“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” Proverbs 4:23 (NLT)
You would think that if I were to join you in a discussion about leadership we would talk about the important how to’s. Like how to recruit more, or how to manage difficult people, or how to teach the Bible with more authority. All those questions are important, but the most vital place to start is found in the quiet place, when no one is around, and it is at the very heart of the woman who leads.
1. Check your motivation.
What is your motivation for serving God? Unfortunately, we have all been exposed to leaders who serve to gain the attention of the Pastor; those who have an extreme desire to feel important and needed. When you boil down all the extraneous stuff of leadership, why do you love Jesus? Why has your love for Him caused you to serve others? Perhaps you serve simply out of a heart of gratitude.
I love Jesus because He saved me. Literally, saved me from myself. He picked me up and gave me another chance. He told me that I am His special possession. He chooses to use me and change me day by day. He never lets me go, never lets me down, and never leaves me alone. I am His and He is mine!
When we remember why we first loved Him, our motivation will come from a place of passion for God, and a desire to see others have what we have been given. Grace, redemption, a second chance, an opportunity to grow and excel beyond our wildest dreams. When our motivation stems from love, we won’t want to rule over people to be seen as “the boss”, we will truly serve.
Matthew 23:11 reminds us that “The greatest among you must be a servant.” (NLT) When you serve others, you naturally become a leader. The world tells us to climb the ladder, to one-up the next guy, to have the last word. In the world’s economy this makes sense, but in God’s economy, serving equals leading.
When you become a leader, sideshow distractions will abound. How do you maintain focus on what really matters? How do you guard your heart when everything in you feels offended? How do you outgrow the need for self preservation?
2. Practice being unoffendable.
When you work with people how do you become unoffendable? If you ask God to help you not be offended, guess what? An opportunity for offense will not be far away. You will be tested to determine, do you mean the words you say and the prayers you pray?
How do you pass the test of offense? First, go back to step one, and get your motives right, and second, you will have to remind yourself that people are not the enemy. The enemy is the enemy and he seeks to neutralize you, to make you ineffective, and to paralyze you in your leadership. You will need to give up your need to be right, to let things go, and to get a tough skin. For the sake of the Kingdom and the cause within you, you will need to become downright tenacious about giving up your rights. Daily.
This is why Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:31 says, “I die daily”. It’s not fun, pretty, or pleasant, but for the sake of the cause within you, when lives are at stake and futures hang in the balance, it is worth it!
When I was growing up in church, my Pastor always said, “It is better to be kind than right”, and I have found that this is always a good rule.
You will need to fix your eyes on Jesus. Make Hebrews 12 your own personal training manual. For the sake of space, I will simply highlight a few verses here:
"…Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever…
When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!…So don’t feel sorry for yourselves…
God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children…for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God….
So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet! Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. Help each other out. And run for it!… Work at getting along with each other and with God…” Hebrews 12:1-17 (The Message)
3. Give space for grace (for yourself and for others).
We need to be the kind of people who will not make excuses. No excuses for opting out, no excuses for falling short, and no excuses for blowing it. Notice, I’m not saying we won’t occasionally fall short or make a mistake. I’m saying we own up to it. Hold yourself to the highest possible standard of authenticity in the way you serve. No one, not even God expects perfection, but He does expect honesty, sincerity and truth.
As human beings, our first natural response when we mess up is to blame those closest to us, and those serving alongside us. (Remember Eve?) Don’t make excuses when you don’t measure up. Admit to yourself and to those you are accountable to, “I’m learning, I don’t know it all and I made a mistake. I am growing, and I’ll do better the next time around.” And then do better!
Don’t beat yourself up over it. Just be honest and keep moving forward. I believe that those who make the most mistakes are also the ones with the greatest potential for amazing leadership. It’s when we cover up our mistakes, when we live in denial of our own humanity, that we stop growing. Let’s be leaders who can receive grace and who can freely give grace.
When others around us make mistakes, let’s allow them the freedom to grow by encouraging and lifting instead of reminding them of their failure or threatening them by keeping them down until they “learn their lesson”. Jesus doesn’t treat us that way, so how dare we offer less than Christ offered us!
As a man or woman in leadership, many eyes are upon you. Don’t be swayed by it. Go back to the basics and love Jesus, fix your eyes on Him and be a person of grace! When you serve from a place of authentic love, you position yourself for great success. God made no mistake when He called you. You are divinely purposed to lead the charge in your family, in your neighborhood, in your job, and in your church.