Two weeks ago I found myself at a Christian leadership summit in Kansas City. A few hundred emerging and seasoned leaders from around the world were gathered together in a large hotel banquet hall sharing ideas, experiences, and a continental breakfast. Our purpose for being together was more straightforward and foundational than I expected it to be. And if I hadn’t been so tired from the 18 hour drive to Kansas City, and switching from night shift to day shift I would have been dancing with excitement (well, probably not actually dancing. It was a leadership gathering mind you, but you get my point. It was exciting). Our purpose was to put our heads, resources, and prayers together to strategize about completing the great commission, and seeing Jesus worshiped day and night in every nation and every language.Leadership Summit – Praying together over a large map of the world
It’s at times like these that I’m reminded that I am still young. I’m 25, so maybe that’s obvious. But even if I leave my age out of the picture, I know that when it comes to leadership I am young. Though I’ve been leading Bible studies, small groups, and discipleship programs for about a decade now, I still feel like a new leader.
For many years now people have affirmed my “leadership abilities,” and given me areas of oversight and people to lead. I’m so thankful for their affirmation and I’ve gained many valuable experiences from the opportunities I’ve been given. But because I had their voices always encouraging me onward, I never really stopped to ask the Lord about how to lead or what it means to be a leader. I guess I sort of just assumed it was in me, because people told me it was, so I thought what I was doing must be the right stuff. And because of the mercy and love of Jesus, I believe some of it was.
But in the past 6 months of my life, a pause has been put on those opportunities, and God has been intensely pruning my heart and giving me a kingdom perspective and revealing his heart as a shepherd and as a king.
Leadership isn’t about you
To put it simply, he’s showed me that leadership isn’t about me or my “leadership giftings,” it’s about his sheep. In kindness, he revealed my heart motives were off track, I was viewing leadership sort of like climbing a career ladder in the ministry world. I cared about the people I led, very much, but I also cared A LOT about my needs and my success as a leader.
He reminded me that he leads his flock by laying down his life for them. So I must do the same if I am to be his disciple. I must pour out my giftings, my passions, my life to see the people I lead walk in the fullness of their callings. My goal should be to help the people I lead discern their callings and walk them through the process to get there. Meanwhile teaching them to do the same for others.
Like a mother pours her life out for her children and doesn’t withhold her heart from them, I am to do likewise for those the Lord gives me to lead and disciple. My goal isn’t to replicate myself, my goal is to see my disciples or spiritual children walk in every good work that God has prepared in advance for them (Eph 2:10). My goal is to see them also become leaders, not necessarily a leader like myself, but a leader in whatever sphere God places them in.
Practically speaking, I currently lead a team of about 6 people (give or take) on the Night Watch, at Gateway House of Prayer. I used to think that leadership during Night Watch meant continually casting vision for more effective prayer strategies and setting an example for my team to follow. Though that most certainly is part of my role, I believe I’m also called to lay down my life for each of my team members. Meaning, the things that have been given to me, all my talents and experiences, even my time and resources, I give to them, to see them become who they are destined to be. Of course, I’m not the only one called to pour into their lives and I can’t help them in every area of their lives, but I offer what I have. My desire is to see each of them confident in who they are, and what God has called them to do. And I believe when I do that, the prayer and worship that arises from the Night Watch will grow in effectiveness without me putting lots of effort in strategizing and casting vision. And like Paul said, I don’t claim to have already been made perfect in this area, but I press on to make it my own (Phil 3:12).
Night Watch Crew
These leadership revelations are simple. Every parent understands them, and anyone who has read the New Testament will find these truths all over, especially in the gospels. But sometimes I find that even though I understand biblical truth, I still live as the world does. Because my worldview has been so shaped by human thinking. Understanding a concept is different than living it. The Pharisees and scribes knew the law, but they crucified the only man to ever fully embodied it. I want to be like that man in my leadership. I want to love Jesus through the way I lead, and he said to Peter, that to love him means feeding (taking care of) his sheep (John 21:15-19).
