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Very few would deny the fact that leaders are held to a higher standard. But no one should hold us to a higher standard than we do ourselves. Speaking for myself as a pastor, no church on the planet could require more of me than I'm willing to give. And even then—regardless of anyone's expectation of me or of us—we should be solidly aware that the Lord Jesus is worthy of our absolute best. He deserves nothing less than excellence. A higher standard for leaders? You bet. We shouldn't want it any other way. We do the best we can, or we do it over. It's as simple as that. The only question that remains for the leader is what this higher standard looks like. What are the guiding principles that can keep us performing at high levels, that can keep us effective in our callings?
1. Adopt godly values. The way a person thinks within himself, so is he (see Prov. 23:7). If we want to be godly on the outside, we must make sure we're growing more godly on the inside every day, where nobody sees but us. God places His vision into those whose hearts are beating to the right values. Our standard should be the Scripture. Our role model should be Christ Jesus.
2. Care for the interests of others. I've told my wife that if I happen to precede her in death, I hope to have earned the following one-word epitaph on my grave marker—Others. I would like to have it said that I was consumed with a passion for showing love to others, investing in others, giving to others, sharing Jesus with others. I am mindful—and thankful—each week as I make preparations for Sunday morning that God has given me the privilege of declaring His Word and His truth to others. Be intentional about keeping people a priority as you live and as you lead.
3. Live with integrity. I heard someone say that integrity is what happens when the tongue in your mouth and the tongue in your shoes are all going the same direction—when what you say and what you do are in perfect alignment. Integrity carries the idea of wholeness, unity, and truthfulness. It means making each facet of your life worthy of emulation, not just those you want others to notice. Part of our high standard as leaders requires living in total integrity of heart.
4. Keep your word. If you tell someone you'll do something, do it. If you set a time to meet, be there—right when you said you would. Jesus said to “let your word ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’” (Matt. 5:37). Don't say it unless you mean it. And mean it when you say it.
5. Develop your gifts and potential. Some people, even some leaders, feel exempt from risking the development of their talents. They fear the growing pains that are inherent in becoming all God designed them to be, the cost involved in maximizing their capacities and possibilities. Leaders can't afford to take that easy way out. It's always been my heart's cry to reach my God-given potential—not merely the one my church, my denomination, or my family expect of me but the one my Lord knows I can achieve, the potential He is continually equipping me to attain. We must let God do with His investment whatever He desires. He gave us these gifts and abilities for a reason. We must not waste a drop by lowering our standards.
6. Manage well your time, talents, and treasures. We know that time lost cannot be replenished. But we must not just retain this piece of information as knowledge; we must live it in real time. The leader must be alert each morning to the value of the day ahead. God has given you another package of hours to open and use. Look forward to what it may contain.
Talents—this makes me think of Jesus' story from the Scripture in which the landowner allotted talents to his servants: five to the first one, three to the next, then one to the last. I've always considered myself a one-talent person. I don't really have a lot of things I do naturally well. But the question is not how many talents we have; it is what we're doing with the talent we've been given. Take that one talent—even if it's just one—and spend it all for the glory of God's dear name.
Our treasures, of course, include our money and material possessions. By using and managing these well, we mere mortals, who can only be in one physical place at a time, can find ourselves multiplied—empowering others simultaneously in other regions of our nation and world. By investing our treasures, we can be giving and active even when we're asleep! But our treasures also include the people God has given us to share life with—our families and loved ones. Don't forget to invest deeply in them as well. Many a leader has set his sights on ministry and professional goals while losing sight of his responsibilities at home. Remember, leaders are held to a higher standard, and God will supply what you need to be as effective with your family as you are with your followers.
7. Pass on to others what you have received. One of the passions in my life is mentoring young pastors. For a good while now, I have been bringing one pastor a year (two pastors a year most recently) into a mentoring program at our church. The student must be a college graduate, must be studying for the pastorate, and be enrolled in seminary. I don't pay them much during this yearlong period, but I do give them a place to live, a large investment in their library, and a generous travel budget so they can go with me to various venues and see real ministry in action. Our seminaries even give them up to twenty hours credit for the time they spend with me.
Yes, this demands a lot of me as a leader. Investing in these young men takes me away from other things that could easily occupy my time on more pressing matters. But I know that if any of us ever amount to anything, it's because of what others have passed along and handed down—the investment they've made in our lives. I can only hope that these men will glean insights and lifelong memories that will be helpful to them down the line. It won't be what I taught them as much as what I showed them, not what they hear but what they see. Leaders must maintain this kind of forward thinking, making sure they are actively involved in efforts that will outlive them.
Perhaps your guiding principles should include some or all of these seven. Perhaps they should include others. But think of them all like a compass, fixing your bearings on true north, keeping you and your leadership goals magnetically joined, pointing in the same direction. They will narrow (and hopefully eliminate) any gap between what you consider important and what you actually spend your time doing. They'll help to keep you on track as well as your church, business, or organization. Guiding principles are must-haves in the leader's luggage.
Johnny M. Hunt and John C. Maxwell, Building Your Leadership Resume: Developing the Legacy That Will Outlast You (Nashville: B&H Books, 2009).