What’s a leader’s greatest enemy? Unhappy followers? Contentious board members? A mutinous staff? A divisive lay leader? Problems on the home front? As serious as these may be, nothing is more damaging to leadership than insecurity!
The insecure leader is on the prowl, searching to satisfy a yearning for self-acceptance. This desire pressures the leader to perform for validation. This search can disguise itself as any one of an endless number of things. It can be almost impossible to recognize the naked insecurity behind tireless, sacrificial service or the determined drive to succeed. Admirable traits to be sure, but when fueled by insecurity they become a leader’s twin foes, “flurry and worry” – compulsive busyness and incessant angst over a one’s performance.
Yet hidden underneath all this flurry and worry lurks an even deeper need that governs our behavior and is the primary source of the emotional pain that often goes unrecognized in a spiritual leader’s life. Surprisingly it’s the need to know – not just in our heads but experientially, deep inside us – that we’re loved. This lies at the core of our identity and is key to deciphering who we are and finding our place in the world. And when leaders struggle with this, the ministry can become an unhealthy way to satisfy this craving deep inside, using people rather than serving them. Of course the leader who lives this way is never satisfied, at least not for long – until the next inevitable setback or criticism sends him or her into another tailspin.
Years ago I remember John Wimber telling a group of us young leaders, “Find out who you are and you’ll know what you’re supposed to do and how to do it.” How true those words have turned out to be. I’ve come to understand that an identity grounded in God’s unchangeable, unconditional love is foundational to a spiritual leader’s life and ministry. It so often turns out to be the missing ingredient in the unhappy and insecure leader’s life.
It certainly wasn’t missing in Jesus’ life. In fact the Father’s love was the bedrock of his life and the secret of his amazing success. That he was loved and cared for, totally and completely, wasn’t an opinion he held; it wasn’t guesswork or theory to him, it was a real, ongoing experience. As Jesus stood in the Jordan River at his baptism he actually felt Abba’s warm, loving embrace and heard his words, “I love you.” The Holy Spirit was there, delivering his Father’s empowering love to his inner being, securing his identity as a son who was loved, no-strings-attached, always. You can only imagine how freeing, grounding and confidence-boosting this experience must been for him.
Are you a leader struggling with insecurity? You don’t have to be. You can have this same ongoing Jordan experience, with the same life securing and empowering results as Jesus had. That’s what he prayed for: “Righteous Father… I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them…” (John 17:26) And that’s a big reason we’ve been given Holy Spirit. “…God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5) Just put aside your pride and admit you’re need. There’s no shame in that. You’re not alone. This is not an uncommon struggle among leaders. Then ask the Spirit for the blessing your heavenly Father has for all his children – his unconditional love. You might need someone else to help you pray but do whatever you have to do in order to push past the flurry and the worry and let yourself be loved unconditionally. The rest will take care of itself. When you embrace the Father’s love, it will embrace you and gradually crowd-out your insecurities and form a new identity in you as Abba’s dearly beloved; a son or daughter who’s value and success is based on love not performance.