Roots Before Fruit

Character. Integrity. Abiding in Christ. We know these qualities are crucial for a good leader to have, but they often get passed over in our fast, success-driven, navel-gazing culture. Sunday is coming, and people always need something from us. We can’t measure these inward realities, so they can easily drift away in our daily routines.

Our team regularly talks about the front stage and the backstage. The front stage positions us where others see our lives. We are leading, preaching, influencing, even performing in these spaces. But the more important—and often neglected—interior life is unfolding backstage. Our family and close friends get to see this. It is a beautiful thing when the front stage and backstage are congruent, and it is a dangerous thing when they aren’t.

Scripture is clear that who we are matters more than what we do (but, of course, what we do should begin to align with who we are). We are God’s workmanship (think of a beautiful poem, song, painting) before we have work to do. Jesus describes a healthy tree that bears healthy fruit because it has healthy roots. Our identity as daughters and sons is more important than our impact as leaders. Who before what. Workmanship before works. Roots before fruit. Identity before impact. When we get healthy, our impact will grow naturally. 

I often help coaching clients hone their identity goals, for example, being a person of prayer, an emotionally available parent, a caring spouse, a servant-hearted friend and a growing disciple. You won’t find these goals listed on your church website or in your annual review, but they are crucial to everything you do as a leader. 

If we get the order reversed and try to do things for God so he will be pleased with us, we end up trying to perform for God in order to earn his love. Here is the beautiful reality: We already have his love. We work from our identity, not for it. 

So, what are some practical ways to cultivate who you are?

* Make space for more healthy inputs than outputs. Seek out more life-giving people, content and silence with God than what you output for others. 

* Regularly gather with people who are unimpressed with you. You do not need to perform or pretend with them, and they probably won’t go to your church. 

* Do the deep inward work. I am a big fan of solid counseling, spiritual direction and coaching. Ask for money in the budget to pursue these. 

* Slow down your pace daily. Observe the Sabbath weekly. Taking things more slowly develops gratitude, reflection and time when you are not “on.”

* Intentionally spend time in reflection. Ask questions weekly to assess the health of your heart, soul, mind and strength.

* Create a small list of identity traits. Regularly cultivate these points. Repeat them to yourself daily or at least on a regular basis. 

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Alan Briggs
Alan Briggs

Alan Briggs, an Outreach magazine contributing editor, is crazy about helping kingdom leaders uncover clarity, courage and health. He is a leadership coach, sabbatical coach, writer and podcaster. His experience as a pastor and church planting catalyst inform all of his work. Join the conversation at Stay Forth Leadership Podcast