Motivated to Lead!
The new school year is finally underway. Vision is high, new students are finding their way into your fellowship, and events are running full steam ahead. How are you doing as a leader? Are you sailing along smoothly, confident in your calling to serve the Lord? Maybe you’re doing fine, but, then again, maybe you’re not.
Some leaders – especially after all the early events are done – begin to feel the weight of responsibility, a creeping loneliness or an odd “distance” from other members of the group. What’s going on? Our joys and struggles often stem from the way we view leadership itself. Leadership has a hundred definitions in our culture and you’ll find all kinds of help, from witty, hip-pocket management tips to the latest crazy trend.
But as Christians, we need to cut through the hype and ask, “What is effective biblical student leadership?” The answer isn’t all that complicated: effective Christian leadership is being who God has made you, working with the gifts he gives you. It’s not conforming to a particular leadership style or hero (although useful models and good examples shouldn’t be ignored). It’s not climbing a power ladder or winning a race. Biblical leadership isn’t competitive. Instead, we have the freedom to be ourselves.
God’s Word is full of stories about people who were faithful to God, learning to become people who followed after his heart, activating the gifts he gave them for the good of those around them. Think of the prophets, the apostles and Jesus himself. Leading wasn’t something they sought for themselves or added to their lives like ill-fitting clothing. Rather, for these people and for us, being a leader is being a true servant of God.
A rare quality
Timothy, Paul’s “son in the faith,” is an example of a leader. To the Christians at Philippi, Paul wrote of Timothy, “For I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. All of them are seeking after their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:20-21). Timothy was authentically interested in the well-being of others. What a remarkable – and rare — quality! Where today can we find someone who is truly interested in others without any other motive? Don’t we all long for someone to be genuinely concerned about us? Biblical leadership is being honestly interested in others. It is servanthood.
Such selfless concern for others is a quality God wants to develop in us, for it is contrary to our nature. It’s natural for us to be self-oriented and self-important. It’s unnatural – and therefore a supernatural gift – for us to care about others. With God alive in us, we can love others without strings attached.
We’re all different!
Not only can God free us from our selfish ambitions, he also promises us the gifts we need to lead out in service. The Bible teaches that we are gifted by God for the purpose of building others up, not competing against them (Romans 12:1-8, Ephesians 4:1-16). In 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, Paul writes that there are a variety of gifts and ways to use them in the body of believers, but that it’s God who activates them in each of us for the common good. The Spirit allots to each one individually as he chooses (12:11). Then Paul uses the human body to illustrate that every Christian is an indispensable member of the larger body of Christ, regardless of the role.
Given the diverse makeup of the early Corinthian church, this was good news! Perhaps they gave more freedom and flexibility to each other, working together better. With Christ as head of their body of believers, they could function without the threat of being quenched or oppressed by others seeking glory or power.
Like the Corinthians believers before us, we are the body of Christ together. The leaders of your fellowship don’t all have the same function; give each other the freedom to do what God calls you to do. You’ll exhibit maturity in leadership when you get along and work together well, as people of diverse gifts, callings and backgrounds.
Asking the right questions
If you are wondering what your gifts are or how you can serve, start by asking yourself:
- What do I already do well?
- What do others say I do well?
- How has God used me to assist others?
- Where do I need to rely on God and his strength?
- What do I receive great godly joy from doing?
- What roles do I seem to take on naturally?
Not all leaders struggle with self-importance. Many wrestle with the flip side: “comparisonitis.” You may wonder if you’re as good at leading as all the accomplished folks around you seem to be. Remember that leadership is not only service, but also discipleship: following after Jesus. That’s the great equalizer. Regardless of the position or role, we all serve him. If we live by the Spirit as Jesus’ disciple, we don’t need to compare ourselves with other (2 Corinthians 10:12). There is no hierarchy and therefore no need for jealousy or competition. We “just do it” for God. If God equips us to communicate vision and direction, we are being leaders. If he prompts us to set up chairs, or to be friendly to newcomers, we are being leaders. Whether you’re called to reserve a room, run a meeting, make decisions or disciple someone, you are being a leader because you’re an example of one who is serving God through your gifts.
I know a student who exhibited this kind of leadership with delightful abandon. Kim jumped into the group doing the things leaders do. She came to chapter functions as often as she could and volunteered for different assignments. But as I got to know Kim, I found that she was doing things not because she desired status or wanted to fill a need of her own, but because she really was concerned about the fellowship. Students could tell that her life and gifts matched her words and actions. Kim valued people, God and what InterVarsity stood for. She genuinely wanted to see the fellowship flourish.
Avoiding the traps
Since biblical leadership is contrary to our cultural environment and our nature, it’s difficult to serve without double motives. Have you ever considered your own motives? Why did you say “yes” to the invitation to lead? Sometimes leaders serve for the wrong reasons, such as to gain prestige or self-esteem. Did you think you ought to serve, even if you’re not sure you’re gifted for the position? Organizations often have plenty of slots to fill, some desperately. The need is high, and the prestige can be tempting, but the deeper question of motivation still needs to be addressed.
How can you and other leaders safeguard from falling into these traps? Here are some ideas:
- Watch yourself closely, especially when teaching about motivation (1 Timothy 4:16).
- Know yourself well enough to recognize the perils of pride.
- Remind yourself of who you are in Christ: uniquely made in God’s image.
- Live graciously with yourself and others; God knows you completely and loves you.
- Surround yourself with friends who will ask tough questions about your motivation (not accusingly, but gently reflecting God’s heart).
The best safeguard of all is simple: know Jesus. Worship him. Meet him in his Word. Read about how he loved others and constantly loves you. Let him speak to you. Be transformed. Watch how he knew himself and served with pure motives. Take, for example, John 13:1-5, where Jesus washed the disciples’ feet at his final meal with them.
The disciples were astonished! Who was Jesus to stoop to slave-like humility and service? The answer is in the passage: Jesus knew who he was. He had no identity problems. He was not suffering from a lack of self-esteem. He knew the Father, and he knew that the Father knew him. His relationship with the Father was secure. He was not gaining performance points by obeying the Father; he was gaining joy! Despite the culture and context he was in, he continued to epitomize and model true leadership for us: Jesus served others.
Yes, the new school year is underway. How are you doing as a leader? Your motivation to lead comes from the freedom you have to be who you are in Christ. You’ll have an impact on others not because you’re copying someone else or grabbing for power but rather because you’re joyfully being you.
Read more on Why Character Counts by Steve Hayner, former president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
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