4/5/24: Accept Your Leadership

4/5/24: Accept Your Leadership

Today we are talking about leadership. This feels like a big task, it is Iron Leadership after all. My most memorable lesson in leadership came as a middle schooler. Something I used to be known for was my size, I was always big for my age when I was growing up and was primed for football. Seventh grade was the first time I was able to play on a tackle football team and I found myself as a guard on the offensive line and as a tackle on the defensive line. Because I played both ways, I was doing a lot of reps at practice and by the end of practice I was wiped. Our coach was having us do something he called “mental toughness.” He was going to exhaust us physically so that we had to push through and prove our mental toughness as well.

There was a hill outside of our practice field where we did sprints, but there were bleachers that had to be moved in order to run our sprints. The bleachers weren’t super heavy and with about 8-10 players they could be moved easily. I was one of the players closest to the bleachers but I thought, “I’m wiped. I’ve been practicing both ways. I don’t need to be moving these bleachers. I’m going to step aside and let the bench warmers move the bleachers, they need more work to do.” As I took a couple of steps to the side, I heard my coach yell out, “Hey big boy! If you want to lead this team, you’ve got to serve this team.” Looking back, I don’t know if my coach was a Christian or not, but what he said was in fact a biblical lesson on leadership.

In the world today, and especially in the Church, we’re in the middle of a leadership crisis. And this involves two things:

  1. Many men just aren’t leading. Why? A combination of things. Tim Challies names ignorance, uncertainty, fear and apathy as a few reasons men aren’t leading.
  2. Many of the men we have platformed as leaders, have gifts, but lack character. Think of the many pastors who have incredible gifts, but fail morally, and make a shipwreck of their ministry.

There is so much we could say [on leadership]…We could talk about providing vision, direction, and all of that. But instead, I want to call you once more to focus on character, because here’s the thing: if you do well here, direction and decision-making will be far simpler…Lead in character, and the rest will fall into place; fail to lead in character, and the rest will be chaos.    Tim Challies

This morning, I want us to have a biblical model for leadership that can apply to many leadership scenarios. There are many scripture passages we could turn to to talk about leadership. These are on your handout and I encourage you to look into them later:

  • Mark 10:35-45
  • Ephesians 5:22-32 (lead in marriage)
  • Ephesians 6:1-4 (lead as parents)
  • Ephesians 6:5-10 (working relationships)

For this morning, I want to start in the beginning. Let’s go all the way back to the garden.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. Genesis 2:15

To cite my sources, most of what I’m going to say is found in the book The Masculine Mandate by Richard Phillips. It is the best book on biblical masculinity that I’ve read.

A few things I want us to see:

1. God put us in a place for a purpose

God puts Adam in the garden. This isn’t by accident. From day one, Adam had an assignment in a specific space. So the simple question is – where has God placed you? What is your “garden”? What are your spheres of influence? In other words, what opportunities do you have to lead?

Has God put you in a family? In a job? In a city, in a neighborhood? In a church?

What responsibilities has God give you? Are you a husband? Are you a father? If you’re not any of those things right now, but one day you want to be, how can you be leading in the meantime to prepare you for that day?

So God puts Adam in a place, but what’s his purpose? What’s his assignment? To work it and keep it. Now I want to break down those two words.

2. God calls us to work

This word in Hebrew means to labor to make things grow. It carries the idea of cultivating as a gardener. It can also be used to describe nurturing , tending, building up, guiding and ruling. In sports, you have offense and defense. Think of work as offense.

Adam was literally supposed to dig and till up the garden. He was supposed to plant seeds and fertilize. What does that mean for us today? God has called men to lead by planting, building and growing. How do we do this? This isn’t just limited to gardening.

Professionally: Men should use their gifts, talents and experiences to succeed in worthwhile causes. If they are married, they should work to provide for their family.

Relationally: Our garden also includes people! We should cultivate relationships with the people under our care. Employees who work for us. Our friends. Our wives and children, especially.

A man’s fingers should be accustomed to working in the soil of the human heart.

Richard Phillips

I think the reason why so many men struggle with this, is that we didn’t have men pouring into us this way. For some reason, “the strong and silent type” came to be seen as the desirable form of masculinity.

