The North American Evangelical leadership community has not had a great year. One could argue the problems have been brewing for a while, but this year seems particularly challenging. We have seen everything from the fall of high-profile pastors to the devastating impact of leaders betraying the trust of many by acting on their sexual lust (or hiding sexual sin). You and I are only one decision away from becoming another story like these leaders. Is there a way to avoid becoming a leadership statistic?
If you are so busy helping others deal with their problems that you ignore the brokenness of your own heart, then you are already in trouble.
In 1 Timothy 4:7, the apostle Paul tells Timothy to “train yourself for godliness.” I have used this verse many times to encourage the people I lead to continue growing in their journey of following Jesus. But here is what we leaders often miss, this command is for a leader. Long before you motivate others to follow Jesus, you need to be disciplined and focused in your own life to do the same.
An athlete who wins in any competition will have spent countless hours first winning during training sessions when nobody else was watching. The same is true for us. Your daily decisions pave the path to winning the spiritual challenges in life.
Here are four questions to help you be a healthy leader rather than a statistic.
What do you need to avoid?
In 1 Timothy 4:7, Paul starts by telling Timothy to avoid pointless and silly myths. There are simply some things in life that are not good for your soul – avoid them.
What do you need to put into practice?
Paul’s encouragement in 1 Timothy 4:12 is to model good speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity. He goes on to challenge Timothy to exercise the gift God had given to him. Leaders tend to practice whatever needs to be done to accomplish the task at hand. The most fruitful leaders first focus on the good they need to develop in their own life.
What are you committed to doing?
Nothing I am saying should surprise you, and that is where our problems often begin. We become so familiar with what we should do that we skip right past it to what we are genuinely committed to doing. If you are a leader, then inside you is a desire to achieve or accomplish some good. You become consumed with the success of your ministry, next event, program, study, or counseling session. But Paul wants Timothy (and you and I) to be hyper-focused on being committed to training ourselves for godliness.
What has your attention?
1 Timothy 4:16 has this command, “Pay close attention to your life and your teaching; persevere in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Imagine what would change in your ministry if you put as much attention to the spiritual health of your own life as you do anything else in your leadership. In Paul’s mind, a Christian leader’s godliness is a life-saving gift for yourself and the people you lead.
Each time you read the story of another Christian leader who has fallen, remember this, nobody sets out to fail. You will make thousands of decisions daily – are they drawing you towards godliness first or your vision of success? The decisions you make today (and then tomorrow and the next day) will build towards one or the other.
As a leader, you have the opportunity to do incredible good in the world. You also have the potential to bring overwhelming harm and hurt. The state of your soul and life will determine the fruit of your leadership.