The complexities of our hearts are nowhere more evident than in the drive of leaders to succeed – and the motivations that underlie that drive. Those motivations have a direct impact on how we lead and how we treat the people we lead. It impacts the level of drivenness that defines us and how we respond to success if God grants it.
I am seen by many as a rather driven, type A personality and I cannot dispute that I have a very high desire to succeed in what God give me the opportunity to do and frankly, I did not fall far from the tree. My father graduated as a Civil Engineer, then went to Seminary, Medical School, completed a surgical residency and finally a Dr. of Ministry over his lifetime as a church planter, missionary doctor and then a surgeon in private practice. Along the way he wrote a book called Discovering the Bible that thousands have used as they read through the Bible over the course of the year.
While never feeling overt pressure to succeed, I cannot imagine not putting my full weight into any assignment I am given and become bored quickly when there is not a challenge in front of me. What drives me is the desire to have maximum influence for the cause of Christ globally in the years that He gives me. That fuels my leadership of ReachGlobal, my consulting with churches and Christian ministries, speaking, teaching and writing. I guess I qualify as driven whether I like the notion or not! Fortunately all of these things are in my sweet spot so I derive great satisfaction from them and my work is my play. I am blessed.
Success however has its hidden traps. I must ask myself constantly, what is it that drives me? Is it the accolades of others, telling me I have done well? If so we all know that others often tell us what we want to hear rather than the truth! Am I driven by my definition of success or God’s? I have heard many pastors say that success for them is a larger church. Really? Might God’s definition be a missional, empowered and healthy church? Is larger always the definition of success? After all, a larger congregation might simply mean that we have attracted the latest folks hopping from one church to another!
Success often brings a sense of pride that makes us believe that we don’t need to listen to the counsel of others. After all, we have proven ourselves. We know what is right and the more success we experience the less we listen to those who we need to hear around us. The truth is that the more successful we are the more cautious we must be about our own wisdom, and the more committed we must be to ensuring that we have a cadre of friends around us who tell us the truth and help us see our blind spots. The biblical admonition that pride goes before fall is not a myth but a harsh reality.
It is often in success that we are vulnerable to either hurting those that get in our way or exploiting others for our purposes. After all, why should I allow others to get in the way of God’s work? And surely, the ministry I am involved in transcends the needs and concerns of others! Many of us have met people who think this way. Their ambition and drive has run over those who got in the way of their trajectory.
Chapter eight of the book of Deuteronomy is devoted to the subject of success and the reality that often in success we start to believe our own press – that it is us who are responsible for success rather than our God who granted it. We start to believe that we are deserving of privileges that others are not. We start to believe that it is our wisdom and our ability that got us to where we are rather than the blessing of God and the gifts which He sovereignty gave us.
I am convinced that one of the key indicators of where our heart is – is how we deal with success and whether it brings with it greater pride or greater humility. I both desire and fear success! I desire to have the greatest influence possible for His purposes and the advancing of His kingdom. I fear that this very success will cause my heart to believe that I am responsible for the success He Himself granted and that in my success I may in fact fail the test of my heart’s followership of Him.
How do we guard our hearts in seasons of success? I believe that the answer is counter intuitive to what successful people often do. Success often makes for subtle shifts in our thinking and lives: We run faster, move away from truly authentic relationships, believe that we are better than we really are and expect others to serve us. The way to guarding our heart in success is exactly the opposite of these common responses.
Success often causes us to run faster and faster. Opportunities come to speak, attend conferences, meet important people and schedules fill till we are running on fumes: And it is the fumes that are dangerous because when we are tired, full up, and living without margin we are at our most vulnerable. All too many Christian leaders have crashed and burned in the process. Their hearts were empty, their reserves used up and their guard was down!
Here is the irony. What robs us of success is running too fast and paying too little attention to what really counts. Those who are successful over the long run and who retain their deep influence are men and women who do not stray from the core but hidden practices of nurturing our hearts. But this cannot be done on the run. It requires time to think, reflect, align our priorities and stay close to God. If anyone needs to say “no” often, it is those who have tasted success and become sought after because of that success.
Cultivate authentic relationships
Success breeds arrogance unless we continue to intentionally cultivate the authentic relationships with other Christ followers who can challenge our thinking, hold us accountable and keep us humble. Whenever I encounter arrogance I know that these critical elements are missing and that there is a high likelihood that a crash is coming. Arrogance is the bi product of unaccountability and isolation.
Perhaps the most important people to those who have tasted success are those who knew us before we were successful in the eyes of others. They are not enamored by our new stature. They know us for who we really are and our relationship is not based on fame or accolades. In fact, they are the very people who see through the fluff to what is truly real. Like God, they are not enamored by the new persona but look for the authentic us.
Men and women who have come into significant wealth know this truth. It is the friends they had before they were wealthy that they know to be true friends and not looking for some favor. The same is true with those in ministry who come into significant favor. Those who isolate themselves from accountable relationships often pay a heavy price. Those who foster authentic relationship with those who are not impressed by their success guard their hearts.
Pay close attention to your shadow side
If anyone needs to understand and be aware of their shadow sides, it is those who have tasted success. In success we are tempted to believe that we are better than we really are – to minimize our weaknesses and exaggerate our strengths. It is a dangerous place to be because the evil one is constantly looking for opportunities to trip us up and when we exaggerate our strengths in our own minds and minimize our great weaknesses and shadow side we are prime meat for him.
Arrogance is thinking too highly of ourselves. Humility is understanding who we are, Who the source of our gifts and success is and that every good thing we are and have accomplished comes from the generous hand of the Father. My very ability to write this blog is simply the gift of a heavenly Father who gave me the gift of putting words on paper to encourage and challenge others.
Because success blinds us of our shadow side, one of the keys to guarding our hearts is paying more attention to our shadow side as we experience success. It reminds us of our spiritual frailty; of our need for God’s grace on a daily basis and that we are merely cracked pots whom God uses in his redemption plan for our world. Our shadow side, that part of us that still needs to be sanctified by Christ is a daily reminder that we are no different than any of God’s other children. It humbles us and causes us to fall before the cross daily for a needed dose of grace and forgiveness. It helps us guard our heart.
Intentionally serve others
One of the deadly results of success is the temptation to think that others should be serving us rather than our serving them. It is the conversation that Jesus needed to have with two of his disciples when he pointed out that the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve - and so with His disciples.
As the leader of a large organization I am acutely aware of privileges that I enjoy. I have greater autonomy over my priorities and schedule, authority to make decisions that impact others, the ability to build a team that covers for my weaknesses and allows me to live in my sweet spot most of the time and recognition for ministry efforts that others may not normally receive. These are privileges of position. They are also temptations to believe that I am special and entitled when compared to others.
Nothing could be farther from the truth! The posture of Jesus and His disciples is the posture of a servant who came to serve rather than to be served. It is the posture of Jesus in Philippians 2 where He humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.
The posture of a servant guards our hearts and keeps us grounded in the Christian call to serve others as Christ served and serves us. It helps us resist the insidious move toward pride and privilege and helps us remember the source of our success – the gracious hand of God and those who make up our team and organization.