While in Uganda I was asked by the local pastor to speak at a leadership conference. The following are the main points I gave to these local church leaders and church planters:
1. The most important thing you bring to your church is a spiritually-alive leader; do whatever it takes to remain spiritually healthy.
What those we lead need more than anything else is not some dynamic and charismatic personality. It is not bold and aggressive leadership. It is not radical quotes on facebook and twitter. Rather, what those we lead need from us more than anything else is a strong walk with God. They need to see us in love with Jesus. They need to see us spending time with God. They need to see us growing in the Lord. Therefore, do whatever you need to do in order to stay close with God. If you are getting burned out because you have been too busy to seek the Lord, then cancel appointments and get to a private place for a day or more in order to get alone with God and get your heart revived in Him.
2. Walk in humility; order to get God’s grace.
God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:6). We sure don’t want God opposing us in ministry. We have enough things and people opposing us, already. Oh, how we need God’s grace. Humility is the pathway to God’s grace. To be humble means we realize we are nothing without God, and can do nothing without God. At the same time, to be humble means we know we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, but the emphasis is on “through Christ who strengthens us.”
3. Keep a wet blanket on your fatal flaw, lest it burn your house down and possibly burn other houses down, as well.
Each of us has a fatal flaw. Our fatal flaw is that area of our life which we are most prone and vulnerable to sin in. It is that “besetting sin”/”sin that so easily entangles” spoken of in Hebrews 12:1. This area may never be taken away. It might be there to keep us more dependent on God. In any case, it is that smoldering fire in the corner of our living room. If we don’t keep a wet blanket on this smoldering fire, it can burn ours and other houses down. To keep a wet blanket on a fatal flaw involves not putting ourselves in a tempting situation, having others hold us accountable, being in God’s Word, keeping short accounts with God, and quickly repenting if we even get close to falling. What is your fatal flaw? What are you doing to make sure it doesn’t burn your house down?
4. Don’t sacrifice your family on the altar of ministry.
Too many pastors get so busy, they neglect their family. One of the qualifications for an elder in God’s church is being able to manage his own family (1 Timothy 3). This is sobering and challenging. For me, I need to listen to my wife when she warns me of being too busy about the things of God that I forget the most important disciples under my care: my family!
5. Depend totally on the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Do we really believe this? I sure do. I know that without God’s power, no one I minister to will ever be changed. I am so grateful for the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. He is available to us today! We must minister in the power of the Spirit. We must ask Him to fill us over and over again. “Be ye continually filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).
6. Build into the lives of future leaders.
Paul told Timothy, “The things you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable me, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). Like Jesus, we must be strategic about how we spend our time. Jesus’ most fruitful time was not with the masses, but rather with the twelve men He discipled. Who are we investing in? Who are we discipling? We are we equipping to take over when we are gone?
7. Always be going deeper with God, as your church can never grow deeper than its pastors and leaders.
Effective leaders are those who are always going deeper with God. We need to be in the Word, reading good books, shepherding our own heart, pursuing more of God, etc. Our church will never go deeper than we go. We set the pace. Our people need to see us growing in progressive sanctification. What am I doing to “work out my salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12)?
8. Preach the Word.
This sounds so obvious and yet so few are doing it today. Isaiah 55 says the Word will not return void. The power is in the Word. God blesses His Word. The only way to speak confidently and boldly is to speak God’s Word. We never go wrong if we stick to God’s Word. People today are perishing for lack of knowledge, the knowledge of God’s Word, that is. We must use every available opportunity we have to bring God’s Word to God’s people so that God’s Spirit can produce Godly disciples of Jesus.
9. Be alert to spiritual attack.
Our enemy, the Devil, is prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, but resist him, standing firm in your faith” (1 Peter 5:8-9). Leaders have a target on their chest. Satan goes after leaders, because he knows that if they fall, the fallout will be great. Too many leaders have fallen to sexual and financial sin. Be alert. Be aware. Be faithful to God. I would rather God take my life than my sin cause others to stumble.
10.Listen to God and follow His lead.
