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Leading with Your Life: Leadership as Story

  • Brent Crowe
Leading with Your Life: Leadership as Story

Ad nauseum = something repeated so often that it has become annoying or tiresome.

I am keenly aware that the subject of ‘leadership’ has been discussed ad nauseum. Or maybe, more precisely, the notion of leadership that appeals to a western mindset has been considered to a point that many suffer from a form of ‘leadership fatigue.’

But what if we have the whole thing wrong? What if all the books, conferences, podcasts and blogs revolving around cultivating influence and best practices are inherently flawed in their approach? What if leadership is less about technique and more about story?

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Our Storytelling God

Our Storytelling God

God has told a story. Correction—God has told the story, and He is a masterful storyteller. It is His story that determines all others. No matter how hard anyone may try, no matter how dark or perverse a story may be, inevitably it can only be understood in light of God’s story.

Darkness and perversity can only be understood in light of the Fall. Any redemption that may take place can exist precisely because God’s story includes a redeemer. Likewise, any resolution a story presents in the end is possible only because God’s story concludes with restoration. God has told the story, and all of life’s meaning can be found in that grand narrative called the Bible.

The story that God has told, and is telling, provides definition and meaning to the stories that are my life and yours. We were created for narrative, born to tell a story. At this very moment we are writing the autobiography of our souls. So the real question that we should wrestle with is: what kind of story will I tell with my life?

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Leadership is Story

Leadership is Story

What does all this have to do with leadership? If we view our lives through the lens of narrative, then leadership cannot be reduced to simply influence; nor is there one leadership strategy that, when properly implemented, will always yield certain results. And while best practices or leadership disciplines can be incredibly helpful, they are not the heart of leadership.

Leadership is the result of a story well told. Leaders are simply those committed to maximizing the moments of life as they write “their soul’s autobiography” (a phrase Henrietta Mears penned in her book, What the Bible is All About). Leadership, as a disciple of Jesus, means living life with redemption as the central theme and a Redeemer as the central character.

If you buy into this notion of leadership as story, then our focus turns to that which makes for a compelling and God-honoring story. To discover how this might look, we turn to three leaders in Scripture. Let’s start with Daniel.

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Daniel: A storyteller true to his name

Daniel: A storyteller true to his name

The book of Daniel opens on a violent note. Daniel’s homeland is being assaulted by the Babylonian army, and the only reason he is spared is because the pagan king had given orders to bring back some of the most promising young people to serve in his courts. Young Daniel was to spend the rest of his life as a slave serving in the courts of a Babylonian king.

During the early days of his enslavement he, along with other young men taken from his homeland, would endure a three-year training. The idea was that they would emerge from this experience hard-wired with a worldview compatible with this new culture that worshipped foreign gods and idols. Part of this process was to trade out their Hebrew names with Babylonian names; thus, Daniel was given the name Belteshazzar.

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Name and Identity

Name and Identity

There is just one problem with all this enslavement and brainwashing, from Daniel’s perspective: Daniel had purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself. I’ve often wondered what it meant that he had ‘purposed in his heart.’ Then a few years ago I realized that if one reads the story of Daniel in its entirety, he always refers to himself with his Hebrew name— Daniel never embraced the name Belteshazzar because it was inconsistent with this identity.

The decision that Daniel made that would impact so much of his life is simply this: he purposed in his heart that the decisions of his life would be consistent with his name and identity as a follower of the one true God. Which is why, as another king came to power almost seventy years later, he promoted Daniel over the entire kingdom “because an excellent spirit was in him.” (Daniel 6:3

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Mary: A storyteller true to her character

Mary: A storyteller true to her character

No female in history is more famous than the mother of Jesus. At the time of the angelic announcement, Mary lived in Nazareth of Galilee and was betrothed to a carpenter named Joseph. This young common woman was given an amazing assignment: she would bring the Messiah into the world. While much can be and has been said concerning Mary, an often-overlooked fact rises from the pages of Luke’s narrative: “before her name is pronounced, she is named as the virgin and then identified, ‘The virgin’s name was Mary.’” (Luke 1:27)

She had the purity and character required to carry the Son of God in her womb. Mary testifies to every storyteller in every age that character precedes vision and greatness. There is much surrounding Mary that can be overemphasized, but there cannot be enough emphasis on the character which defined her. Hers is a story that will forever be remembered as being chosen to bear the Son of God because of a pure and willing heart. 

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Barnabas: A storyteller true to others

Barnabas: A storyteller true to others

The first time we meet Barnabas, he has just sold his property and donated the money to the apostles to be used for the Christian community. From our introduction to him in Scripture, we see a willingness to sacrifice earthly comfort for the cause of Christ.

Barnabas sacrificed his resources for the cause (Acts 4:36–37), but he also sacrificed a portion of his life to help the former hitman for the Sanhedrin who had recently converted to Christianity. It would be difficult to overestimate the influence and encouragement Barnabas had on Paul in the early days. He vouched for Paul with doubting Jewish Christians. According to Acts 9:27, he was the one who introduced Paul to Jesus’ disciples in Jerusalem: “Barnabas, however, took him and brought him to the apostles and explained to them how Saul had seen the Lord on the road and that the Lord had talked to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus.”

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Barnabas as the Son of Encouragement

Barnabas as the Son of Encouragement

And when the church in Jerusalem commissioned Barnabas to minister in the prominent city of Antioch, “he went to Tarsus to search for Saul, and when he found him he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught large numbers. The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch” (Acts 11:25–26).

Barnabas saw something in Paul that no one else seemed to recognize. He believed in Paul when no one else would. He vouched for him to the men who had followed Jesus so closely. He decided on his own to go to Paul’s hometown of Tarsus and bring him into the movement of advancing the name of Jesus. Through Barnabas’s sacrifice of money, reputation, time, and energy, he helped launch the greatest leader the church has ever seen. His was a story that helped others tell their stories—no wonder the name ‘Barnabas’ can be translated ‘Son of Encouragement’. 

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Leadership as Story

Leadership as Story

God is a masterful storyteller who has expressed his desired will in the Scriptures, and we can tell a story with our lives with redemption as the theme and Jesus the redeemer as the central character. God has provided us with incredible examples of people who made the most of the narrative that is their lives.

I realize this approach to leadership requires a bit of a paradigm shift. It invites us to shift from ‘influence’ as the dominant ingredient to just one ingredient in the leadership recipe. It invites us to shift from disciplines and best practices to the art of storytelling. And in the end, we can shift from asking “What works?” to “What kind of a story will my life tell?”

Brent Crowe is Vice President of Student Leadership University, a Christian program which awakens student potential and equips young people for leadership. His latest book is Moments ‘til Midnight.

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