The great temptation in any leadership is to think that my leadership is about me. It isn’t. True leadership will be more concerned with those that I lead than me as the leader. And true leadership will always recognize that I can only give what I have first received.
As I write this we are about to start into the fifth year of the Cor Deo full-time training program here in England. It is a small ministry focused on mentoring and training participants to multiply ministry that will make a profound impact. What can we give to these participants that we did not first receive? Nothing.
The best leadership, the best mentoring, and the best teaching, will always be overflow leadership, overflow mentoring, overflow teaching. That is, as I have received, so I can overflow to others. The great danger for any leader, mentor, or teacher, is to start to think that our ministry comes from our own capacity, our own ability, or our own accumulated knowledge.
How can we avoid the subtle shift from overflow ministry to stagnant self-absorbed ministry? Here are two vital ingredients to protect us from this dangerous (and natural) shift:
1. Personal Gratitude. It is not enough to be grateful when nudged to be grateful. We need to continually return to a place of gratitude as we give ourselves away in ministry. Let’s be thankful for all the training we have received, conferences we have attended, books we have read, and mentors we have been blessed to spend time with. Thankfulness reorients our hearts to God’s kindness toward us.
Actually, it is not just the obviously good gifts that have brought us to this place in our ministry. Great ministry is typically forged in the crucible of significant challenges. But without thankfulness, challenges typically bring only bitterness. Let’s be thankful for all the difficult situations, setbacks, apparently unanswered prayers, opposition and disappointments.
Good ministry comes from overflow, not personal capacity (where I have learned, and I have accumulated, and I have become . . . the gravitational pull of our flesh will always reorient our hearts to self-praise). Gratitude is a vital ingredient to maintaining healthy overflow ministry.
2. Spiritual Integrity. God has invested a lot into each one of us over the past years. The obvious blessings, the careful character sculpting, etc. Gratitude protects us from believing that we have made ourselves somebody significant. But there is another issue that I hinted at already – the danger of stagnancy. Past blessings can quickly grow stagnant if there is not a present reality to my spiritual walk.
I cannot dispense teaching or leadership from a reservoir that was filled twenty years ago, or even last month. For all of that to be fresh today, it must be stirred by the present reality of a personal walk with Christ. The Bible uses language of God pouring out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom.5:5). Elsewhere Paul uses the present tense to speak of being filled with the Spirit (Eph.5:18).
God pours out His love into my heart and consequently I can love in leadership, in mentoring, in teaching . . . but if the gaze of my heart shifts from Him to myself, then my reservoir starts to drain down and grow stagnant. Without the present reality, all the past investment loses its present value.
As I head into another season of ministry, I want to be grateful for all I have received, and make sure there is a present dynamic reality of abiding in Christ’s love so that I can overflow to others. We cannot give anything of value that we did not first receive. Not just what we received in the past, but also what God wants to give us today.