Dying to Lead (Part 1)
Good morning from Nicaragua, otra vez! I have officially returned to Nicaragua after a short trip to The States.
Over the two weeks I was home, I had some great opportunities to visit with friends and family and to reconnect with my work in the U.S. as well as my home church. Additionally, I had a neat opportunity to attend the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta, GA, a leadership conference focused on building up Christ-centered leaders. The theme for this year’s conference was “Make”, as in we were created to make and we are being made into leaders by our Creator. At the conference, they talked a lot about how being made into a leader is a process (more about this in a future post) and how we need to be willing to allow God to grow us. The second part of this, surrendering to God, ironically is something that God has been teaching me a lot about lately. It is amazing to think that God began to put on my heart the need to die to myself a few weeks ago and then put it on the hearts of the people who organized the Catalyst Conference to address that very topic. God is certainly a lot BIGGER than I will ever understand. Through the conference and listening to God, I believe God is telling me the most effective way for me to lead is to lead in such a way that I decrease and others, especially God, increases. So what does that look like? Good question.
I think the first thing to understand is what it means to “die to self”. If I am honest, I am not sure I completely understand what it means and I certainly haven’t over the many years I have been involved in various forms of leadership. The first phrase that comes to mind is, “it’s not about me”. In Philippians 2:3-4, Paul says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves, Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (NIV 1984). I have a good friend who says, “Philippians 2:3, it’s not about me”, which is a great way to remember that truth. I believe understanding this truth is the starting point to understanding how to “die to self”. If we stop here, however, we will only be part of the way there. In addition to realizing that it is “not about me”, we need to be willing to say “it is about someone else”. This idea can also be seen in Philippians 2:3-4 as Paul tells us to “consider others better than ourselves”. One of the greatest examples of this that I have ever seen is John the Baptist in the Bible. In the book of John chapter 3, we can read about the account of John the Baptist’s testimony about Jesus. After being questioned about Jesus and what he thought about the fact that everyone was now going to Christ to be baptized instead of him, John says, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30, NIV 1984). John wasn’t just saying, “It’s not about me”, he was saying, “It about Him, Jesus”. I believe this was one of John’s greatest acts of leadership as he lived out exactly what he was called to do, point people towards the Messiah.
What does this look like in our lives? I believe it means understanding our calling or mission is greater than us. When leading is no longer about our reputation and our personal needs, we are freed up to boldly live out our calling and to do whatever is necessary to fulfill the mission. When we die to ourselves, we can joyfully lift up others and rejoice with them when they see success. We can accomplish far more than we could when making sure that we “get the credit we deserve” was the aim. Dying to ourselves means finding our identity in something greater, God and His calling on our lives, which in the end is far better than trying to prove our value ourselves. As one of the speakers at Catalyst said, we can be a big part of our small story or a small part of God’s infinitely big story. This gets at the essence of dying to ourselves; ultimately, dying to ourselves means putting God and His plan ahead of everything else, no matter what it means. The best of example of this in the history of the world is Jesus Christ, himself. Right before Jesus went to the cross he prayed to the Father, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42, NIV 1984). Jesus, who is God in the flesh, chose to die to himself and die on a cross for our sins because he understood that God’s plan of redemption was greater than himself. In taking that step of humility, Jesus kicked off the greatest movement in the history of the world. That’s leadership if I have ever seen it. Might it be time for us to follow suit?
So what does it look like to live that out as a leader on a daily basis? We are going to take a look at that next week. I hope you will join us.
– James Belt