I love people who step out to lead. Nothing good ever happens without good leadership. This is true in a business and it is true in our church.
Most of us can describe what a great leader does or what they look like – bold, strong, outspoken, courageous. They are action oriented and willing to take risks. Leaders share their vision and lead others to accomplish it. Leaders delegate responsibility – they are “large and in charge.”
However, there is one essential ingredient that a leader must have, one that you might not think of immediately. If they do not embody this critical characteristic at their very core, it does not matter how bold, brave or articulate they are. If they do not carry this vital piece in how they lead, they will soon lose their privilege to lead. What could be so important? What could be so detrimental?
I love this verse in the book of James:
James 4:10 Humble yourselves before The Lord, and He will lift you up.
The author of this Biblical passage shows the path to leadership. It’s a formula – a holy equation. If you willingly humble yourself, God will lift you up. God WANTS to use you. He WANTS you to step up and lead, to fulfill your divine calling. But it starts with taking the first important step of humility.
You see, humility has to happen IN you. Others cannot make you have humility. It is a mindset you must embrace. My mom used to teach me growing up: “It is better to humble yourself than to have God do it for you.” Great wisdom.
Humility is often misunderstood. Some of us try to display humility by putting ourselves down. But that’s not humility. I love the way Pastor Rick Warren explains it, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking about yourself less.”
Here are some practical aspects of what it means to be a humble leader:
Listen before talking –
If you are a passionate person, you will naturally want to share your vision and your passion with others. However, humility listens first to those around you. When you actively listen to others using your eyes, your body language and showing that you are not in a rush to move on, you communicate that you are interested. People will feel valued by you. You show them that what they think and feel is important to you. When people feel respected by you, they will consider what you have to say.
Serve before leading –
You may have leadership skills; you may have a vision and a strategy that you are ready to implement. But a humble mindset understands that in order to earn the right to lead, you must start by serving. Leadership is not a “top-down” structure. Jesus taught an “upside down” structure. A leader should serve and support their team. In my leadership at Christ Fellowship, I have learned that even if I am the Campus Pastor who has oversight over the entire campus, I still find opportunities to put myself in serving roles under some of my leaders. Many times I will let my leaders lead our teams and I simply join and help them. Humility dictates that sometimes I will follow and not lead. In fact, when you serve others and follow a leader, you actually model how to follow! This is powerful.
Another way I model serving and following is how I serve and follow Pastors Todd and Julie Mullins, our lead pastors at Christ Fellowship. I love them but I don’t just love them – I honor them by following them and serving them. I have had people tell me how amazed they are with the healthy team culture they experience at Christ Fellowship. They share how they have dealt with hurtful church splits or people politics and then they ask how Christ Fellowship has stayed united. I tell them that our Lead Pastors have always modeled humility, unity and how they focus on our team mission. Everything starts with leadership at the top. Our pastors, our leaders and our people take their cues in what they see Pastor Todd and Pastor Julie do and the result is humility, unity and focus on our mission:
To Impact our World with the love and message of Jesus: Everyone, Everyday, Everywhere.
Learn before teaching –
Leaders have a lot to say and when they are working with their team, they often know what they want to teach them. It is important to invest in your people but as a leader, you will be limited to what you can teach them if you are not continually learning yourself.
Leaders are Learners. Pastor Todd taught me, “Leaders are Readers.” When I started 8 years ago under Pastor Todd as a new Campus Pastor, I quickly embraced his wisdom. I had not been much of a reader but soon realized that I needed to grow in my skills and in gaining insight. What I learned as I began to read was that I would have something fresh that I could then use to help my team.
It takes incredible humility to be willing to learn from people who are different than you, younger than you or maybe even UNDER your leadership and asking them questions. Leaders often want to give off a confidence that they know what they are doing. And while confidence is important, showing a willingness to learn takes courage. Your team will respect you for your authenticity to grow. Again, you are modeling what you want your people to embrace.
If you feel called to a great vision, if you are ready to step up and start leading, first embrace this foundational character trait of humility. Humility is the door that opens the path to promotion.