Leadership. Even the word sounds complicated and nebulous. Some of us are more hard-wired for it and thrive in leadership positions while others of us have to put more work in to be the type of leader we want to be. In either case, leadership is a grand adventure—one where we don’t quite know what we’re really getting ourselves into until we take a moment to look back on where our leadership has taken us and how we have grown and matured along the way, as well as what our leadership has done around us.
I’ve read countless books about leadership, listened to podcasts, participated in conference calls, attended conferences, and basically devoured any resource I could because I want to be the best leader I can be. But last summer while I was in Kenya working alongside a pastor—Pastor Aggrey—I learned a lesson about leadership that the books, conferences, and podcasts couldn’t teach me in quite the same way.
This leadership lesson came at a time in my life where I was wondering what it means to be a leader and a Christian. Wasn’t Jesus a servant? How can servants lead? And all those leadership lessons seemed to mostly be about me, not about Jesus. How did it all fit together? I wanted to know what it means to put Jesus first practically in leadership. It seems like something Christians should be doing—but how? Pastor Aggrey summarized Christian leadership very simply: “You just have to make up your mind to please God.”
At the time, I was stunned by the simplicity of his profound statement. I quickly wrote it down in my journal as we hurried off to the next ministry opportunity. I was not prepared for the way that statement would convict and challenge my life in the following year, and even still today.
There are so many resources out there about how to grow in leadership. It seems like a new book comes out every month. But those resources don’t compare to how Jesus modeled leadership. Jesus laid down his rights; as Philippians 2:7 says, he “made himself nothing.” The goal of Jesus’ ministry was to please the Father. He says so explicitly in the Gospel of John: “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (6:38).
This means that my leadership should become less about me and more about the Father. As my understanding and discernment of the Father’s will continue to mature, I will realize that this isn’t complicated; it is indeed simple! My leadership should reflect that I am about the Father’s business. As a Christ-follower, this is what I want—for Christ to be pleased with my life and leadership. And if my goal is to please God in my leadership—to steward well the leadership position he has given me, and to make much of him—then my leadership can only grow in authenticity and depth.
I have come back to this lesson that I learned from Pastor Aggrey last summer over and over again. His statement has also helped to simplify and clarify next steps for me as a leader more times than I can list.
Let me be clear—I’m not saying that this advice and model of leadership are easy. In my experience with leadership, it has meant that sometimes I need to make decisions that are not as popular or effortless as I would prefer them to be. Christ-honoring leadership can be a lonely place. The difficult and challenging times in leadership make me wonder if it is worth it. I find myself asking, Will this ever end? Will it always be this way? I’m sure that I am not alone in feeling this way.
But God. BUT GOD. He always shows up in incredible ways to give hope and comfort in the midst of lonely and confusing leadership situations. The difficult and challenging times are outnumbered by the times I’ve experienced growth in and around me in my leadership context.
In fact, to my surprise, making the ultimate goal of my leadership to please Christ has been the most straightforward way of leading as well as the most impactful. It makes sense, though. Life can’t work right without Jesus at the center, and neither does leadership. Leadership as a Christ-follower has to be all about him, not me.
As you continue to uncover the leader that you are, make up your mind to please God in your leadership. You may be delightfully encouraged and pleased with the results.
Courtney is on staff with InterVarsity at Montana State University. She spends her days wondering how to combine her two loves of mountaintops and beaches. The rest of the time she can be found drinking coffee and reading IVP books.