Where Leadership Begins

Unhappy lonely teenager holding snack sitting city stairs, puberty age problems

“All things are created twice.”

We are often judged by where we’ve come from.

Jesus experienced this. To Nathanael, Philip’s announcement that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah (John 1:45f) was met with skepticism: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”

Nazareth was deemed an “utterly insignificant” village. It was not mentioned in the Old Testament or any other writings at the time. It was a small, obscure hamlet in Galilee with less than 500 inhabitants. 

As one of the poorest, morally deficient villages in Galilee, Nathanael could not imagine anything or anyone of substance coming from Nazareth. This is why Philip gave the only response he could: “Come and see.”

Nazareth Today

Visit any region in the world, and you will find a “Nazareth.” 

While studying in Vienna, I noticed the stigma Austrians attached to immigrants from neighboring Yugoslavia. I grew up thinking the city of Buffalo was New York’s answer to Batman’s “Gotham City.” I’m sure the hamlet I grew up in, North Bellport, was a kind of Nazareth in the minds of many Long Islanders. 

Underclass communities bear this stigma, which means its residents are often stained and defined by it. Nathanael’s question pointed to but one answer: No, nothing good can come from Nazareth!”

Creation Paradigm

Christians must not be blinded or swayed by stigmas. We operate out of a different paradigm.  Transformational youth leaders focus on the youth themselves and the realities of creation:

Because God created mankind in His image (that is, a blend of God-given attributes unique to every person) and has so designed human development that during adolescence the most pressing need is identity discovery, the central task of the youth leader is the animation (bringing to life) of adolescent leadership capacity, so that youth can discover who they are in Christ.

This paradigm allows leaders serving stigmatized communities to focus on young people as “cathedrals in the making,” or emerging leaders.

Self-discovery and servant leadership go hand-in-hand, for leadership involves the giving of oneself for the betterment of self and others. Because leaders are helping youth discover for the first time their leadership capacity, they must come to grips with an important question: Where does leadership begin?

The Mind

When the prophet Samuel set out among Jesse’s sons to find God’s choice for a new king, he did not get it right until he found David. Why? He was looking in the wrong place.

But the LORD said to Samuel, “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” I Samuel 16:7

Where did David’s leadership begin? Was it as a shepherd? Shepherding certainly was the means through which his leadership became evident. But God’s words to Samuel indicate his leadership actually began with his heart.

The heart is a metaphor for more than emotions. It denotes one’s will, convictions, values and sense of purpose. 

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23

Evangelist Tom Skinner used to say, “It’s not “since Jesus came into my heart,” but “since Jesus came into my mind.” Preacher Haddon Robinson once said, “In any given situation, who you are (in your heart, mind) determines what you see, and what you see determines what you do (leadership).” In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, leadership guru Steven Covey adds this insight:

“Begin with the end in mind” (Habit 2) is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There’s a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation, to all things.

So where does leadership begin? In the mind. It begins in the heart; that is, in our will, our convictions, our values, our sense of purpose. Leadership requires allowing Jesus’ entry into young people’s minds. 

Back to the Future

Youth Leader: “We’re going to have a ton of fun in club this year! We have exciting camps and outings planned. We’ll have lots of food and great activities. There’s just one requirement. There will come a time in every club meeting when we will ask you to think. Don’t worry, we won’t hurt you, and it won’t last long. But when that time comes, we ask that you fully engage …” 

A seemingly insignificant requirement, yet it forges in youth the first step toward identity and leadership discovery: the ability to think. 

In C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, senior devil Screwtape advises Wormwood against opening the door to thinking: 

Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church … By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result?

Screwtape is lying; he knows the result. “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31f).” When youth leaders are equipped to give honest answers to honest questions, God’s ideas win. They lead youth toward discovering the truth about God, themselves and their purpose in life. 

This is where leadership begins.