I have bins in my garage filled with mementos of my childhood. I think my mother saved every drawing, school assignment, and project. Worn Lisa Frank stickers cover binders and notebooks. Random movie stubs are buried there along with a Troll doll and my poor attempts at drawing unicorns.
My report cards are there as well, and at the bottom of each one, a teacher wrote, “she is too quiet and shy.”
Every. Single. One.
I grew up thinking of myself as a last row, back of the class kind of girl. The one who listens and soaks everything in, but has little to say. The one who helps and fills vacancies and works behind the scenes. Definitely not a leader. So much so, I’ve even argued with mentors over that fact.
To me, leaders were talkative and always had people listening to what they had to say. They told others what to do. They were assertive and loud. They pointed out problems and came up with solutions to those problems. They always knew what to say and what to do.
In adulthood, I’ve come to see that leadership is far different than my childhood perspective. A leader isn’t only those who run for student council. Leadership isn’t about a position of power and authority. A leader isn’t about being loud and in charge.
The Bible shows us that a leader is a servant. It is someone who wants to reflect her Savior and desires that others do the same. She seeks to walk alongside others and show them Jesus. She doesn’t care about having a particular position, being known, or having followers. She wants to serve as Jesus served her.
The authors point out that one characteristic of a life-giving leader is the importance of dying to self. “We must die to live and we must die to lead. Death is painful and scary, but death is necessary for life—His life—to be formed in us. Life-giving leaders know they are nothing more than a tiny grain of wheat, called to a unique place of dirt where they are to die” (p. 21).
I’ve been focusing on this passage as I prepare for the leadership conference, considering what places in my life need to die in order for new life to grow:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:24-26).
Our Savior walked the path of life-giving leadership before us and calls us to follow in his steps. He set aside the glories of heaven to take on human flesh. He walked and lived among us in this broken and sinful world. He dined with outcasts and healed the forgotten. Though perfect and holy in every way, he lowered himself to wash his disciple’s feet. He taught and discipled and shepherded the lost. He was compassionate, gentle, and forbearing. While everyone expected him overthrow the powerful Roman government, he overthrew the power of sin instead. The One who was there at creation, who owns all things, was crucified outside the city gates as a common criminal. His death brought life to all who believe.
I’m thankful that leadership is more than what I thought it was as a child. Even more, I’m thankful for mentors who encourage and equip me in my own leadership, who set Christ-like examples for me. And I’m thankful for the Spirit who uses this ordinary cracked vessel to display his glory, in spite of my weaknesses. He enables me to do things I never thought I was capable of. To him be the glory!