Leadership Lifter: Biblical Leadership Principles

by Rick Warren

Last month we began looking at the biblical principles of leadership. We looked at the principle of identification. This month we will continue our journey by looking at two more: Clarification and Motivation.

2. Clarification. Know what I want to accomplish. I must know what I want to accomplish. I must clarify what God has called me to do in life.

This is so important because the direction of your life is your choice. If you don’t like the direction your life is headed right now, change it. Nobody’s holding a gun to your head. Nobody’s making you a victim. Nobody’s forcing you to go a certain way. If you don’t like the direction you’re headed right now, change it. 

Leaders know not only who they are, they know where they’re headed. They know what God has called them to do. They know what they want to accomplish. When you clarify your goal in life, your purpose in life, then you are set free from the tyranny of the urgent. You know as well as I do that what’s urgent and what’s important are often two different things. A lot of things that are urgent won’t even matter a week from today. But what’s important is going to matter forever and ever and ever. So we have to distinguish this.

Jesus knew exactly what He was called to do. He knew what He wanted to accomplish. He was a straightforward leader. And He established clear-cut goals. Again, from His own words in John 8:14b Jesus says, “I know where I came from and I know where I’m going.”

Do you ever get to the end of the day and wonder whether you accomplished anything? There’s a big difference between activity and productivity. You can be busy but just spinning in circles. Beware of the busyness that binds up your life and results in activity without productivity.

The thing that turns activity into productivity is purpose! When you have a purpose in what you’re doing you are able to be more strategic.

Jesus was not only straightforward, He was a strategic leader. In Matthew 10:16b He tells his disciples, “Be shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves.” Honestly, that doesn’t even sound like something Jesus would say. He’s telling you to be shrewd. Shrewd as serpents and harmless as doves. He’s talking to His own people, to believers, to you. What does He mean here? He’s saying, “I want you to be strategic.” Some of us think that shrewdness, that wouldn’t be something that’s Christlike. Yes, it is. He says, You should have a strategy for your life. He says, I want you to be innocent as doves. I want you to be pure. Your motives are clear. You’re not manipulating anybody. But you need to be strategic with your life because you’ve only got one life and this is preparation for eternity. Be strategic in how you use your time.

Jesus had His clear purpose. He knew not only who He was but what was He trying to do with His life. He was a purpose driven leader. Luke 4:43 tells us, “I must proclaim the good news about the kingdom of God…for I was sent for this purpose.” Notice He says I have a purpose and I must fulfill it. He doesn’t say he should or might or could, He says he must. And God has a purpose for your life and if you don’t fulfill it, you have wasted your life. Because you weren’t put on earth to live for your ideas. You were put on earth to live for God’s purpose. You need to not only know who you are and what you want to be but where you’re headed.

You know what the first recorded words of Jesus were? He was twelve years old and when He said, “I must be about My Father’s business.” That’s the first public statement of Jesus. In other words, even then He already knew what He wanted to accomplish with His life. And at the end of His life on the cross He said, “It is finished.”

Friends, those are the bookends of a successful life. I know what God wants me to do with my life and I did it.

3. Motivation. Motivation, the third principle of biblical leadership is knowing who you are trying to please.

You can’t please everybody. Have you figured that out yet?

The other day I was talking to Kay about this. I said, “Leadership is the art of managing disappointment.” That’s what it is. It’s the art of managing disappointment. I am acutely aware as a leader that I am constantly disappointing a lot of people because I can’t please everybody. Every time I say yes to one appointment I’m saying no to a dozen others. Every time I say yes to one phone call I’m saying no to a dozen others. Every time I say yes to one project I’m saying no to other projects. You cannot please everybody, because everybody has different expectations of you. If you are going to be a leader you are going to have to ask God to give you a tough skin and a tender heart.

How did Jesus handle this? He lived for an audience of One. The only person he tired to please was God the Father. In John 5:30b Jesus tells us, “I seek not to please myself, but him who sent me.”it says this, “I only try to please the One who sent Me.” Every one of us needs to learn the same lesson. If you are going to be an effective and great leader then you have to learn to not care about so many different opinions. Care about God’s opinion and focus on that. Life is a marathon and when you are running the race there are people in the stands who will both cheer you and jeer you. If you pay attention to either one you’re going to get sidetracked. You are going to stumble and you are going to lose the race. Don’t listen to the criticisms or the compliments. Just focus on what God has called you to do.

If you are going to be in ministry, and especially if you are in a very public ministry, you will have more than your share of criticism. I was talking to Billy Graham one time and asked, “What do I do with all this criticism?” He said, “Rick, if you wrestle with a pig, both of you are going to get muddy. But only one of you is going to like it.”

One of the big myths that keeps you from being effective – you as a leader – is this: I have to be liked by everybody in order to be happy. That is a myth, friends. You don’t. You don’t have to be liked by everybody in order to be happy. The fact is God already loves you unconditionally. He will never love you any more or any less than He does right now.

Some of you are still trying to get the approval of somebody who has never given it to you. From your dad. Or from your mom. Or from a husband or from a wife. You’re living to get the approval of somebody. The truth is, if you haven’t got their approval by now you’re probably not ever going to get it. It doesn’t say anything about you. It says a lot about them. It’s their problem. It’s their hang-up. You’re not going to get it because of who they are and not because of who you are. The hurt’s in their heart.

But here’s the good news. You don’t need their approval to be happy. Just live for an audience of One. God loves you and God has a purpose and a plan for your life. Learn to please Him.

Here’s my question: who are you depending on for your happiness? “If my husband would just change then I could really be happy… If my girlfriend… If my boyfriend… If my wife would just change then I’d really be happy … If I just had a different boss then I’d be happy… If I could get married then I could be happy.” No, you won’t! That’s the truth. The fact is you are a sinner and you marry a sinner and there’s no way you’re going to have a perfect relationship with two sinners getting married. You’re going to have problems in marriage just like you have problems in the single life.

What is the ultimate motivation in life? It’s the motive that Jesus modeled for us, the only perfect leader. In John 17:4 He says this “I have brought You [talking to God, the Father] glory on earth by completing the work You gave Me to do(NIV).” I accomplished what You put me on earth to do and I brought You glory. That is the ultimate motivation in life. Living for the glory of God. That is the highest motive.

You have to settle this issue of motivation because leading is hard work and if you don’t know why you do it, you’ll give up. When you figure out the why in your life God will show you how.

Join me next month as this discussion continues.

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church and author of The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church.

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