Leadership, whether of an organization or of a Bible study or of a family, is a burden. A joyful burden much of the time, but a burden nonetheless. Oswald Sanders said it like this: “The world is run by tired men. Mediocrity is the result of never getting tired. Fatigue is the price of leadership.” In other words, leading is the willingness to pick up the burden. But most of the time, we think of that burden in “strategic” terms.
If you do a cursory search on “leadership” you’ll find all kinds of resources, most of which have numbers associated with them. You can 5 Ways or 7 Methods or 14 Theories. The vast majority of these resources deal in strategy, and they should. That is one burden of leadership; you are responsible for the overall vision and perspective of the people under your care. But it can’t really stop there. As a leader, whether in the home or in the church, we bear the burden for what we are leading, but we also must bear the burdens of whom we are leading.
In pastoral ministry, for example, the burden you bear cannot be exclusively in terms of the vision of the church. The burden must take on a more personal nature. Same thing is true in a family, or even in a small group or Bible study. The burden is not only the crafting of and guarding of a clear vision; the “burden” has faces. Problems. Sicknesses. Pain. The burden-bearing leader is one who is not isolated from those he or she leads, but instead is checked into the real issues the people under their care are walking through.
It’s this kind of burden-bearing Paul described in Galatians 6:1-2:
“Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
This passage is about more than stewarding a compelling vision for an organization or a family; it’s about people, and the willingness to come alongside those people in the day-to-day lifting. It seems to me that this is not just a single moment, but instead a lifestyle of investment. To that end, here are three characteristics of the burden-bearing leader:
1. The burden-bearing leader is available.
Time is a commodity like most other things. As a commodity, it is in limited supply. And the greater the leadership responsibility, the greater demand on the time. It’s tempting, then, to want to have a very insulated leadership kind of style – to focus on the big picture and to not come into the details. Unfortunately, it’s those details that are the most representative of people. The burden-bearing leader must, then, be available. This availability is also a responsibility, and it must have limits. But the leader who is available is the one who is going to err on the side of making accommodation to their time or their schedule if they can.
2. The burden-bearing leader is long-suffering.
One of the tendencies we have in leadership is to desire quick fixes to problems. We want to have the meeting, send the email, or have the drop in conversation and resolve the issue quickly and succinctly. And while that might work in some instances, it rarely does when you consider the people involved. Instead, the burden-bearing leader makes the choice to be long-suffering. They are willing to not just a conversation once, but to actually engage in that conversation and to have it again and again. It’s this kind of long-suffering investment that will mark someone who recognizes they are doing more than leading a nameless and faceless entity, but instead stewarding some part of the lives of those whom God has seen fit to put under their care.
3. The burden-bearing leader is listening.
Nothing makes a person feel less like a person than when someone gives only cursory notice to their issue. Conversely, nothing is quite as uplifting as when you know you have the absolute and undivided attention of the person you are speaking to. For a leader, there are lots of voices, and each one needs to be heard. The tendency for us whether in the home, the workplace, or the church is to try and have as many conversations as possible in a span of time. But many times, less is actually more. The burden-bearing leader does the simplest thing that can make the most difference – they actually listen. They look and concentrate. They are fully engaged in the conversation they are having. And in so doing, they are recognizing the creature before them is created in the image of God.
Leadership is a burden. And many times, it’s a heavy one. But as leaders we can cultivate the kind of habits that will not only make us bearers of the burden of what we are leading, but of whom we are leading.