George was 28 years old, single, and still living with his parents. One Sunday morning, George told his mother he wasn’t going to church. “First,” he said, “I’m tired. Second, the people there don’t like me. And third, the sermons are dull.” But George’s mother wouldn’t take no for an answer. “George,” she said, “you have to go. First, we always worship on Sunday. Second, it doesn’t matter whether they like us or not. And third, you are the pastor!”
Well this is a cute joke, but it illustrates what I’ve discovered to be a crucial principle of Christian leadership: We should not seek out positions of leadership, they seek us. And we should respond to leadership challenges only when it is clear God has called us. This principle applies whether we’re leading large ministries or small prayer groups in our living rooms.
Think of the leaders in Scripture. Many of them tried to avoid the responsibility. Moses argued that he wasn’t a good speaker. Solomon thought he was too young. And of course the most colorful example is Jonah. He went to great lengths—and great depths—to avoid God’s call on his life.
I can identify with Jonah because, frankly, I didn’t seek to do what I am currently doing either. I wanted a quiet and peaceful life. God did not throw me into the belly of a fish, thank goodness, but he threw me into prison. That’s how He chose to prepare me for ministry.
I did wrestle with God for a full year before I went into ministry. But once I was sure it was what God wanted, I surrendered; I said “Yes.” The wrestling period was nonetheless important for me because it helped me to be sure this was not something I was doing for myself, out of personal ambition. Rather, it was something I was certain I was doing at God’s call and upon His insistence.
As the great writer A.W. Tozer said: “A true and safe leader is likely to be one who has no desire to lead, but is forced into a position of leadership by the inward pressure of the Holy Spirit and the press of external situations.” And he added: “I believe it might be accepted as a fairly reliable rule of thumb that the man who is ambitious to lead is disqualified as a leader.”
What Tozer was talking about was the fact that some people desire leadership in order to build themselves up. Of course, we often enjoy leadership positions because we know we are being used by God, and that’s a good thing. But there is a fine line between that kind of personal satisfaction and indulging personal ego. But as Tozer writes, the leader who is in it because it gratifies his ego is doomed—and very often, so are those who follow him.
These are principles that apply across the board, whether you are leading a church, a small prayer group, or your own household. When God gives us a responsibility to lead, it can never be taken lightly. It is always humbling. It is never a cause to lord it over those we lead. Rather, it is a call to serve others, to put them first. This is a different view of leadership than what we find in the secular world. That’s why we Christians speak of “servant leadership.”
It’s not an easy thing to do, but if God has entrusted you with the responsibility of leadership, He’ll provide you with the strength to lead as well.
And whatever your responsibility, accept it as a holy trust—never lose your sense of awe that a holy God would choose you.
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