It takes a changing life to change a life. —Joe Stowell
What does it take to be a life-changing group leader—one who experiences transformation and also catalyzes life change in others? Are there patterns, habits or practices to be embraced?
The goal of a transformational leader is a changed community of people. Most of us are familiar with this powerful passage in Acts 2:42–47:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
While it’s tempting to view this passage as a specific strategy for leading groups, the more important takeaway is that these people clearly had been changed by God. They were acting differently toward one another and the world around them. That's the ultimate goal: a changed, loving, engaged, truthful, humble, powerful, and mission-minded community.
The Leader’s Challenge: Self-Leadership
Becoming an Acts 2 community requires Acts 20 leadership. Acts 2 is stimulating; Acts 20 is sobering. Consider this charge: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28, emphasis added). Watch over the flock—and watch over yourself!
Paul gave Timothy, who led the church in Ephesus, clear instructions to be this kind of leader. Timothy was a young emerging leader, and he faced overwhelming obstacles in a heresy-filled city and spiritually-confused church. On top of that, Timothy had a lot of self-doubt and far too few ministry resources.
Like many women and men in ministry, Timothy found himself pressed from every side. He needed to take care of himself if he was going to face the opposition without growing weary. So Paul wrote to him to encourage him to focus on the right things. To become Acts 20 leaders, we must focus on the same seven things Paul offered to Timothy:
1. Connect with Christ
1 Timothy 6:11
Paul wanted his protégé Timothy to move from being a timid teacher to a passionate leader pursuing Jesus fully. He called him to run from everything that would sidetrack him—envy, strife, malicious talk, endless controversies, and the temptation to do ministry for financial gain. Instead, he was to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.” In other words, to pursue Christlikeness.
When I was a young Christian, one of my mentors impressed upon me the necessity to connect daily with Jesus. Specifically, he encouraged me to read from the Gospels each day. He believed that seeing Jesus teaching, performing miracles, loving people, and resisting the attacks of his enemies, brings us into closer connection with Christ.
2. Guard Your Heart
1 Timothy 4:12
Proverbs 4:23 reminds us to, “Guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.” Character is formed and shaped in the heart. Protecting the heart assures that it remains soft, open, malleable, and devoted to the things of Christ. A transformational leader knows that a wounded, hardened, or neglected heart is the breeding ground for unresolved anger, complacency, and indifference.