True Leadership Is Sacrifice, Not Privilege

Sacrifice for Their Joy

The apostle Peter, who led the apostles as first among equals, strikes the same clear note for a distinct vision in the church. Christian pastor-elders are to serve “not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2–3).

For a follower of Jesus, greatness in leadership is not defined by how many you have beneath you, but how consistently and significantly you are led by the Holy Spirit to make personal sacrifices to serve the true needs of others. Christian leadership, as captured by John Piper, is “knowing where God wants people to be and taking the initiative to use God’s methods to get them there in reliance on God’s power.” And taking such initiative is typically another way of saying “sacrifice.” Initiative is personally costly.

What specifically is the good for which faithful leaders will take initiative and make sacrifices? According to the apostle Paul, it is laboring for the joy of those in our charge. “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith” (2 Corinthians 1:24).

Leadership as Sacrifice

Christian leadership, then, is fundamentally about giving, not taking. Christian leaders are not empty, immature individuals looking to prop themselves up with new privilege. Rather, they are men and women who are secure enough, and mature enough, to empty themselves for the good of others.

Mark this, husbands and dads, pastors and presidents, the very essence and heart of leadership is taking initiative we otherwise wouldn’t take and making sacrifices we otherwise wouldn’t make, to guide our people somewhere good they otherwise would not have gone. We embrace short-term personal difficulties for long-term corporate gains. We are among those who are learning that life’s greatest joys come not in private comfort and ease, but in choosing what is uncomfortable and hard for the sake of others’ joy. We are learning to find our joy not in the ease of attending to self, but in the toughness of attending to others.

Christian leadership—in the home, the church and elsewhere—is not for those clawing for honor and recognition, but for those most ready to fall to their knees and be inconvenienced by the needs of others. They are those who, in a sense, have their house sufficiently in order to be able to turn their attention to serving others. Instead of pursuing their own immediate benefit, they are willing to sacrifice for others’ benefit.

Like the Son of Man, we lead not to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45). We die to self so that others might live.

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David Mathis
David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor at desiringGod.org and an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. He has edited several books, including Thinking. Loving. Doing., Finish the Mission, and Acting the Miracle, and is co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.

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