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hat you really need to do to become a leader.
by Dr. W. Michael Wilson, Associate Professor of Pastoral Leadership, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Recently I was talking with a friend who administers a leadership website. In his words, we are experiencing a “crisis of leadership” in America in general and in the Christian church in particular. WorldCom, for example, was founded by a “committed layman,” and the former leader of Enron was described by his pastor as a “strong, committed Christian.”

At an ever-increasing rate, Christians—even those in full-time ministry—are replacing biblical truths with secular theories. We need leaders who will stop following a secular concept of leadership and adopt the leadership model Jesus lived and taught. Jesus challenged his followers to “think outside the box” and to radically change their thinking concerning just about everything! Christian leaders must be contrarian thinkers—leaders who think differently from those around them.
From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus called for this kind of thinking. Matthew 4:17 (NLT) records Jesus’ first sermon: “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” The Greek word for “repent” is metanoeo, which also can mean “to change one’s mind.” Jesus was calling for more than feeling sorry about the past; he was calling for a radical change in orientation:
To “think differently”—change your mind—think differently
To “amend your ways”—change your conduct—act differently
To “abhor your past”—change your attitude—respond differently
Dr. J. Edwin Orr explained that after that initial sermon in Matthew 4:17, over and over Jesus called for a “radical change of life!” Think of the following people Jesus encountered:

1. Nicodemus: Nicodemus assumed that as a Jew he was properly related to God. But Jesus said to this Pharisee and Sanhedrin member (John 3:7, NLT), “You must be born again”—in effect, “You must repent—radically change your thinking about how to properly relate to God.”

2. The woman caught in the act of adultery: Her accusers dragged her before Jesus and stood ready to stone her. Jesus defused the situation and shamed the accusers into dropping their rocks and slipping away. Then he turned to the woman and asked, “Where are your accusers?” Through tears the woman responded that she saw no one. Jesus answered, “Neither do I [condemn you]. Go and sin no more” (John 8:10-11, NLT). In other words, “You must repent—radically change your conduct!”

3. The rich young ruler: He bragged, “I’ve carefully obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” Interestingly, Jesus did not contradict him. However, he added, “Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor” (Luke 18:21-22, NLT). According to Scripture, that man left in sorrow because he loved his possessions. Jesus was teaching him that he must repent—radically change his attitude towards material things.

Jesus’ teaching was radically contrarian to the teaching of the day. He called for a radical change in the thinking, the actions, and the attitudes of his followers. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in his teaching on leadership.

In Luke 14:7-11, Jesus taught his followers a radically different leadership principle when he cautioned them against picking places of honor at the head table. Those who follow Jesus must first humble themselves. Human nature says, “Work your way to the head table. You deserve it!” Jesus says, “Take a seat in the back; I’ll choose who sits up front.” Spiritual leaders humble themselves and wait for God to exalt them.
In Mark 10:35-45, Jesus taught a new paradigm of true greatness. “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else.” Jesus turned their concept of power on its head!

Finally, Jesus redefined leadership in John 13:4-11 by washing the apostles’ feet. He took off his outer clothes and picked up a servant’s towel. Filling a basin with water, he began to wash the dusty feet of his friends.

This was not in his job description! He was Teacher and Lord! He was God! But Jesus did not hire a servant to do a servant’s job. Jesus modeled humility as a radically new leadership style. Those who lead in God’s kingdom lead only from a kneeling position, dressed like a servant, meeting the needs of those who follow them.

Radically change your thinking!
click to win
astor and author John Ortberg on holy ambition in ministry.

Bigger isn’t always better.

Veteran mega-church pastor John Ortberg can testify to that. After serving as teaching pastor at two notable mega-churches—Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Illinois, and Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California—Ortberg knows the dangers of ambition. Yet it isn’t always bad. Ambition, in fact, is part of human nature.

In a recent interview with Ministry Mentor, Ortberg candidly talked about the upside of ministry ambition.


How did you come to understand your call?
John Ortberg:
It was frustrating to me that I did not experience a clear, subjective call. I had to look at options and possibilities.

In school I was interested primarily in theology and psychology, specifically human nature and how change happens. When seeking job direction, I would often pray, “God tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.”

But I learned that when I had to make choices, weigh alternatives, pursue information, and learn from mistakes, I ended up growing a lot more as a person than if I were to just get a directive that allowed me to bypass all of that hard work.

I certainly think God can and often does give people direct guiding or leading when it comes to vocational issues. But that has not been my experience. God’s calling became much clearer in the rearview mirror than it was in the telescope.

When did it become clear you were called to be a teaching pastor?
It was very much through the process of experience and testimony. During seminary I worked at a church and began teaching. I received feedback from people that I had helped them, and I experienced an inner sense of this is what I love to do.

