The Book of James is a significant example of a church leader who longed to exert positive leadership influence at a distance. Through this early form of distance leadership in the form of a letter, James is wanting to communicate a vision for how followers of Christ are to live faithfully under God’s leadership within their diverse and global contexts. Noting his audience as the twelve tribes in the Dispersion, James communicates visionary direction, helps to align the people of God behind this vision, and seeks to motivate those who are struggling in various ways. Here are a couple themes that stand out in reading James’ letter.
Rightfully Orienting Ourselves before God
While most leadership books do not begin with a discussion of rightfully orienting ourselves before God, James’ letter does communicate this near the start of his letter. James notes, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God” (1:5). As leaders, we must understand the source of the visionary direction we provide for followers and our communities. Although leaders gain visionary insight from many sources, the implication of James’ teaching is that God is to be sought out for wisdom when individuals (including leaders) lack wisdom. My viewing God as a source for “every good gift and perfect gift” (1:17), includes viewing God as a source for leadership wisdom when wisdom is lacking.
There are many times I face challenging decisions in leadership—times where I feel like the answer is not immediately clear and I “lack wisdom” related to the situation I’m facing. James’ reminds us that we do not need to be alone in these moments. I can invite the Lord’s guidance as I face decisions that impact the lives of followers and the lives of organizational members I desire to serve. I can, drawing on James’ advise, “ask God” in prayer for wisdom and insight, and ask for peace and clarity in the face of anxious organizational times and unclear organizational decisions.
Rightfully Orienting Ourselves toward One Another
James not only advises people toward rightfully orienting themselves toward God, but also rightfully orienting themselves toward one another. Some examples of this in James are (a) the call to not show favoritism or partiality (2:1), (b) erring on mercy over judgment (2:13), (c) recognizing that the people we work with and lead are made in the likeness and image of God, have great worth and value because of this, and therefore we should bless rather than curse those around us (3:9-10), (d) treating those who work for us fairly and equitably (5: 4), and (e) and caring for the suffering and those in need (5:13-16; 1:27).
Leaders who rightly orient themselves before God and toward others are in a good position to lead humbly (4:6-7) before God and others and recognize that they are not in the task of leadership and management alone. I desire this in my own life and leadership, and am thankful for perspective from sources like James.
What leadership insights do you see in the Book of James?