It may seem presumptuous to propose that there is one challenge to leadership that is so universally experienced that it is consistently at the top of the list of reasons leaders struggle and fail. But a recent experience has moved me deeply and convinced me that there may be just such a challenge common to most all Christian leaders. If you would allow me to reflect on it personally, I will use it to help state my case.
I am just returning from eight days in Asia where I was privileged to spend an afternoon coaching twenty-two young legal professionals in Beijing. While they are all at different places in their walk with Christ, when asked the reason for their interest in the steward leader teaching, the response was almost unanimous. Four days later I heard the same answer, this time voiced by a group of thirty or so professionals from a leading evangelical church in Hong Kong as they were reflecting on the message I had just preached. When I asked what had challenged them the most, they echoed the same themes as the team in Beijing.
This alone would not create a precedent, but when it is added to the voices of leaders we have worked with globally, the testimonies we are recording through our Steward Leader Stories, the coaching we are doing with Christian nonprofit leaders here in the Northwest, and talking with so many of you about your work with Christian leaders, this one issue is consistently cited as the greatest struggle leaders face across these cultures and ministry settings.
What is a leader’s greatest challenge?
It is spending so much time working for Jesus that we have no time left for Him to work in us. It is prioritizing all we are attempting to accomplish in our work over all that God would do in us to mature us as followers of Jesus. It is valuing doing over being. It is busying ourselves in our work at the price of abiding in Christ. It is a drive to produce that drowns out the passion for faithfulness.
I believe this is the enemy’s secret weapon. He knows that if he can deceive us into shifting our priorities in these ways, our intimacy with Christ will become muted at best and stagnant at worst. We are hearing from Christian leaders wherever we go that the demands of work are marginalizing their intimacy with Christ. It is a plague that is robbing them and their organizations of the ability to truly hear God speak and know they are leading from the center of His will, relying on His power, trusting in His provision, and boldly moving ahead in His name.
I was asked repeatedly the straightforward question, “How do I get it back? How do I find the time and rearrange my priorities so that my intimacy with Christ becomes more important?”
The answer, I believe, is not in techniques or even disciplines, as important as they are. It must come from a fundamental rethinking of how we define success. If we are stewards of everything that belongs to God, then our highest priority is to know the will of the true owner and do it faithfully. If this is true, then the focus of our leadership must be on those activities that assure that we are hearing God speak and together, as an organization, moving ahead united in the passionate pursuit of carrying out what He lays on our hearts. Once we become cut off from the voice of the owner, we are thrown back on ourselves to follow our own ways, trust in our own strengths, and pray that God will somehow bless it all. That is where we find so many leaders; hoping they’re doing God’s will, trying to trust Him to be their provider, but carrying the fear, anxiety and stress that, somehow, they may be missing the mark, and carrying that burden into their daily work.
As leaders we must take an honest look at whether we are playing this owner leader role; has something else crowded out intimacy with Christ as our highest priority? Are we leading with a sense of certainty that He is speaking into our leadership, guiding our organization, and blessing us as we move ahead in the center of His will? Once we have reset our priorities around this single definition of success, our time, actions and attitudes will follow. The disciplines of abiding in Christ, listening to and reading His Word, and discerning His voice in the context of our community will become part of our culture. When these disciplines are interwoven with biblical accountability, God will do amazing things both in and through us for the organizations we serve.
Where are you today as a Christian leader? Is faithfulness your definition of success? Is abiding in Christ and knowing the will of the owner your driving passion? And is everything else in your work as a leader designed around this core passion? Are you experiencing daily intimacy with Christ, or has that relationship gone stagnant?
In these days of growing hostility and aggression toward the Christian faith both in the United States and in so many places around the world, the Christian leader that will stand and lead with humility and courage is the one who is abiding in Christ, and moving ahead according to His guidance for His glory. May we all be such leaders.