How would you counsel a seminary student who is driven to be the next mega-church pastor? What’s the danger in wanting to be “someone” or part of something big?
One downfall of the church, especially in the evangelical culture, is we tend to mirror the broader culture in baptized ways. So, bigger becomes better and celebrity becomes significance.

I think for all of us, whatever your ministry or job, bigness will never satisfy the call. And the struggle around “what makes me worthy” is an ongoing struggle for everybody—whatever-sized church they work in, whatever their job is.

It’s something that everybody, including myself, has to wrestle with. We need to be honest about it before God and recognize the signs of destructive ambition, like envy, chronic dissatisfaction, arrogance in things done well, or depression when done poorly.

Is ambition ever good?
Absolutely! You can describe it with whatever word, but a deep part of what it means to be human and created in the image of God is to be ambitious, as defined in Genesis when God commands man to “rule the earth and subdue it.” That’s dominion language. We were made in God’s image to be creative in the power of good.

So that drive to want to be significant—and even want to be unique—is a very good drive. It’s an indicator of why we were made and how we were made. There’s something inside everybody that cry’s out, “I don’t want to be just one more of the same.”

What is the dark side of ambition?
Because it is such a deep part of us, it can be subverted. When it’s subverted, it gets real destructive. So, the danger is that I will compare myself with other people. The only safe way to handle that is to make it an issue between God and me.

How should students think about spiritual formation during seminary?
I can remember when I was in school, people would come to chapel and say, “Here’s stuff that you need to think about when you get into the real world.” The reality is that seminary is the real world. There’s no place that you can go to escape the world.

When you’re in seminary, ask yourself introspective questions: How is my spirit being formed? What am I learning about myself in terms of the initiative that I take? How competitive am I? How often do I compare myself with other people? How honest am I when I write papers and take tests? How do I seek to follow God, and how do I resist God? All of those same patterns will be there when you’re working in a church, ministry organization, school, or wherever else you work.

How do you counsel seminarians to experience God’s presence while studying the nuts and bolts of ministry and theology?
The nice thing about seminary is that the discipline of study is woven into your schedule. One of the dangers is that it can become all head knowledge. Then a discipline of worship becomes very important.

While it’s important to worship in the context of church, it’s also beneficial to give pause while I’m studying, God must be great to have thought this up, or to have made this person to be bright enough to be able to write these words or to think these thoughts.

It’s important to build worship into the process of study.
iving a life of passionate worship.
by Eric Dokken, student, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, MA

I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but I remember the experience well. Sometime during my second year of seminary, I was driving my car, mindlessly flipping through radio stations, when it struck me: I didn’t know what I was looking for! I could endlessly search stations and never stop to enjoy the music.

Now this may not seem like a crisis moment, but it was enough to get my attention. I couldn’t find a song to enjoy. In fact, there really wasn’t anything I enjoyed at that point in my life. I was really only excited about one thing.

The problem went back to high school. During my junior year, I sensed God calling me to be a pastor. Ever since, I have known what I wanted to do with my life. Most seminarians wouldn’t exactly see this as a problem. In fact, many may give almost anything to have received a calling that early in life, before they spent years pursuing other things.

I wouldn’t trade that for anything. But it’s how I had dealt with my calling that concerned me.

My entire life has been focused on one goal—pastoral ministry. Everything I’ve ever been involved in had to do with what I one day hoped to be. I had one question: How will this help me be a better pastor? Ministry, school, friendships, my accountability partner—even marathon training—were all geared toward becoming a pastor.
All this isn’t necessarily bad except that my life was out of focus. It was like looking through a camera lens focused on a distant object. Everything in the immediate surroundings was blurry. I didn’t find pleasure in anything anymore. I was living in the future and had forgotten the importance of the present. Consumed with gaining knowledge and skills for ministry, I couldn’t focus on anything else.

That’s when I met her, one of the most passionate lovers of God I had ever heard of. She had something that I knew I wanted. Her story jumped out at me from John 12. While Jesus was dining at the home of his friend Lazarus, Mary entered the room, took a bottle of expensive perfume, and poured it on Jesus’ feet. She took one of her most valuable possessions and offered it to God as an act of worship.

What would cause Mary to do this? A few days earlier, she watched Jesus raise her brother from the dead. She had seen Jesus’ power and love; she was compelled to worship him with everything she had.

The more I thought about Mary’s story, the more I realized that she had what I was missing. Her heart was captured by him. In the midst of my preparation, I had not focused on my heart as much as I should have. That’s the most important part of ministry development.
My calling had gotten in the way of my preparation for ministry. I was so busy thinking about the knowledge I needed to acquire and the skills that I had to develop that I had forgotten the most important thing: to fall in love with God and with his people and live a life of passionate worship.

My heart first has to be captured by Jesus. That’s what seminary is really about.
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