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Rick Warren on the Leadership Qualities of Someone Living Out of the Love of God

What are the leadership qualities of someone living out of the love of God? In a recent sermon he gave at Wheaton College, Pastor Rick Warren said there are three temptations that every leader faces and three character qualities that are the antidote to those potential pitfalls. Key to developing strong leadership qualities is understanding that God loves us, no matter how we feel or whether we think we deserve it.

“I have people tell me all the time, ‘My problem is I just don’t love Jesus enough,’” said Warren. But that is not actually the issue. “Your problem is you don’t realize how much he loves you. Because if you really understood and you felt how much he really loves you, you can’t help but love him.”

Comprehending the love of God, or at least beginning to, is essential to avoiding the temptations that Warren spent most of his sermon on. 

Resisting Evil and Cultivating Strong Leadership Qualities

“The only thing good we can say about Satan is he is entirely predictable,” said Warren. 1 John 2:15-16 tells us how Satan tempts believers: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.”

There is a difference between loving the value system of the world and loving the people of the world. “We are to love the people in the world, and we are to hate the value system,” said Warren. The problem is that we often do the opposite. 

Warren defined the first temptation, the “lust of the flesh,” as the desire to feel pleasure of any kind. That includes sex, yes, but it could also apply to unhealthy desires for food, drugs, social media, or television. The “lust of the eyes” is the temptation to have more possessions, a temptation we are especially prone to around Christmas. The “pride of life” is the temptation to want to be admired, envied and even worshiped by others. In philosophical terms, these temptations are known as hedonism, materialism, and secularism. 

We see Satan using these strategies in Scripture when he tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden and when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. When Satan tempted Jesus to turn the stone into bread, the sin would not have been the act of eating. The sin would have been Jesus using his gifts to satisfy his flesh. “This is the first temptation of leadership, and you’re going to face it many, many times in your life,” said Warren, “whether you’re a preacher or a doctor or an accountant.”

The third temptation, to be admired by people, is a significant one for church leaders. Between him and his team, Warren has trained over one million pastors in at least 154 countries. Many of the people he trains tell him that they love to preach. Warren said that never impresses him because what they call their love of preaching could come from a love of attention or an adrenaline rush. “I don’t care if you love to preach,” he said. “I want to know, do you love the people you preach to? That’s the real test of a pastor.”

The leadership qualities that are the antidotes to the three temptations mentioned in 1 John are integrity, humility and generosity. Integrity, said Warren, goes beyond being honest. Integrity means that who people think you are is truly who you are in every area of life, including when no one is looking. Humility, unlike what people often think, is not self-deprecation. It is not denying your strengths (which would be dishonest), but being honest about your weaknesses. It is thinking of others instead of yourself. Warren said that when he walks into a room full of people, he has trained himself to look for people who need to be encouraged—which is also a form of generosity. 

By beginning his sermon focusing on God’s love, Warren seemed to be making a connection between identity and sin. If we are at peace in ourselves because we are finding our identity in God and how much he loves us, we will not be susceptible to finding our worth in pleasure, things, or other people’s attention. 

“Your number one job in life is to let God love you,” said Warren. “That’s it. If you get that, everything else will fall into place.”