10 Rights a Godly Leader Must Give Up

Leadership is not an easy road, but shortcuts never serve you well.

Under pressure, we are all tempted to take the more comfortable and familiar path, but the results you want come from an approach that includes sacrifice. Under pressure it’s easy to choose:

  • Authority over humility
  • Popularity over obscurity
  • Security over unfamiliarity

It’s natural to prefer going up rather than giving up. The basic drive in a leader wants more for the organization, greater territory and increasing results. This leadership drive to grow and expand is a good thing, because it’s connected to reaching more people with the good news of Jesus Christ. But all that can get blurry when sacrifice is removed from the process of success.

Jesus demonstrated that on the cross. Redemption was ever so costly—and so is kingdom-oriented leadership.

Success in ministry is obviously a good thing, and it’s something to be desired. Scripture makes that clear. How we get there, however, matters greatly. That path often requires difficult choices.

The truth is, there are parts of godly leadership that are unpopular. But that is our high calling and privilege. Leadership is a blast; I love to lead! But over the years I’ve discovered it’s far more about what I’m willing to give up than get, which in turn allows God to bless and add his favor.

I came across a list similar to this one years ago. It captured my attention. It is challenging, inspiring and helpful. Let me share it with you. Here are the top 10 personal rights a godly leader gives up.

1. The Right to Put Yourself First

Jesus modeled humility with profound clarity. A great test of humility is to notice if a humbling moment or humble lifestyle really bugs you. Whether or not you embrace or avoid these moments will tell you much.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Phil. 2:3–4)

2. The Right to Complain

I fall prey to this one on occasion. It’s a complete waste of time and sours a leader’s thinking. When I catch myself, my goal is to stop in seconds—minutes at the most.

Do everything without grumbling or arguing. (Phil. 2:14)

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess. 5:18)

3. The Right to Do Whatever Feels Good

The temptation to be liked, please people and avoid conflict is common. It’s human nature to seek this easier and “feel-good” path. But it will not get you where you want to go.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. (Gal. 5:16–17)

4. The Right to Hold a Grudge

Since I owned up to an occasional complaint, let me say that God has given me great grace when it comes to forgiveness. However, this is a tough one for many leaders because it can be easy to get hurt in ministry, sometimes deeply. And recovery isn’t always quick.

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Col. 3:13)

5. The Right to Live by Your Own Rules

Living by a different set of rules than you expect of everyone else is extremely dangerous. Leaders should never be above the rules. That is the height of arrogance. Pride will take a leader out quicker than anything I know.

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. (John 14:23–24)

6. The Right to Understand God’s Plan Before You Obey

Don’t you wish you understood all that God asks of you as you lead? I sure do. But he’s God, and I’m not, and there are things I don’t understand. God has asked significant things of me that I did not fully grasp. In fact, there are a few I still don’t. But I trust him anyway.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. (Heb. 11:8)

7. The Right to Be Honored and Served

There are moments when honor is due, but it’s always earned, not deserved. When a leader seeks to be honored and served, they are headed down a road that is sure to disappoint and fail in the long term.

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42–45)

8. The Right to Spend Money Any Way You Please

God owns it all! We are his stewards. When it comes to investing God’s resources, it’s better to tremble and hesitate for a moment, than to be overly bold and spend unwisely.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:19–21)

9. The Right to Popularity

In fact, there are times when those you love and lead may resist your ideas, get upset with you or leave you. This helps a leader appreciate all the more those who are supportive of them and the mission.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” (Matt. 5:11)

10. The Right to Revenge

When you are hurt, there are two natural human responses. One is shut down and pull back; the other is rise up and take revenge. Neither one will help you lead better. Ask God to help you love the person instead and move on with a spiritually mature response.

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Rom. 12:19–20)

Leadership brings with it great rewards. It’s a great calling, and there’s nothing like it when we consider the eternal impact on people’s lives. But it does require much of us. I hope this post is helpful to you personally, as well as those you lead. What is God saying to you from this list?

Where are you doing well? Where might you improve?

Dan Reiland is the executive pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. This article was originally published on Reiland’s blog, Developing Church Leaders.