Note: This article is excerpted from our Training Tool Healthy Leadership.
A few years back, I decided it was time to act. I was in seminary, daily hearing the call to go and take the gospel to the cities and the nations, and I finally decided it was time. I began making contacts in a city I felt God was leading me to, and my wife and I made a couple of trips out there to try to picture life and ministry in this great city. We met with pastors and even went through interviews with local churches. I was fervently running hard after the mission of God, chasing the dream of building his kingdom among the unreached.
And the whole time I was growing colder in my relationship with Christ and my family.
What's Most Important
Luke records a time when Jesus went over to the house of two women, Mary and Martha. We are told that Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, listening to his teaching while Martha busies herself with preparing the house. Martha gets annoyed with her sister's inactivity and complains to Jesus, "Don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" (Luke 10:40).
Jesus responds, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but … Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her" (10:41).
It hit me: I was Martha. My joy had shifted from my relationship with God to my work for God. I had grown discontent with certain areas of my job and my relationship with God felt cold. I saw serving God by moving to a new city as a way to get the excitement and fulfillment I was looking for: a new place, a cool city, an unreached people, and churches that could use my experience and knowledge. I was passionate, but it was passion for the work of Christ—not my relationship with Christ.
God designed us to enjoy his mission and his work, but he never intended it to become a substitute for himself. John Piper once described the need to enjoy Christ above all else saying, "Christ did not die to forgive sinners who go on treasuring anything above seeing and savoring God. And people who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God. It's a way of overcoming every obstacle to everlasting joy in God. If we don't want God above all things, we have not been converted by the gospel."
Psalm 73:25-26 says, "Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." The psalmist is saying that we must keep in mind that God is the goal of our salvation. It's out of our delight in him that we desire to serve him and share with others. And even though we are to delight in him, we are prone to delight in our ministry effectiveness instead.
What Your People Need Most
In 1 Timothy 4:16, Paul instructs church leaders to "watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers." In other words, the greatest thing you can do for the people you lead is to keep watch over your own relationship with Christ. Similar messages are throughout the Bible. Proverbs tells us to guard our hearts because everything else flows from them (Proverbs 4:23), and Christ himself told us that our mouths speak what's in our hearts (Matthew 12:34). As we seek to guide people to the Spring of Life, we must be sure that we're already there drinking from it ourselves. Only then will we be able to lead others.