In my twenties, I was determined to change the world. In my thirties, I tried to reform the church. In my early forties, I discovered I was the problem.
That was a difficult day.
Like most young leaders, my early ministry was marked by a passion to change something. My decision to change the world obviously didn't work. Then I decided the church was the problem. So I started a new one. While it grew into a strong healthy church, something still was not right. No matter how hard I tried to restructure the people and circumstances around me, I still was deeply frustrated.
Through a painful series of circumstances, some of which you will read about in this book, God brought me face to face with this hard reality—my problem was me! So, for the past decade my focus has been on becoming the leader God intends me to be rather than doing the leading God intends me to do.
Don't misunderstand—I am very busy doing! I am committed to energetically applying myself to the work God assigns me. People who evaluate me give me high marks for industry, dependability, and attention to duty. Finding enough to do is not and never has been my problem.
If you read anything in this book that leads you to shirk your responsibilities, delve into some ethereal justification for ineffectiveness, or drift toward laziness in ministry, then you are misreading me. God wants you to work hard and to study how to improve your skills so you work more effectively. Other books, other very important books, will help you do that. Most schools, seminaries, and seminars focus on these skills. Many of them are helpful. But this book is not about how to do leadership. It is about how to be a leader.
The reality is too many young leaders start out like me. They believe if they learn enough facts and accomplish enough tasks, they will not only satisfy God, their followers, and their peers—they will also find deep fulfillment. I no longer believe that. Now I know that deep fulfillment comes from knowing God intimately, understanding his purpose to shape me into the image of Jesus Christ, and discerning how he is using his Word and my circumstances to shape me toward that purpose.
God has an ultimate purpose for you. Simply put, he wants to shape your character to make you like Jesus Christ. Romans 8:28-29 summarizes this purpose: "We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son."
These verses are packed with meaning! While volumes have been written about them, let's summarize the key points as they relate to character development.
God has a definite purpose. That is clear in these verses. We are called "according to His purpose"; therefore, God must have one. God is doing something specific in each one of us.
God's purpose is to conform us to the image of Jesus. This is also very clear. We are to be "conformed to the image of His Son." God is busy remaking his children, including all of us leaders. He is busy making us more and more like Jesus.
God is intentional about his purpose. Romans uses strong theological language—"those He foreknew He also predestined." God knows and determines, in ways we can never understand, that we will be conformed to the image of Jesus. God is relentless in this endeavor. He wills it—and what God wills, he accomplishes. Long ago, God reminded Isaiah, "I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please" (Isa. 46:9b-10 NIV). We need that same reminder. God is intentional and purposeful in conforming us to the image of Jesus.
God's ultimate purpose gives meaning to our circumstances. Usually, the "all things" in these verses is applied when bad things happen. Comfort is drawn from these verses during crisis, bereavement, or tragedy. That certainly is appropriate. But the phrase "all things" means that all circumstances of life, bad and good, transpire and conspire to change us. God is at work through all our circumstances to shape us into the image of Jesus. Accepting and affirming that one great spiritual reality causes our circumstances, no matter how puzzling, to make sense in the context of Christian character development.
God's purpose is good. God allows circumstances that have good results in our lives. Not every circumstance is good—the death of a child, a tragic illness, a national calamity, or other horrific events cannot be called good. God does not call them good. Only fake piety or some form of spiritual denial leads to calling these events good. But God promises good can come from every circumstance as its meaning is related to his ultimate purpose. God can bring a good result, inner conformation to Jesus, from whatever he allows us to experience.
Now make it more personal. God has a purpose for you. His purpose is to make you more and more like Jesus. He is relentless in his quest. God will organize and orchestrate circumstances to accomplish his purpose—so there is purpose in your experiences as a leader. God's purpose for you—shaping you in the image of Jesus—is good and will always be good for you. And that is very good news!