“Lead Yourself” is a blog post drawing some lessons on leadership and growth from my reflections on the book of Philippians.
All of us then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
Philippians 3 : 15-16
This might seem like an odd place to start. Why not at the beginning? Well, I’m starting here, towards the end of chapter 3, because – as a leader – I think this little verse, verse 16, is key for our growth and development as leaders.
Too often faith development becomes faith attainment. We aren’t satisfied with where we are, we aren’t satisfied with where those we lead “are” (we all have some idealised picture of where we should be or could be in our faith!)
So much has been achieved through what Christ has already done. We don’t need to work up our faith, push ourselves by sheer force of will to become better Christians. Paul even says in the previous few verses that he does not consider himself to have yet taken hold of it (verse 13).
There seems to me to be a constant tension in Philippians about a reliance on faith, a dependence on Christ’s work whilst also the language of straining, reaching for and running the race.
This is the tension of leadership. It has often been said, “you can’t lead people where you haven’t been.” I get why that is said, but it doesn’t really hold up. Life happens. We are going through a pandemic and – in different spaces there are those who have led us through with their courage, selfless acts, determination and creative practice – none of whom have been through a pandemic before.
Which is why I come back to that short verse, “only let us live up to what we have already attained.” We can focus on what we have lost, what we still losing out on, a feeling that – whether it is children’s, youth or family ministry that we are involved in – we have slipped backwards, are finding ourselves starting again or back at square one.
Yet, I read those words and I’m encouraged to “live up to” what is constant and sure in my life. Jesus remains the Lord, He is Sovereign. The gains for the sake of the Kingdom are in His hands. He knows what we need right now and what we will need next. As someone in leadership, I want to “live up to” what Christ has already achieved in me.
Paul talks about knowing the power of Christ’s resurrection – He knows Christ, but at the same time talks of gaining Christ (verse 8) – and yet, here again in the midst of that tension of knowing Christ and yet wanting more we have our fairly classic english interpretation of the Greek. To “gain Christ” here in this verse could also be translated, “through the faithfulness of Christ.”
It is Christ’s work in me that will see me through, that will help me “live up to” what has been attained. Not my effort. Paul has already said it elsewhere, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.”
All the straining, all the effort, all the work mentioned in this book is not about making Church more attractive, it’s not about whether we are running a youth alpha or starting a new club for kids, taking hold of the prize and running the race is about pursuing Jesus. As leaders, the closer we are to Jesus, the more we “take hold” of that for which Christ has taken hold of us . . .
Our primary work then is on ourselves – with God’s gracious presence by His Spirit, helping us to live up to our heavenly calling. As we pursue Him, and Him alone we can trust Him with all the other things that are the work of ministry – the children, the young people, the families.