All great leaders are intentional about developing courage. Let’s examine courage from the right perspective. To THINK ABOUT COURAGE (this may seem strange, but …), I need to START WITH A PARAGRAPH ABOUT SIN.
Jesus addressed two DIFFERENT categories of sin in Matthew 6 when He taught His disciples to pray.
In verse 12, He refers to a kind of sin that we translate as “debt.” You should do something — pay a debt, show love to someone, offer forgiveness, welcome the stranger, or whatever — but you don’t.
Two verses later, He shifts to another word for sin that is often translated as “trespass.” You shouldn’t do something — trespass on your neighbor’s property, violate someone’s rights, make cutting remarks that hurt someone’s feelings, use bad language, lie, or whatever — but you do.
That’s why people from different church backgrounds pray the Lord’s Prayer in one of those two different ways — forgive us our debts or forgive us our trespasses.
They both refer to sins, but sort of opposites.
Why do I review this with you? Because I am convinced that the FIRST category (failing to do those things that you know you should do) is much more common in people who have been Christians for a while (like you!) than the SECOND category.
In other words, when you are first saved, there are many sin-patterns that the Lord needs to purify from your life; but since the more active “trespass” sins are more obvious, we tend to participate with Him in changing those first. We stop cursing, stealing, lying, or whatever, because these sins of commission are so obvious to us and to others that they are spotlighted in the mind of the new Christian.
But going on to maturity means to address those less-obvious sins of omission, because to be truly like Jesus, we must not only REFUSE to sin in ways that damage people, but we must also INSIST on engaging in activities that, while less obvious, are also like Jesus — things like praying in secret, putting on the armor of God, truly loving someone from the heart, working on inner patterns of failure — in short, all the things that the fully mature Christian is bound to do but sometimes doesn’t.
And that brings me to the sharp edge of what the Spirit of God has led me to share with you today.
For the Christian leader, one of the most prevalent sins of this “debt” type is that we fail to develop personal and corporate courage.
We are commanded by God nearly 200 times in the Scriptures to “TAKE courage,” “BE courageous,” etc. One of the Hebrew idioms for courage is “Take heart!” And this command is given many times as well, as King David says in Psalm 31:24, “Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.”
That is one Biblical command that every pastor and ministry leader should memorize!
The Bible frequently puts those two parallel thoughts together: “Be strong and courageous.”
And of course, it commands that we do not choose the opposite of courage when it says “Fear not,” “Do not be afraid,” etc.
HAVE YOU EVER STOPPED TO THINK THAT EVERY TIME YOU SHRINK BACK FROM DOING SOMETHING THAT NEEDS TO BE DONE, YOU HAVE COMMITTED A SIN AGAINST GOD THAT DAMAGES YOUR PEOPLE?
It is just as important to train your congregation to DO THE RIGHT THING EVEN IF IT IS HARD as it is to train them to RESIST DOING WRONG THINGS.
And as always, leadership starts with a long and sober look in the mirror.
God wants us, by practice, to develop our “courage muscles” so that when courage is suddenly needed, we don’t find ourselves weak-kneed and undeveloped in the area we need the most.
There is no doubt whatsoever that Jesus intentionally trained the disciples in courage.
- He led them to face high waves and shrieking storms.
- He walked to them on the water, and they shrieked in terror, thinking He was a ghost.
- He commanded them to land the boat in a cemetery — a Gentile cemetery!
- They were confronted by a wild man who was violent and superhuman in strength because he was inhabited by a legion of demons.
- When Lazarus died, He purposefully returned to the area where men were trying to kill Him, and He took the disciples with Him! They were so certain that they would be killed that Thomas literally said to the other disciples, “Let’s go, so we can die with Him.”
- When Herod summoned Jesus, He sent word back to Herod that He would come in His own good time, and He even called Herod “that fox” in His reply! You didn’t speak to King Herod that way if you wanted to keep your head on your neck! But Jesus said it, and the disciples were listening.
He was training them in courage. Step by step He was pushing them out of their comfort zone.
And He did such a tremendous job that when the disciples were arrested and brought to trial before the Sanhedrin, they stood in the power of the Holy Spirit and said in effect that they had decided to obey God rather than the Sanhedrin … and defied any of them to suggest that they should do otherwise!
And when the Sanhedrin heard those words, they knew that somehow these ordinary men who were not flinching in the Sanhedrin’s presence or bowing to the Sanhedrin’s pressure had been SCHOOLED IN COURAGE, and that could only mean that they had been with Jesus.
