Learning Lessons as a Developing Leader – Aspire Well

I have aspired to be a leader within God’s church since I was sixteen years old.

I do not recall what exactly created that aspiration, apart from the inner call of God of course. All I remember is that from sixteen years of age whatever desires I had for my future all seemed to pale in comparison at the prospect of serving the Lord in His Church. Historically, if I had to give a chronological period for when I believe I was saved I usually say eleven due to key events taking place around that time. The Spirit’s initial work in me at that young age is another story, but for me (as for many people) it was also an ongoing journey of discovery.

Part of that discovery was the sudden realisation that I had developed a burning passion for the Church and its leadership, with a particular emphasis on preaching and teaching (as I look back, I can see that these were due to my emerging gifting). One of the churches I attended in my youth as a young believer ran what they called an Apprenticeship Course. People who expressed a desire for church leadership and wanted to have a season to explore it could sign up for one year, and with the input of the elders they could learn and grow. The ‘apprentices’ would study Scripture, preach, be part of a church plant possibly, be involved pastorally, reach out evangelistically, among many other things. For those who had a call to leadership confirmed over them they would be trained further and then sent out where possible to serve as leaders in different churches. I remember saying to my friends that as soon as I was old enough, I was going to sign up.

As can commonly happen, the Father had different plans for me and, by His grace, He led me on an alternative route. Nonetheless, the desire for church leadership swelled up inside of me into full blown zeal. As I have mentioned previously in another post, part of my journey involved going to bible college and ‘majoring’ in church leadership (whatever that means in reality!), and expanding my experience and learning by being involved in various activities within the church.

All the while, the aspiration has never left me. I have continually read books on the topic, listened to sermons, attended conferences, sat in on elder’s, trustee’s and leader’s meetings to observe, and regularly voiced my desire to those over me in the Lord.

I say all this not to shine a light on my own intentionality, but to contextualise a lesson I had to learn – that your aspiration does not mean disqualification.

What I mean is that, for me most leadership content I had been surrounded by growing up seemed to place a greater weight with those who did not naturally aspire to leadership. Growing up, there seemed to be an unspoken expectation that if you were a real leader called by God you would have initially resisted it, and that somehow proved your authenticity to be a leader. I mean in all fairness, if you look at the accounts of biblical characters you will find examples of leaders who were very resistant. A key one is Moses. At the time of writing this I am reading through Exodus and going over Moses’ four impassioned arguments to God as to why he should not go to Egypt and fulfil God’s call to be a prophet and leader.

However, for every person who has a resistant reaction (like Moses), you’ll have a person who has an aspirational reaction (like some of the Ephesians). Paul wrote to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:1 that ‘If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.’ (ESVUK). Although the immediate context is speaking to eldership, the principle still applies – leadership can be aspirational. Paul recognised that people within a church would aspire to certain roles and responsibilities. People’s gifts, interests, or skills would create in them an aspiration to express their desire. Leadership is not outside of this. Those who aspire to leadership and eagerly desire or seek it (as various translations read) are a blessing. Opportunities should be created to nurture these aspirations and train these potential leaders up.

So as a person who can legitimately say that I have a natural and zealous aspiration to church leadership, and have never really resisted it or battled over the genuineness of the calling, I want to encourage you. I want to encourage any of you where that might be your story. I am sure this will be a small demographic, but for anyone who doubts the authenticity of their call to leadership because they have always aspired to it, be encouraged – aspiration is not disqualification.

Why did I feel it was a disqualification? Because of an underlying (and misplaced) sense that my wanting something that was more front-facing and platform-driven was a sign of vanity, pride and ego. It is not. If you have a genuine call on your life to step into the weighty responsibility of leadership, then recognise the possible pitfalls that could make you stumble (like vanity and pride) but also recognise that these are not signs that you are not called. Instead, embrace the purpose the Lord has put in you, recognise the pitfalls, examine your heart regularly, and then step out into that calling.

If anything, let us be grateful that we have not experienced resistance to or doubt over our leadership, and that God has been gracious to us in that way.

As with many things, aspiration needs to be managed well. It can be something that is misinterpreted as cockiness or misunderstood as arrogance. Therefore, in wrapping up, below are a few tips I would like to share to help those of us who aspire to wider leadership do so well.

Aspire with humility

Aspiration easily breeds pride. To combat this, remember to develop humility. As we continually pursue what God is calling us to, with all the motivation and enthusiasm we have, we must not forget to keep ourselves in check. We do not always know what is best. We will not always have better ideas. It is not us who can do or say things better than others all the time. Voluntarily submit yourself to someone’s oversight and learn to ask questions and be genuine with.

Is there someone you know who could both encourage your aspiration but also check your humility when needed?

Aspire with patience

Aspiration can lend itself to impatience. As we seek and desire to step into greater opportunities to lead, frustration can seep into our souls when there does not seem to have been as much traction as we were hoping for. Practically speaking, there may not always be the resources to facilitate the leadership opportunities you are hoping for in certain seasons. There may not be the people, the finances, the need, or even the agreement that you are ready for something now. That is a hard pill to swallow, but we have to accept the bandwidth of opportunity; and nurturing a patient and content spirit will help guard you against frustration and even bitterness.

How are you at balancing both the waiting season, where there is not a chasm of opportunity, with asking for more? Could you foster a relationship with a key leader that you feel at ease to go to from time to time and ask for opportunities but also encourage you to be patient? 

Aspire with flexibility

Aspiration for what you feel called to may not also materialise when or in what you are hoping for. Like I said above, in some seasons there might not be the resources available or the need. This is where flexibility is helpful. Where there is little provision be creative. What can you put your hand to for now that will bless others, serve the church and develop you? I remember being taught by one of my elders early on to run with what I have got. What you have been given might seem small and not where you want to stay, but if you can be faithful and fruitful in the small then it will only serve you in being the same with the bigger stuff or the stuff you really want to be doing. Whatever you are given, do it with excellence and throw yourself into it – be flexible and adaptable to the needs around you; that is a sign of a good leader.

What areas can you identify that will bless others, serve the church in an area of need, and possibly continue to develop you, while you wait for what you are hoping to step into?

Aspire to be the right person

Aspiration for tomorrow starts with today. Become the future leader you want to be now. Demonstrate the gifting you want to step into now. Do not wait until you have been given the role you are hoping for or the responsibility you desire the most. Aspire to be the right person for the right role and the right responsibility. In one sense, you do not step into a “leadership role” but grow into a leader, inhabiting a character and gifting of leadership. Then see what opens up.

Are you aspiring to the right role or to becoming the right person? Are you naturally demonstrating and being recognised in leadership, even if you are not “officially” in that position?