Leaders face no small measure of challenges. A country’s president faces rogue nations and squirrelly economics and profound social schisms. The CEO of a company deals with troublesome investors and complex HR dynamics and products that sometimes fall short of consumers’ expectations. Moms have to contend with defiant toddlers and thin finances while often working in office environments that care about neither. Pastors have to navigate the complex care of broken and burdened sheep, point forward toward essential goals, and communicate the Word of God to an incredibly diverse audience.
In any and every field, leaders face no small measure of challenges.
I certainly have had mine. Years ago one of the elders in our church murdered his wife. Some years ago I made a real mess of a needed staff reduction that ended up costing our church family far more than dollars. Throughout the years I have had to help our churches step through the painful and grievous valleys brought on by a given staff member’s immorality. Many years ago a couple of students were killed while carpooling to a church-sponsored event.
And, of course, there are always the complexities of people and their expectations, whether good or bad or right or wrong. Add to that the tackling of hard but necessary aspirations, such as New Hope Church’s commitment to becoming a multi-tribal community, and the leadership challenges continue to mount. Leaders face no small measure of challenges.
But, while these anecdotes speak to the complexities of leadership, without a doubt, the single greatest challenge in my life is just leading myself. Nothing else even comes close. The biggest challenge that I face as a leader is Me. The world and the devil can be overwhelming, for sure, but this wicked flesh of mine too easily seeks to dominate all of these.
Jesus helps me know what to do about this. According to John 6:15, when the massive crowd that He had just feed with bread and fish realized the way in which He stretched a boy’s lunch to feed thousands, “they were about to come and take Him by force and make Him king.” How tempting would that have been? Can you not hear the Evil One whispering into Jesus’ ear? “Jesus, you don’t need to suffer. You need no cross. They’ll make you king right now. All you must do is agree.”
Surely, the temptation was strong; the opportunity too good to pass up. But Jesus would have none of it. Immediately, Jesus pulled away from the crowd and headed into the hills where, according to Mark 6:46, He went “to pray.” My strong suspicion is that He was determined to affirm before His Father His special mission as the suffering Savior. When the expectations of others might have gotten the best of Him, and He realized His greatest leadership challenge was His own self and how He might respond, He drew close to His heavenly Father.
The Apostle Paul underscores this in 1 Timothy 4:16, where he pens to his young protégé, Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself.” Moreover, in 2 Timothy 1:14 he again writes to his young friend, “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.”
That is what Jesus did when an extraordinarily good sounding opportunity came His way. He kept watch on Himself, withdrew to meet with His Father, and guarded that which was entrusted to Him, namely the eternal plan of redemption.
And I must follow this wisdom as well, remembering that while any day may bring its share of complex challenges to me as a leader, the single greatest responsibility I have is simply to lead myself well, keeping watch over my soul, drawing close to the Lord God, and guarding that which has been entrusted to me.
“O God of Heaven, may I be exceedingly tender to your Spirit’s ministry over my life, yielding to Him completely and humbly, obedient to His every prompting, for your great glory, the gospel’s work, and my own eternal good. Amen.”