Leadership expert McNeal says great leaders bless others

HOUSTON?Striving to be a great leader in God’s kingdom is not at odds with the Christian virtues of humility and service, said Reggie McNeal, the director of leadership development for the South Carolina Baptist Convention, during the second of three Church Leadership Conference regional events hosted by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

McNeal was the keynote speaker during the Sept. 23 conference at Houston-area Spring Baptist Church.

With the church desperately needing great leaders and the world starved for God’s blessings, McNeal said making the decision to become great is crucial to serving the world, connecting to God’s agenda, and becoming kingdom-minded.

“A lot of times when I teach Christian leaders, they get nervous when I start throwing around the word ‘great’ as if that is something we aren’t supposed to be fooling with,” said McNeal, the author of multiple church leadership books, including “Practicing Greatness: Seven Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders,” published last year by Jossey-Bass.

Using the illustration of the disciples quarreling over who would be the greatest in God’s kingdom in Mark 9:33-37, McNeal directed attention to Jesus’ response.

“It is interesting [Jesus] does not say, ‘you guys ought not talk about greatness.’ Jesus doesn’t put them down for wanting to be great in the kingdom, but what he does is re-content what greatness is about. Jesus assumes if you are a leader in the kingdom, you want to be a great one.”

Serving the world

While Jesus does not dismiss the importance of being great, his actions give believers parameters for greatness, McNeal said, adding that two qualifications for greatness are humility and a servant spirit.

“There are plenty of platform people who have humility. It has no correlation with whether you are up front on Sundays. And there are plenty of people who work in the shadows who are incredibly ambitious and have no humility at all. Humility is not about your position, it’s about your attitude.”

The idea of Christian service should also be re-examined, McNeal said, indicating that the church has “reduced service into a too-narrow bandwidth.” By looking at Jesus, McNeal said it is obvious that he served people in many different ways.

“We only think of service with a towel and a basin or doing something with cleaning feet. But Jesus served people when he challenged the rich young ruler with his lifestyle, when he drove the religious people out of the temple, and when he healed people. Those are all examples of service.”

Greatness begins with service, and the most practical application of serving others, McNeal said, is blessing others.

The distinguishing factor between good leaders and great leaders, McNeal said, is “great leaders bless people.”

“And I’m here to plead with you, go for great because our world is desperate for leaders who will bless people,” said McNeal, pointing out that the media is replete with images of people “who are running around with demagoguery, cursing, tearing people down.”

Connecting to God’s agenda

A service strategy of blessing is mandatory to effectively serve modern culture, he said, noting that service must occur outside the church. When believers interact with unchurched people, they become connected to God’s agenda for the church by participating in his redemptive mission for the world.

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