In his classic work The Republic, Plato uses the analogy of a shipmaster to illustrate some important points regarding leadership of a state. In order to properly steer a ship to its destination (in Plato’s day anyway), the shipmaster must always consult the stars to orient himself geographically, since the stars are the only fixed directional guide out on the open sea. And yet one who observes a good shipmaster continually consulting the stars in this way might think he is distracted—an impractical stargazer!
The situation is similar with good Christian leaders, who are properly also theologians, since they, too, must constantly “look up” in the course of their work, consulting eternal, lofty truths as a directional guide. And they, too, might appear to be distracted from practical matters. Yet, they are actually being very practical. Like the shipmaster, they orient themselves morally and spiritually according to what is constant and unchanging in order to steer their “ship” (their local Christian community) through the turbulent waves of life.
So what are some of those immovable biblical truths according to which Christian leaders should steer their ships? It seems to me that a good Christian leader, whether a pastor or leader in a Christian school or other organization, must do two things: remind those they lead of their identity and their purpose. Many leaders fail to do this, perhaps because it seems to them ponderous, abstract, or simply impractical, given the many pressing issues they face. But I can’t imagine anything more practical than to know your identity and purpose as a Christian.
The apostle Paul, one of the leaders of the early Christian church, does exactly this in all of his epistles. A good case in point is Ephesians 2:1-10. In this passage Paul reminds us of who we were before our transformation in Christ: dead in our sins, slaves to fleshly desires, and servants of the devil, thus “by nature deserving of wrath.” He also notes who we are now—our identity as Christians: alive in Christ, saved by grace, and destined for eternal riches. These observations culminate in Paul’s remarkable observation about our purpose: that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do” (v. 10). That is, we are the handiwork of God who are also ourselves handiworkers. So Paul is telling us that we are working handiworks.
This might seem ponderous and abstract, but it is profoundly practical as all good theology is. And the practicality of these truths are evident in the fact that they are encouraging, affirming our value as children of God, and highly motivational. What could be more motivating than to know that your work has eternal significance?
So as a Christian leader, I will always dwell upon and remind those I lead regarding their identity and purpose in Christ. This might make me appear to be a theological stargazer, but it will help me get the ship I captain to its destination!