Leadership Lesson from Joseph's Life
Sep 15, 2008 by Alex Mekonnen | 9 Comments
Our culture has a strong influence on our lives and ministry philosophy. For a leadership resource and example, we tend to look for secular books and we take CEOs as our model. We often attempt to be Billy Graham in the suit of Warren Buffet. Even though we try to integrate the secular and spiritual realities in our minds and have a harmonious worldview, the truth that we give more attention to and value dictates our thought and actions. Hence, we function under constant tension of influence between the biblical and the secular voice.
If we believe that God still raises leaders, guides, molds, empowers, assigns and uses them, the Bible has a lot to teach us. From the life of Joseph we can learn valuable principles of leadership. Unlike us, he did not go to a formal business or leadership school. He neither studied law nor political science. Yet he excelled to the highest office of a then advanced country, Egypt, and demonstrated a leadership skill that saved at least two nations: Egypt and Israel. He did this in a society where the religion, politics, governance, economy, culture, custom, and language were foreign to him.
The leadership fruit of Joseph in Egypt has long and rich spiritual roots. It is almost impossible not think of the influence of the spiritual heritage he had in his childhood and in the later years of his life. The oral society passes information to the young generation verbally. In such kinds of culture the historical and theological archives of the past are the minds of the living. Then, as well as now; in the words of Alexander Mitscherlich, "family is a social womb" (1993:18) We are born untrained and uninformed, we slowly learn from our family and then from society to be what we are. His great grandfather, Abraham, was called "a friend of God"(2 Chronicles 20:7); the birth of his grandfather, Isaac, was a fulfillment of God's promise (Gen. 18:1-15, 21:1-5); the life of his father, Jacob, was set apart by sovereign election and predestination (Gen. 25:23, Rom. 9:10-13).
Coming from such lineage, Joseph knew he did not come to exist accidentally. Looking at his life in retrospect, at the complete tapestry of his journey, he said to his brothers; "God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and a ruler of all Egypt" ( NIV 45:7-8). These statements were not an excerpt written from Joseph's theological thesis when he graduated from the finest seminary in Egypt. In fact, for most part of his life he lived among a society that worshiped idols, gods and goddesses (see Barrett 1992). His realization of God's work in his life came out of his deep walk and experience with Him.
Through shame and glory, in the school of loneliness and before a cheering crowd, with and without a family, in childhood, as a teenager, adolescent and adult, as a slave and a master, at home and in foreign land, when the dream seems so real and bright and the future looks like gloom and doom, Joseph stayed close to God. At the acme if his achievement, he did not need much convincing to believe the act of God in his life and to give full credit to God for the leadership post he was holding in Egypt. That is, he followed God in every aspect of his life; the good and the bad. Against many odds, God made history through the life of Joseph.
The trajectory of Joseph's leadership career, so to speak, began with a dream when he was seventeen years old (Genesis 37:5-10). He was a favored son by his father, his brothers held a grudge against him because of that. But when he shared his dream to his brothers and his father, the brothers "hated him all the more" (Gen. 37:5), and "his father rebuked him" (Gen. 37:10). I'll leave it to psychologists to analyze what kind of leader would come out of a child who was once favored by his father and then rebuked and discouraged to pursue his dream. A child, who was, "hated by his brothers, stripped of his cloth, thrown to a cistern and sold as a slave to a caravan of Ishmaelites" (Gen. 19-25). From a layman's point of view, there is not much hope in the future for one who has drunk a bitter cup of hatred and rejection from the hand of his loved ones. But God's grace and wisdom transcends all circumstances that we would go through to make us a better person.
One of the good qualities of a leader is to be a long-range planner. And some of the qualities of a qualified planner are experience, wisdom, maturity of judgment, patience, serenity of spirit, and the gift of administration (Gangel 1984:10). Joseph had opportunity to develop these qualities in a most unlikely place--prison (Gen. 39: 22-23). Here is the secret: "While Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden" (NIV Gen. 39: 21). GOD WAS WITH JOSEPH IN PRISON. Not in a church, not in a temple or in a synagogue but in prison. God is Spirit. He transcends our finiteness; he can not be controlled and manipulated by earthly powers. When God decides to make a leader out of you, there is no authority or place under the sun that can hinder or limit him to accomplish his objective. The question is, do you believe that?
Joseph did. Joseph was not only a man of faith but he was also a man of action. It takes a doer for a dream to become a reality. "Long-range planning requires a futuristic commitment, having accurate information, and practical implementation" (Gangel 1984:11-14). Joseph possessed those qualities, demonstrated them meticulously and saved the lives of Egyptians and Israelites. His leadership scope included strategic planning, relational skills, delegation, art and skill of communication, boldness, vision casting, integrity, inspiration and hope. Christian leadership can be nurtured and developed through various legitimate and constructive means. But nothing can replace the presence of God, his acts of grace and provision, his wonderful counsel, his assuring guidance and his blessed results in the life of a leader. I hope someday when we reach our milestone, like Joseph, we will be able to say; "the lord brought me here, and he made me a pastor, teacher, missionary, CEO, mother, father, mentor, and a leader".
As you pursue your leadership career, what lesson can you learn from Joseph? What is the place of dream in your personal life and theology? Where is God in the journey of your life?
Bibliography Barrett, Clive The Egyptians God and Goddesses: The Mythology and Beliefs of ancient Egypt. The Aquarian Press, London, 1992 Gangel, O. Kenneth Lessons in Leadership from the Bible. BMH Books, Indiana, 1984. Mitscherlich, Alexander Society Without the Father. Harper Perenneial, New York, 1993.