By Laura Johnson, Summer 2015 Communications Intern, One Mission Society
“Oh, I don’t know if I could do that ... I’ll have to think about it,” I said to my youth pastor about a month ago. That was the last I’d spoken to him until yesterday afternoon about sharing a message with his youth students. Over the past year, I’ve been working with my church’s middle school youth group and have formed some meaningful, life-giving relationships. I remember making similar connections as a middle schooler with people who continually encouraged and helped me in ways I strive to do now for these students. To be able to talk to them about life and God would be a complete blessing. I truly do want to speak, but I was hesitant. My mind immediately flooded with lies: “You don’t speak well in front of people. You have nothing to offer them. Who are you to teach anyway?” As a naturally shy and submissive person, I’ve never thought of myself as a “leader,” which is why the question frightened me. However, I am beginning to rethink what leadership truly means.
Last Monday, Angie Ward, a special assignment missionary with One Mission Society, led a training session titled “The Art of Leadership” at OMS’ Greenwood headquarters. Angie is a professor of leadership, education & discipleship at Capital Seminary and Graduate School, with a Ph.D. in leadership from Southern Seminary. During the hour-long session, she spoke about the qualities and responsibilities of effective, moral leaders. I was surprised by the simplicity of her eloquent, poignant message, as well as what it would come to mean to me.
Angie opened her talk by defining leadership as “ influence on people to movement toward a vision.” She went on to express this truth, “Everyone is a leader." We all have influence on the people in our lives. Such is the nature of human connection. A student once told me that she wanted to be like me when she grew up. That was odd for me to hear because when I grow up, there are so many that I want to be like. As humans we affect and are affected. American author and priest, Brennan Manning, put it like this, “In every encounter, we either give life or we drain it; there is no neutral exchange.” Through this mindset, positions of influence do not boil down to lording over somebody or having the ability to publicly deliver speeches. It simply states that we are relational beings who rely on one another for guidance and acceptance. Additionally, it implies that our choices to encourage or reject have lasting impact. You have a choice to smile at your waitress or sneer at her, and that choice will either help or harm her in a fundamental, irreversible way. What we do matters. The way we live matters. It reflects our vision, which might be achieving power, getting good grades, giving our children a better life, or following Christ. As Christians, we are called to lead our lives in a way that testifies to the work Christ has done in us. This then leads others to the ultimate vision, the Great Commission, with the outcome being a relationship with Jesus.
It is true that not everyone is equipped for every position of leadership. I’m not going to run for President anytime soon. But even if you don’t view yourself as a leader in the traditional sense, you are not powerless. You are a relational being that has the responsibility and blessing of affecting others in positive ways. Acts 20:28 says, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”From Angie Ward’s presentation, I realized that I am empowered through Christ to be a leader wherever I am, to whoever I’m with. As I mentioned in the beginning, I spoke with my youth pastor again yesterday about sharing a message in middle school youth group. I told him I would love to, and we set a date for when I return from my internship at OMS. I am still a little anxious, but I have realized that I am in a position of influence and have been given an opportunity to encourage, build up, and ultimately create movement toward a vision—the vision of Christ.
Jesus once said, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28). Through Christ, we are empowered to serve, lead Christ-like lives, and spur others on to the same end.