(To read the intro, click Humble Leadership, Part 1)
When we think of influential people, rarely do we get a picture of someone asking for help. From the perspective of the audience, a powerful speaker may seem to have everything under control, to be fully in charge, and to be confident that what he or she says is true. But anyone who goes backstage will discover that the show was only possible through the help of many supportive people and the speaker actually has plenty of faults and weaknesses. The reality is that no one can run the whole show single-handedly, whether that be a performance, a business, a church, a ministry, or even a family.
Good leaders must learn to identify and accept their own limitations.
Like it or not, we are all very human. That means we have physical limitations. Too often leaders try to stretch those limitations, whether it be overworking, lacking quality sleep, not getting healthy food, or not allowing time to rest. While diligence and work ethic are valuable, ignoring one’s own limitations to attempt to meet all the needs and expectations of others is simply unbiblical. It might feel affirming to know others admire how much work is being completed or accomplishments obtained; if that becomes the motivating factor, then it is soon a case of seeking glory for ourselves instead of for God. Even when the desire to help others and serve God is central to pushing one’s physical capacity, ignoring the body we have been given to use for our time on earth is simply poor management. We are told our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. If we treat them with poor maintenance, even to the point of limited functioning capacity, we fail to honor what responsibility God has given us.
As humans, we also have very real emotional and spiritual needs. Even Jesus tried to find “alone time.” In Matthew 14, we read that after hearing of the death of John the Baptist, “He withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself” (vs. 13). Later, after dealing with crowds, “He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening He was there alone” (vs. 23). Jesus needed time alone, time with God, time to think, time to be. We need that too. In the busy life around us there will always be something left on the to-do list, always something to follow-up from yesterday or prepare for tomorrow. That is often what requires us to be intentional about finding, or creating, personal space and time.
I believe this is part of why God established the Sabbath. It was never for the sake of legalism; Jesus challenged the Pharisees’ nitpicky attitude of defining “work” and “rest” to judge what was in accordance with the law. Instead the Sabbath is a time to set aside worldly tasks, enabling us to refocus on Jesus. Our bodies are made to take time to rest; we simply don’t function well if we don’t get sleep. In the same way, our hearts and minds also need to be renewed. Setting aside one day a week as a Sabbath is a way of honoring God with our time and energy, allowing room to focus on Him, worship Him, listen to Him. For pastors, Sunday might not be that day! If Sunday is the day of ministering to others and using up energy in multiple forms of service, then a different time is needed for spiritual re-fueling. Of course, that once again requires intentionality and support from others.
Our Needs are Unique (and Comparison is Hazardous)
Just as we are unique in our gifts, we are also different in our needs and limitations. God has given us each a set of talents, resources, and spiritual gifts to be used in service to Him. Yet in churches (and most other community constructs), 80% of the work tends to be done by 20% of the people. The remaining 80% of the people play a placid role of attendance, perhaps seeing the weekly tithe as their form of “contribution.” But that’s not how the Body of Christ is supposed to function. Just like the human body, for the whole body to function well each piece needs to be actively engaged according to its own design and function. Too often we expect leaders to take on multiple roles that should be distributed to competent people around them.
We have this nagging tendency to compare ourselves to each other, including how much effort we put in or how much outcome we are getting. There are really two possible outcomes. If we see ourselves as “better,” this self-elevation feeds pride and judgmentalism. If we perceive our neighbor as superior, we fall into self-defeat and exalting others. Both are detrimental! Comparing different parts of the body is even more distorted than apples to oranges. Try comparing an eye to a nose: their functions are different, the outcomes are different, the needs are different. (Who would expect the eyelid to be open as much as the nostril?) Instead, each part should be valued and cared for in its individual capacity.
Paul tells the church to “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) suggesting reciprocal relationships. Instead of a leader carrying all the burdens, there needs to be recognition that even the leader needs support. The reality is that we have different needs at different times and must be ready to recognize that we will all go through seasons of giving and receiving. Authentic, loving relationships are mutually helping and accepting help.
When asked about motivation to support others, leaders often note that it feels fulfilling to be helpful, to make a difference. Is it not then depriving others of that fulfillment when denying them opportunity to help, to make a significant contribution?
God’s Strength in Our Weakness
Our attempt to rely on our own strength is in reality being self-centered. At times our insufficiencies will be exposed, resulting in disappointment and often judgment (whether from ourselves or others). When our efforts to produce a “successful” outcome (by whatever human standards we employ), taking the credit feeds pride. The motivation to earn respect can subtly make recognition an idol.
While I still do not find it easy to ask for help, part of my learning to accept, even embrace weaknesses came the hard way. Growing up on the mission field, I felt the need to be “strong,” the stereotype of a missionary kid. But in my late teens, when back in the US, I was diagnosed with epilepsy, followed by the discovery of a lesion in my brain. Later brain surgery revealed it to be a tumor, which led to use of radiation. When seeing initial improvement, I planned to take a college semester to volunteer in Thailand (this was after the tsunami). But a couple months before leaving I had a severe reaction, causing inflammation in my brain.
I had already strongly encouraged my parents to go back on the mission field (having left for college and not wanting to deter their calling), and did not want to cancel my own plans, sure that I would gradually improve while faithfully serving God. But when there I directly encountered my limitations, my weaknesses, eventually to the point that I was not serving well and had to return earlier than planned. I was forced to examine the significance of my own faith when separated from what I could “accomplish for God.” During that humbling experience God gave me the promise through 2 Corinthians 12, when Paul asked for God to take away the “thorn in the flesh.” Instead of healing it, God said, “My grace is sufficient, My power is made perfect in weakness.”
During what felt like a long season of weakness I realized that being God-centered meant acknowledging my need for His help. Instead of having my own agenda, He runs the show, He produces the results, and He gets the glory. Hopefully I will maintain that mindset in all seasons of life, not only during times of darkness, distress, or discouragement.
Don’t Wait for Debilitation
Too many pastors, missionaries, and other leaders end up in a state of burn-out. As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Evaluate now if your needs are being met, if you are taking care of the body you have been given and the heart that needs nurture. Accepting your limitations is for the benefit of whomever is under your leadership. To serve well you must live well. Imaging a sleep-deprived doctor; you surely wouldn’t want him to make mistakes on his or her patients! Likewise, a spiritual leader who is not accepting help and grace from God and those around them cannot offer the same quality of genuine care for others.
Take time to be in the Presence of God. Thank God for whatever struggles you are facing today. Offer to Him control over your life. Invite Him to show His strength in your weaknesses. Listen for what promises He has for you.
Love both your messages on humility Emily. Thank you for sharing from your heart and life experience in such a profound way. I agree wholeheartedly that we need to rest, ask for help, and know our limitations and others’ strengths, so we can work together as the body of Christ is intended to do. I’m a work in progress in this area, too!
God bless you and Dean!!!
Thanks for reading and for your encouragement, Erinn! Part 3 is on its way. 🙂
Blessings on you too.
Convicting, encouraging, compelling words that honor God and His unstoppable plan of redeeming His people. May you feel His pleasure in times of fatigue and weakness in order to rest and renewed in His grace. So grateful for His calling on your lives. Love in the purest way bunnie