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The Leadership Lie

It’s time that we told the truth about leadership.

John Maxwell, along with many others, is commonly known for teaching and writing about the idea that leadership equals influence. But, lately I’ve been thinking about how the inverse of that statement is actually false. Despite what you may have heard, influence does not equal leadership.

In the church world, we regularly use the word "leader" to describe the person in charge of something. It could be the leader of a tech team or a small group or even a staff pastor. Typically when we talk about assembling our leadership teams or our leaders, we are voicing that we want to bring together the people who are leading other people.

But the problem with this language is that everyone is not a leader. As many of us are aware Romans 12 says: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully” (NIV).

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The uncomfortable truth is that, though we have fallen in love with calling people leaders, everyone is not a leader. We confuse people by telling them they are a leader when really only a small percentage of people carry that gift. What comes with this are unintentional consequences, like creating a culture that values the gift of leadership higher than all of the other gifts. A culture in which all of the people in charge are brought together under the banner of “leader” will quickly develop a hierarchy of gifts with leadership sitting on the top of the pile.

I think it might be far more helpful to the Kingdom and to our people if we just traded out the word "leader" for the word "influence" when describing who is in charge. Using a word that isn’t attached to a specific gift leaves a blank canvas to those with other gifts that can become the means by which they influence others. The way I’m seeing this practically work itself out is that the groups of people in charge of different responsibilities would be known as influencers or some variation of that word. The hope would then be that everyone in a church community would become far more free to bring their true selves and true giftings to the influential role they play. Thus inviting each individual’s unique identity to add new colors to the canvas of your church rather than them feeling like a round peg struggling to fit through the square hole called leadership.

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