I remember getting the email that fed my entitled, sinful heart saying “congratulations, you have been accepted into the Austin Stone residency”. A lot of great things came to me in the form of emotions and disbelief. I didn’t deserve to get this with all my screw-ups and mistakes. I was beyond overwhelmed by God’s grace and sovereignty yet, within the cracks of it all lied my sinful desires. I somehow viewed it as a big stepping stool in my “career” and quickly began to build my kingdom around the new title I would soon be under, and it wasn’t Jesus. I was ready to move on to something new and more exciting. People knew of where I was going and who I was going to be now. I was going to be given leadership and thought I was deemed competent enough to be worthy of leading others based off my skill set alone. HA.
I share this because there’s something to learn from my prideful arrogance. This is what our world today views as being a leader. It requires no sacrifice, unless there’s a guaranteed beneficial outcome. It doesn’t mean servanthood, that’s for the one’s whom we lead. We hardly see talented and gifted individuals staying in the same place, home, job or community because if you’re great at something you deserve to be recognized and “move forward”. Being a leader in today’s culture is all about the benefits and never about the costs. It’s such an upside-down view of true Godly leadership and we see this in Jesus who paid the ultimate sacrifice in giving His life for the unworthy. Jesus never worked his way up or took a posture of selfishness. Jesus is the greatest servants of all and a good example is here in John 13:3-5, “Jesus knew that the Father had given Him authority over everything and that He had come from God and would return to God. So, He got up from the table, took off His robe, wrapped a towel around His waist, and poured water into a basin. Then He began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel He had around Him.”
This goes against everything the world views as a great leader and most importantly it doesn’t benefit our status. Yet, it’s true and right. Over the past few weeks God has been teaching my heart this truth: Leadership is about sacrifice and not success. Being a leader to me has become so much of giving and so little of receiving. I have seen it in the life of the leaders around me and those who point me to Jesus with how they lead and live their lives. They are constantly giving of their time, energy, emotions, and thoughts to those around them and it’s not because there is a guarantee or promise of return. That’s the Gospel. Without them having to prove themselves skillfully competent or valuable they are willing to serve the bride. That’s a leader I’m willing to follow because of the way they shepherd their flock , not because of how they wow them. But sacrifice is hard and it takes time. I think that’s why I usually try to take other routes to pastoring, caring, loving, and knowing those I’ve been entrusted to lead.
These past few weeks God has given me opportunities to lead by caring for those that follow me, loving on the unloved in my life, and pastoring the hurting and broken that are constantly looking for Jesus in my groups, bands, volunteers and family. Honestly, this is just doing life with others without a microphone or guitar in my hand. It takes so much, and it’s definitely not flashy. I don’t get a reward or recognition for any of it, but I find contentment and joy in washing the feet of others that weekly give of their time and hearts to serve alongside me. It’s amazing how quickly my perspective as a worship leader changes when I have no mic to hide behind or piano to look down upon and its just me, a friend, and the Gospel. That’s when a leader becomes a pastor. Selfishness becomes servanthood. Looking at others as consumers becomes looking at others as stories. I’m starting to care less about what excites the ears of those who hear me and more about what captures the hearts and eternal souls of those who I engage with. It’s been tough and by no means easy for me. Everything is now flipped on its head. Lately, it’s been a lot of demolition of the heart and a constant daily posture of kneeling before the cross. I’d be lying if I said all I think about now is being a selfless leader who constantly wants to serve the cause of furthering the kingdom through the local church. I still have sinful desires and wants that are me-centered. “I should be leading my own church, being paid, and not living off support. I’m better at leading, articulating, and singing than half of the worship leaders I know now. Why am I leading students and helping set up every morning and teardown every afternoon? I. Deserve. More…” No. The beauty is that I deserve God’s wrath and judgement, but I’ve been pardoned and given more through the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s a constant realigning of the heart. This is what I’m fighting for day in and day out. This is the truth I’m clinging to when I have so many doubt.
