Have you ever heard someone learning how to play the violin? It’s an adventure for everyone’s ear drums! As the bow moves back and forth over the strings, the screech sends shivers down everyone’s spines. But slowly, as they spend hours practising in their room, the sounds become beautiful, relaxing and graceful. After they have spent hours practising alone, they can begin to play with confidence in front of people, showing everyone what they learnt in the hidden place.
Sometimes as we learn to lead, we see leaders who have been at it for a long time and wish that we were half as good as them. We have to remember that, like the violin player, it will take years of practice. We have to learn how to lead in the hidden places, and we have to learn how to set an example for others. In 1 Timothy 4:12 we find Paul, one of the big time leaders in the early church, writing to Timothy, a young guy just starting in his leadership. Paul says: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” I think that as we learn to lead this is one of the most important verses we can focus on as it gives us a framework of how we can set an example in these five ways.
Watch What We Say
Firstly Paul speaks of setting an example in speech, therefore we must be careful what we are saying. Are our words encouraging or are we constantly tearing people down? Are the conversations that we have with people healthy and about things that we would be happy to talk about in front of Jesus? Do we attack people on Twitter or boast on Facebook? Let’s not forget there are real people reading what we post and lots of those people will be influenced by what we say.
Watch What We Do
Secondly Paul speaks of setting an example in our conduct i.e. how we behave or act. When we start to lead we may behave in ways that aren’t very helpful which hinder other people from following us and even cause hurt. I remember one time I was trying to get people to worship at an event and no one was listening to me. I started putting the music on and everyone carried on chatting. I was so frustrated that I found myself shouting at them to worship, trying to pray over the top of their conversations. Eventually we sang some songs but I’m not sure anyone really worshipped. Later one of my friends, who has been in leadership for a lot longer than me, pulled me to the side and explained the very obvious thing that shouting at people to worship is pretty much a ‘no no’!
I’m still embarrassed about how I acted but I’m so glad other leaders saw past my failings and allowed to me to learn and grow.
Build a Culture of Love
Leaders need to be people who love God and love his people. To love God is to spend time with him, following his commands and letting him change and mould us. If the people we are leading can see that we truly love God, this will help them to come closer to him through the example that we set. To create a culture of love with others we must be aware of their needs and do what we can to help. For example, in a crowded room look out for the person standing on the edge, looking upset or awkward and go and talk to them. If you hear that someone has just broken up with their boyfriend/girlfriend, get alongside them and help them through it. If you see a homeless person, buy them a sandwich and take the time to chat to them. When you love people and are there for them they begin to trust you as they know you have their best interests at heart.
Build Our Faith
John Maxwell, the great leadership teacher, says: “Leadership is influence.” This is important when we think about the fourth way Paul suggests we should set an example: in faith. If we do not have the faith to see a vision happen or to see a life changed by the Lord, then why should the people we are leading? We have to spend time with God, building up our faith and trust, so that when hard times come our foundations in him are deep. Like the violinist who never gave up as they screeched their way through pieces, we must continue when the work is hard, believing God will do the things he has promised.
Keep Our Hearts And Minds Pure
Finally, we need to set an example in purity. To be pure is to keep our hearts and minds from focussing on anything that isn’t of God. This is essential as we make decisions, as we speak into people’s lives, as we love, as we tweet and as we take on more responsibility. If our hearts and minds are not pure then the way that we act will be influenced by more than just God, taking us away from God’s plan and polluting our message.
To recap: as we lead we need to make sure that we watch what we are saying, we watch how we behave, we build a culture of love, we take time to build our faith, and we keep our hearts and minds pure. Like the violin player we will make mistakes, but we mustn’t let that stop us; we have to get up, brush ourselves down and carry on.