By Loulwa El Maalouf
Political leaders in my country, Lebanon, have continuously shown that they are the best in so many areas! The best in escaping accountability, the best in finding creative ways for corruption, and the best in attracting blind followers.
I have recently been doing a lot of reading on leadership theories, styles, and models as part of my PhD studies in Organizational Leadership at Columbia International University. Each time I study a theory or style, several leaders from around the Arab world, and particularly from my Lebanese context, come to mind. One of these theories is about charismatic leaders. People find it easy to follow a charismatic leader simply because of how they convey themselves and connect with followers at an emotional level.
Lebanon has suffered for the last few decades under failed leaders. These are leaders who seek their own personal well-being and have their own agendas that fit under the interests of foreign entities. They attract followers and servants through the ugly power of clientelism. And they give the image to their followers that it’s all about them and protecting them from the other. They “speak the language of the people,” as my colleague Emad Botros put it to me. Most of them are charismatic leaders who have followers that in turn express that they are ready to die for them. Ironically, as a result of the economic crisis, internal conflicts, and a recent port explosion, people are actually dying and experiencing extreme suffering because of these same leaders that they follow.
I am not surprised that such political leaders are unfit to care for their people. After all, when the people of God asked Him for a king to rule over them, His reply was that this king would seek his own glory and good at their own expense.
“This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. […] He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. […] Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.” 1 Sam 8:11-17
This is similar to what is happening in Lebanon. The leaders have used their followers and enslaved them through clientelism while they have simultaneously stolen people’s life savings from the banks. However, I am not giving up on all political leaders, nor am I giving them an excuse to act in these ways. I do hope that someday we will reach a place where people will actually vote godly men and women into authority. But my first concern is the Church. After all, we are the salt and light of the world. It starts with us.
When Christ’s disciples were arguing over who was the greatest,
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matt 20:25-29
We are reminded that as followers of Christ, we are expected to be leaders in His image. Leaders who are ready to serve and who are not looking for their own glory. Servant leadership provides the good basis of a leader that serves others first, but being a servant leader is not enough. To change the status quo, we need to also focus on results. We need a model that encompasses servant leadership and goes beyond it.
R. Scott Rodin, in his book The Steward Leader: Transforming People, Organizations and Communities, talks about a different type of leader, a Steward Leader. One who is God-centered and seeking to joyfully obey God’s calling to leadership by empowering the right people to manage resources faithfully for the purpose of caring for and growing God’s work.
My hope is to see more steward leaders in our churches and Christian organizations than we see charismatic leaders. There is no doubt that a steward leader may be charismatic, but the main objective for a steward leader is to be faithful to God. According to Rodin a steward leader understands that ultimately God is the owner, and that they are accountable to Him. He or she is expected to act and lead according to the will and purposes of the owner. Rodin speaks about a lot of areas and trajectories that are important to a steward leader, including how they relate to God, to others, to the community, and to creation. What was a highlight for me was the first characteristic for a steward leader: being a man (or woman) of no reputation.
In a culture characterized by shame and honor like the Lebanese one, reputation is extremely important. Leaders care about what people think and say about them. Even accusing someone of something negative (even if it is true) can create a huge issue because we consider that our name is connected with our dignity, and our dignity is as important to us as life itself. “Do not insult my dignity” is a phrase that is often heard in arguments, sometimes on talk shows on TV. Unfortunately, this can be the situation even in our churches and among our church leaders.
Rodin affirms that Christ was a man seeking no reputation. We read in Philippians chapter two what the early Church sang about Christ’s humility, specifically in verse seven which asserts that He made Himself nothing; some translations use the term made himself of no reputation. His purpose was to do the will of the Father. He aimed to bring glory to the name of the Father and to obey Him.
The apostle Paul uses that song to tell us that this is exactly the mindset of Christ. He expects us to have that mindset as we relate to one another and how we serve one another. As leaders, or followers of Christ, are we ready to be men and women who seek no reputation? Are we really ready to die to ourselves so that Christ is glorified instead?
At ABTS, we are in the business of training and equipping leaders for the purpose of serving the Church. My prayer is that we will be good examples of steward leaders who do not seek their own good, wealth, position, power, or reputation but, like Christ, have as our ultimate concern to do the will of the Father (John 6:38).
Lebanon needs steward leaders. Leaders who do not seek their own reputation and well-being; rather, who are ready to deny themselves to serve others and bring results: good stewardship that leads the country out of its multiple crises. I hope that leaders of our churches and Christian organizations can serve as good models of what godly steward leaders look like, for the benefit of the whole country and the region.
Loulwa El Maalouf serves as the Director of Partnerships at ABTS. She loves Lebanon and is continuously amazed at how God uses dire situations to make Himself known.