Five Practices of High-Performance Christian Leaders,

Five Practices of High-Performance Christian Leaders | Practice 1: Submission

By Dr. Ben Lovvorn

The Bible teaches that Christian leadership is paradoxical—it makes no sense to unbelievers— because it goes against what the world teaches about leadership and influence. This world says to become a good leader, you should grab at power, make your own way, and be your own boss. To succeed, you should determine your own values, decide your own priorities, and make your own goals. But the way of Jesus is far different. He tells us to give up everything we have. He tells us to lay down our rights, our desires, our claims to power. He tells us to come and die… so that we can truly live in Him, so that we can truly begin to love as He loves and lead like He leads. As a servant.

The first practice of a high-performance Christian leader must be submission, submission to Jesus Christ as the Lord of your life. As one writer on Christian leadership has argued, “The chief characteristic of the Christian leader must be submission to Christ, and only those who have learned that submission is the key to power can be effective Christian leaders.”

Here are five ways that you can build this first practice—submission—into your life.

1. Submit your life wholly to Christ.

First, submit your life wholly to Christ. If you have come to know Jesus Christ, then you should think of your life as a living spiritual sacrifice (Romans 12:1). It’s all for Him, all for His glory. When we recognize the power of the gospel, that we have been purchased by Jesus Christ at the high price of his own blood, this changes everything. We confess that the Son of God came down from his exalted and comfortable place in Heaven. Not only that, but he humbled himself even to the point of dying on a cross (Philippians 2:5–8). Christ gave it all up, following the Father’s will, so that you and I could be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18–19).

Because of what Christ has done for us, we joyfully owe him a debt of gratitude. We owe him submissive bond-service as his slaves (doulos). This Greek term, doulos, is a term followers of Jesus applied to themselves in the New Testament and the early church. Paul identifies himself in Romans 1:1 as, “Paul, a doulos of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…” They called themselves ‘slaves’ of Christ because they knew Jesus had given his all for them. This made them eager to give their all to him and for him in return. They wanted to listen to him, to order every area of their lives in accordance with his will and his purpose for them. Slavery to Christ also meant dying to every other earthly master, including Satan and every sin that seeks to dominate and capture us. It means dying to slavery to our own fleshly passions, dying to slavery of money and the pursuit of wealth, and it means dying to our selfish and self-serving ambitions. Those things used to hold us and rule over us, but not anymore. We belong to Christ now.

The concept of slavery is of course repulsive in this world, and for good reason. Earthly masters are mere human beings, prone to wickedness and sin. But slavery takes on an entirely different meaning when applied to our relationship with Jesus Christ. It is the highest privilege and honor to be a slave to Christ. He loves us. He is for us. He will always and only command what is truly best for us, because he made us for himself, to enjoy him forever. So slavery to Christ is a prerequisite to being a Christian leader.

2. Be a follower first.

The second aspect of practicing submission to Christ is being a follower of Jesus. Once again, this sounds like a paradox. We’re trying to become leaders! So we’re supposed to be slaves of Christ? We’re supposed to follow Him? The answer is yes. One writer has noted the general truth: “You cannot have leaders without followers.” As a Christian leader, however, it’s true in an even more profound sense. You cannot be a leader unless you are first and foremost a follower of Jesus Christ. A Christian leader is an ambassador for Jesus Christ, pointing others to where the true leader is going. To know where he is going, that means you have to be following him yourself.  Like the apostle Paul, a good leader should be able to say, “Follow me, as I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

3. Use God’s gifts and abilities to serve others.

The call to leadership is a special one. It is not for everyone. In their book on leadership, Kirkpatrick and Locke note, “leaders are not like other people… they do need to have the ‘right stuff.’” For the Christian leader, the ‘right stuff’ stems from the calling and gifting of God. God will give you the spiritual gifts you need, and He has designed you and formed your natural abilities. Together, this is God’s way of preparing you for the leadership that he has called you to pursue in every area of your life. It’s not your own strength or power—leadership comes from God’s gift.

The Christian leader uses God’s gift, not as a way to glorify the self, but as a way to serve others. Oswald Sanders calls this “The Master’s Master Principle.” He writes, “Jesus knew that the idea of leader as ‘loving servant of all’ would not appeal to most people… But ‘servant’ is his requirement for those who want to lead in his kingdom.” Christians are devoted to serving others because they are first devoted to serving Christ. They will only be granted the ability to truly lead if they first demonstrate selfless service to others. You should think of every leadership opportunity as a service opportunity. You should constantly be asking the question, “Lord, how would you like me to serve others today?”

4. Rely on the Holy Spirit.

Christian leaders must rely on the Holy Spirit. Never forget that your work, whatever it is, is always a spiritual work. There is no domain of our lives and no endeavor we can undertake where we can operate on our own. We need God in us, willing and working for his good pleasure. God told his people this in Zechariah 4:6, it is not by might, not by power, but by the hand of the Lord Almighty that this work is accomplished. Jesus reminded his disciples of the same truth in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; [but] apart from me you can do nothing.” The apostle Paul asked this pointed question to the church in Galatians 3:3, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” We could rephrase this question for our purposes here, “Leaders, are you so foolish? Having entered leadership by the Spirit, do you think you can accomplish God’s work as a leader by relying on your flesh?” No way. God gifts us and puts us into leadership by his choice and will. And then he empowers us at each step to accomplish his work.

We must operate in the power of the Holy Spirit, or else we will be destined for fruitlessness and failure.

5. Seek vision and wisdom from God.

If the Christian leader’s role is to guide others to follow where Christ is leading, the leader must know where Christ wants his people to go and what he wants them to do. So, the Christian leader must constantly seek wisdom and vision from God. Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision (literally, revelation from God), the people perish.” In other words, without God’s direction, the people turn away. And where do we find God’s direction today? In his Word, the Bible. You must go back again and again to God’s Word, to know what he has said about his will and his plans for the world, for history, and for our lives.

God also calls us to seek wisdom from Him. Wisdom is the ability to discern what is right and correctly apply knowledge. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” This means that when you seek God’s wisdom with the right heart, he does not blame you for not knowing what to do, and he does not withhold wisdom from you because of your weakness or failures. In his grace and mercy, he will answer your prayers so that you might lead others to follow him. Seek God’s wisdom daily through prayer.

When you put all of this together, you will be taking critical steps toward making submission the key practice of your life. Submission is the first and foundational practice of a high-performance Christian leader. Next time, we’ll talk about the second practice—self-discipline.