Trust is a foundational principle of leadership. It must exist in both directions between leaders and followers for the greatest level of influence to exist. Leadership is often described as influence and it is rather challenging to influence people without trust. However, as a Christian leader, this trust must begin with God well before we can hope to gain trust with others.
Proverbs 3:5-6 – “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.”
Leadership is often described as influence and it is rather challenging to influence people without trust.
So, how does one trust in the Lord with all of his or her heart? This requires that God is the primary focus of the heart. One must turn to Him for guidance, vision, direction, and timing. The struggle is in the “all of your heart” phrase. We are called to trust God and Him alone. Trust cannot be placed in money, strategy, people or circumstances above God. Each of these are an important part of leadership oversight, but trust must remain in God. In addition, trust is primarily a heart issue, not a mind issue. How easily can we change our minds? How simple is it to alter an opinion? How often do you find those changes defaulting back to what you truly believe in your heart? Hearts reveal what we truly believe and prefer. A leader must have his or her heart firmly focused upon God in order to have the greatest potential influence.
…trust is primarily a heart issue, not a mind issue.
Have you ever been involved in a project at work that you thought would be successful, but ended in complete failure? Have you ever signed up for a ministry event only to be disappointed with the outcome? Have you personally led an endeavor that you strategized and planned to the finest detail, only to miss the mark? Upon reflection, you might realize that prayer and seeking God were not part of the planning and trust was misplaced.
Leaning on God’s understanding rather than our own wisdom is critical. For example, praying for hours for your ministry is certainly consistent with God’s wisdom, but is not naturally part of man’s understanding. This seems ironic as one of the greatest tasks for a leader is to continually learn and gain understanding. It is not a command to stop learning, but rather to remember that in spite of great knowledge and wisdom on the part of the leader, true influential success will happen only when one is completely dependent upon and trusting God. Any other object of trust will ultimately come up short. Leaders are learners, leaders are readers, and leaders are to take this discipline and pass it on to followers. But leaders must also carefully acknowledge that it is God who brings success to any endeavor, not intellectual knowledge or strategic planning apart from God.
…true influential success will happen only when one is completely dependent upon and trusting God.
To acknowledge God is to remember that He is the center of all things. Typically, God calls us into plans that are counter to cultural trends. Consider Gideon being told that he had too many men for his army, or Joshua learning that the battle plan for Jericho was to worship while marching in circles. The Bible is filled with stories of leaders called to walk in a way that stood against the best practices of the day. This requires an even greater level of trust on the part of the leader in God’s plans and directions.
As you plan out ministry programs, community outreach, or weekly strategy, acknowledge God in all that you do and remember that He is there.
The final aspect of this passage is a confident assurance that God shall direct the paths of the person who trusts and acknowledges. This can only happen as a result of His sovereignty for He knows what the best path looks like and He knows how to get there. If a leader trusts God and acknowledges His place in the process, then the final result is success. This does not promise that storms and challenges and hindrances might not arise along the way – they most certainly will! But it does promise that you will land exactly where God needs you to be. And you can trust that God will direct you in the midst of those challenges.
It is hard work being a leader. People expect you to know where you are going, why things did not work, and how to fix all that goes wrong. People want to elevate you as a hero when it works and revile against you as a goat when things fall short. If you allow the swaying crowd to become the focus of trust, then leadership will become a very tiring and taxing endeavor. However, when God is the focus of trust, when the leader does not stand upon his own understanding, and looks for God in the midst of all, then the paths ahead seem a bit straighter, a bit brighter and a bit easier to navigate because they are directed by God.
Mike Dobes is Supervisor of Church Relation at Joni and Friends a global disability ministry with headquarters in Southern California.