Three Battles Every Leader Must Win

I have been asked to write on leadership development for Christian leaders in China. I see leadership development as a journey moving us along a path that has been designated as ours to tread. Along the path there are obstacles that must be overcome if we are to continue our journey and not stop or retreat back to where we came. I refer to these confrontations with obstacles as “battles.” In the spiritual realm, they truly are battles as the enemy seeks to render us ineffective in our work for our Lord. I will lift up just three of these battles. There are certainly more, but these three represent to me some of the core issues we deal with as believers who are called to lead.

Battle #1: From the Bondage of the Owner to the Freedom of the Steward

As a leader you have a choice to make regarding how you understand your calling, your work. You can take an “ownership” approach to leadership, believing that your ministry, your congregation, your reputation, your effectiveness as a preacher and teacher are really yours. So you build your ministry, protect your congregation, defend your reputation and take pride in your preaching and teaching and the impact it has on others. In these ways you play the owner, and the fruit of ownership is bondage. Absolute slavery!

The alternative is to view leadership through the lens of the godly steward. The godly steward believes that everything belongs to God and has been given to us through his grace as a gift to be cared for and nurtured. As such, our ministry is, and always has been, God’s ministry entrusted to us to tend, nurture and grow as God blesses it. Our congregations are God’s people, entrusted to our care but only as we are empowered and led by the Holy Spirit. Our reputation is solely in God’s hands as we answer the call to absolute obedience and leave the rest to him. Finally, the effectiveness of our work is not ours. We teach and preach to the best of our ability, praying and believing that when God blesses, it is effective. We rest secure in this belief. In these ways, we carry out the vocation of the godly steward, and the fruit of this stewardship is freedom.

So let me ask, is your life and ministry a reflection of the freedom of the steward, or are you experiencing the bondage that comes when we hold our work so closely that we begin to believe that it is actually ours? The freedom to be the steward flows from the truth that is found only in Jesus Christ. It is the truth that sets us free! The bondage of ownership is the result of listening to the subtle lies of the enemy that play on our pride, our desire to try to control our world and our insecurities about our own abilities and effectiveness. As we listen, we grasp ever tighter to our work, and that grasping is our bondage. It is time to let go, to give back to God what was his anyway, and to be set free.

Leadership development begins with the heart of the leader. It is about the transformation of our character before it is about the transaction of our daily work. The first battle every leader must win is the battle with self; the battle to step off the throne of our own kingdoms where we play the lord over those things we pretend to own, control and keep for our self. Victory in this battle comes in the form of the daily submission of everything to the one Lordship of Jesus Christ. As we reject the lure to play the owner and acknowledge our high and holy calling to be stewards of our ministry and our people, we experience real growth, real development as leaders and followers of Jesus Christand the fruit is real freedom and joy.

My prayer is that you will allow the Holy Spirit to set you free as a faithful steward of the gracious gifts of God. Resist the enemy and he will flee from you. Submit your ministry daily to God, for it is his, after all. Then, embrace the freedom that is yours and the joy that comes from one who entrusted and blessed you with the glorious calling of ministering in the name of Jesus Christ.

Battle #2 From Doing-Centered to Being-Centered Leadership

God is more concerned with who we are than what we do.

That, to me, is a life-changing statement. God is passionate about you becoming a more deeply committed child of God, because He knows that as you become more like Christ, your life will be transformed from the inside out.

Another way to state this is that God is primarily concerned with our being, before our doing. As Christian leaders, we are doing ourselves to death. I know of very few people that could be accused of spending so much time developing their character as a child of God that they are not getting anything done to help the kingdom. In fact, I do not know anybody. The people I know, who have been spending an inordinate amount of time developing their heart and character as children of God, are doing some pretty amazing things. They are people in balance; people who appropriately prioritize being before doing.

How do you find that balance in a job that is measured solely by doing? That is the challenge we face, and you will need to fight that battle first on a personal level. Restoring the balance between being and doing is the first and most critical responsibility of any worker in God’s kingdom. The enemy will deceive us into thinking that God desires our doing first, even at the expense of our being.

If you believe this statement, then let me ask how well that priority is reflected in your daily schedule. Does your work life reflect God’s priority of forming and shaping you to be a child of God, that you might do the work of the kingdom? How much time are you spending intimately in the Word of God, in prayer, in devotion? In what ways do you make yourself available daily for God to take you on the journey of the transformation of your heart?

