Skin in the Game: Leaders

This week I’ve been writing about the concept of “skin in the game” and how it relates to the Kingdom of God.

Today, I want to look at one of the most crucial areas for believers to have skin in the game: leaders.

Leaders are a funny thing in the body of Christ. Some people get angry that I acknowledge that they exist. Others get mad when I say that not everyone who calls themselves a leader is one. The truth comes down to skin in the game.

Yes, leaders exist. But not everyone who calls themselves a leader is one. Neither is everyone who is called a pastor, bishop, elder, or apostle a leader. Leadership is determined not by who has a title, but who is leading. The critical element to understand about leading is that it’s not primarily a title or a position. Leading is a verb.

Leading happens when people do something that others haven’t. Leaders are those who pave the way for others, allowing them to do what they couldn’t on their own. Because of this, only the people who have skin in the game are truly leading. It’s impossible to lead people in teaching the Bible if you have a weak understanding of what the Bible says. Only people with skin in the game can truly lead.

I could give a million examples of this, but let me start with one outside of the body of Christ.

Silicon Valley has been in the forefront of developing the technology that powers our smart phones, tablets, and the rest of our internet-connected world. These changes to society have particularly affected our children. However, when you poll those who are leading these changes to society and ask them whether they allow their children to have access to the technologies they develop, the answer is a resounding “no.” While these leaders profit from people being in front of “screens,” they know the harm that screens have on the development of children, and in a very real sense, they don’t have their “skin in the game.”

The opposite is true of every real leader in the body of Christ. In any way that a leader wants to make progress in the church, he or she must allow that work to be done in him or her prior to leading others. This costly process is the definition of skin in the game.

Christian leadership material abounds with admonitions to leaders that they must model the change they want to see. Leaders who want to see a group of people reach the lost must model the evangelistic heart they want to see others adopt. Pastors who teach submission to the body of Christ, must themselves submit, not just to a bishop or board, but to the body of Christ. Leaders cannot just tell the rest of body to serve. They need to serve and as they do, the body of Christ will respond and follow in their example of service.

Leaders can’t ask the body of Christ to do what they’re not willing to do themselves. Leaders can’t lead through slick speeches. That’s not leadership, it’s dictatorship. It lacks skin in the game. Skin in the game takes time, patience, and faith, and for those reasons, many make the mistake of pursuing other ways to lead. When they do, they step outside of God’s plan for His Kingdom.

Brothers and sisters, I leave this series the same way I started it:

“Have skin in the game.

Partner with others who have skin in the game.

Don’t waste a lot of time and energy on those who don’t.”

Photo Credit: Silhouette of People on Hill by Jehyun Sung


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About traviskolder

Travis Kolder is a follower of Jesus, a husband, a father of five, an organic church planter, and a writer. He lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he serves as part of the Cedar Rapids House Church Network.

3 responses to “Skin in the Game: Leaders”

  1. David Bolton says :

    Amen! Well said, my brother!

  2. David Bolton says :

    Interestingly, after reading your post and commenting, I happened to finish listening to the last chapters of the audiobook, “Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World – The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance.” An absolutely mind-boggling book and, in light of your post, it describes the quintessential example of an extraordinary leader (Shackleton) who LITERALLY had “SKIN IN THE GAME!” Your post made those last chapters that much more poignant! Thanks again, my brother!

    (You gotta put that one on your reading list! Awesome!! 😉 )

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