Have you ever been told “Do as I say, not as I do”? When I was a teen it made me mad. I still don’t like it when leaders think there is a different set of rules for themselves than the rules for the people they lead. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul lets us know that leaders should be examples by writing, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” The starting place for any leader is to give themselves a check-up from the neck up and examine their integrity. Integrity is uprightness of character. It’s honesty. It’s lining up with God’s Word. For people with integrity, their word is their bond. When they say they’ll do something, they do it. Promises matter. And what they say they believe is reflected in their actions.
To lead in ministry, you don’t have to be right all the time—which is a relief for me, because I flunked the perfection test a long time ago. But you do need to give up the desire to have people think you’re always right.
Admit it: you like having people think you’re right. It’s just human, especially when we’re leaders. We think it builds confidence in the troops when they see us make decisions and stick to our guns. Except we aren’t always right. We’re wrong a lot. And people don’t admire leaders who are too proud or scared to admit they don’t know it all.
When you’re willing to let others know you—the real you—then you’ll have integrity. But if your leadership depends on people not knowing what you believe, or what you do when you’re flipping through the cable channels or surfing the net, then you’ll never be an effective leader.
You’ve got to get your own house in order before trying to lead others.
Are you willing to be a leader who doesn’t just talk about integrity but lives it? This kind of leader desires to become an example, worthy of being imitated. What and who we are shapes what we do. Christ Jesus did not tell His disciples to believe in Him but to follow Him (Mark 2:14). The key to being His sheep is following Him. John 10:27 tells us “My sheep hear my voice; and I know them, and they follow me.” John 12:26 also says “If any one serves Me, let him follow Me.”
1 Peter 5:2-4 talks about the five duties of a shepherd. It says “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers –not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” (NIV) In these verses we see five main duties or descriptions of a shepherd.
4. Willing servant
What qualifies you to do the top four and truly be a leader is your willingness and desire to be the fifth–an example. Being an example is more important than talent. 1Timothy 4:12 says “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.” Titus 2:6-8 says “… urge the young men to be sensible; in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, in order that the opponent may be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us.” Children need role models; so do the adults we lead and the staff we direct!
If leaders desire to be examples, what should we be examples of? First, we should be an example of Christ Jesus and be a follower of Him. Salvation is the starting place, not the end. The great commission isn’t to go make decisions but disciples. It’s simple. We must be disciples to make disciples. A follower is more than a believer; they are also a doer of the Word. John 14:15 is very plain. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Whatever requirements to serve we have on our worker applications, they should be modeled in our own lives. I desire that my life and choices show I have been born again and that I’m in agreement with my church’s statement of faith. (Agreement means practice.) It’s always the correct choice to practice what we preach–to live the Bible 24/7! To me holiness is not just saying no to wrong things; it’s saying yes to the right things. It’s always the right thing to model being a giver. Make it a practice to run from the appearance of evil just like the real thing.
I believe your family is your greatest sermon. Leaders must have their home life in order. Begin by evaluating daily if Christ is truly king of your heart and your choices. A question I ask myself on a regular basis is, “Has there ever been a time in my life when I have been more in love with Jesus than I am right now?” If I can ever say yes, I fix it!
Secondly, you should be an example of “flowing with authority” or being submitted to the leadership above you. Many leaders claim to be loyal to their pastor and leadership but the proof of this attitude is reflected in your actions. You’re really not loyal to your leader if you treat his or her representatives differently than you treat the leader. It’s always the right thing to say no to sowing seeds of discord. Sharing a non-biblical opinion with others can be a form of this. I have found gossip is never a good thing. Being teachable is also a form of submission to authority. Fighting change is not standing with authority. Going where you’re needed to go is an example of one who is under authority. Jesus said if you have seen Him, you have seen the Father. Can that be said of us? If people see us, do they also see those we represent and serve?
Third, we should be examples of commitment and faithfulness. It takes time to establish relationships. Every time I commit more and practice being faithful to establish deeper relationships I grow as a leader. Helping others find their fit within your team will help them make and model commitment. Kids today, as well as adults, need an example of consistency. Always come when you are needed. (It’s sad that you can stick out in ministry by being on time. My mom always taught me early is on time.) Dependable people can be leaned on. The question here is: can you be leaned on for no matter what? Ministry is like a checkbook–you have to make deposits before you can write checks. Model faithfulness to take in as well as to give out! Desire to be an example for others.
Be an example to your workers of what you want them to do. Be an example to parents of what you want them to do, also. Model to the kids what you want them to be and give them your word on it! It’s up to each leader to make their “want to” the same as what is expected and what is right.
Lastly, be an example of excellence in ministry. Always be prepared, study to show yourself approved. Learn and grow constantly. You have to model this to others if you want them to do the same. It’s up to you as a leader to give others an example to follow.
No matter what your title, you are not really a true leader if you’re not an example. Remember, a leader must set the pace. A leader must be honest. A leader must be loyal. A leader leaves no one behind without a helper. Being the example you need to be qualifies you to: feed, care for the flock, oversee and serve. Your integrity fuels your ability to be the example you need to be to others so that you can be the leader you desire to be!