During the midst of a difficult, frustrating time, a young leader that I love and admire requested my help. Everyone that I have the privilege of serving I love, but I must admit that this young leader has a special place in my heart. I’m passionate about the church developing leaders at every age and stage for all generations.
As I stumble and bumble my way toward maturity as a leader, I’m learning that it is essential to be sensitive to the hearts of my teammates. My theology drives me to love people because God first loved me; therefore, loving people means paying attention to their hearts. It means walking alongside them as a friend through success and failure. It means entering into their frustration and joys and bearing their burdens as Christ bears mine.
This particular young leader is gifted by God with wisdom for his age, has a deep love for people, and has out-of-this-world talent. He was frustrated with why he was not improving faster at a task he was attempting. When we locate our identity, self-worth, and significance in a task, either pride or despair grips us with sharp hooks. The Bible calls this idolatry, or focusing on something other than Christ for our worth and identity.
Pride says, “Look how great I ________ (fill in the blank)!” Despair says, “Look how poorly I ___________ (fill in the blank).” Both pride and despair place the focus on us. This form of idolatry is simply building a monument of self-worship.
After listening to him describe his struggle, I told him that I knew how he felt. When you care deeply about something God has called you to do and when you feel you are not executing to the best of your ability, it hurts. I feel like this often.
I said, “In every facet of your life, think ‘patience, persistence, and progression, not perfection.’ I’m 43 years old, and it’s taken me a long time to learn this. Sometimes I still forget.”
Influential people in my life have taught me to be patient with myself. Learning to live life and execute assignments at work, school, or in ministry takes patience. I define patience as the spirit-enabled ability to not hurry the process of maturity and learning (Gal. 5:22-24).
Persistence is the spirit-enabled ability to practice habits daily that will help you develop the skills necessary for competency in a particular task or ministry role. As football players, my teammates and I learned that our public performance on game day was fueled by our private persistence to practice mundane habits that developed a particular skill set to fulfill a task.
As the great Muhammad Ali said, “The fight is won or lost far away from the witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road; long before I dance under those lights.”
Think progression, not perfection
The Holy Spirit also enables us to commit to the process of moving toward a destination. My football career has taught me that when you focus on the progression, the great majority of the time you reach your destination. Many people love getting to the destination, but few do the hard work of progressing toward the end goal.
No one is perfect
As our talk was nearing its end, I said, “No one is perfect, except Jesus. And because you are in Jesus by faith, He is your perfection.” We must locate our identity, self-worth, and significance in Jesus and what he has accomplished on our behalf. T.F. Torrance, one of the most significant English-speaking theologians of the 20th century, teaches a very important aspect of the gospel that underlies this leadership philosophy.
In his book Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ, Torrance writes of the recapitulation theory of atonement. Dating back to the time of Irenaeus in A.D. 130-200, this theory says, “Jesus in his human life summed up the human race and its history. He undid its sin and disobedience by his obedience and gathered it up as a new humanity under his headship as the new Adam” (Rom. 5:12–21).
When we locate our identity, self-worth, and significance in Christ and we embrace Jesus as our life (Col. 3:4) and as our righteousness (Phil. 3:7–9), we are freed from the pressure to perform and released to think “patience, persistence, progression, and not perfection.” In turn, this belief leads to better performance.
After our talk, the beloved young leader––who happens to be my 14-year-old son Jeremiah––said, “Thanks, Dad.”
I replied, “Son, when I was your age, my character and athletic ability were nowhere near yours. I’m proud of the young man you are, and the young man you are becoming.”
Reader, are you patient with yourself? Are you being persistent in the small, daily habits that will help you progress toward your goal? Most importantly, are you accepting Christ’s perfection and placing your identity and self-worth in him alone?
Marinate on that.