WHY? Because the apostles were EXUDING courage. They were overflowing with it!
Here are some of the TOP REASONS why you need to make training in courage your TOP PRIORITY this year:
- Changes are hard and take courage, and you know that things need to change in your own life and in your church. It is time to rid yourself of the sin of omission, specifically shirking from changing what you know needs to change.
- Without courage, your good intentions will never be matched by your actions. You will intend to do some good thing, but when opposition or difficulty appears, you will back down from your intentions and retreat. The way that you will know if this is a bad habit in your life is that you frequently decide to do something and then repeatedly make excuses as to why you can’t do it after all. If your ministry is littered with half-finished projects and half-kept promises, it is a sign that you have not trained yourself in courage until you are resolute and immovable in the face of adversity.
- We live in a day when we desperately need braver leaders and more courageous cultures. The world is no friend of the Kingdom, and the uneasy truce between them is over. The gloves are coming off, and the church is facing intense and increasing opposition. As the Lord declared through Isaiah in chapter 7, verse 9, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” That’s another important verse that leaders should memorize!
- Courage increases your value to the work of the kingdom of God. It was Theodore Roosevelt (no theologian, to be sure!) who said something that is really true: “You have got to have courage. I don’t care how good a man is, if he is timid, his value is limited.”
That’s why fearless leadership isn’t just about dealing with fear and anxiety when they show up. It’s also about seeking out new fears to overcome, because you know that doing so (and doing so consistently) will make you a better leader!
- Practicing courage makes you rugged and resilient when failures come. That’s why, no matter your situation right now, the number one way to ensure you’re the best leader you can be in this situation is to build your ability to work through fear and do what needs to be done in spite of that fear.
I have been reading an excellent book by a Christian leader entitled, strangely enough, Comedy-Driven Leadership. The author says, “Every time the Wright brothers would attempt to fly their plane, they would bring enough extra materials for multiple crashes … which means that every time they went out, they knew they would fail. They would crash and rebuild and crash and rebuild. That’s why they eventually succeeded and took off!”
Only realistic courage gives a leader the kind of resilience that says, “No matter how many times I get knocked down, I am not done!” Here is how Solomon phrased that in Proverbs 24:16, “Though a righteous man falls seven times, he still gets up!”
Courage creates resiliency, and resiliency makes the righteous unstoppable! As Marcus Aurelius said, “What stands in the way becomes the way.”
- Only courage gives you the ability to be “all in.” If we are brave enough often enough, we will fail. That is a given in this fallen world full of challenges. So it is not daring to just say, “I’m willing to risk failure.” Being truly daring for Christ is to say, “I KNOW I will eventually fail sometimes (maybe this time!), but I’m still all in.”
This is true because at the heart of daring leadership is a deeply human truth that is rarely acknowledged: Courage and fear are not mutually exclusive. In fact, getting used to the fact that fear is riding along with you on the journey is a fundamental element of the art of leading well.
- This one is so important! You cannot encourage others if you have no courage yourself.
Think about the words that begin with EN: You cannot enable others if you have no ability or enlist someone if you’re not in charge of the list. You can’t enrich someone if you have no richness of your own or encode a message unless you have the code or ensnare anyone if you have no snare. It is impossible to ennoble others if you have no nobility of your own.
In the same way, there is no way you can ENCOURAGE others, if you have no courage to share with them.
The good news is courage is contagious. If you have courage, it spreads. That is what it means to ENcourage. Your own courage will ENable others to be spiritually ENriched in serving Christ.
That’s why the best leaders make a commitment to do things every week that take courage.
Let’s finish with some hard questions. Take courage and answer them honestly:
- Is there a place in your personal life or public ministry where the fear of consequences is causing you to hide behind the boulder of procrastination?
- Where do you tend to keep avoiding the tough conversations?
- What bold step forward would you love to take, but haven’t been able to face the risk?
- Do you have an important relationship that has stalled because you have been avoiding that dangerous conversation that needs to happen?
- What “fear of failure” has kept you from the bold step you feel is needed next?
Let’s begin the new year with a fresh commitment to courage that puts an end to excuses! Self-pity is a noose dangling from a rafter; but with God’s help we can stop blaming circumstances for the areas where paralysis is keeping us from progress, and we can TAKE COURAGE in obedience to God’s command and TAKE ACTION to see real progress in the areas that matter. As the Word says, “Let your progress be evident to all. The Lord is at hand!”
HAPPY NEW YEAR!