Far too many pastors and ministry leaders who are called to be sowers of the Word of God enter each day with empty seed bags. We cannot sow what we do not have, and what replenishes our seed bags is not our doing but our being; our availability to the movement of the Holy Spirit to bring us to deeper faith, richer fellowship and greater understanding.

Maintaining this balance will require you to fight this battle in your place of work. In a system that expects us to be doers, you will have to battle to find and maintain the balance of the faithful leader in God’s kingdom.

What does that balance look like to you in your personal life, your family life, your marriage and your work life? Is your “being” being sacrificed on the altar of deadlines and performance? It is absolutely critical to your ministry to find and maintain a healthy balance of being and doing. Pray for it, fight for it and seek God’s help and guidance daily that you might reclaim it and maintain it in every area of your life. Only then can you sow good seed into the lives of those you love.

A third way to state this important truth is that God is primarily concerned with the transformation of our hearts rather than the transaction of our business. So let me ask you:

  • What does this process of transformation look like in your journey?
  • In your life, what is most in need of being changed and transformed?
  • When you think about God calling you on a journey from doing-centered to being-centered leadership, where do you see him working in that transformation?

Submit yourself every morning completely to God’s leading. Hunger and thirst for the ongoing work of transformation through the power of the Holy Spirit. Find your balance and do not let anything rob you of it. For, it is through this balance that you will be most effective for the work Christ has called you to do.

Battle #3 Becoming a Leader of no Reputation

In speaking of Jesus’ incarnation, Paul tells us that Jesus, “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant.” (Phil 2:7 KJV) It does not say that Jesus became a man of bad reputation, or questionable reputation, but simply of no reputation. That is, reputation, image, prestige, prominence, power, and other trappings of leadership were not only devalued, they were purposefully dismissed. Jesus became such a man. Not by default or accident, but by intention and design. And it was only in this form that he could serve, love, give, teach, and yes, lead.

In reflecting on my years in the president’s office, the church and the living room, I have come to the conviction that true Christian leadership is an ongoing, disciplined practice of becoming a person of no reputation, and thus, becoming more like Christ in this unique way. This journey to selflessness lies at the heart of godly leadership.

Such leaders empower their people, give away authority, value and involve others, seek the best in and from their people, and constantly lift others up, push others into the limelight, and reward those they lead. All so that God’s will may be done in a more powerful way. They seek no glory for themselves, but find great joy in seeing others prosper. They take no account of their reputation, but simply desire that Jesus’ face be seen in all they do.

I have come to learn that we must approach leadership with dependent humility. The sole responsibility of the Christian leader is joyous obedience. Throughout history God looked to the least, the weakest, the outcast, the untalented, the sinful and the rejected to give great leadership at historic times. I don’t think he has changed that approach today. If we are honest as leaders, we know that our capacity to lead is easily exceeded by the size and complexity of our call. But great, godly leaders have always worked at that miraculous intersection where humility and faith meet the awesome presence and power of God’s Spirit. And the miracle of leadership happens. All great Christian leaders have depended upon the grace and faithfulness of God to work the miracle of leadership in and through and even in spite of their own skills and talents.

Humility, selflessness, recognition of weakness and full dependence on God may not be at the top of the list of many job descriptions for leaders. But they should be. How about yours?

  • Are you willing to let others get the credit as long as God’s work is accomplished?
  • Do you place the good of the congregation and the Christian community above your own need to be right, to be seen as the best, to be recognized and applauded?
  • Are the people you serve encouraged, empowered and equipped to grow under your leadership, even if it means they become more skilled or recognized than you in the process?
  • When people hear of your ministry, do they think first of you, or of Christ?

A final word about becoming a leader of no reputation. Such a leader is completely free to lead, and part of that freedom comes from the realization that if we are serving Christ, then it is Christ who is the sole caretaker of our reputation. We do not need to be concerned about bad reports, evil intentions or gossip that threatens our good name. We are called to serve Christ with our whole hearts, and then, in peace, leave our reputations in his hands. Where we have erred, we need to come under correction. However, when people attack us for our work for the Gospel, we can be free to continue our journey, knowing that the only applause we need to hear is that of nail-scarred hands. When you have reached that place, you will truly be free to lead God’s people with power, with humility and with joy. To God, and God alone, be the glory!