When people think about leadership, “up” is good and “down” is bad. People want to be “over” others, the “top dog,” at the “pinnacle” of power. They want to move “up” the ladder, not be “under” others, the “low” man on the totem pole, at the “bottom” rung.
Scripture uses spatial metaphors this way, too. “God reigns over the nations” (Ps. 47:8). His throne is “high and lifted up” (Isa. 6:1). Elders have “oversight” (1 Peter 5:2).
The up/down language makes sense. To lead, you need a view of the landscape. But here’s the thing: being a good leader also means learning how to lead from the bottom up. It means being a foundation, a buttress, a platform for others. You employ your authority to help others to run, to work, to minister. You become the platform on which they live, the stage on which they dance.
God is not only over us, He sets Himself under us. He is our rock, giving us a sure place to stand (Ps. 18:31).
Leadership is not just about running after your dreams; it’s about kneeling down and helping others to pursue theirs. You don’t just cast vision. You set the stage for them to envision their visions. You’re more interested in building up than moving up. You equip, enable, empower.
Listen to what the psalmist says after calling God his rock:
And who is a rock, except our God?—the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless. He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights. He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. . . . Your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great. (vv. 31–35)
God equips. God secures. God trains. God supports. God makes great. How good is God!
When my three-year-old melts down after a long day, unable to do basic things like get ready for bed, she doesn’t need an anxious, high-pitched response from me. She needs my calmness. My steadiness. My gentle sureness about where a pajama arm goes, how a toothbrush works, where dolly can be found.
This is where leading top-down and bottom-up join. Oversight and foundation building go together. Overseers equip and overseers set boundaries (see Eph. 4:11).
You say, walk here, not there. Trust these people, not those. This is how to swing the racket, conjugate the verb, flee the sin, invest the money, warn the brother, exegete the text, prepare the sermon, love the church.
You explain which paths lead to life and which to death. You help those under you focus their eyes. You work for their success. You pour yourself out. From first to last, you love.
In the end, God gives us top-down authority so that we can lead from the bottom up, just like someone else who has led like this (Matt. 20:25–28). Do you remember how He did it?