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The Lord is my shepherd.  Psalm 23:1

I cannot hear these words, as a Christian living this side of the cross, without hearing Jesus say, “I am the good shepherd. I give my life for the sheep. I know my sheep by name. I call them. They are mine.”

I want to draw your attention to just three words about this Shepherd, who is the Lord, and His relationship to the Christian.  You find them in Psalm 23 (verses 2 and 3): He leads me.

You find the same image, though not the same words, in Psalm 23 (verse 4): “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me.”

I’ve been reflecting on the marvelous reality that, as a Christian, Christ leads me.  Where does he lead me?  He leads me where He has already gone.  He leads me in paths of righteousness, and He has fulfilled all righteousness.  He leads me beside still waters.  That is in the place of refreshment and joy that is already His.

Even when I walk through the valley of death, I am safe because He is walking with me and death is a place where he has already gone.  Because He has passed through death in victory, He is able to lead me through it.  Beyond that, He will lead me into glory where He is already seated at the right hand of the Father.

Meditating on these words has led me to this definition: Leaders are people who set out on a journey and take others with them.  He has done this through His incarnation, His crucifixion, His resurrection and His ascension.  Notice there are two parts to this definition…

Leaders are people who set out on a journey

Leaders can only take others in the direction they are already travelling. You cannot lead another person to a place you are not going yourself. Godly leadership does not begin with gifts but with direction.  Where are you going?  Where are you in your journey?  That’s why we begin with a self-assessment today.

Leaders are people who take others with them

Oswald Sanders recalls in his book [1] an occasion when missionary leaders from around the world gathered in China.  They were discussing what qualifies someone for leadership.  There was plenty of vigorous debate.

At one point, the leader of the China Inland Mission, a man by the name of D. E. Hoste said, “It occurs to me that perhaps the best test of whether one is a qualified leader is to find out whether anyone is following him.” [2]

So, leaders are people who set out on a journey—there’s movement in the leader’s life and others are attracted to them—they take others with them.

It follows from this, that there are three ways in which leaders most commonly fail.  If you think about leadership failures that you’ve seen or that you’ve been able to observe, you may find that they fit into one of these three categories…

When Leadership Fails

Leadership fails…

  1. When a leader is not on the move

The man or woman who is not going any place is a custodian, not a leader.  This can be true in the home.   Here is a father, a mother—you believe certain things—but it’s static.   There’s no evidence of growth.  Your children see this, and they’re not inspired to follow, because a custodian’s not going anywhere.  There’s no evidence of purpose in your life.

Leadership fails…

  1. When a leader is heading in a wrong direction

Adolph Hitler was an outstanding leader.  Many followed him, but he chose completely and utterly the wrong direction.  Satan himself has remarkable leadership gifts.  A third of the angels of heaven followed him in his rebellion against almighty God!  Satan is an outstanding leader.  He is always leading people into sin, always leading in the wrong direction.

The size of the influence is not the thing to look at.  It is easy to be impressed with the style of a person’s walk, and to focus attention on that, rather than the direction of their journey.

Behind your obedience to Christ, the biggest decision you’ll make in life, if you get married, may be the decision of who you’ll marry.  You meet some guy or some girl and you’re taken by the way they look and talk.

You like their style.  You like the way they walk.  But what do you know about the direction of their life journey?  What is motivating their heart?  That’s the question.  How can two walk together unless they are agreed?

The same principle applies in choosing the friends who will most influence your life.  It applies in every sphere where we choose leaders—in business, in the school and in the church.  What should we be looking for in people who are appointed to leadership?

I think about this in choosing interns.  What should we be looking for in the younger men and women we seek to invest our time and energy in?

I think about this in the responsibilities of the Nominating Committee in choosing lay leaders for the church.  I think about the responsibility given to our pastors in choosing leaders for life groups and other ministries.

Over the years I have served many times on search teams sifting through applications for a position at the church.  Even now we have search teams working for Youth Pastor, Childrens’ Director and Missions Director.

Many of you will have opinions about what these teams should be looking for.  Ask yourself, “On what am I basing these opinions?”  I was asked to give a reference to someone from another church who was looking to appoint a youth pastor.  I asked him what he was looking for.  He said, “We’re looking for a pied piper for kids.”

The pied piper drew many kids, but at the end of the story, the pied piper led the kids off the edge of a cliff.  You don’t want to trust your kids to the pied piper!  He’s wonderfully magnetic in his personality, but he’s leading in the wrong direction.

Sure we need to look at gifts of leadership.  Gifts of leadership matter.  Personality matters.  But the first question is not the style of a person’s walk but the direction of their journey, and where they will take their followers.  That’s what matters when we’re thinking spiritually.

Leadership fails…

  1. When a leader becomes isolated

The goal of Jesus’ life was not only that He should enter heaven, but that he should take a great number of people from every tongue and tribe and nation with Him.

