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.”
I regularly encourage people to begin meeting in homes, encouraging each other, witnessing to lost people, and making disciples. I do this because I see it as the apostolic pattern in the New Testament. As I’ve encouraged people to take these steps, I’ve seen two very distinct responses: One group seems to submit more and more to Jesus and biblical truth, the other group throws out the baby with the bathwater.
Having watched people, this transition is hard. Tradition (buildings, sermons, clergy, etc.) rather than the Lordship of Christ has been what has “kept people in line” for most of their lives. This realization that the tradition doesn’t have the support of the New Testament can cause people to throw off all restraints, including God-ordained ones. So not only do they get rid of buildings, sermons, and clergy, but they throw out sound doctrine, Scriptural purity, any kind of spiritual discipline, and commitment to other believers. These are quickly ship-wrecked in their walk with the Lord, because they aren’t just getting rid of traditions, they are getting rid of Christ’s lordship over their lives.
Which brings us to the topic of anarchy. The idea of anarchy is borrowed from the realm of government. It means a society without a government or more specifically a land not ruled by a king. The Church for a long time has submitted to illegitimate heads (think the Pope or abusive evangelical leadership structures) but the cure for the church is not “losing its heads.” The cure isn’t anarchy. The cure for the church is recovering submission to its true head: Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 5:23).
Instead of anarchy, instead of calling believers to throw off all restraint, our task is to call men and women to submit to Christ more fully and express that in ways that grow ever closer to the pattern we see in Scripture. We’re not looking for anarchy. We’re looking for the true headship of Christ expressed in His body. This is more like a reformation, where the very operating system of the church is reformatted and brought closer to it’s original design, than a free-for-all where we can pick and choose what parts of the Gospel we like or not.
So let’s test our previous assumptions. But let’s test them, not in the light of “doing whatever is right in our own eyes,” (Judges 17:6) but in relationship to Christ’s Lordship that we understand through a diligent and faithful study of God’s word. Let’s submit to the Kingship of God and find life and power beyond our understanding. Let’s pursue a reformation of the church and the removal of illegitimate kings, but let’s not throw away the kingship. Let’s just give it to the Man who deserves it: Jesus.
Tonight I was on the phone with one of my good friends from Kansas City that I haven’t had a chance to chat with in a while. I was describing some of the wins we are experiencing and some of the challenges that are occurring at the same time. After two or three minutes, my friend gently broke into the conversation and challenged me. “You know what you should be spending your time doing right now is developing leaders for your third and fourth house church right now, right?”
I was dumbfounded (for a couple of reasons). I was shocked by how quickly he saw straight into the heart of some of the problems I’ve been facing. But more than that, I was shocked at how obvious what he was saying was and how clearly I had missed that fact. It seems that in preparing a church for the harvest, I had totally neglected leadership development in our midst.
But the conversation gets right to the heart of a problem that I believe we face in the West. Our ability to reach further into the harvest depends significantly on our ability to raise up new, harvest-minded leaders in our midst. We think finding the harvest is our biggest issue. We often forget that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.
Join me today in praying that God would raise up workers for His harvest here and where you are.