We look at someone like Ron Swanson as a man’s man:

You see, caring for others and actually building a relationship makes Ron uncomfortable. He’s much happier being silent and alone. But biblically speaking, the most masculine thing he does in this clip is bring lipstick and magazines to his employee.

I hope you’re noticing a common theme about the offensive side of leadership. To work, to cultivate, to tend and nurture, it looks like service. It’s being a servant.

I recently preached a Maundy Thursday sermon about Jesus himself stooping down to wash feet, taking the form of a servant. In his commentary on that passage, Sinclair Ferguson says, “Many Christian youngsters are led to believe that they are being trained to be ‘tomorrow’s leaders.’ In fact, the word ‘leader’ rarely appears in the New Testament. We have lost sight of the Teacher whose gospel trains us to be ‘today’s bondservants.’ We need to have our thinking profoundly recalibrated.”

In my own words: instead of focusing on being tomorrow’s leader, be today’s servant. Because when you serve, you are leading. Remember my coach, “in order to lead this team, you gotta serve this team.”

So remember, what garden has God put you in? What people or tasks should you be working on? Cultivating? Producing? Physically, emotionally and spiritually.

3. God calls us to Keep

This means to protect and sustain. It can also mean guarding, watching over, caring for, and maintaining. This is the defensive side of leadership. This carries the idea of bearing a sword. So Adam wasn’t only supposed to plant things in the garden, he was supposed to protect the garden and maintain it.

So think of everything you were called to build and cultivate. Your wife, your children, your friends, your employees. You’re also called to protect them, not only physically, but also spiritually.

If you’re a husband or a father, one of the most important things for you to do is protect your family’s time. Guard the time that you’re committing to pray with your wife. Guard Sundays, be strong enough to say no to travel sports if it means your family is missing multiple Sundays a month.

It’s good to have your kids involved in stuff, but guard a few nights a week to say, “this is when we sit down as a family.” So, in your position of leadership, what is God calling you to keep? To protect? What harmful influence should you be most on guard against in those places of leadership?

As a leader, your job is to protect those under you. Do those under your leadership feel safe under you? Are you emotionally safe? Is their reputation safe? Are you consistent or are you unstable?

This clip is from a movie called We Were Soldiers starring Mel Gibson. It takes place during the Vietnam War. Mel plays a Lieutenant Colonel named Hal Moore, he’s back in America, about to take a bunch of soldiers to Vietnam to fight.

When we go into battle, I will be the first to set foot on the field, and I will be the last to step off, and I will leave no one behind…dead or alive, we will all come home together, so help me God.

You see what protecting as a leader means? It means putting yourself in harm’s way. You see, biblical leadership isn’t complicated, but it is expensive. It will cost you.

I heard John Piper say leadership isn’t about rights and power, it’s about responsibility and sacrifice. He says, “I’ve been married for over 40 years, I have 5 children…and I can tell you this is not a job you want…unless God called you to it. I promise you…you don’t want to bear this weight, unless God has called you to it. Which he has.” He says when there is a marital problem, a financial problem, a problem with our children, the Lord knocks at our door, and says, ‘is the man of the house home?’ ” As men, we bear that weight. Leadership is not about wielding power, it’s about bearing weight.

This is what we’re building up to – biblical leadership is Christ-likeness. Christ is the ultimate model of what it means to work and keep. To cultivate and to protect.

Look how Christ describes his work in these verses:

Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.’ John 4:34

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. John 17:4

This was the work that cost him everything. His mission to lay down his life for us. This is what true leadership is. The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.

And see how Christ describes the way he keeps:

While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. John 17:12

Aren’t you glad Jesus keeps his disciples? Aren’t you glad Jesus keeps us? Even when we fail. Aren’t you glad we’re safe in Jesus?

So to be a Biblical leader…

You have to know the places where God has put you

You have to work (cultivate)

You have to keep (protect)…

…in a Christlike, self-sacrificial way.


  1. What garden(s) has God put you in? In other words, what are the areas of influence or leadership that he’s given you?
  2. What are some ways you should be “working” (i.e. cultivating and building) in those gardens right now?
  3. What are some ways you should be “keeping (i.e. guarding and protecting) in those gardens right now?
  4. How have you benefitted from another man’s heart-culvitating ministry or friendship toward you? How have you experienced the lack of it? What are the relationships in which the Lord is challenging you to be more involved to nurture and cultivate growth?

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