The Good Shepherd is all about leading the sheep.  On the last day, Christ stands in the presence of the Father and says, “Here am I and the children you have given me.”  He is never out of touch with His people.

Godly leaders invest their lives in other people.  They resist the temptation to become self-absorbed.  They do not withdraw.

Leaders are people who set out on a journey and take others with them.  As we set out on a journey in this series, I have three invitations for you…

Consider Your Sphere of Influence

Who could you take with you?

Some of you may be thinking, “A series on leadership doesn’t have anything for me. I’m not a leader. I don’t lead anything. I’m the kind of person who prefers to stay in the background.”

The first challenge I have in this series is to get all of us on board, because the word of God is for everyone, and I want you to see what it says to you.

I want first to remind you that God has placed you at the center of a circle of influence.  Please grab a pencil or a pen, and draw a square box on a piece of paper, and divide the box into four sections.

In the first box, write the word “friends.”  In the second box, write the word “family.”  In the third, write the word “work.”  And in the fourth, write the word “church.”

Start writing the names of people who are within the sphere of your influence.  Once you get started, you may find that some of the boxes need to become sheets of paper.

Think about your friends

God has placed them next to you.  You have influence on your friends; the  only question is what kind of influence that will be.  Your influence will depend on where you are heading and the pace at which you are moving.  God has placed you at the center of a circle of influence with your friends.

Think about your family

Think about your children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and generations not yet born.  Here is a word of encouragement to every parent and grandparent in the vigorous pursuit of a godly life…

Jonathan and Sarah Edwards were godly parents who set the course of their lives to honor Christ, and gave careful attention to raising their children.  One writer, who studied the line of their descendants, found that they included: 1 U.S. vice president, 3 U.S. senators, 3 governors, 3 mayors, 13 college presidents, 30 judges, 65 professors, 80 public office holders, 100 lawyers and 100 missionaries. [3]

The influence of one godly mother, the influence of one godly father has massive potential for good over generations. God has placed you at the center of a circle of influence in your family

Think about your work

God has placed you at the center of a sphere of influence there.  Some of you are in sales.  Think about your order book.  Whose names are there?  Which of these customers do you know well?

Some of you employ other people in business.  Think of these people.  God has placed them in your sphere of influence.  Some of you teach.   Think of those in your classroom.  Think about your colleagues on staff.

Some of these folks are not Christians and you may be the nearest they ever get to the light of Jesus Christ.  Does it matter that your life shines?  Of course it does.  God has placed you at the center of a circle of influence in your workplace.

Think about your church

God has joined us together in the body of Christ.  Some of us are full of joy.  Some of us are quite hard to please.  Some of us are full of faith.  Some of us are full of doubts.  What will your influence be?  What will be the result of your conversations?  Your influence matters.

Early one morning, a man by the name of Henry Varley was in a prayer meeting.  During the meeting Varley said…

“The world has yet to see what God can do with and for and through and in a man who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him.” [4]

There was another man in that prayer meeting who heard these words and said, “By God’s grace, I will be that man.”  His name was D. L. Moody.

Christians desperately need to feel the heat of a life seriously devoted to Jesus Christ.  Why should that not be you?  Why should that not be you on your college campus?  In your neighborhood?  God has placed you at the center of a circle of influence in your church, and your influence matters.  The only question is what your influence will be.

Consider Your Present Position

Where are you in your journey?

Here are seven questions for evaluating your progress.  These questions come directly out of a fresh examination of my own life.  This has been a significant year for me.  I have now served here as long as I served in London—sixteen years.  What’s happened to me in that time?  Where has there been progress?  Where have I lost ground?

I’m sure there are other questions that could be added, but I urge you to start with these and to use them as a grid for examining your own life, so that you can ask the question, “Where am I in this Christian life?”

  1. Am I praying with faith?

I could have asked, “Am I praying?”  That would be a good question, but this question goes further.  In Luke 18, Jesus teaches us that we ought always to pray.  Then at the end of that teaching he asks a question:  “When the son of man comes will he find faith on the earth?”

Notice, He doesn’t ask, “Will the son of man find prayer on the earth?” but “Will the son of man find faith on the earth?”  Why?  Because what matters is not that I am saying my prayers, like the Pharisees did, and like millions of people in all religions around the world do.

What matters is that I’m praying with faith.  Do I have confidence in God to do more than I can do?  Or have I wandered into the spiritual wasteland of evaluating everything in terms of what I see as humanly possible—the easiest thing to do when you’ve been a Christian for 10, 20, 30 years.

  1. Am I serving with zeal?

I take this question straight from the Scriptures.  Romans 12:8 says “The one who leads,” must lead “with zeal.”  There’s something about passion here, something about vision and something about direction.

The leader must care passionately about where he or she is going.  1 Peter 5:2 says to leaders, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers, not because you must but because you are willing as God wants you to be.”

