The Temptation of Leadership


If I told you I wanted you to “practice leadership”, what would you do?

Practice, in general has two main characteristics:

1. Previous – it happens before it is needed.

2. Private – it happens away from the intended audience.

Practice isn’t just for beginners. In fact, the best of the best, usually become the best, because they practice the most.

Even elite athletes, like AFL players, will practice every week, for most of the week. Especially before big games, the high pressure encounters like finals that can make or break a season, practice is taken very seriously. So seriously, that sometimes a club will hold secret training and ban the media and supporters so they can hold “closed sessions”.

Playing without practicing never happens.

Practice is the leader of performance.

So, again, if I told you I wanted you to “practice leadership”, what would you do?

For many people, they see leadership as something that happens in the context of the people they lead. So if practice has to happen before you are leading people, and it has to happen in private, away from those people, what can you actually do?

I’ll get back to that in a moment. Firstly, I want to let you into an insight from my failed calling as a concert pianist 😉

When I used to play piano in public, my practice consisted of two main elements.

1. Playing the actual piece(s) that I would be performing.

2. Practicing the basics, mainly scales, that are not fun to either do or watch, and would never be performed in public.

Although preaching is different to a piano recital, I realised the other day, when I was preparing to preach, that I still “rehearse” the actual piece that I “perform”, but what are my “scales”?

At first, I thought it was probably things like prayer, worship, reading the word and so on. But I do all of those things when I’m not preaching. So maybe it’s things like studying – checking concordances and commentaries.

Then I felt like God asked me to fast.

I knew it was God’s idea, not my idea, because I HATE fasting!

Before you click onto another more comfortable blog, I’m NOT saying that fasting is the practice you need to do. But it does help suggest what leadership practice could be.

See, here’s the thing.

The first time Jesus used the word “lead” is very interesting. It was in the context of daily prayer.

“And lead us

not into temptation,

but deliver us

from evil:

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” (Matthew 6:13)

Leadership is the precursor context to the kingdom, power and glory of God.

And it’s a very particular type of leadership. This leadership is all about temptation.

And it is leadership that has two components; not this, but that.

Not towards the very heart of temptation, but away from the kind of evil you need to be delivered from. It’s a directional thing. It’s firstly not heading towards the temptation you’re not in (yet), and secondly being delivered out of the evil you are already in.

What’s also interesting to me, is that the gospels only record one specific case of Jesus being “led” by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 4, Luke 4). When Holy Spirit God was leading Jesus God, He did it before the “performance” of his ministry, and he did it in the wilderness, away from those He would minister to.

And what was the purpose for this divine leadership of God by God? Temptation.
“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.” (Matthew 4:1)

Being led to be tempted, is not the sort of leadership lesson that inspires people to shout “Hallelujah!”. But, remember, this is the ONLY time, that we see God specifically leading God. So it’s significant, even if it’s not pleasant.

It’s almost comical to me that when the devil decides to tempt God, the battle ground is bread.

Baked goods, really? I mean, I love a donut as much as Homer Simpson, but seriously? I would have thought for the “special occasion” of the temptation of Christ, God and the devil would climb into a boxing ring the size of the universe. And they wouldn’t start throwing punches with feeble flesh and sinew like we have, surely? They could fling not just planets or solar systems at each other, they could load up their canons with entire galaxies, right? And I mean they must have advanced technologies that we haven’t even discovered yet! I can imagine God literally unloading voice-activated forces of light and life creating colour and music marching across the Milky Way, as satan under the cover of darkness unleashes demons of death and destruction to turn planets ‘off’ just like a switch… but we don’t have to imagine what it looks like when God and the Devil battle it out, because the bible makes it clear.

It happens with an individual’s private temptation in a time of deprivation.

Fasting isn’t the only way to deal with temptation, but it’s a good start. As a divorced person, I have “fasted” from sex since my husband and I separated. But that alone doesn’t mean I have mastered temptation.

The brother of Jesus, James, puts it this way “ Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) When God and the Devil are fighting, you’re the referee. And temptation is not just about what you do and don’t do, it’s also about a deeper emotional engagement – what you submit yourself to, and what you resist.

When I see baked goods, my natural inclination is to totally consume them – every last crumb. And most of the time, that’s fine. But there are times, in both practice and performance, we need to resist.

We need to practice submission and resistance. We need to do it over and over again. What do we enthusiastically embrace and enjoy? Are they the God things – like giving, worshiping, forgiving, reconciling? Or is there a twinge of the resistance in it?

For me, fasting is one of those things, where I might never be able to fully embrace it, or I’ll at least need more practice. But fasting isn’t the only part of mastering temptation that we need.

If Jesus had only fasted, and not been led by the Spirit, and not engaged in the “It is written” part of the battle, I’m not sure the outcome would have been so good. Jesus wasn’t even led into the fasting bit until after He’d had a spectacular revelation of Father’s approval and love. And even after “winning”, He needed angels to come and strengthen Him.

If Jesus needed all of that to resist temptation, us mere flesh certainly need a revelation of God’s approval, the word and Spirit, and all the help heaven will provide!

And remember, this is just the practice, before we actually start leading people.

If piano players and football players need to practice both the performance and the basics, so do we. Yes, we need to practice all of the leadership skills that we do in public.

But if we, as leaders, are to lead people, even in the Lord’s simple prayer, we need to be leaders who are practiced and skillful in handling temptation in private, too.

Pass the donuts…. 🙂

When you take a fresh look at Christ’s teachings, there’s often an element of temptation that He is leading people out of (if they’re already in it), or away from (if they’re in danger of getting into it). The Prodigal Son was tempted by unrighteous living, the elder son was tempted by self-righteous living. The woman caught in adultery was tempted by unrighteous living, her accusers were tempted by self-righteous living.

We shouldn’t be shocked when our flock say they are battling with temptation. In fact, we should encourage them that they have just signed up for Leadership 101 – The first practice session for all leaders who Father deeply approves of when He is preparing them for the real thing – the kingdom, power and glory of God! Amen.

Now THAT is tempting!

So, I’ll ask again, if I told you I wanted you to “practice leadership”, what would you do?


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