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ONE OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FACING EVERY LEADER (AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT)

“Healthy leaders know how to separate what they do from who they are.” ~ Carey Nieuwhof

That one-liner hit me right between the eyes earlier this week. Been going through a challenging stretch of late where it’s been a struggle to separate those two things. I’m learning it’s easier to separate what I do from who I am when life is going smoothly . . . and harder for me when life tosses obstacles in my path.

I think separating what one does from who one is just might be the single biggest challenge a leader faces.

Pastors tend to struggle with separating what they do from who they are. Ministry has a sneaky way of becoming a leader’s identity. It’s frighteningly easy to get inflated by the applause of people (or deflated by the lack of it) and allow our sense of value to rise and fall on their approval (or lack of it). If we’re not careful we can let our self-esteem depend on whether we’re in a successful season (or not).

I think Jesus was aware of this dynamic. He sent seventy-two of His followers on a mission’s trip of sorts. They returned with stories of miraculous success, including accounts of demons losing their evil grip on people.

Jesus’ reply? “What you experienced on your journey was real, it was awesome, it’s part of what I’ve assigned you to do. But don’t let your sense of worth be dependent on demons submitting to your commands in My name . . . rather, let it revolve around your names being written in heaven.” I don’t think He was telling them (or us) not to celebrate victories—but to put them in proper perspective.

I read John 21:1-14 yesterday morning. The scene was post-Resurrection, and a subset of the twelve apostles were fishing on the lake. Jesus appeared on the beach, and told them: “Hey guys, toss the net on the other side of the boat and you’ll catch fish.”  They obeyed, and landed such a large haul they couldn’t pull the net into their boat!

And after their great success, Jesus invited them: ” Come and have breakfast.” Those four simple words were impactful to me as I read them yesterday. I think Jesus was saying, “In the middle of your smashing success I want you to sit with Me and eat.” Jesus isn’t anti-success. He simply wants us to remember that our value doesn’t reside in the size or success of our ministry or career. It’s anchored in the steadiness and stability of Jesus’ love for us. And it’s the proximity of our relationship with Him that helps us keep that perspective. “Come and have breakfast.”

If we get our identity from leading instead of leading from our identity in Christ, we set ourselves up for all kinds of trouble. The apostle Paul helps us here: “What after all is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each its task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So, neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”

What I do for a living—whether it’s in the marketplace or in the church world—is not who I am. Yes, it’s healthy and right to celebrate when things go well (Jesus was full of joy at the great report from the 72 short-term missionaries.)

In the middle of what we do every day, may God help us keep a healthy perspective. To separate what we do from who we are.  I think the more we learn to live this way, the happier we’ll be. The healthier we’ll be. The steadier we’ll be.  And the more we’ll enjoy our calling.

I’m rooting and praying for you!

John Opalewski

Author John Opalewski

John Opalewski is a graduate of Oral Roberts University. He served as a pastor for fifteen years. He has worked in the business world for nearly two decades, serving in multiple leadership roles. John's experience as a leader in both the church and business arenas has made him a sought-after international speaker, coach and mentor.

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