You Say You Understand It…But Are You Living It?

There are words that we use in everyday life that we have employed so often that in their frequency of use, we assume we understand their meaning.

For example, prior to about 7-8 years ago, I used the word gospel in a much different manner than I use it now. It was as if my use of it showcased that I got it.

Was I ever wrong.

leadership word under torn black sugar paper

Through being under the leadership of Matt Olson at Northland and now under the weekly preaching of Pastor Alex at Redemption Hill, I have come to see that I was really using gospel more like a junk-drawer term.

Meaning, I was using it, but not being transformed by it. That its effect was more in using the word gospel than in living the gospel. I have since come to understand differently, and though I have certainly not arrived, my awareness of its transformative power in my own life has been greatly reinforced.

I view the term leadership as a similar type of overused but underutilized word.

Leadership: a junk-drawer term

If we do not take the necessary time to master how leadership affects both our thinking and our actions, then I am afraid it will be another one of those junk-drawer terms that we use much but comprehend little.

My wife has an awesome ministry in our local public school and comes into contact with many students in the course of a day. Recently she was having a conversation with a young man who mentioned to her that he knew he wanted to lead, but really was not sure how to lead. That he was not sure what it looked like.

He is not alone.

And that got me thinking and became the impetus for this post today.

I am gaining quickly on the 50-year mark and appreciate the fact that, with being older, I do feel like I have gained some wisdom in just living life. I perceive things differently now than when I was 25 because I am able to view much more of life behind me. And that looking-back at life has very much shaped and molded my thinking, changed paradigms, and solidified foundations.

So too with leadership.

What is it about leadership anyway?

And why am I so passionate about this topic of leadership? One key reason.

Leadership is influence. It is change. It is the opportunity to move a person from A to B, where B is a more favorable state of thinking, a more favorable state of doing, or a more favorable state of being.

In this post for today, I want you to take a few moments to stop and ponder what you read today and ask yourself how you are using this word in your conversation, and even more importantly, how you are employing this word in your actions.

It is always best to define terms so that we start on the same page. What is leadership? I know there are a gazillion definitions out on the web, but I would like to add my own variation because sometimes new perspectives can often bring forth fresh thinking.

But let me add a caveat.

I think it can be dangerous to discuss something as powerful as leadership and disassociate it from a gospel influence. To do so is to play the game of compartmentalization, where the gospel affects much of my life but not all of my life.

I simply cannot be a believer in the gospel but yet speak of leadership apart from seeing it through the grid of the gospel.

Why?

Because apart from the framework of the gospel, it is too easy to make leadership about performance rather than a response to what Jesus is doing within me. There are certainly leadership principles of morality and integrity that are helpful in motivating and serving others, but without a life transformed by the gospel, we fall short. I’ll explain more of that later.

So what is leadership? Here are some key elements that I would include:

Leadership is the serving of another for his or her good and success. It is a tangible response to the steadfast love of Jesus towards me that manifests itself in active love for another. It is removing roadblocks for others and helping others see what is true. It is providing hope when there is darkness, clarity when there is confusion, and vision where there is mere existence.

One beautiful aspect of leadership is that it is always relevant within the context of your own life. Meaning, leadership is not just a position bestowed. It is simply initiating. Leadership is just as important, feasible, influential, and applicable for the young man in our high school setting as it is for my own position within the local church.

Leadership transcends age, context, and setting. The problem is that leadership is not always glamorous. In fact, leadership is more about the mundane than it is about the mountain top experiences.

Earlier in this post I made a statement that I wished to clarify.

There are certainly leadership principles of morality and integrity that are helpful in motivating and serving others, but without a life transformed by the gospel, we fall short.

And what I meant by this is found in my definition:

It is a tangible response to the steadfast love of Jesus towards me that manifests itself in active love for another.

It is easy to lead those who desire to be led. It is easy to love those who love in return.

But what about those who do not think they need your leadership, or in fact, mock it? What about those who are not easy to love? This is the crucible of leadership and there have been points in my career in which I have lived in it.

Leadership within the framework of the gospel

So why do we fall short without a life transformed by the gospel? Because the most truthful conclusion I can come to is that I simply cannot change another’s heart or move another’s thinking.

I am dependent.

And so my ability to truly lead hinges on my embracing of Jesus and His power working within me. To attempt to change or move others without this merely resorts to convincing and manipulation.

I am making no such claim that my definition of leadership above is either new or improved. But it has helped me to be able sit down and articulate it for myself. 

But in any case, know with certainty what it means in your own context of living, be able to define it, and be able to express with clarity what it looks like in action.

Leadership is a great privilege but it is often heavy. Do not allow its heaviness to overshadow the fact that God allows us to lead and the ability to be used of Him to push others forward is an experience on which you cannot put a price.

I love this definition of leadership by John Piper:

I define spiritual leadership as knowing where God wants people to be and taking the initiative to use God’s methods to get them there in reliance on God’s power.

Lead in humility. Lead in love. Lead well.

I’d love to hear from you — please leave a reply below if you have any thoughts to add to the conversation.

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