THE EXHORTING LEADER
The Two Sides of Exhortation
In this post we’re going to delve a bit into spiritual gifts. I’ve probably read all the pros and cons of using spiritual gifts as a leadership fitness tool. I’m aware of the argument that the “gifts” we have in scripture may be a sampling and not meant to be a complete list of all the God-given gifts the Lord has made available to us. I’m also aware of the fact that determining a leader’s gifting doesn’t give us the entire picture of a particular leader’s God-given design, or necessarily point said leader toward a particular type of ministry. Having said all of that, I still think that examining the spiritual gifts, talents, abilities (depending on how you look at it) of a person can be of help, particularly as it pertains to a significant leadership role.
I’m thinking primarily today of the gift of “exhortation”, or Parakaleo, in the Greek. Now, don’t freak out because I’m not going to go into a deep study of the word or attempt to show off my almost non-existent familiarity with Greek. It is, though, becoming clear to me that the word has two “sides/parts.” In Romans 12:8 (NIV) it is listed along with a few other gifts: “If it is encouraging (parakesis), let him encourage (parakaleo); 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.”
The word (parakaleo), which is the same word used to speak of the Holy Spirit (one who comes alongside to speak to us), means (according to Vines Complete Expository Dictionary): “both to encourage but also to urge, admonish one to pursue some course of conduct (always prospective, looking to the future, in contrast to the meaning to comfort, which is retrospective, having to do with trial experienced.)”
So what am I getting at?
It is very important for a leader to possess the whole of the word “exhort.”
A leader needs to be able to take initiative and to be proactive in BOTH encouraging AND admonishing those under his/her care. My experience has led me to believe that we need to develop both parts of parakaleo: the soft side of encouraging and the tough side of admonishing, warning, speaking sternly into someone’s life.
I believe, generally speaking, that many, if not most, leaders are good at the positive encouraging aspects of the equation but are found wanting when it comes to the confronting, warning aspects--even going so far as calling out sin in a person’s life. If the admonishing side is practiced at all, it’s more likely to be done from the pulpit than on a personal level (safer that way).
King David was fortunate and blessed. He had Nathan, in addition to Jonathan. Nathan to love and encourage him, Nathan to confront and admonish him; calling sin what it was/is: sin. David needed both. Most people do. I have personally profited from Proverbs 20:28 (The Message): “Love and truth form a good leader; sound leadership is founded on loving integrity.”
Akin to this verse is Ephesians 4:15: “Instead, speaking the truth in love.” I personally don’t want to become a person who is so loving that I don’t speak the truth, or so truthful that I don’t really demonstrate love. I want to be a leader who practices loving integrity, combining both truth and love and expressing the full spectrum of the gift of “exhortation.”
Over the years I have been in numerous situations where nobody on the leadership team would step up to admonish or warn, but would readily step up to encourage and affirm. Fellow leaders, the gift has two sides. It is not either/or but both/and. I am taught through Caleb’s example in Joshua 14:7: “I was 40 years old when Moses sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. And I brought him back a report according to my convictions.”
The Living Bible has it:
“I reported what I felt was the truth.”
That’s what I want to continue to grow in and to continue to learn how to do. Report what I feel is the truth; take a stand, let the chips fall where they may. To say it lovingly, say it sensitively, say it as my observation/opinion (with the caveat that I could be wrong), but say it nonetheless, when I sense it is called for. We could always use a few more Nathans. Many a leader has bitten the dust due to the lack of a Nathan in his life.
What do you think about all of this? I would be glad to hear from you.