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An Heroic Ministry
Verse of the day
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Sophia Network, UK
The heart of leadership
Your youth event is soon to get underway. Months of dreaming, planning, and hard work have brought you this far and now everything seems to be falling to bits. Technical issues, delays in the set up, key people missing, and now tension in the team, all seem to be working to destroy the best made plans. As the main leader of the effort, all eyes are on you.
All sorts of emotions are rushing through your brain as you consider how to respond. It is a defining moment, one that will set you apart as a leader or expose every weakness within you. As you weigh your options, you realize that this single event is challenging you to the core of your being.
Being a leader demands that we examine the core of who we are and tune into our relationship with God. If we have the right perspective, we can lead effectively and make a huge impact on the world around us – often without realizing it.
A few years back I read a book entitled ‘Relational Leadership’ by Walter Wright that takes a look at leadership through an exposition of Jude. From one of the shortest New Testament epistles, Wright gleans incredible insights into the heart of leadership. Reading this and reflecting on leadership lessons learned over the years brought a new focus to my thinking on the challenges that leaders face.
It seems that if we are going to be leaders that change lives, we need to have one eye on the Bible and the other on a mirror. If you are self conscious like I am, this can be a very daunting thought.
The heart of leadership
In the opening verse of Jude, we find three primary issues in the lives of all people: leaders and followers, believers and non.
The first issue is identity. Many people find their identity from physical sources such as material possessions or community they live in. Marketing caters to this drive to identify ourselves by what we purchase and the lifestyle that we live. For others the family they come from defines who they are.
The second issue is security. Have you noticed how insecure most people are? So many people’s lives are driven by fear and anxiety. We have so much to be worried about in this age. It has caused the most enormous boom in the psychiatric business in the past few years!
The third issue is meaning. Have you ever stopped to consider what most people live for? Where do they find meaning and purpose? Rick Warren’s book ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ was an international best seller precisely because people lack meaning and purpose in their lives. It is not that most people don’t find some meaning, but rather the meaning many find is unfulfilling. The gospel compels us to find meaning in our relationship with God. In a world where most people find meaning elsewhere, it becomes more difficult to maintain this perspective.
The primary issues Jude raises are answered in the same verse. God’s answers to these life issues are as simple and profound as the issues themselves.
First, our identity is found in being loved by God. That truth is all we need for our identity! As leaders we must find our identity in Jesus, the one who loves us. Our identity is not found in our work or leadership position, it is found in the fact that Jesus called us into a relationship with Him! When we find our identity in our work or position, we are at great risk of having a crisis of identity if the position falls through. I have known far too many people in ministry who so identified themselves in their position that when sacked, their whole life fell apart. Have you ever noticed how often Paul wrote in his epistles about being ‘in Christ’? The answer to the simple question ‘who am I?’ is not ‘I am a youth worker’ but rather ‘I am a child of God presently serving in youth work’. It is far too tempting to place our identity in the secondary fact that we are leaders. The underlying issue in it all is actually a struggle for power. When we find our identity in being loved by God, it is God who has the real power in our lives.
Second, our security is found in being kept by Jesus. God’s love is not merely an abstract concept, but rather an active relationship. Our security is then found in the fact that we are cared for by Him. Fears and anxieties crumble when we hold onto the perspective that we are in the care of God. There is no need for insecurities or worry. We can take risks, step out in faith, and know that God will look after us. Often we pay lip service to this idea and don’t really find our security in Jesus. We only undertake efforts that we know we can achieve on our own talent and strength. However, the most rewarding experiences in life are found when we reach beyond our means to accomplish what God has called us to do in faith. Think of how often in scripture we see examples of people who stepped out in faith and found God faithful. The temptation however, is to allow pride to take over and for us to create our own security. In short, the security of our leadership and lives must be based on an active relationship with the living God. Anything less than finding security in Christ is probably a result of pride in our lives.
Third, our meaning is found in being called by God. As leaders we are called specifically to be people who influence others. The question of why I am here has been answered. Our purpose is not about a position or role, but rather it is about being called to influence others, to point them to God. I am convinced that we must take seriously our call not only to a position of leadership but to a place of ministry as well. Too often good youth workers change jobs every time things get difficult and never really stick out the call to the church or community that God has placed them in. God does move us on at times, yet so often we don’t pay enough attention to our meaning and purpose in a specific place. Our meaning and purpose is found in God’s calling.
