A few months back, a friend and I were reflecting on some observations we were making about this subject, specific to the context of missions. What resulted was these three bullet points that characterize what we were seeing in some of the young missionaries who were newly going out. Keep in mind, this was those going out from the US to other cultures. Also, note, you can be new at what you are doing, regardless of your natural age, and therefore susceptible to newbie mistakes….
- Self important
- Culturally ignorant
- Highly motivated
There is no correlation between talent and maturity. If we are not careful, as young leaders, we can depend on ourselves. We think we know what to do, and in so doing we overlook humility and gentleness. We use our authority, whether real or imagined, as entitlement instead of for serving. Often we can do this without being aware of it. When we do this, the negative effect we are having on those under our influence is significant and long lasting. We are putting stumbling blocks in front of others that will be hard for them to get over.
Snares set for young leaders
Self assurance – Not thinking beyond or considering beyond ourselves in our actions and decisions. The opposite of self assurance isn’t insecurity, but rather dependence. This behavior can be a ruse to cover insecurity, or we may actually be delusional enough to believe we actually have all the answers. Apart from Christ and His grace, we have nothing, and come to nothing. Nothing of value that we have to contribute originates with ourselves. The sooner we come to this point of clarity, the sooner we will see things as they are. Be sensitive to the Lord, and to others, even when you think you know what to do. Ask the Lord and be patient for His guidance, and don’t do anything hastily. Be willing to yield to and consider the input of others, and be willing to ask yourself this question, “What if I am wrong?”
Self importance – Focusing more on our calling and anointing, possibly position, that we do on the One who called us. How we overcome self importance is to actually see things, as the bible says, soberly. We are encouraged to think ourselves soberly, realizing that we have limitations to the grace God has given us. We are not called or intended to walk alone, and our significance is as a member of a body or team. Our biggest and best contribution is realized when it is given in harmony and collaboration with others. The bible teaches us not to brag about ourselves, but let others promote us. This also applies to our own thoughts.
Self centeredness – this is a form or idolatry. as we look thru the self centric lens, we think we see things as they are, but really we see nothing as it is. “Being the center of your own universe” means that you always think of yourself first, and actually may think this is justifiable. It is a hard pill to swallow to acknowledge you are living life in this way. Selfishness is destructive to ourselves and others, and makes it nearly impossible to have a relationship of any depth with others. Jesus says if we save our lives (behave self centrically) we will lose it. We must grow into the place of personal maturity where we see others with as much value as we believe we have.
Self Promotion / Talking too much – the guy who wrote the book Good to Great spoke of an admonition that he received as a young man… focus on being interested rather than being interesting… some of us are verbal processors, meaning we gain understanding by talking, but, this is after reflection and discussion. the temptation to impress others with our words is not coming from Jesus. If we trust in God, we can depend on His promotion, in the right time and situation, and we won’t have to promote ourselves with impressive sounding words and speeches. John 7:18 makes it clear, “He who speaks of himself seeks his own glory….” We can be doing this and all the while believing we are glorifying God… Motives are tricky.. but a tree will be known by it’s fruit, and a life will be known by what it produces. Keep in mind, sometimes we show how smart we are by how little we say…
Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions. Proverbs 18:2 NLT
As you enter the house of God, keep your ears open and your mouth shut. It is evil to make mindless offerings to God. Don’t make rash promises, and don’t be hasty in bringing matters before God. After all, God is in heaven, and you are here on earth. So let your words be few. Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 NLT
Disrespect for those who have gone before us – this can be a symptom of many things, but if we disrespect those who went before us (whether those from history, or those whom we know personally) we are undermining our own potential. Often this is done thru pride or zeal. To speak evil of the things we don’t understand makes us fools. We must focus on understanding before we attempt to assert our perspective. Self respect as a motivation doesn’t cause us to disrespect others. The bible teaches us to honor all, especially those who are from the household of faith. If you have a dishonoring attitude or behavior, repentance is needed. Ask God to forgive this sin, and you may also need to ask the forgiveness of others.
Delusions of significance – this can come from prophetic words or other forms of encouragement that we receive from others. When we are told something that sounds like a promise of what we will be, an impressive promise, it doesn’t mean that we are that person now, but rather that we are invited to become that person. Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time. There is most often a significant amount of time between the two. If you are in a rush to demonstrate your significance, you are putting any true opportunity of significance at risk of being delayed, or missed altogether.
Ongoing Insecurity – insecurity produces a need to dominate (John Dawson) Funny thing, insecurity can actually look like confidence, which it isn’t. Confidence removes the need to dominate. There is pain associated with overcoming insecurity, the first of which, is acknowledging that you are insecure, including taking responsibility for how this is affecting your behavior toward others and negatively impacting your relationships. What’s more important, being right, or being in relationship? your answer to that question says a lot. Much of what we consider righteousness is actually self righteousness, especially if it exalts us over another. We should not exalt ourselves, but rather, according to the biblical admonition, humble ourselves.
Cultural / Situational Awareness is a must for any person seeking to have a contribution beyond what is called home, or natural territory to them. We must, as the author of 7 Habits taught us, seek first to understand, then to be understood. This is good advice, especially since we don't see things as they are, but rather as we are.
Motivation is good, but it isn’t a replacement for skill. If you are a highly motivated person whose effect is destructive, you are going to be very good at, and be very fast at, hurting people. Motivation has it's place. Nevertheless, let's take time to evaluate our fruit (or the result of our contribution in the lives of others) before we rev the engines to max RPMs.
The antidote for this and 1000 other snares is found in obedience to the Lord’s guidance to humble ourselves. Much of this foolishness comes from us comparing ourselves to others and hoping to get an advantage over others. This type of behavior isn’t informed by wisdom, but is from our fallen nature. It can parade itself in grandeur and deception, but it’s fruit will show it clearly. If you are struggling with these or other similar things, be honest about it. Repentance that God gives us is to the acknowledging of the truth. Ask for help from God and others, and take yourself off the throne of your life, which is a central necessity of obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.