by Clarence Bradbury
Several years ago I faced a dilemma in my life and ministry. Things were going well at work. I was serving in my sweet spot and approaching some major decisions. I wanted to make my best contribution for the sake of the future. Then it happened. An urgent need at home meant that I would have to move elsewhere before my current work was completed. We prayed, wept and hoped we wouldn’t have to choose between two opposing options. But we were able to make a weighty decision based on a non-negotiable factor in our lives.
Leaders make decisions every day. Consciously or not, these decisions are guided by any number of factors in the leader’s life. That could be the mood of the moment, the budget, the dictates of policy, assumed wishes of someone higher up the line, or simply the greater good of all concerned.
As spiritual leaders entrusted with Kingdom business, we are blessed with certain clear commands for all decision-making. Most notable is Christ’s command to “seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33). Seeking first the Kingdom is not presented as first in a series of actions to be applied to each situation. Rather, Jesus is saying that seeking God’s Kingdom takes priority in every matter. In other words, “Above all things, seek the Kingdom…” Adhering to this all-inclusive command requires Christ followers and Christian leaders to bring their best qualities to every decision.
The task of setting and maintaining godly priorities can be informed by four indispensable qualities of Christian character. These are biblical purpose, core values, Compelling vision and ultimate contribution. The Christian leader is most effective when priorities are informed and guided by these aspects that have been formed by years of leadership shaping. Consider how each of these leadership dynamics informs and shapes priorities.
1. Biblical Purpose – Having a clearly owned sense of God’s purpose for placing us in the world and His Church provides a default question for every situation – How will this decision serve to express God’s purpose for my life and ministry? Biblical purpose emerges over time out of an intentional examination of our life journey – the people, events, scriptures and circumstances God used to shape us into the persons we are today. Jack McDowell, whose vision helped to birth our School for Leadership, was blessed with a godly mother who counseled him when he was only 10 to seek God’s purpose for his life. He soon adopted this prayer as the focus of his entire life, “Dear Father, help me find the purpose for my life.” He found that purpose in serving The Salvation Army and its officers. A prayerfully established life purpose provides us with an invaluable resource for screening and sorting our priorities. It becomes “True North” on our life compass.
2. Core Values – These are the non-negotiable convictions and life messages that have been forged out of the lessons we have learned from the crucible of past affliction, hurts, loss and brokenness. They go beyond mere belief and are evident in behavior. Those who know us well can hear our life messages come through every time they see us maneuver a major leadership decision. They know we will act in certain ways because they know what we stand for, and whether we can be “bought or sold” in the marketplace of political influence and conflicting options. Values both inform and order our priorities.
3. Compelling Vision – When we live our lives “on purpose” and make values-based decisions, our non-negotiable core values serve sort of like railway ties holding together who we are (character) and what we do (competence/skill). This amounts to leadership integrity. When we practice integrity, we are on track to reach our God-inspired vision. Vision is the result of purpose and values in action. Vision inspires us to make decisions and set priorities that will take us closer to achieving the vision God forms within us through the years.
4. Ultimate Contribution – This is what remains after a God inspired purpose, set of values and a compelling vision are realized. When we make decisions and choose priorities with a focus on God’s glory and the interests/needs of others, we invest daily in the legacy God wants us to leave behind. The familiar adage holds true, Sow a thought; reap an action. Sow an action; reap a habit. Sow a habit; reap a character. Sow a character; reap a destiny. God intends that our ultimate contribution will continue to influence others far beyond our funeral reception to the generations we have touched.
As spiritual leaders, may the thoughtfulness and intentionality of our decisions and priorities honor God and our calling. May they inspire and enable our peers and followers to set good priorities and become all they were meant to be. For further exploration and application, see this month’s leader development focus on decision making and priorities, based on John Maxwell’s Million Leader Mandate – http://missionmover.org/?page_id=2100.