Building healthy relationships throughout your community demonstrates the authenticity of the Christian faith. When your actions in public, at work, and at home reveal Jesus – your words about Jesus will receive a much more receptive hearing.
Put most simply, people matter. Developing meaningful relationships in your community, at work, and in your home produces a more lasting impact than accomplishing almost any project. People matter more than projects.
In my early leadership years, my perspective on relationships was skewed. Two misperceptions drove me. First, I saw people as a means to an end. I considered my task as a leader the responsibility to use, manage, and otherwise deploy people to accomplish my vision. People were assets, yes, but mostly as cogs in the ministry production process. Second, I often saw people as an impediment to my effectiveness. People who were uncooperative, opinionated, or otherwise disruptive to my agenda were “problem people.” They either needed to repent or leave; either way they needed to get out of my way. My warped view of relationships was destructive and painful for everyone, including me.
Fortunately, God and some caring Christians were unwilling to leave my perspective unchallenged. God continually thwarted my drivenness, causing people to get in my way and slow me down on a regular basis. Deacons and other church leaders confronted my callous attitude toward people, demanded improved relational skills, and modeled healthier patterns for me. I’m a slow learner, but eventually the message sank in. People are the ministry. Relationships are essential to effective ministry. Connecting with people and influencing them for good is a primary strategy for success. Abusing people to accomplish my agenda, no matter how high and holy it sounded, was counterproductive. God expected me to work with and through people, prioritizing their growth and development, rather than simply using them to fulfill my ambitions.
Why is it so hard to prioritize people over projects? Why is working with people at all levels – in public, at work, and at home – so difficult? The answers are many and complex but the core problem is confusion about our purpose. At its most basic level, Christian leadership is about helping people change – it is not just about getting things done. For Christian leaders, our priority should be helping people to develop as disciples reflecting the image of Jesus Christ. Getting projects done may be the means to the end, but it isn’t the end. The end – and the beginning and middle – of Christian leadership is getting people to commit to and become more like Jesus.
Keeping this priority in view is challenging. Leaders are activists with long to-do lists. We are execution specialists, known for walking the walk, not talking the talk. But think about this. Does God really need you to get anything done? After all, he spoke and the universe came into existence. Obviously, he doesn’t need you to do anything for him. As a leader, then, your assignments and activities are God’s laboratory for shaping you – and your followers – into the image of Jesus. Leadership is about relationship. It’s about your relationship with God, your relationship with your followers, and their relationships with God, you, and each other.
Summer blogs are excerpted from my book Seasons of a Leader’s Life.