Not long ago I was playing a round of golf with my dad, who has been a pastor my entire life. Somehow, in a weird set of a circumstances, God called me to the same life of a minister, despite my strong desire to avoid such a thing happening all of my growing up years.
Having been at my current church, serving in the same roles for almost five years, I began to sense an itch within me for something different. Not something better, not something that would be a better position of title, just something different. I began to share with my dad, walking down one of the freshly cut fairways, how frustrated I was. Change was elusive and didn’t seem to be on the horizon, but I couldn’t imagine continuing with the status quo much longer.
I needed something to change quickly.
And my dad, in his typical mode of operation, dropped a nugget of wisdom on me that I still process through all these months later. He asked me…
Do you care more about your own gain or the church?
Mostly the words just stung because I quickly realized the desire I had to advance my “career” instead of serving faithfully where God had placed me. I was far more concerned about myself than I was my church. I was a leader in terms of overseeing people and having a position that allowed me to facilitate with ongoing ministries, but I was not stewarding the leadership God had given me well.
When leadership becomes more about self-advancement than it is about the service of our lives, we’ve gotten the whole thing turned upside down. Within the circles I run in, I title this calling God gives to us, as His disciples, the death of Christian leadership—the calling toward a dying to self for the sake of Kingdom advancement. Christian leadership begins with death.
I’ve always read Jonah as a negative example of what happens when leadership becomes more about our desires than about following God’s leading. I can just picture Jonah sitting on top of a hill outside of Nineveh, looking down at the city he has just helped save from destruction, with a tree near him wilting, as a picture of his own heart’s callousness to what God was up to. God will accomplish His will, but our personal desires often get in the way.
I don’t think Jonah ever truly died to his own agenda in order to fully follow God’s. Sure, he went where God asked him to go (of course, that may have had something to do with a giant fish eating him), but He never saw how God desired to work through him.
Saint Augustine captures the heart of true leadership: “Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending.”
All of us desire to make an impact with the lives God has given us. It’s a long road to die to self before God can truly use us for what He has in mind.
While influence and significance are high on the radars of many who have positions of leadership, we must first come to know that true influence and significance begins with a death to self for the sake of service to God and His church.