Unpopular Leadership

Unpopular Leadership

Leadership is not an easy road, but shortcuts never serve you well.

Under pressure, we are all tempted to take the more comfortable and familiar path, but the results you want come from an approach that includes sacrifice.

Under pressure it’s easy to choose:

  • Authority over Humility
  • Popularity over Obscurity
  • Security over Unfamiliarity

It’s natural to prefer going up rather than giving up. The basic drive in a leader wants more for the organization, greater territory and increasing results. This leadership drive to grow and expand is a good thing because it’s connected to reaching more people with the good news of Jesus Christ. But all that can get blurry when sacrifice is removed from the process of success.

Jesus demonstrated that on the cross. Redemption was ever so costly. And so is Kingdom oriented leadership.

Success in ministry is obviously a good thing and something to be desired. Scripture makes that clear. How we get there, however, matters greatly. That path often requires difficult choices.

The truth is, there are parts of godly leadership that are unpopular. But that is our high calling and privilege. Leadership is a blast; I love to lead! But over the years I’ve discovered it’s far more about what I’m willing to give up than get, which in turn allows God to bless and add His favor.

I came across a list similar to this one years ago. It captured my attention. It is challenging, inspiring and helpful. Let me share it with you.

Top 10 Personal Rights a Godly Leader Gives Up:

1) The right to put yourself first.

Jesus modeled humility with profound clarity. A great test of humility is to notice if a humbling moment or humble lifestyle really bugs you. Whether or not you embrace or avoid these moments will tell you much.

Philippians 2:3-4

2) The right to complain.

I fall prey to this one on occasion. It’s a complete waste of time and sours a leader’s thinking. When I catch myself, my goal is to stop in seconds, minutes at the most.

Philippians 2:14I Thessalonians 5:18

3) The right to do whatever feels good.

The temptation to be liked, please people and avoid conflict is common. It’s human nature to seek this easier and “feel good” path. But it will not get you where you want to go.

Galatians 5:16-17

4) The right to hold a grudge.

Since I owned up to an occasional complaint, let me say that God has given me great grace when it comes to forgiveness. However, this is a tough one for many leaders because it can be easy to get hurt in ministry, sometimes deeply. And recovery isn’t always quick.

Colossians 3:13

5) The right to live by your own rules.

Living by a different set of rules than you expect of everyone else is extremely dangerous. Leaders should never be above the rules. That is the height of arrogance. Pride will take a leader out quicker than anything I know.

John 14:23-24

6) The right to understand God’s plan before you obey.

Don’t you wish you understood all that God asks of you as you lead?! I sure do. But He’s God, and I’m not, and there are things I don’t understand. God has asked significant things of me that I did not fully grasp, there are a few I still don’t. But I trust Him anyway.

Hebrews 11:8

7) The right to be honored and served.

There are moments where honor is due, but it’s always earned, not deserved. When a leader seeks to be honored and served, they are headed down a road that is sure to disappoint and fail in the long-term.

Mark 10:42-45

8) The right to spend money any way you please.

God owns it all! We are His stewards. When it comes to investing God’s resources, it’s better to tremble and hesitate for a moment than to be overly bold and spend unwisely.

Matthew 6:19-21

9) The right to popularity.

In fact, there are times when those you love and lead may resist your ideas, get upset with you or leave you. This helps a leader appreciate all the more those who are supportive of them and the mission.

Matthew 5:11

10) The right to revenge.

When you are hurt, there are two natural human responses. One is shut down and pull back; the other is rise up and take revenge. Neither one will help you lead better. Ask God to help you love the person instead and move on with a spiritually mature response.

Romans 12:19-20


Leadership brings with it great rewards! It’s a great calling, and there’s just nothing like it when we consider the eternal impact on people’s lives. But it does require much. I hope this post is helpful to you personally and those you lead. What is God saying to you from this list of 10?

Where are you doing well? Where might you improve?

This article originally appeared here.

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Dan Reiland
Dr. Dan Reiland serves as Executive Pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY. He and Dr. Maxwell still enjoy partnering on a number of church related projects together.