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This is the fifth of seven blog posts that are excerpted from my upcoming book, Steward Leader Meditations, which was released in June. It is my heartfelt prayer that this book of Scriptural texts, meditations, action steps and simple prayers will bless leaders on their journey toward kingdom faithfulness and effectiveness.
Part 1 – Dear Leaders: Sell Everything – Really!
Part 2 – Leaders: What Do You Fear Today?
Part 3 – The Crucial Difference Between Producing and Bearing Fruit
Part 4 – The Importance of Defining Success in Kingdom Terms
Part 6 – What it Means to Be a Leader of No Reputation
Part 7 – A World at War – Are You Prepared to Lead?
May you be blessed by these texts, thoughts and prayers.
Then God said, “Let Us make mankind in Our image, in Our likeness.” So God made mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them. Male and female, He created them. (Genesis 1:27)
For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:29)
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)
Imagine yourself at a social gathering. You bump into someone you have never met and politely introduce yourself. He responds by sharing his name, and then this person gives you an interesting command: “So, tell me who you are.” You start to tell him what you do for a living, but he stops you and says, “No, don’t tell me about your job ‒ tell me who you are.” A little confused, you begin to share with him that you are a parent, a spouse, a resident of the city in which you live, but he abruptly stops you again and demands, “No, don’t tell me about the roles you play in life. I’m really interested to know who you are.” Pretty unnerving, isn’t it?
What is awkward when posed in a casual social situation is crucial to our defining self. From our texts above we learn that our primary identity is as an image bearer of the God who created us. Since that original image was marred in the Fall, and we have been redeemed in Jesus Christ, we are in the process of being shaped in His image. That too is our identity. From this sure and certain identity as a child of God being made in the image of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, we will live, act, and work in a certain way. Paul, in Ephesians, told us that the good works we do are part of God’s greater plan.
The point I want to make here is that of direction. When we consider how to integrate the relationship between who we are and what we do, Scripture tells us there is only one acceptable direction. Our identity is in Christ, whose image we bear as a witness to the world. As we live out that identity, we will lead in ways that reflect that image. We can label this as a “who-to-what” direction. What we do is an outflow of who we are.
Here’s the challenge. We live in a world that labels us and defines us more by what we do than who we are. We live in a “what-to-who” world. Tell me what you do, and I’ll derive from it a level of value to your life. Even as followers of Jesus, we can fall into this trap all too easily. We can begin to find the definition of who we are in the roles we play, the titles we hold, and the outcomes we produce. This is especially true for leaders. We can allow the reputation of our organizations and the size of our budgets define us. The world values power, prestige, possessions, and praise. People pursue these things with a passion, believing that in them they will find their identity as “successful” people.
But for a child of God, the process is exactly the opposite. If there is success to be had in this world, it comes solely from the extent to which we have submitted ourselves to Jesus Christ, allowing Him to live in us and through us. As that Spirit conforms our spirit in the image of Christ, then excellent, effective, and life-changing leadership flows from us. But that work never defines us. We are a child of God, redeemed through Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, period.
Complete the following sentence, listing every title and role you play:
I am a _____________________, _______________________, ________________________, _______________________, _________________________, _______________________, ______________________, _______________________, _________________________, _______________________, ______________________, _______________________, _________________________, _______________________, ______________________, _______________________, _________________________, _______________________, and ______________________.
Now think through this meditation, re-read the texts, and answer the question posed by the guy at the party who asks, “Who are you?
Close your time with this prayer:
Lord God, Heavenly Father, I confess that as I read this I realized how often I have identified myself with what I do and not by who I am in You. It’s so easy to be labeled by my job title, the influence I wield, and the esteem of others. I acknowledge that the world has pressed on me its values and too often I have accepted them as my own. Help me, through the power of Your Holy Spirit, to reclaim my sole identity as a child of God being conformed to the image of Christ. I know that from this identity You can work through me to do good and great things in this world. I thank You for that. But never let me shift my identity to my work or I will fall back into the same old trap that I’m already in. My identity is in You. Let me affirm that rich and wonderful truth every morning before my feet touch the floor. Help me to live each day in the privilege and challenge of bearing Your image in this broken and hurting world. In Jesus’ name I pray; Amen.