In my reading this week for class, I was really convicted about some things.
In Chapter five of Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge, Patrick Lencioni proposes that there are two paramount questions that every leader should ask himself/herself before beginning the journey of leadership: Who am I really serving? and Am I prepared to suffer? In the first section discussing humble service, Lencioni tells the story of a man named Kevin. Kevin was a simple man that did not demand prestige or the attention of others, but over many years had worked his way up to the national board of the Make A Wish Foundation. As the board began making changes in management style, our author Lencioni’s experience lent him the opportunity to be considered. Because there was no place for him on the board, Kevin stepped down from his prestigious position to allow Patrick Lencioni to be a part of the team. Kevin saw that Lencioni’s experience was more in line with the new management style, and he made his decision toward the best interest of the Make A Wish Foundation over the interests and desires he had for himself. Lencioni says that as a leader it is important to note that, “When we make ourselves more important than what we are trying to do, we diminish the focus on our mission and, ultimately, on Christ (p. 74).”
This led me to question what my motives are behind my decisions. There have been many times that I have done good things, not for the sake of doing what was right, but because I wanted to be noticed by someone. I have a deep desire to be respected and admired, and sometimes I let that desire infect the motives of my heart. When we live our lives dedicated to a cause with the idea that we will receive recognition or a pat on the back for what we are doing, we are a stumbling block to the cause.
I think there is a difference between living a good life in order to be respected and living a good life worthy of providing a leading example for others. Paul referred several times in his letters to the churches of the example that he had given them through his life, because people often need a visual demonstration of faith in order to understand it. As leaders, it is our responsibility to be that demonstration for the people we lead. We can be conscious about how our lives are affecting others, but the question we should always ask ourselves is, “Who am I really serving?” When we serve others, our actions should be driven by the overflow of God’s love in our lives, not by the emptiness of our self-esteem tank.
It is a matter of focus and humility. Even though it is one of the most important aspects of a life of integrity, humility is a difficult trait to nurture because of its nature. We can never reach a point where we say, “Yes! I am humble!” It is something that we become without knowing it.
Humility is also a habit that we set in our lives. Jesus talks in Luke 14 about dining at the house of a Pharisee and noticing how the guests always picked the places of honor. He then instructed those present that they should never choose the place of highest honor, because someone more distinguished may have been invited. The master will then enter and ask them to move to a spot of lesser importance. If they choose a spot of lesser importance and the master sees this, he may ask them to move to a higher place of honor. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
In this parable there is a danger in choosing a low position in life with the expectation that we will be exalted. The focus of this life of “sacrifice” is that we will be recognized for our “great humility”. This is common in the church, and I am included in this. We serve and serve and run ourselves dry, hoping that someone will notice what great faith we have. The problem with this is not only our ultimate disappointment, but the lack of purpose out of which we are living our lives. Our purpose is not serving God; it is gaining recognition. The master could enter, see you at the place of lowest honor, and choose to leave you there, for that is his right. What then, would you feel?
True humility comes from a heart that recognizes from where it has received its worth. John the Baptist says in John 3:27, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.” When we learn to see ourselves through the grace of God, we live in God’s victory but we remember who we were and what we would still be without Christ. We did not earn God’s favor; we were given it. We did not earn God’s love; it has been lavished upon us. There is no hierarchy in the Kingdom of God, but only servants who are seeking to do the will of the Father. As John the Baptist said, “He must become greater; I must become less.”
I need to ask myself in everything that I decide to do, “Do I love Jesus enough that the opinions and approval of others are not determining factors in my decisions? Is the smile of God worth the sacrifice of my reputation, even with other Christians? How do I measure my success?” I often wonder if I would have had the character and maturity to do what Kevin in the opening story did in relinquishing a prestigious position to someone else for the good of the company. Do I care about the causes I promote that much? Do I care about bringing glory to God that much? These are all important questions to ask.