It’s terrifyingly easy to be a leader with God focused words and a self focused heart. We know the right things to say: we’re honored and humbled to play even a small part in God’s story; we’re just grateful for the chance to serve; He must increase, we must decrease; etc, etc… But all too often those platitudes aren’t an expression of our heart. If anything, they’re a false veneer carefully constructed to hide what we’re really feeling: when will I get the credit I deserve; why hasn’t God given me greater responsibility; why isn’t this easier; how come that joker’s church is growing faster than ours; why wasn’t I invited to speak at that event; etc, etc… It’s an exhausting place to be. I know because I’ve been there.
It’s a lonely place where burnout or moral collapse is lurking right around the corner. But it’s also a place where God does some incredibly deep work in our souls. It’s the place where we decide whether we’re going to be a God focused or a self-focused leader. It’s the place where we learn the value of keeping our heart focused on God and shaped by the gospel. It’s the place where we resolve not to spend the rest of our lives parroting someone else’s words but rather live out of the overflow of what God is doing in our own hearts.
Whenever I see myself sliding back into self-focused leadership, I think about Ezekiel. He got a master class in God focused leadership early in his ministry. Through him, we see what a God focused leader looks like:
1. God Focused Leadership Starts With A Call From God
Ezekiel never had to wonder why he got into this whole leadership thing in the first place. The answer was incredibly clear:
Ezekiel 1:3 – the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there.
Do you have that kind of clarity? That’s not just a question for pastors and elders but for Community Group leaders and ministry team leaders as well. What got you started? Did God prompt you to do this or did someone else talk you into it? Were you following Jesus or just trying to make a name for yourself? Were you more captivated by the gospel or the thrill of being in charge?
2. God Focused Leadership Is Sustained By Awe
God focused leaders know the key to staying in the game is awe of God and His Word. We see both in Ezekiel:
Ezekiel 1:28(b) – Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.
Ezekiel 3:15 – And I came to the exiles at Tel-abib, who were dwelling by the Chebar canal, and I sat where they were dwelling. And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days.
Ezekiel wasn’t bored by God. He was overwhelmed and on his face, sometimes literally. God’s Word only intensified that awe:
Ezekiel 3:1-3 – And he said to me, “Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.
Ezekiel 3:10 – Moreover, he said to me, “Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears.
Leadership that isn’t sustained by awe is usually sustained by duty or desperation. Duty says I don’t dare quit. Desperation says I can’t possibly quit. Maybe it’s a fear of letting people down. Maybe it’s the fear of no longer getting a paycheck. Maybe it’s the fear that no one will pay any attention to you if you aren’t leading. Maybe leadership has become pure muscle memory – you don’t even know what you would do if you weren’t leading. None of that leads to ministry vitality or personal flourishing.
Keeping our hearts focused on God and shaped by the gospel is our highest priority as leaders. It’s more important than the work we do, the roles we play or the responsibilities we have. A neglected soul will be the biggest threat to your leadership.
3. God Focused Leadership Endures Difficulty
Ezekiel’s ministry was not an unbroken string of pain-free success:
Ezekiel 2:5-6 – And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.
Ezekiel 3:7 – But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart.
If Ezekiel had been driven by man’s approval, he would have quit early on. If all he wanted to do was make a name for himself, he would have been out. If he was in it until it got hard, he wouldn’t have even gotten started. But he keeps going – staying obedience to God’s call on his life and sustained by awe.
In a world of self focused leaders, I’m praying God will raise up a new generation of God focused leaders in His church. Leaders who will shape culture, lift communities and transform lives for the glory of Christ and the good of their cities. It’s possible. We just need to stop focusing on ourselves and start focusing on God.