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Walking and leadership

Mark Cook is the program coordinator for the Institute for Global Engagement, a partnership between Denison Forum and Dallas Baptist University. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Dallas Baptist University, and completed his Masters of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School and Truett Seminary. His ministry background is college ministry, and he has served both on a church staff as well as within campus ministries.

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A young South African couple on vacation, walking along a cobblestone street, exploring a city in Europe (Credit: Warren Goldswain via Fotolia)

A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal chronicled the surprising health and longevity of the citizens of the Italian island of Sardinia. In a population of close to 10,000, there are 21 centenarians, dramatically higher than the United States’ ratio of 4 for every 10,000. Of the many differences that contribute to Sardinians’ longer, healthier lives, is the fact that they walk everywhere.  In contrast, most Americans have a difficult time sustaining even semi-regular physical activity.

The health benefits of walking are clear, but so are the positive effects it has on creativity and overall well-being. On a basic level, the most practical leadership lesson from walking is to simply do it. If we look deeper, though, we’ll notice even greater leadership lessons from walking.

The Scriptures overflow with both the literal and figurative use of the word. Deuteronomy commands: “So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.” (6:8) 1 Kings tells us that Solomon “loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father…” (3:3) The first Christians were said to be followers of the “Way”, implying walking (Acts 9:2). But as we narrow our focus, let’s consider 3 significant biblical moments about walking and how they provide 3 corresponding leadership lessons about walking with Jesus, walking with others, and walking for others.

Walking with Jesus
Biblical text: Matthew 14

Everything starts with our relationship with Jesus. We do not make our plans and then consult God, but instead start every endeavor by seeking his will. Matthew 14 tells the story of Jesus calling Peter to walk on the water. In the middle of the night, when the disciples were sailing on the Sea of Galilee, several of them saw what appeared to be a ghost-like figure approaching them on water. As they were gripped with fear, Jesus called out to them, saying, “take courage, it is I.” When Peter was unsure if it was really him, though, Jesus called him to get out of the boat and walk toward him. As Peter stepped out, he took several steps toward Jesus before becoming distracted by the buffeting winds and subsequently sinking into the water.

We cannot take one step without Jesus’ help. The second Peter took more concern for his circumstance than Jesus, he lost the ability to move forward. In leadership, we so often want to run out ahead of God and do things on our own. We get so concerned with our circumstances that they become overlarge, but it is only when we keep our gaze fixed on Jesus that we can truly have the faith to follow his guidance regardless of what our circumstance may be. We would rather consult with God than completely rely upon him, and our pride keeps us chained to our own visions. Peter’s story reminds us of the importance of daily, hourly walking with Jesus.

Walking with Others
Biblical text: Luke 24

For leadership to be Christian, we must be walking with Jesus, led by him daily. But we are also called to walk with others: those who we lead. One of my favorite passages in the Bible is the story in Luke 24 of Jesus walking on the road to Emmaus. In this story, we meet two men leaving Jerusalem, sad, confused and disillusioned after witnessing Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus approaches these men (the Scripture tells us that they were not aware it was him) as they were making their way to Emmaus, and proceedes to talk with them for the next 7 miles. As these men shared their sorrow, Luke describes Jesus’ beautiful response to them: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Wow! Wouldn’t you have loved to have been there?

Incarnational leadership spends time with others, explaining rather than only directing. These men needed to get the bigger picture of why Jesus had to go to the cross and suffer, so Jesus explained it to them. Similarly, the people we lead need to know the vision and purpose of the organization. They need managers and co-workers who will walk with them rather than standing far away. Jesus’ example here spurs our imaginations in how we can better walk with others, providing encouragement, support and motivation to those we have been entrusted to lead.

Walking for Others
Biblical text: Matthew 4:18-22

Christian leadership starts with a personal walk with Jesus that shows us how to walk with others, enabling us to go even so far as to begin to walk for others. What do I mean by “for”, though? I mean that we begin to have our eyes opened to noticing and observing things related to those we lead. In this account in Matthew, Jesus is out walking by the Sea of Galilee, when he sees Simon Peter and his brother Andrew. He calls them to follow him, and the rest is history. But it all started with Jesus simply noticing them. The Scripture doesn’t tell us that Jesus was out on a recruiting trip, trying to find just the right people. All it says is that he was out for a walk.

Jesus was so in tune with his Father that his normal activities became avenues for the miraculous to happen. Christian leadership moves beyond directing and managing others to actually becoming a part of what God wants to do in the world. When we get out of ourselves and into the lives of those we lead, we begin to notice and observe things about them, and we can use these observations to help sharpen and encourage others. Jesus was the most spiritually aware human being that has ever lived, but we tend to be more self-aware than spiritually aware. Jesus example here gives us great wisdom in how to open our eyes to God’s activity in the everyday parts of our lives.

So to conclude, get out and walk, yes, but don’t just do it for the health benefits. Take some time today to walk and get alone with Jesus. Go take a walk with someone who needs an encouraging word, a listening ear. Or maybe just take a simple walk around the office and stop by to talk with your people. You learn so much by just stopping by and seeing how folks are doing. The lessons of walking are not just good for us physically, but help us grow spiritually and as leaders.