Jesus led with humility and a towel over His shoulder. Why do we lead with an upward destination, looking down upon others we lead and do life with? All Jesus did was go lower and lower. He was and is the greatest leader that will ever walk this earth, with no flashy branding, constant work for recognition, or need to become the next world sensation. He was always giving to those He led and did life with, never chasing success but rather faithfulness to the Father’s will. That is leadership worth modeling and looking to. You see, when we put this story of Jesus into context it breathes humility and servanthood that is foreign to our culture’s idea of leadership today. One day, when it is all said and done, every knee will bow to the King of Heaven, and every tongue will confess, from every tribe and every nation on earth and below it, that He is Lord. He’s the one who came as a fragile baby, washed the feet of those whom He created, and was mocked, beaten, and hung on a cross for all to see. It didn’t stop there though. He died the death and took on the full wrath of His own father that we deserved in order to make a way to lead us back to His heart. That’s what being a leader is about — Sacrifice and servanthood for the glory of God, not me. It’s the leader we follow before anyone or anything else and the leader the church needs now more than ever. I’ll end with this story:
There was a man named Daniel Nash. Not many know of him, and that’s not uncommon. He served as the personnel intercessor to Charles Finney, a great evangelist. He was key to the revival that followed Finney’s ministry. Some look at the life of Daniel Nash and see how important a prayer life is, and I would agree, but I would also say that he lived the life of what Christ-like servanthood and leadership is supposed to look like. Before Finney would enter a town to preach, Nash would slip quietly into the town and seek to get two or three people to enter into covenant of prayer with him. Together they would begin to pray fervently for God to move in the community. On one occasion, a man named Leonard Ravenhill said: “I met an old lady who told me a story about Charles Finney that has challenged me over the years. Finney went to Bolton to minister, but before he began, two men knocked on the door of her humble cottage, wanting lodging. The poor woman looked amazed, for she had no extra accommodations. Finally, for about twenty-five cents a week, the two men, none other than Fathers Nash and Abel Clary, rented a dark and damp cellar for the period of the Finney meetings (at least two weeks), and there in that self-chosen cell, those prayer partners battled the forces of darkness.” Another record tells: “On one occasion when I got to town to start a revival a lady contacted me who ran a boarding house. She said, ‘Brother Finney, do you know a Father Nash? He and two other men have been at my boarding house for the last three days, but they haven’t eaten a bite of food. I opened the door and peeped in at them because I could hear them groaning, and I saw them down on their faces. They have been this way for three days, lying prostrate on the floor and groaning. I thought something awful must have happened to them. I was afraid to go in and I didn’t know what to do. Would you please come see about them?’ “‘No, it isn’t necessary,’ Finney replied. ‘They just have a spirit of travail in prayer.’” You see, Nash played such a key role in the life of such a magnificent movement, and God used him greatly! Yet he chose to lead and serve in a manner that required no recognition or benefit to his status. He never lacked nor wanted approval or value from anyone other than his heavenly Father. If you want to see Father Nash’s grave today, you will have to drive to northern New York. There, in a neglected cemetery along a dirt road, you will find a tombstone that says: Daniel Nash – Laborer With Finney – Mighty In Prayer – Nov. 17, 1775- Dec. 20, 1831.
We are all leaders in the contexts and communities we take part in daily. I want to be a Father Nash to the people I know. I would rather be used greatly by God serving in the Austin Stone Students ministry for the rest of my life and never be on the cover of the top 50 worship leaders or gain recognition for my achievements if it meant furthering the kingdom and teaching the next future leaders what Christ looks like. But I have to fight for this posture daily, and so do you. Imagine what kind of impact we could have on those around us if we led them through servanthood and daily sacrifice of tending to their needs and their hearts. I think they would see Jesus so clearly and the Gospel in such a fresh way that it would compel their souls to fall on their knees, give up all they hold onto, and follow the greatest leader with us. Jesus.