One of the greatest temptations a leader faces is to live for the applause of people. We long for recognition and seek affirmation. Leadership can easily descend into a popularity contest. Particularly in a digitally connected world, increasing followers on social media seems to preoccupy many a would-be leader (now termed influencer). This often comes at the expense of truly leading. Perhaps this is a contributing factor to the epidemic of leadership bankruptcy seen in the world today.
I have observed that the struggle for popularity often comes from a place of insecurity. Leaders can find their sense of self-worth in their position, title and influence over others. Many leaders, therefore, exert effort in the struggle to maintain power to feel secure in themselves, their vocation and their prosperity.
Christian leaders are not immune to these temptations. Unless our leadership is framed and formed by the cross of Christ, we can operate from a place of insecurity. And insecure leaders can be dangerous to themselves and their followers. They may exert a huge effort to maintain power, not for the good of others, but to fulfil their own lofty goals and ambitions.
In other words, insecure leaders struggle for security.
In this series of articles, I’ve been espousing a counter-cultural approach to Christian leadership that I call the effortless paradigm. In previous articles, we’ve seen that biblically-focused leaders can experience exponential impact as they work while waiting and strive from a posture of surrender.
Effortless leadership does not mean there is no effort. Rather, the effort is applied in a spiritual and biblical direction, enabling the Lord to bring about an abundant harvest which is disproportionate to our effort.
However, that does not mean there is no struggle, but the struggles that Christian leaders face emanate from a position of security, rather than insecurity. The security of Christian leaders is in the knowledge that God so loved them that he sent his Son to die on their behalf and, through believing in Jesus, they are eternally secure. This does not mean that life will be a bed of roses. Struggles will still come. Just because we are Christians doesn’t mean we are immune from the trials of life. The differentiating factor is that the struggles we face are not to maintain power or influence over others. Rather, the struggles are what form us to become more like Christ. And as Christ’s character is formed, then we become more fruitful in our life and leadership.
The best that insecure leaders can hope for is fruit proportional to their effort. They can struggle and toil and perhaps see some fruit for their labours. But at what personal and relational cost?
On the other hand, effortless leaders, secure in their salvation, struggle in a godly manner with things that have immediate and eternal consequences. They are therefore positioned to see fruit that is disproportionate to their efforts which brings much glory to God.
I want to close this mini-series of articles by looking at Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith (Hebrews 12:1) and the prime example for Christian leaders. There is no person in history who has had a greater impact on the world than Jesus Christ. His life, death and resurrection continue to have exponential fruitfulness around the world.
So, what was Jesus’ secret? Remember, he had made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant (Php. 2:7). He was like us in every way… but one. The struggles Jesus faced in his life eclipse anything that we face. From the temptations of the devil, the persecution of religious authorities, the betrayal of his friends, and his death on the cross, Jesus’ life was not free from struggle. Indeed, the bible tells us that he “endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). This was no walk in the park.
As we consider him, I feel that the key to Jesus’ endurance was that he was perfectly secure in his Father’s love. This security meant he could face and overcome the struggles. Take some time to read John 10:25–30. Jesus concludes that section by stating, “I and the Father are one”. Jesus did not have an identity crisis. Nor did he suffer from an insecurity complex.
One of the greatest demonstrations of servant leadership (and on the eve of his crucifixion) was when Jesus washed the disciple’s feet (this story is the basis of my book, Grab a Towel). John introduces that amazing story by stating:
“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist” (John 13:3–4).
Jesus’ assurance that his Father was with him and that he was returning to the Father meant he had the strength to serve his disciples, and the resilience to face the ensuing events from Gethsemane to Golgotha.
Jesus also had a perspective beyond the struggles. He anticipated the exponential fruit that would be the result of his endurance. Listen to his words in John 12:24: “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” As the author of Hebrews stated, it was for the joy set before him, that he endured the cross.
As followers of Jesus, do we lead from that same sense of security? Do we lead as secure children of God not swayed by the opinion and opposition of men and women?
I believe this is make or break for us in terms of our effectiveness as leaders. Insecure leaders will constantly fight the wrong battle and struggle for the wrong things. Secure leaders will be able to follow Christ’s example and have a perspective that looks beyond our immediate struggles and sees the fruit that can come through faithful endurance. That perspective enables us to perceive our efforts and struggles as insignificant in comparison to the fruit that will result in our own lives and in the lives of others.
Very specifically, there are three struggles that all Christian leaders will face. We will struggle with sin. We will struggle with spiritual opposition. And we will struggle with self-centredness. The only way we can hope to survive and thrive in our leadership is if we are secure in our identity as new creations in Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17). Then we will find we do not need to succumb to sin for our loving Father will always provide a way out (1 Cor. 10:13). In our struggle against spiritual attack, we can stand firm and resist evil (Eph. 6:13). And in our struggle with selfish ambition, we will find that we are able to put others first (Php. 2:13).
This is counter-cultural leadership. And the beauty of it is that it’s effortless. When we truly find our security in Christ, it radically shifts our view of success. When the struggles come, our task is primarily to be faithful and obedient to him. We depend on his grace and can leave the results to him. If our struggle results in us dying to ourselves (Gal. 2:20), then we are truly able to see exponential fruit in our lives and leadership. And, with Paul, we’ll be able to say, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).