In the film, Parenthood, Steve Martin plays an overworked father trying to do his best for a family under pressure.  One day he quits his job, and when he gets home, he finds the kids running wild and his wife tells him that she is pregnant.  He does not react well.

Then when it’s time to take his son to a baseball game, his wife wants to talk and she says, “Do you have to?”  He says, “My whole life is ‘have to.’”  You’ve been there, and so have I.  But that’s not a place from which we can lead others.  Are you serving with zeal?

  1. Am I believing with confidence?

God says that “the gospel… is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).  Do I believe that?  Do I believe that when I pray for an unbelieving friend or relative?  Do I believe that God is able to save them through the Gospel?

When I struggle with a powerful temptation, with a habit that is difficult to overcome, do I believe that God is able to deliver me through the Gospel?  When I become tired, get discouraged, begin to wonder how long I can continue, do I believe that the God who saved me is able to keep me?

  1. Am I confessing with humility?

Martin Luther said “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ He meant that the whole life of a believer should be repentance.”  Christ calls us, not to a prayer of repentance, but to a life of repentance, a life of turning ever more fully to Jesus Christ.

A life of repentance is not a life of misery, but a life of growth.  It’s a life in which the Holy Spirit is constantly opening your eyes to how you can take the next step in becoming more like Jesus.  A process of examination like this may begin to connect this reality with your life now.

A Christian is a person who has light to see what there needs to be less of and what there needs to be more of in his or her life.  This leads to a life of confession, in which you see your sins and your failings, and you keep bringing them under the blood of Christ.

When you live life like this, you don’t waste your life in the shallow water of compromised obedience, instead you launch out into the deep oceans of following Christ.  Can you name a sin that you have confessed in the last week?  In the last month?

  1. Am I worshipping with joy?

I come to worship.  Do I participate or do I observe?  In the presence of Jesus, there will not be a single person with their arms folded, listening to the angels and observing the worship.  We will all sing.  We will all shout for joy.  Ask yourself, “Am I worshipping with joy?”  If not, why not?

  1. Am I giving with gladness?

Giving is an indicator of love within marriage.  A marriage that’s marked by withholding is not healthy.  Giving is also an indicator of your love for Christ and your love for the bride of Christ.  “I work to earn money that I gladly give to the bride.”  Is that true of me?  Or am I tiring of that?

  1. Am I reaching out with love?

Here we are in a world of need, and some Christians are stretched out in sacrifice, so that lost people on their way to an eternal darkness may see the light of Christ through the Gospel and be saved.  What about you?

I am asking you to consider where you are in this journey.  As I have asked these questions of myself, I gave myself a mixed report.  I found that there are areas of growth and there are areas of decline.  And God is using these questions to bring to my attention what needs to be addressed.  I commend them to you.

Consider Who You Are Following

What will following Jesus Christ mean for you today?

The first mark of a godly leader is that he or she is first a faithful follower of Jesus Christ.  Leadership begins by learning to follow.  Can you say today, “Jesus Christ leads me?”

Only Jesus knows where He will lead you.  Only Jesus knows what He has in store for you.  You can be sure of this: There will be gifts of grace mixed in with shattered dreams, intense pressures and great sacrifices.

In a world of convenience, there are many people who are not interested in that kind of journey.  They are looking for a god who will give them a comfortable life.  Following Jesus will lead you to a cross, but it will not end there.  Following Christ will lead you to glory.

He suffered as an example, so that we might follow in His footsteps.  You may say, “That’s not possible!  He forgave people who wounded Him.  He reached out to serve people while in unbearable pain.  He trusted God when He could not even feel His presence.  How can I possibly do that?

You can do this by His Spirit living in you.  You can’t do this on your own.  It is not in you to live like this.  Left to yourself, you will settle into a Christianized comfort zone, and the people around you will do the same, because that will be your influence.

There’s only one way to live this life: Christ awakens the desire for this life in you, He gives this life to you and He walks this path with you.  That’s my prayer for you today.

Listen to these words by Chris Tomlin…

Where you go, I’ll go
Where you stay, I’ll stay
When you move, I’ll move
I will follow you

Who you love, I’ll love
How you serve, I’ll serve
If this life I lose, I will follow you
I will follow you

In you, there’s life everlasting
In you, there’s freedom for my soul
In you, there’s joy, unending joy
And I will follow

Who you love, I’ll love
How you serve, I’ll serve
If this life I lose, I will follow you
I will follow you I will follow you I will follow you [5]


[1] J. Oswald Sanders, “Spiritual Leadership,” Moody Publishers, 2007

[2] Ibid., p. 21


[4] Excerpt from Mark Fackler article, “The World Has Yet To See…” Jan. 1, 1990

[5] Chris Tomlin, “I Will Follow,” from the album, “And If Our God Is For Us,” 2010


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