Jesus said, “My sheep will hear My voice” (John 10). God wants to lead and direct His people. God wants to speak to us, if we will simply get still enough to listen. Take time in prayer to just listen to God and then boldly do what He says. People today are hungry for leaders who will listen to God, and follow His lead. The best leaders are followers: followers of the Spirit of God.
11.Seek to birth “Isaacs” by the Spirit instead of creating “Ishmael’s” in the flesh.
When God gave Abraham the promise of a son, Abraham and Sarah got impatient and got a son through Hagar. This was a son of the flesh (Ishmael) and not the son of the Spirit. God wanted them to patiently wait on the son of the Spirit to be supernaturally birthed through Sarah. Isaac finally came after faith and patience. I believe we often birth things in ministry that are more like Ishmael than Isaac. Let’s be willing to wait on the Isaacs of the Spirit. Let’s seek to do things through God’s Spirit and not by mere human effort.
12.Allow your weaknesses to push you closer to God.
God gave Paul a “thorn in the flesh” in order to keep him dependent on God (see 2 Corinthians 12). This was not pleasant, but it was necessary. His feeling weak was the very thing God used to help Him tap into God’s power. The same principle applies to us today. God will use our feeling weak to make us more dependent on His power. I have learned to embrace my weaknesses in order to experience God’s power.
13.Develop and share your God-inspired vision.
Without a vision the people go unrestrained. People will go off in their own direction without leaders providing a God-inspired and God-led vision. Vision helps everyone go in the same direction. We may each have a different role in accomplishing the vision, but we need a vision to tell us what direction to head. It is the job of the leader to get this vision from God.
14.Boldly ask others to come around you to support your vision.
Once you have a clear vision, it is imperative to recruit other godly people to support this vision: with involvement, with time, and even with money. Don’t be shy about asking others to support the vision, assuming you have a Godly vision!
15.Combine truth and grace in every situation.
Moses came with the Law, but Jesus came with Grace and Truth. Jesus modeled ministry with Grace and truth in a powerful way. Sometimes truth was heavier than grace, like with the Pharisees. Other times, grace was heavier than truth, as when people were sincerely repentant. As we minister as leaders, we should ask God to give us the wisdom to combine truth with grace in ministry. The best example in the bible is when Jesus ministered to the woman caught in adultery in John 8. He told her, “Neither do I condemn you” (i.e., GRACE!) … “go and sin no more” (i.e., TRUTH!).
16.Make disciples and don’t just win converts.
Jesus made it clear we are to make disciples of all nations and not just win converts. We make disciples by preaching God’s Word verse by verse. We make disciples by investing in a few good men. We make disciples by putting structures in place that help people go deeper with God and one another. I believe the best structure to accomplish this is small groups that meet in homes and is well led by a godly, growing disciple.
17.Get your identity from God and not from your ministry.
As leaders, it is easy to start defining ourselves by our title or ministry results. This is dangerous and lethal. It can lead to pride. Instead, God wants our identity and OKness with ourselves to come from who we are in Him. This never changes and can never be taken away. God has given us a new nature, and our greatest joy in life should come from simply being a child of God, and not from our ministry achievements.
18.Be encouraged that you are making an eternal difference.
Don’t be weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap if we faint not (Galatians 6:9). If you are walking with God and serving Him, then you are making an eternal difference, even if you don’t always see the visible fruit of your labor. Continue to give yourself to what will last forever. Be not distracted by the temporal things in front of you each day.
19.Rest in God being the Lord of the harvest.
Paul planted, Apollos watered, but God causes the growth. Leaders should sleep well at night, realizing that only God can ultimately change a life. He does use us, but we are merely a tool in His hand. The Spirit convicts of sin to bring about conversion. God works in us both to will and to do for His good pleasure. As we ministry day in and day out, let us rejoice that God is always at work to bring about His own glory!
Ministering for God and in God’s power is the greatest privilege in the world. Continue to faithfully minister for God’s glory! Ask God to make you Christ-like and to empower your leadership for His glory.