I've always been fond of certain lines by that strange and solitary poet, Emily Dickinson: "I'm nobody. Who are you? Oh-are you nobody too?" I ask myself: Am I willing to be nobody? Will I run that risk for Jesus' sake?
There is a dark side to leadership. Personal dysfunction, in one form or another, can serve as the driving force behind our desire to achieve success as a leader. It can be disguised and couched in spiritual language (the need to fulfill the Great Commission and grow the church), and go undetected and unchallenged.
We pray for power in our ministries. Our prayers seem sincere, godly and without ulterior motive, yet I know the dark desires in my own heart. I know that under my prayers and fervor there’s a good deal of personal ambition, a craving for importance and the desire to be thought of as a spiritual leader. There's very little brokenness and humility in me.
"Do you seek great things for yourself?" Jeremiah asks, "Seek them not." I need to take his counsel to heart.
If God catapults us into fame we should be thankful, but we shouldn't seek it for ourselves. We must wait for advancement until God brings it to us.
Personal ambition is a terrible trait, manifesting itself in an ugly passion for the "best seats"--insisting on recognition, wanting to be noticed, longing to be prominent, smarting when we're not consulted or advised, dominating social situations, telling our stories rather than listening to others, wanting to be seen, gravitating to the center rather than serving unnoticed on the edge.
It displays itself in our tendencies to resist authority, to become angry and defensive when crossed or challenged, to harbor grudges, nurse grievances and wallow in self-pity. It's the drive behind our desire to associate with the rich and famous rather than with the little people that make up most of our ministry.
Authentic leadership, on the other hand, means being led downward to a cross. It means being content when others are elevated above us and advanced at our own expense. It means being glad when someone else is preferred or gets the credit for something we've done. It means accepting every humiliation and looking upon every person who demeans us as a disguised grace. God accepts such humbling as the proof that our whole being wants it.
The beginning place for you and me is to learn humility from Jesus: He was "meek and humble in heart," not the least concerned about protecting his dignity or position. By coming again and again to him and asking for his help, we'll become more like him and we'll find that rest of which he speaks—rest from all the posturing, affectation and ambitious striving that makes us so weary and ill at ease.
"Seek obscurity," Francois Fenelon said. We must be willing to be unknown and unnoticed, to serve quietly in a hidden place where no one but God knows what we're doing.