How do people get to be “leaders”? Sometimes, you are chosen to lead a team or a project. Or maybe you voluntarily step into a spot where a leader is needed. We often think of the person who is calling the shots as the “leader”. But “leadership” is not a position. Many people have the organizational skills, attention to detail and people power to pull off a project on time and on budget, but that doesn’t necessarily make them a leader.
Leadership is a lifestyle …. a mindset …. a way of moving through the world that makes others want to follow. Leaders can be found in every part of an organization, from the top of the totem pole to the bottom. In fact, if there are NOT leaders at the bottom, the whole thing may fall apart.
Now, you might be smugly thinking this leadership thing doesn’t apply to you. After all, God called you to write a book or start a blog or sell the products you and your kids are making in your basement, not start a church, for goodness sakes! But you would be wrong. (#sorrynotsorry)
You see, God may have bigger plans for your calling than you think. He may be preparing you in your everyday interactions … in your small victories and painful failures … to lead in ways you can’t imagine. Self-leadership is the best preparation for group leadership.
Popular culture has led us to believe that leaders are born, not made. I’m not so sure that is true. I know that God has put in you and me all we need to achieve what he’s called us to do. If we need to be a leader, he’s placed a leader inside of us.
If you had looked at the leaders of the 1st century church before Jesus and his disciples got ahold of them, you wouldn’t have seen much leadership potential in them. They were just everyday people, with the same struggles, limitations, bad attitudes and failures as everyone else. But those flawed people did extraordinary things, because they learned the lifestyle of leadership by watching Jesus, Paul, Peter and the others.
That’s the same for every leader there has ever been. Leaders are just everyday, flawed people who have learned to look above the present situation and find the way through it.
Leadership expert John Maxwell recently said, “Leaders see more than others and see it before others.” That kind of awareness is unique to good leaders. It’s what makes people feel safe in following. It gives them confidence, knowing that their leader is looking out ahead and making the way clear for them.
Whether you are leading an organization with multiple layers, or leading yourself to set the course of your mini-ministry, you can grow into the leader God needs you to be. Over the next four weeks, we’ll look at the lessons in leadership that Paul taught the first century church in Thessalonica and see how we can apply them to our 21st century world. Let’s start with these three practical ways you can embrace your calling and your role as a leader.
Know where your calling comes from
And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. 1 Thessalonians 2:13
God is at work in you. He’s calling you to do something bigger than yourself. Let that word settle deep in your heart.
In our own struggles with self-worth and fear, we often try to minimize what God is up to. We are scared to think of what he could do with our obedience and wonder why anyone would want to read what we have to say, much less follow us.
Test your heart. Is this a human calling that you have made up in your own head? Are you doing it for your own glory? One test I use is to ask myself these questions:
Am I doing this because of how it makes me feel when I do it? (Significant. Smart. In control.)
Or am I doing it because of how it makes others feel? (Equipped. Confident. Seen.)
If you pass the heart test, then know that God is at work in you and you just need to hold on for the ride!
Find a role model
You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6 (NIV)
Paul and his team spent time living and serving with the new Christians in Thessalonica. The leaders of the local church followed and imitated what they saw. And they saw them lead through difficult times. It’s one thing to lead when things are easy and rosy, but leading through “severe suffering” is a test for any leader.
The local leaders were also up close and personal with Paul. There is a lot of value in following popular leaders like John Maxwell, Andy Stanley or Jenni Catron, but you’ll learn more from a role model that you can watch from close range. You’ll see how she reacts in the moment, how she processes information to make decisions and how she deals with the people around her.
I’ve been blessed over the last few years to serve under someone who is hitting her stride as a leader. I’ve watched her study to become a better leader, consult with her mentor in difficult situations, and make bold decisions that aren’t always popular. I’ve learned more from watching her than I have in a 25-year professional career with annual leadership training.
Prepare your heart for opposition
With the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. 1 Thessalonians 2:2-4 NIV
One of the most un-glamorous parts of leadership is making difficult decisions. Most decisions will not be universally popular and there will usually be someone ( or many someones) who are disappointed or angry and question your decision.
For natural people-pleasers, this can be discouraging, or worse yet, cause us to be slow to make the hard decisions. Paul reminds us God has entrusted us with the gospel and with our calling. When our motives are pure and in line with what best supports our purpose, we will please God even if we don’t please people.
How do you feel about being a leader? Are you ready to embrace your role? As we work through these next few weeks together, what aspects of leadership concern you most? We’ll tackle them together!