Programming for Self is a Party for One

This post is part of our 10 Leadership Principles series. You can find more information on the series and catch up on previous posts here.

We live in a world that is all about “me first”. We are to put our own hearts’ desires and passion above all others. It’s really the idea of self-pleasure and it’s been an issue at the heart of the human condition since Adam and Eve choose self over God.

Gen 3:6 “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (ESV)”

Look at some of the key statements in the above passage; “was good,” “delight to the eyes,” “to be desired.” These statements are about pleasure and choosing self over something or someone else. In the case of Adam and Eve, they chose self over God, and the result was the entrance of sin into our world. Sin drives us to be selfish to choose our desires over others. But the reality is that is not how we were created to be. God has a much different plan for how to interact with the world.

Matthew 22:36-40 “36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. (ESV)”

Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is, and we get some key statements in this passage as well: “love the Lord your God,” “with all,” “the great and first,” “love your neighbour as yourself,” “On these two commandments depend.” The result is a refocus to place God first and love the people around us the way we love ourselves. When I think about it means putting others first. I tend to place “me first,” but Jesus is clear it’s God first and others second, and I am a distant third.

So what does any of this has to do with leadership and leading others?

The answer is that it means everything because this informs the heart of why we should be in leadership. If you want to lead, it shouldn’t be about power, wealth, position, opportunity, personal interest, desire etc. It should be about loving God first and loving others second. Your “why” should stem from the fact that the people you lead are more important than you, your position or your title.

Now you might think that’s obvious, and you might even be in 100% agreement. But let me push you one step further. Does how you lead reflect this value? Do you practice what you believe?

Let me give you some practical examples that might help draw what I’m trying to get at. 

Situation #1 – There is an annual youth conference in your area, and during one of the rallies, you and a few Youth Pastors are hanging out outside of the main session just catching up. However, your conversation starts to drift into a review of how the rally is going. As a group, you start to complain that the teaching sounds simple. You’re not connecting to the worship, and you wonder if you will bring your group next year. The problem is that you, the Youth Pastor are not the target audience. You are not who they worship is meant for or the sermon. Your students are the target, but the evaluation of the conference’s success is based on your lens of experience how it makes you feel.

Situation #2 – You are asked to be responsible for planning some social events for your ministry of about 30 people. You have a passion for hiking and know a few people in the group are the same. So you plan to go hiking once a month and put the details into motion. The first hike is a success, and a big group come out. However, as the months come and go, you seem never to be getting anyone new, and the group doesn’t seem to grow, in fact, it seems to be shrinking, and after four months or so, there is barely anyone coming. You become frustrated with the group and begin to question their commitment. You like hiking, but it turns out no one else does. Instead of recognizing that in leadership, your interests are not the focus, you get frustrated to the point of walking away. You missed the opportunity to see what other activities the group might be interested in because you were only concerned with what you were interested in.

Situation #3 – You love learning about new leadership principles and all those personality tests that come and go from time to time. Each week in your leadership meeting, you try and bring one of your discoveries to your meetings and try and implement a new strategy. Over time people on your team seem to become disinterested in the new ideas. You’re really excited about them, but everyone else around you seems to be faking interest just to make you happy. You don’t seem to understand why they are not interested in what excites you. The problem is that the passions that empower and excite you might not be what your team gets excited by. The danger is that it can just become the “leadership flavour of the month.” There is an opportunity here to discover what leadership passions your team has, and they use your passion for discovery to empower their growth.

All three of these situations are real-world examples in my life of times when I or someone around me knew that others come first, but we still chose to process our leadership through the lens of self. I have come to call this “programing for self,” and this is the fastest way to have a party of one.

When we make ourselves or our interest the centre or byproduct of our leadership, we start walking down the path of “programing for self,” Over time, it can become very lonely and distractive. The irony is that the solution is not only simple; it’s at the core of what it means to be a Christian.

Matthew 22:38-39 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (ESV)

The remedy for “programing for self” is to remember that it’s not about “me”; it’s about “us,” first with Jesus than with those around us. I think we just need to stop from time to time and ask, “how does this decision/activity/event/idea affect those around me?”. If we look at our three situations, it could just be as simple as the following questions. 

  1. Are my students having a good time? 
  2. What are the passion and interests of my team and the people I lead?
  3. Where can I give my team room to teach about their leadership passion?

Now I want to add one disclaimer to this chapter before we end. God has created you unique with specific passions, desires and abilities. I am not saying that those things don’t matter, and sometimes in leadership, you need to first lead out of your passions to rally others. However, you must never forget that the people you lead are also created uniquely with specific passions, desires and abilities. God has brought you all together for a reason, and as a primary leader, it’s your responsibility not to program for self but instead empower the whole to program for the “the body.”


I want you to take some time to prayerfully think about where you may have “programmed for self” verse thinking about “the body” as a whole. Read through 1 Corinthians 12 and consider the following questions.

  • What would it be like if you didn’t have a mouth or were just all eyes? could you function?
  • In your role as a primary leader, describe a time when you “programmed for self” what did it feel like? What were the challenges?


Based on your role as a primary leader and what or who you lead, create some time and space to learn about the passions, desires and abilities of people who you are leading. You could spend some time as a team together or find moments to chat with them one-on-one. But the focus should be on discovering what drives them. Then take that information and apply it to how you are leading right now in your role. 

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