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.”


CRITICAL QUESTIONS

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?

ACTIVITY

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. 

Other People Are Smarter Than You

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.


There is no real easy way to say this, but if we were sitting in a room together and I could look you in the eye, I might say something like this…

“Hey friend, so I know you’re really great at that thing you love doing more than anyone else. You’re knocking it out of the park every single day. The problem is that I need you to do more than that one thing you really love doing. In fact, I need you to do this other thing over here, and I know you’re not going to like it, but I’m going to partner you with someone who can help you because they are better at it than anyone else. I know that might feel crapy at first, and you might even feel like you don’t need the help, but no one knows how to do everything, and right now, I need you to trust that we are all in this together.”

The reality is other people are smarter than you, there is no easy way to say it, but it’s 100% a true statement. By smarter, I don’t necessarily mean intelligence or higher grades. I mean that other people will know how to do aspects of your job/role better and more efficiently than you. However, in turn, you will learn how to do parts of someone else’s job better and more efficiently than them. In an ideal world, this should be a cyclical process in which you recognize and invite others to help you, and in turn, you actively look to help others. All because other people are smarter than you.

The problem in leadership is often this cycle gets broken, and it’s almost always broken for a particular reason… ego.

Ego can be defined as where a person finds their self-esteem or self-worth. However, in leadership, what we do, how we act and who we are can become a negative definer of our egos. Let’s take a moment to unpack these three things.

First, let’s talk about how what we do can have a negative impact on our ego. If you’re in leadership, you are probably a “get stuff done” kind of person; most leaders are. However, what happens if we “don’t get stuff done”? The why it wasn’t completed is irrelevant to the process because all we will see is a failure. When our identity or ego is linked to our actions, and when we fail, we start to believe that we are failures. That we have nothing to offer, so when people who are smarter than us come along, instead of asking for help, we tend to dive harder into our failures. Because to ask for help is in itself being a failure because now “someone else is getting our stuff done.”

Second, let’s look at how we act and how it can have a negative impact on our ego. When I think of actions, I think of the task and responsibilities you were hired/asked to accomplish. Typically these can be found in our job descriptions, and they guide how we function within the system or organization. The cycle breaks when you start to believe you are the “expert” and only “you” can complete the assigned task. The problem is an “expert” is not all-knowing. The definition of an expert is someone who is “very knowledgable” in a particular field. The negative impact is when we start to think that we are all-knowing, and a sign of this is when you hear words like “only I can fix ___,” “I’m the only one who knows how to ___.” Statements like this imply that no one else is smarter than you. So no one can help you, and everyone needs your help because “only you” can help them.

Finally, the last negative impact on our ego that I want to talk about comes from who we are, and that title is “boss.” Anyone in primary leadership positions could also probably be called a “boss,” and as a “boss,” the implication is that you are the top of the chain of command. No one is higher than you, and no one else can question you because you are at the top; you are the boss. The negative impact comes when the title becomes a command. Something like, “Do the following because I’m the boss” or “I’m the boss, so I want things done my way.” The truth is that as someone in a primary leadership position, you are in charge; you are, in fact, the boss. But when we start to use our title as a command, we create an environment where most people are too afraid to come near you. They shy away from you out of self-preservation, and as a result, you become isolated. That isolation can lead you to believe you are the only person who can solve all the problems, eventually leading to failure. But because the “boss” can’t fail, it must be someone else’s fault, which leads to people avoiding you, and long-term damage can and probably will be created.

The natural question is, how do I keep my ego in check to find the right balance in; what we do, how we act and who we are. The answer is found in recognizing that we were made for community and relationships. We were not created to run a solo game. The Bible is super clear that relationships are fundamental to God. Not only did God create the relationships between man and woman in the opening chapters of the Bible, but humanity was also in a relationship with Him. Humanity through Adam and Eve also chose to break that cycle by chasing after their desires, or in our conversation, chasing their ego. The result was a broken relationship between God and humanity.

But God, out of infinite love for us, didn’t leave the relationship broken, He instead sought to fix it, and it was ultimately fixed in a relationship with Jesus. In Jesus, we are brought back to the family of God, back into the community and back into a place where Jesus is central in our lives. See, Jesus is the answer to keeping our ego in check; what we do is guided by Jesus, how we act is empowered by Jesus, and who we are is defined by Jesus. When Jesus is the centre of our lives, it doesn’t matter if someone else is smarter than you because we are all in this together.

Instead of fighting against it, we chose to embrace it. We accept that we cannot do everything, and in the community, someone else can do what I cannot, but in turn, I can do what they cannot. It’s incredibly freeing, and as a leader, it takes the weight of the world off your shoulders. You don’t have to do everything because you are not alone, but that also comes with a responsibility to help those who are leading know that they are also not alone.


CRITICAL QUESTIONS

I want you to reflect and think about where your ego is at right now in your current leadership role. It may be challenging, so take as much time as you need to work through the following questions.

  1. Does what you do define who you are? Why or why not?
  2. Do you feel like you need to be the expert in your role? Why or why not?
  3. Does your team feel they can give you feedback? Why or why not?

ACTIVITY

Over the next few days, I want you to ask someone “smarter than you” to help you out with a project or activity that you need to complete. Then I want you to make yourself available to help someone else complete a project or activity. The goal is to recognize that God has placed people in your life that can help you and, in turn, has placed people in your life that you can help.

Favourite Digital Resources

This week we are taking a break from our 10 Leadership Principles series to talk a bit about resources. In my role at work, I get asked all the time for the best places to get good Kids and Youth resources. So I would share with you the list I put together for my team. This is not an exhaustive list, but it does contain my all-time favourite sites. I’ve even been using resources like the “TheSource4YM” for over a decade. I hope you find it helpful, and if you think I’m missing something, leave a comment below.


CORE RESOURCES: These are always good places to start.

  • Orange Kids – This is a great kids resource, blogs, podcasts etc. – LINK
  • Orange Leaders – Lots of great general resources with a mix of free and paid options – LINK   
  • Orange Students – This is a great student resource, blogs, podcasts etc.  – LINK
  • Parent Cue – Lots of great parent resources and links to the app – LINK
  • Life Church Resources – A little bit of everything – LINK
  • Canadian Youth Worker – The great work Sid Koop and Jeremy MacDonald are doing in Canada – LINK

GOOD PLACES TO CHECK: These are great sites, but sometimes you need to dig a bit to find the gold.

  • Ministry Boost – Good courses and resources, lots of free stuff – LINK
  • Axis – Lots of parent and teen resources (Looking into a membership) – LINK
  • Alpha Canada – Courses, webinars, blog and Canadian context – LINK

JESSE FAV’S: These are my all-time favourite places to get support, resources or ideas

  • LeaderTreks – Tons on leadership and student development and some great blogs. – Link. 
  • Fuller Youth Institute – Lots of parent and youth resources – LINK
  • TheSource4YM – Games, Games, Games – LINK
  • SonLife – Cool old school discipleship material – LINK
  • Youth Group Collective – This site has a good selection of mixers and most of them are FREE – LINK

EXTRAS: These are good sites to check out, but odds are high you already do.

  • Center For Parent and Youth Understanding – Lots of parent/youth resources around youth culture – LINK
  • Fuller Youth Institute This is a great source of youth and ministry data and culture studies – LINK
  • Download Youth Ministry – Lots of paid resources, games and ideas. Think the amazon of Youth Ministry- LINK