Author and speaker Ken Davis once gave a message at a conference with three points that I will never forget. He suggested that we can live life with nothing too hide, nothing to lose, and nothing to prove. The parallels between his talk and the opening verse of Jude are amazing.
Nothing to hide
Too often we wear masks to hide our identity. What is it that we want to keep hidden? That we are sinners in need of a Saviour? That we are incredibly inadequate? Both are true and part of being human. Yet we lose sight of who we are in Christ! Our true identity was lost in the fall.
Think about (but don’t visualize!) Adam naked in the garden. As far as he was concerned, that was no problem. Eve likewise had nothing to hide until they ate from the forbidden fruit. Then what did they do? They covered themselves and hid from God!
It is in sin that we feel the need to hide our identity. Yet if we are a new creation as scripture tells us, we have nothing to hide. Our sinful nature tells us that we are unacceptable, weak, miserable little nothings. Yet scripture tells us that we are made in the image of God and once we come into a relationship with God that image begins to be restored. To explore this further, look at Romans 8:9; Galatians 3:26; Romans 13:14; Philippians 1:6; and Colossians 1:27.
Nothing to lose
Do you know that most of the world lives to some extent in fear of losing things? Not car keys mind you, but we fear losing loved ones, jobs, money, popularity, or our status in our world. Nothing seems secure in this world. Change seems to be the only constant and it leaves us filled with anxiety and fear. Security is a major issue and God knows that! Why else does 1 Peter 5:7 say ‘Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you’ (see also Philippians 4:6 ; Psalm 55:22 and Proverbs 3:5-6).
However, we often work hard at building a future for ourselves. Who would not want to be financially independent? We want assurance that everything will turn out fine. In reality God wants us to depend on Him rather than our brains, good looks, health, jobs, abilities or whatever gifts and good things we have.
I am not suggesting that we shirk our responsibility and live careless lives thinking that God will take care of everything. I do think that we don’t easily come to grips with the idea that God is to be our source of security and everything else is subject to change. What occurs when we place our security in God is that we can do everything to His glory and not worry about the outcome. We can give life our best and know that God will take care of the rest.
Nothing to prove
Too many people in this world are out to prove something. In doing so, they hope to validate their existence and put meaning into their lives. Often this process operates so deep within us that we are unaware of what is motivating us. If we are seeking the approval of a pastor, parent or peer, then that guides our purpose in life. In the end it may lead to disappointment or to great success for the wrong reason. Many famous people have been driven by such motivation and achieved greatness in their fields. The risk is that once we achieve the goals, we may find that it did not prove anything or gain the approval that we were seeking. In other words, it was not satisfying.
Galatians 1:10 suggests that we should not be seeking the approval of others but seeking to serve the Lord. It is He who gives our lives meaning and purpose. What is that purpose? Jesus explains it in his summary of the law (Luke 10:27) and in the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
Bear in mind that there is nothing we can do to make God love us more or less than he does already. God gives us purpose in the context of our relationship with him! (Romans 8:28)
On the potter’s wheel
Several years ago, as a birthday treat, I took my son to a pottery to work with clay. The potter who guided us through the experience explained that every clay pot created on the wheel must be balanced and centred before it is shaped, otherwise it will collapse before it is finished.
A friend in ministry commented to me once about the importance of leading from the ‘quiet’ within us. What is it about natural leaders that cause people to want to follow them? It is a secure ‘inner being’ that people can’t see, but sense is there. It is a confidence without arrogance, a confidence that comes from a source unseen. Too often we see people trying to lead out of weakness or our human nature.
Centred-ness is having our lives in perspective before God. It is knowing that we are loved, kept and called by God. Out of this identity, security, and purpose comes a leader who is ready to influence others for Christ.
Centring comes from time in solitude, study, worship, community, and ministry. It comes only when we have a Biblical perspective of who we are in Christ.
What we need
Without coming to grips with our identity, our security, and our purpose we are tempted to seek popularity or power. We want to be liked more than be effective as leaders, or we desire control. We may even be clueless as to why we are leading people in the first place. It becomes all about us rather than all about God.
What happens when we understand these truths? Jude 2 says that mercy, peace, and love are ours in abundance. Does that not sound like the sort of leader who will be a blessing in the midst of crisis? Jude knows that alone we cannot do much. With God’s help we can be leaders of influence. This magnificent epistle ends with these words:
‘To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen’
Dave Wright is the coordinator for Youth Ministries in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. He also served for 15 years as a full time parish based youth minister in both the US and UK.