease message raises two important questions—one discipleship question and one leadership question.
The Discipleship Question. Everyone who is attempting to be a disciple and attempting to make disciples should ask themselves: How can I decrease so that Jesus can increase? Like most discipleship questions, this is a Lordship question. Every disciple of Jesus should continually ask this question, whether you’re a new believer or a spiritual giant, like John the Baptist.
The Leadership Question. Once discipleship and the Lordship of Christ are established as the foundation, we can move on to the leadership question: How can I decrease so that emerging leaders around me can increase? From a discipleship perspective, Jesus was the rabbi and John was His follower. But from a leadership perspective (in John 3), John was an established leader and Jesus was an emerging leader. So when John said that he needed to decrease and Jesus needed to increase, he was also making a statement about how biblical leadership is supposed to work.
Established leaders who want emerging leaders to grow, will have to continually find ways to decrease. For John, this meant empowering and releasing some of his own disciples to Jesus. This also meant smaller crowds and fewer baptisms. John willingly relinquished platforms and influence so that Jesus’ new ministry could grow.
When pondering this text a few days ago, I asked myself what leadership decrease means in my context. I quickly jotted down four words: Listen, Include, Finance, Trust.
1. Listen: One way that I can decrease so emerging leaders can increase is simply by talking less and listening more. Whether it’s in a staff meeting or in a private conversation, whenever I give next-generation leaders a voice, they increase and the whole team benefits.
2. Include: Another way I can decrease so that emerging leaders can increase is by including them, whether it’s in a conference speaker slot or in a lunch meeting with other senior leaders. The more we can make space at the table for young leaders, the better—even if that sometimes means giving up our seat or a session.
3. Finance: Here’s where things get practical, and expensive. In my context, if I am really serious about empowering emerging leaders, it is going to cost money. Whether than means paying for a lunch or a plane ticket, or even a seminary degree, if we are serious about elevating emerging leaders in our churches and organizations, we have to be willing to finance those leaders and their growth.
4. Trust: Trusting emerging leader sounds great, until we realize that it involves letting go of control and cleaning up the inevitable messes that occur when young leaders are empowered. But if we are serious about the growth of emerging leaders, we must continually decrease our control and trust them. They will make mistakes; but consider their mistakes as moments for growth. And continue to trust and empower.
I originally wrote these four words and brief thoughts in my Moleskine in my usual stream-of-conscience devotional writing style (that would be unreadable to anyone but me). Then I took a step back and realized that the four words (accidentally) created an acronym: LIFT! Unlike most of my devotional scribblings, I decided to blog these thoughts.
So here’s the question: What does LIFT look like for you as a leader? How can you decrease, so that emerging leaders around you can increase?