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:25-28
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” – John 13:12-17
During lunch at this leadership summit I had a conversation with another young leader in much of the same position as myself. We related on many topics, like singleness and forming meaningful relationships with people of the opposite gender, the emerging priority of prayer in our lives and the earth, and our excitement about revival. But then we started discussing how you discern who are the leaders in a community of people if they aren’t already defined. And as we talked God started revealing another layer of truth concerning leadership.
In the Kingdom of God, leadership isn’t just a role you play, but a character quality. Let me explain that a bit more, because it might be semantically confusing. There’s an action meaning for the words leader and follower, and all throughout our lives we play the roles of leader or follower in our function. This is a good thing, because God’s government is literally a kingdom, so we need to know how to follow and submit to those who are leading. But then there’s our heart posture, which Jesus is always super concerned about because it’s out of the overflow of the heart that we speak and act (Luke 6:45). And I believe we are all supposed to be leaders when it comes to our character, because we are being formed into a kingdom of kings and priests (Rev 5:10). A person who has formed leadership in their character is basically a mature follower of Christ, they are in it because of him and for him. Whereas as a follower (in character) is one who’s still mostly seeking what they can get out of something. They are followers because they follow the crowd, and whatever is trendy at the time. It doesn’t look bad on the outside, they may be doing all the right things, but their motives are off.
Those who are true leaders in character will actually make the best followers. They are the best followers because they aren’t just worried about their own needs and wants, but want to see the best outcome for everyone and the desires on the Lord’s heart fulfilled. Being a leader in character sets an example and raises a standard in how to truly follow and submit well.
So it’s necessary to ask ourselves, “Am I acting like a leader or a follower in the things I’m involved in?” “Where is my heart?”
As I was dialoguing with the Lord about these things, I came up with list of distinguishing factors in leaders and followers when it comes to character. These lists might seem harsh, but sometimes when we really look at heart motives behind what we do it’s pretty ugly.
Leaders invest completely in the community, project or ministry.
They don’t withhold their hearts or passions.
They give because they know they will receive in due time, from the Lord primarily but also from others.
They carry the Word of the Lord for the assignment.
They take ownership, no matter if it fails or succeeds.
They put their name on it.
They aren’t afraid of criticism, because they’ve tuned their ear to heaven, so all criticism is filtered through heaven’s perspective. They can receive from it, even if it’s slimy and comes with malicious intent.
Leaders see future potential rather than just current weakness or flaws, because they know God. He uses the weak to shame the proud.
Followers invest so long as they receive more than they are required to give.
Followers are quick to criticize because they don’t take ownership for anything that goes wrong.
They look for fulfillment of their personal desires in the assignment, not necessarily the fulfillment of the Lord’s desires.
They are more attune to their own heart than the hearts of others or even the Lord.
They place blame instead of taking responsibility.
Followers might think their hearts are in it, but it’s superficial love. They love only what they receive and aren’t actually committed.
They are usually looking to receive honor.
His ways aren’t my ways
As I look at these lists, I’m super aware that in the not so recent past (as in the past few months) my character in some of the things I’m involved in was a lot more like a follower than a leader. I’m beyond thankful for this season of heart pruning and course correction. And for some reason the verses in 1 Timothy 3 come to mind, where it talks about the qualifications of an overseer (aka leader), and it says in verse 6 “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with pride and fall into sin brought on by the devil.” I’m not a recent convert in believing in Jesus as my Saviour. But in some ways I’m still pretty recently converted to living by the Spirit, and following his leadership. Though I think any leader, at any stage of life, can easily succumb to pride if they don’t guard their hearts, I understand why Paul would give this specification. Because the longer I walk with Holy Spirit, the more I see that my ways aren’t his ways. His ways of life and leading will always bring me closer to humility, and to the cross.