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What’s your next move, young leader?
God takes our steady faithfulness to create great movements.
I had coffee with a guy this week who just graduated college and wanted to know how he could prepare himself for being in ministry and becoming a better leader. He could feel the tension between the raw gifts and ambitions God had given him to lead and how he should to refine them. The derailment of many young leaders is impatience, a premature demand to take the reins before the character or gifts are ready. At the same time, I was encouraged by this guy because it’s the exact same tension I’ve seen in so many other young leaders and felt myself. Harnessed well, those gifts can be powerful.
So how do you develop and grow as a leader during that tension? Here are a couple of things I shared with him.
1. Learn to really love people
D.L. Moody said, “God’s work can not be done without love,” this includes leadership. It is easy to overlook this. It is easy to deceive yourself here. You can get passionate about the idea of loving people or even have a tremendous theology of what it means to love people, but that is not actually loving people.
You must love people in order to lead them (John 21:17). You might be able to get by for a period on skill or personality, but leaders who last have a deep love for the people they lead. In faithfully loving people, God cultivates a heart of empathy in you, a mind that sees clearly the needs of people, and the courage to act on their behalf.
2. Be bold about starting conversation
It is an incredibly practical step, but being willing and able to just reach out to new people and make connections is critical to your leadership. Much of ministry is just taking the first step to engage people who might be new or wanting to feel included.
In a sense, this is also the first step in growing at evangelism. The tendency here is to excuse ourselves from this by saying things like, “Well, I am an introvert,” or, “I am not comfortable with that.” To be honest, it really doesn’t matter and most of starting new conversations is just practice. It is also a value, believing that as a leader you should lead in overcoming the awkwardness or whatever anxiety there may be in building relationship and influence. Start small and just get in the habit of striking up conversations with employees at the places you shop and new people in your church. Be willing to go first.
3. Lead where you can
There is a place for you to start leading right now—where is it? Is it a small group, on a ministry team, or even something in your community? The point is to actually begin leading. No amount of leadership theory, articles (including this one!), or conference talks will make you a leader or equip you like actually getting up there and leading. Churches, families, and businesses need real leaders who have paid the experiential tuition of leadership development, not just read about it. Start paying the leadership development tuition right now and in the places God has put before you (Luke 16:10).
4. Develop leaders
This is often the most overlooked but most critical parts of being a leader. You have a sacred responsibility to help raise up more leaders and workers as you lead. It is truly what separates the leaders who can make something successful for a period and those who can lead something that will outlast them. The Apostle Paul wove this into his ministry from the start, taking Timothy along with him to learn (Acts 16:1–3). Yes, your job as a leader is to cast vision, love people, and give direction, but it is also to replace yourself. The great part about learning this is that it also keeps you humble. It reminds you that God has gifted others to lead as well, and you get the great privilege to play a role in their development.
5. Start today
I get that all of these items are somewhat intuitive and obvious to most natural leaders. That is why for most of us execution will be everything. Rather than just thinking about your legacy and all the things you want to do to make your life count, ask yourself,
- What is the one thing you can do by the end of this week to grow as a leader?
- Who are the people God has given you to shepherd that you need to love?
- Who are the people that you can reach out to right now?
- Where is God asking you to lead and influence this week?
- Who can you invest in and help grow today?
These are the questions that will make all the difference. Begin now, as God is in the business of taking our steady faithfulness to create great movements.