Christian Leadership Alliance (CLA) celebrates its 40th anniversary at the Outcomes Conference and the theme for this year is “perspectives.” What sets us apart as “Christian” leaders is that our perspective of leadership, or starting point of view, originates from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. As Christians, we are called by God to lead in complete obedience to Scripture.
The significance of this anniversary triggered for me reminders of the importance of the number 40 in Scripture. I specifically thought of Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1–11). At Jesus’ baptism, just prior to this wilderness experience, God the Father said he was “well pleased” with Jesus. However, Jesus still needed this time alone to reflect, pray and strategize in preparation for his ministry.
It’s no surprise that before his public leadership, Jesus needed a time (40 days) to reflect on his own identity. In modern leadership terms, we might call this a time of self-awareness. Most modern leadership styles advocate the importance of leaders being self-aware, knowing themselves, in order to lead with authenticity.
Several years ago I conducted research on effective leaders. I interviewed key ministry executives on how they made complex and difficult decisions, and overcame “second guessing” those decisions. Without exception these leaders, including the late Dr. Ted Engstrom, said that frequent alone time with God was a critical, non-negotiable, discipline. Jesus did it, why wouldn’t we?
As many leaders would attest, such times alone with God are critical. They provide new energy and vision for the future. But such experiences also are an opportune time for Satan to attack. Jesus, as God incarnate, was immediately tested. What can we learn from this narrative that might enhance our call to lead?
Satan was very aware of the power of this unique period of Jesus’ life. Knowing that Jesus would be at his strongest place to begin ministry, he tested three areas of leadership that are also core to our success as Christian leaders: provision, power and popularity. In many conversations with Christian leaders over the last 20 years, these have been recurring themes.
After 40 days, Jesus’s need was food. How tempting bread must have sounded. It would have made absolute sense and filled a definite need. How much harm would it be? I so admire Jesus’ response because it would not have been mine. As a leader I experience this temptation almost daily. The need to fill that critical leadership position that has been open for so long, accepting a donation that has strings different from our mission, convincing me that the end justifies the means. Many years of experience (and submitting to these temptations) has taught me that waiting on God for his provision, no matter how frustrated I get, is absolutely what is required of me as a Christian leader.
Then we get to the power “trip.” Who doesn’t want to grow God’s kingdom? What leader doesn’t want to lead followers into the future? Immediately after this encounter, Jesus began his formal ministry, with the first step being the choosing of his team. This test defined how Jesus was to lead that team. He modeled for us the satisfaction of servant leadership, minimizing title or position to motivate others. Christ has shown us what it means to be tempted by power, but to lead so that followers would be loyal, loving and productive.
Imagine with me if Jesus had succumbed to the test of popularity, and the year was 2016? It would have led to endless acclaim. He would have gone viral on social media with millions of hits, would have been offered books, movie deals, etc. However, Jesus models in his response that this is not what it is about. Personal glory and popularity are not our aim. Our sole purpose is to worship and serve God.
So what does this mean to me as a Christian leader? What does it mean to the CLA board, which I have the honor of leading when it comes to decisions, direction and stewardship of resources? The core leadership principle is that we must never lead independently of God. Satan will tempt us. Those temptations will come in good times and in those times when our ministries have legitimate needs or times are tough. But we have a different perspective. God called us and we are dependent on him. He knows the plans he has for each of us!
Dr. John C. Reynolds is chancellor/CEO of Azusa Pacific University College. His leadership experience includes higher education, nonprofit organizations (World Vision International), and the diamond mining industry in South Africa. In addition, Dr. Reynolds serves on several nonprofit boards, including Christian Leadership Alliance, of which he is chairperson. This post is an excerpt from his article featured in the 2016 Spring edition of Outcomes magazine.
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