The Habits of Leaders

Early in my ministry journey, I knew the privilege of serving as Associate Pastor and Personal Assistant for a well-known and godly pastor.  My years alongside Dr. John MacArthur shaped my heart for God’s word, my understanding of integrity, and my passion for effective pastoral ministry. 

I learned many things from John, but one may surprise you.  During the years alongside John, I was struck by the way he picked up trash.  Yes, that’s right.  Trash.  Every time we walked from the car to the doors of the church, or strolled across the campus, John noticed trash on the ground, picked it up, and put it in a receptacle.  Clearly, scores of others had walked that same path earlier in the day.  They either did not notice the trash or did not care that it was littering the campus.

Over the years I’ve learned that leaders make habits of the things most people ignore and avoid.  It may be picking up trash on the sidewalk.  It may be getting up earlier in the morning.  It may be keeping a clean and properly maintained car.  It may be reading two chapters a day in a book.  It may be learning one new vocabulary word every day.  The list goes on but the reality remains.  Effective leaders are usually people of exact, profitable, and extraordinary habits.  They are not always smarter, taller, more talented, or more educated.  They are more aware, more attentive, and more disciplined than the average person.  They pursue excellence in small and big ways by the grace of Christ.

Awareness and Action

Paul was a man of profound influence.  He knew the gracious anointing of God on his work as a Christ-follower.  At the same time he also pursued an excellence in awareness and a discipline in his actions that increased his impact. 

In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 he wrote about his attitude and approach in regulating his lifestyle: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.  And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things.  Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.  Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty.  Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.  But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”

Paul was aware of the spiritual contest in constant play.  He embraced his stewardship to give his very best to the cause.  He understood the vital role of disciplined thought and action.  His actions were guided by a deliberate focus on giving a full effort at all times in an all things.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul teaches on the priority and practical power of the resurrection of Christ.  Making a personal application to his own attitude and approach, he writes, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).  By the grace of the risen Christ, Paul gives his very best, still relying on the enabling of the indwelling Savior to do so.

Equipping a New Generation of the Aware

Timothy, Paul’s son in the faith, was under the regular tutelage of this wise leader.  Understanding the value of self-rule and profitable habits, Paul challenged the young leader on the significance of spiritual awareness and disciplined action.  He admonished Timothy, “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16).  Paying attention to his behavior and his beliefs, Timothy would have a profitable and spiritually redemptive influence on many.

In his second and last letter to the young leader, Paul expounded in similar fashion: “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor.  Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.  Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.  But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife” (2 Timothy 2:20-24).

This wise reminder helped Timothy know that much was at stake.  Choices mattered.  Discipline led to honor.  Profound usefulness was possible.  Avoiding the destructive and frivolous led to influence.  Constant pursuit of spiritual excellence was essential.

Accordingly, each of us must be keenly aware of all that is at stake with every choice.  We must be aware and attentive in the little and big things of life.  We can trust Christ for the grace of discernment and discipline in every moment.  Seizing every opportunity for spiritual excellence and lasting influence, we must form habits that honor our Lord and serve others.

From Feeling to Focus

I remember reading a story about a young man who showed up at class without completing an important writing assignment.  When asked by the professor why he did not finish the work on time the dilatory student responded, “I don’t know.  I guess I just didn’t feel like doing it.”  Immediately, the aggravated professor rose from behind his desk, pointed his finger at the student and shouted, “Young man, has it ever occurred to you that the world is run by people who don’t ‘feel like it’?” 

A journey of influence is not ruled by the emotions and excuses of a common life.  Rather, a focus on the eternal consequences and practical benefit of every selfless action will guide us to rise beyond the mediocre.  These are the habits of a fruitful existence.

So today, do something that most people ignore or avoid.  It may be small, but in time it could make a big difference for the good of others and the glory of God.

Copyright © 2012 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.