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The Heart of Leadership

As a leader, what is that others need to see more than anything else in you and me? What is the essence of leadership that churches need to see modeled and exemplified? There are several great answers that could be given but the best example, of course, is Jesus. As we study how He led and mentored those He did life with there are truly nuggets we notice such as washing their feet and telling them He came to serve not be served. Many have written well on servant-leadership.

There is a passage though that gives us the very “heart” that is required to lead like Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus faced the cross He was struggling. He then prays in submission to the Father, “Not My will, but Yours be done!” At the toughest moment of His journey Jesus cries out to the Father as His sweat fell as great drops of blood. We see the anguish as He transparently asks, “Is there any other possible way?” before He obediently submits to the original plan.

The problem for us is in the struggle between “my” will verses “His” will. That is the core issue of leadership. Unfortunately, as a matter of confession, I fear that I have spent far too much of my time making plans “for” God instead of getting plans “from” God. The heart of leadership is leading the same way Jesus did and that means that other people must continually see in us, “Not my will but Yours be done!” We have to come to grips with this truth and act submitted when we really are not!

Someone has said well, “A struggled, learned, prayed for obedience is the best and truest obedience.” God shapes us by taking us to the cross not once but at multiple times (even daily) throughout our ministries and leadership journeys. This is the essence of the leadership that is needed in our lives and in our churches. Hebrews 5:7-8 says, “During His earthly life, He offered prayers and appeals with loud cries and tears to the One who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence. Though He was God’s Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered.”

What are the elements necessary for us to develop the leadership style of Christ?

First, we need to be willing to go down the same path He did.  

Following Christ requires accepting the crosses He brings into our lives. The challenge is to stay on course even when the dark days and nights come into our lives. There will be those times we want to quit and may cry out as Jesus did, “Is there any other way possible?” Crosses are necessary for resurrection and new life to occur.

Second, realize that there will not always be a miraculous deliverance.

Jesus basically asked for a miracle; if it was possible. Why should we expect to get a miracle to avoid our crosses and be upset when we don’t when Jesus did not receive a miracle either? It is at those moments that our wills and God’s will clash the most because we are tempted to quit rather than endure. The cross is necessary because that is where the greatest transformation occurs in our lives.

Third, we learn through cross bearing two very important lessons.

  1. We learn to die to self and that takes place when we let go of what we want. Brokenness of our will and our desires is required and there is no way around it. We learn to relinquish so that we can learn to trust completely.
  2. We also learn submission. Even when we do not have all the answers and do not know how things will turn out. We surrender… trusting Him even when the outcome is a mystery to us.

Fourth, when we take up our crosses to follow Him it is then that we can abide in Him, as we should.

Once we have relinquished control He then fills us with His presence and power. John 12:24 teaches us this principle clearly, “I assure you: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces a large crop.” We discover in times of dying to self that what we have relinquished and given up does not even compare to what He fills us with and gives in His presence. That is why Jesus said He that loses His life will find it!

Fifth, as we begin to abide in Him there are two things that happen in our leadership.

  1. We gain great discernment. We are shown what He wants us to do. We discover His calling and direction for our lives as we abide in Him. Once we are broken and submitted we fully understand that He is the Shepherd and we are His sheep. We begin to hear His voice more clearly and obey it more completely. We stop making plans “for” God and begin getting His plans.
  2. We also gain discretion. Discernment is discovering what He wants us to do while discretion addresses when. By abiding in Him we trust God’s perfect timing and He gives us the ability to wait on Him. Discretion is not acting even when we know we could go ahead but God is asking us not to do so. God has a plan for us and He also has a timetable in mind that fits us perfectly. Jesus was fully aware of the mission, the methods, and the minutes.

The best leadership and the real heart of leadership is to lead like Jesus. The heart of leading like Christ is understanding that those we are leading need to see a leader who leads out of “not my will but yours be done!” That is the best gift we as leaders can give to our churches, ministries, those we are discipling, and most of all to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!