Five Practices of High-Performance Christian Leaders,

Five Practices of High-Performance Christian Leaders | Practice 2: Self-Discipline

By Dr. Ben Lovvorn

Welcome back, we’re covering the five practices of high-performance Christian leaders. The first practice we talked about was “submission” to Jesus Christ. That means Jesus is Lord over every single area of your life and your leadership. Christ rules over you. But now in this second practice, we’re going to talk about the sense in which God calls us to rule over ourselves, that is, to practice self-discipline. To be an effective leader, you must be able to discipline yourself in order to model for others what a healthy Christian life looks like. The apostle Paul says it like this in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”

What does it take to be self-disciplined? Let’s look together about five areas in which every leader needs to practice good discipline.

1. Make progress toward spiritual maturity.

The Christian leader must be growing toward spiritual maturity. It is the natural and right progression of the Christian life for us to become more and more like Christ.

It is only through the work of the Holy Spirit that we can grow in spiritual maturity and be transformed into Christ’s image. But we must do the necessary work to help facilitate that growth by regularly practicing spiritual disciplines like reading the Bible, spending time in prayer, participating in church and corporate worship, giving, serving, and sharing our faith. When we practice the spiritual disciplines, it is like we are erecting the framework of a ship. We put the sails up and position them, but that’s not where the power comes from. We won’t go anywhere, no matter how we position the sails, unless there’s wind. That’s the Holy Spirit. He is the wind that actually gives us power to advance to do his will and accomplish his purpose.

2. Attend to your mental health (i.e., intellect and emotions).

Second, we must each attend to our mental health. By mental health, I am referring to a healthy mind and emotional state. To have a healthy mind, you must dwell on the things of God. Paul told the Philippians to cultivate their minds like this: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if there is anything excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). It matters greatly what we spend time dwelling on and focusing on. It will affect how we lead more than we even know.

Leaders must also be learners. They must always be learning and growing—learning more about God and his Word, the world, the field in which you work, and the tactical skillset that you use to do your job. You need to think and rethink how to serve most effectively, always seeking out the best way to do the work God has entrusted to you and the best way to care for those under your leadership. Regardless of your leadership style, whether it is more top-down or collaborative, your team needs to know that you are maintaining your competence by being eager to grow.

Leaders also need to maintain a healthy emotional state. Some professional athletes actually train in mental conditioning to help prepare them for whatever circumstance comes their way. These athletes know that they must be their best in the most pressure-packed situations in order to success. But that’s really true for all of us, regardless of where we are or how we’re leading others. Good leaders bring calm to the chaos. Rather than making small problems seem bigger than they are, leaders should help others feel as though they can tackle any problem they encounter. Whether something great happens or something terrible happens, the leader’s response should not be all that different. The leader is always processing, “What’s best next?” But if the team sees the leader panic, they know they are in serious trouble and will be more likely to make critical mistakes and cause lasting damage!

3. Maintain physical fitness.

The high-performance leader should also maintain physical fitness. In 1 Timothy 4:8, Paul writes, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” While spiritual training is far more important, of course, Scripture does not dismiss the value of physical training. Physical training does have some value. Every leader doesn’t necessarily need to be out running marathons, but it is greatly beneficial for every leader to be physically healthy and ready each day for the work they must do. We need energy and vitality to serve effectively. We should carry a presence that inspires confidence in our team and in the organization. We all have different challenges when it comes to health, so don’t let this become a discouragement for you. But with what you can control, as far as it depends on you and given your circumstances, take intentional steps to keep your body healthy.

This not only includes exercise and nutrition, but even regular doctor’s visits and preventative measures that can help ensure the longevity of your ministry and service to others. Paul said, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). As long as you are living, make the best use of your body to serve the Lord and others to the greatest extent possible.

4. Develop perseverance and resilience.

Next, and this is one of the most important ones, leaders must develop perseverance and resilience. You will have hard days and hard seasons. You will face discouragement, criticism, and loneliness. There will be days when you feel like you are capable of doing so much more than you are doing, and days when you feel like you are not capable of doing anything you’re being asked to do. As Jesus said, “In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). As a leader, you must remember that the one who has called you has a plan for you and has already overcome the world.

James 1:2–4 reminds us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

A good leader must be resilient. You must be able to face failures, setbacks, and disappointments. You have to be able to get back up after you’ve been knocked down. Spiritual leadership necessitates a refining process. Even in times of disappointment, God is working on you and in you. You must not quit before your work is finished. And thankfully, we know that God will not quit his work in us before he is finished. Philippians 1:6 says, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Through every trial and setback, remember that God is continuing to do his good and perfect work in you.

5. Keep an eternal perspective.

Finally, you must discipline yourself to keep an eternal perspective on things. You have probably heard the example of the dot and the line before. Your life on this earth is a dot. But your eternity in heaven is an infinite line. Colossians 3:23–24 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart and reverence for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Lead in view of the inheritance and reward you will one day receive from the Lord. Keep in mind that whatever your role, you are actually serving Jesus Christ, the King of kings. And all you do now, in this life, is in preparation for eternity. Honestly, I tend to think too much about the future in this life. And people will ask me what I want to be doing in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years… But I try to keep an eternal perspective. I tell them, I am not preparing for whatever role God has for me in 10 years. I am preparing to reign with Christ in His Kingdom for all eternity (Revelation 5:10, 22:5). Imagine if you could bring that kind of perspective into every situation or conversation in the domain where God has given you the chance to lead. It would draw people powerfully toward what really matters and what will truly last.

This has been the second practice of a high-performing Christian leader, self-discipline. Next time we’ll discuss the third practice: strategy. I’ll see you then!