Most of us start our leadership journey anxious to discover how God will use us for Kingdom impact. It’s true that every follower of Jesus has a unique role in the “family business”; for some, it’s a call to leadership. The Bible says once we’ve committed our life to Christ we can’t lose our salvation. But what about our Kingdom purpose? If God designed you to become an influencer, is your high calling revocable? Absolutely.
While you will never be kicked out of the family (whew!), it is possible to lose your position. In other words, you can get fired. Yikes!
Here’s the good news. Being disqualified by God from a specific position or platform doesn’t have anything to do with our ability or our limitations. In fact, it’s when we attempt to exceed our limitations or make our calling all about ourselves that we risk losing our leadership role.
“The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7
When God calls a leader, it’s for a lifetime. Yet we might not find ourselves impacting others for many years. Appropriately, our journey begins with internal development, then grows into opportunities and responsibilities that have an external impact. Sadly, this surprises most Christians, because the world promotes ability (doing) over humility (becoming). Most leaders aren’t aware that they need to spend as much time tending to their character as they do developing skills and acquiring knowledge.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” – 2 Timothy 4:7
Now that I am in my fifties, I know firsthand the importance of focusing on becoming more like Christ in every stage of life and leadership. I look back at all the circumstances in my younger years and realize they weren’t intended to sideline me, but draw me closer to the heart of Jesus.
I began following Jesus when I was 19, following an encounter with the Holy Spirit that healed me from an eating disorder. I was so grateful to be a follower that it never occurred to me God might call me into leadership. It felt so good to be “home” in God’s family that I wasn’t concerned with a higher calling. Truth be told, had I known I wouldn’t have believed it. Besides a “disorder”, I was also divorced at the age of 22. I had already disqualified myself from leadership.
Yet, God had other plans.
I was content to just be, yet God was behind the scenes orchestrating my becoming. He was giving me a new heart, one created for leadership, and looking back I recognize His hand in my development.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” – Ezekiel 3:26
The first time my soul awakened to the idea of finishing well, I was quietly attending a Bible study at my church. Most of the women were in midlife, and beyond. I had two babies and was intrigued and inspired by their stories of raising children, desiring meaningful ministry work, and navigating the inevitable seasons of marriage. They all influenced me, but one woman in particular stood out. She made a statement with such vulnerability and conviction that I was taken aback and convicted to repurpose my entire life for Jesus:
She was focused on fulfilling her calling for Christ, while I was wholeheartedly bent on getting through each day. She was committed to becoming her highest self in Christ, while I was trying to find time for daily devotions. This realization was a game changer for me, and inspired me to shift gears. Being part of God’s family is the greatest gift we will ever receive, but it doesn’t mean we have “arrived”. Unless we remain focused on continuous growth and development, we live and lead from a place of “self-sufficiency,” which is the root of most mistakes that God considers grounds for dismissal.
Perhaps this conversation is starting to feel a little uncomfortable? Rest assured, I understand. Nothing would break my heart more than God disqualifying me from the work I am so passionate about doing for the Kingdom. God also understands. He doesn’t want us to live in fear of getting fired! Pause here if you need to and lean into His love. Remember, you are chosen, and that His Spirit is working deeply and gently in you to transform you into his likeness (Ephesians 3:20-21, The Message).
Here’s the deal: responsible Kingdom leaders aren’t afraid of arming themselves with the Truth. We lead offensively, staying spiritually and emotionally aware, to remain irrevocably connected to Christ so we aren’t disqualified. Part of that work is knowing what “heart disease” looks like. Being forewarned is being forearmed, so let’s explore some of what God considers unacceptable among His leaders.
The “self-sins” are endless: self-righteousness, self-confidence, self-pity, self-sabotage, and so on. We shift to making ourselves the reference point when we want the glory, or we stop trusting God’s divine plan for our life and leadership. The crazy thing is, the more influence God allows us, the easier it is to slip into making success about us, and not Him.
Remember, when God is calling leaders, He pays far more attention to the condition of our heart than anything else. The world looks for individuals with talent, charisma and intelligence. The Ruler of the Universe looks for men and women with integrity, humility, and love. Character is the key, and He is faithful to develop those willing to become all He envisioned! Cultivate “holy-confidence” and return to your first love, Jesus.
“Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” – 1 Corinthians 10:31
Here’s the thing about hearts. They are wily and unpredictable. Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Remember, this verse refers to a heart ruled by anything but God. Being chosen and called doesn’t protect us from giving our hearts away to counterfeit gods. Pastor and author Tim Keller explains:
“An idol is anything more important to you than God. Anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God. Anything you seek to give you what only God can give. Anything that is so central and essential to your life, that should lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.”
I’ve certainly wrestled with plenty of idols related to leadership, including popularity, performance and pleasing others. I call these three “Ps” the Bermuda triangle of leadership. Ugh. When I am under stress, I have to be particularly vigilant to trust Jesus to meet my needs, rather than rely on the praise or approval of those around me. We have to guard our hearts above all else, because from it “flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
A servant leader’s primary job description is to love! So when indifference sets in, resentment slowly replaces compassion and people are wounded. There are many reasons leaders can experience seasons of apathy due to grief and loss, burnout, lack of growth and development, etc. What’s important is we recognize the “pink” flags and pull out before followers are hurt by our “care-lessness”. We become so consumed with our own needs and wants that we stop recognizing opportunities to serve others and lose empathy.
While every leader goes through seasons of doubt, wavering faith becomes outright sin when a servant of God trades in on trust, and begins making decisions without any regard for God’s will or way. Sadly, unbelief eventually hardens our hearts and blinds us to what God is doing. Mark 6:52 says, “For they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” It’s nearly impossible without “surgery” for leaders to recover from this condition.
While we all get down on ourselves from time to time (successful leaders included), it might surprise you that constantly degrading yourself and your ability to fulfill your calling is offensive to God. Why? It’s another form of pride, which is always about focusing more on oneself than others, or even God. It also negates what Jesus did for us on the cross! We are forgiven and free! Whether we go outward with pride and elevate ourselves, or inward with shame or guilt, we dampen the Spirit’s power to work in and through us.
“It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God–but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people–and this is not learned in five minutes.” – Oswald Chambers
As we are given more Kingdom responsibility, we are held to a higher standard by God. Servant leadership, following the example of Jesus, will always cost us something. The more “successful” we become, the more we have to lose, whether a promotion, popularity, or even a paycheck. In God’s economy, however, leadership often looks like downward mobility. He asks us to forego fame to focus on His priorities, which might be caring for a hurting friend, or taking the low road hidden from view.
King Saul is an example of a leader who traded servanthood for popularity and a false sense of security. God was patient and “slow to anger”, but eventually Saul defaulted to pride and unbelief, and it was the final straw. God disqualified him and chose young David, described as a “man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). The heart matters to God.
Take heart! If you have chosen to make Jesus your Lord and Savior, you have a high calling on your life. First, to follow him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Second, to pursue the unique and special purposes assigned to you. Finishing the race is guaranteed if you are faithful to partner with the Holy Spirit and make Jesus your leader in all things. Even if you mess up and hurt someone’s feelings, run and hide when things get scary, or struggle with temptation, He won’t pull you from Kingdom work. Even failure, doubt, discouragement, fear, and timidity don’t disqualify you. If He called you, He alone can equip you and see you through your calling, if you make Him alone the reference point. He expects you to mess up; but He also expects you to grow through every mistake, and make amends where necessary. As Paul writes:
“I pray with great faith for you, because I’m fully convinced that the One who began this glorious work in you will faithfully continue the process of maturing you and will put his finishing touches to it until the unveiling of our Lord Jesus Christ!” – Philippians 1:6
So let go of whether or not you are disqualified from the outset, and hone in on the journey ahead. Be a follower and a finisher. Understand that a commitment to maintaining a healthy heart takes daily care and effort. Make this Psalm 51:10 part of your daily prayer as you pursue your walk with Jesus:
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” – Psalm 51:10
Genuinely petitioning God to keep your heart pure will ensure you stay on the narrow road with Jesus. It’s willingness, not willpower, that ensures our leadership success in Christ. You are a work in progress! The more influence we have for Christ, the more committed we have to be to leading according to His perfect example. This doesn’t mean we have to be perfect, rather completely surrendered to becoming like Him in thought, word and deed. Sound intimidating? It’s not, because we don’t do it alone!! With the power of the Holy Spirit, every Kingdom leader can cross the finish line and hear our Master’s words, Well done, good and faithful servant!
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