Are you a Gift-Dependent Or Grace-Dependent Leader?

Proverbs 3:5,6 (ESV) instructs us to: ”Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” It’s okay to use your understanding, but not lean on it. Likewise it’s okay to use your spiritual gifts but not lean on them, depending instead on God’s grace in life and ministry.

The bottom-line question to ask: Is the focus of your ministry on the gift or on the giver?

It’s a fine balance…a delicate dance.

When I was a younger leader, I knew nothing and I knew that I knew nothing. It led me to become grace-dependent. But, as I got older and more experienced, the more tempting it was to become gift-dependent and experience-dependent.

I desire to grow in:

  • Using my gifts, but not depending on my gifts
  • Being thankful for my gifts, but not proud of my gifts
  • Knowing my gifts, but not being envious of other’s gifts

Paul makes a distinction between gift and grace dependency in 1 Corinthians 3:5-7: “What then is Apollo's? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollo's watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” It’s not men and their gifts, but God and his grace that makes things happen!

On the same theme and in the same book, 1 Corinthians 15:10 in The Message reads:

But because God was so gracious, so very generous, here I am. And I’m not about to let his grace go to waste. Haven’t I worked hard trying to do more than any of the others? Even then, my work didn’t amount to all that much. It was God giving me the work to do, God giving me the energy to do it.” (Underlining mine)

My prayer for myself, and others, is to be led by him, empowered by him and honoring him-- that is, to be grace-dependent rather than gift-dependent.

Here are some ways to tell the difference:

Five Characteristics Of Gift-Dependent Leaders:

  1. Gift-dependent leaders tend to look to their own skill and ability to determine ministry success
  2. Gift-dependent leaders often don’t see their need for confession and repentance
  3. Gift-dependent leaders sometimes manipulate followers, through their gifts, to achieve their ends
  4. Gift-dependent leaders easily overestimate what they can do and underestimate what God will do
  5. Gift-dependent leaders fall into the sin of being more in love with their gifts than the giver

Five Characteristics Of Grace-Dependent Leaders:

  1. Grace-dependent leaders live by the conviction that fruitful ministry is impossible without the power of the Holy Spirit
  2. Grace-dependent leaders realize that God has ordained and allowed difficulties, pain and failure to uncover their weaknesses and sin, and reveal their need of him
  3. Grace-dependent leaders regularly practice repentance as the engine of the Christian life and a necessity in their lives
  4. Grace-dependent leaders understand that being vulnerable and honest about sin, mistakes and weaknesses actually increase rather than decrease their effectiveness
  5. Grace-dependent leaders will motivate people, through the power of the Holy Spirit, rather than manipulate people through the power of their own gifts

When you are dealing with deep discouragement and depression

Life is not easy. Ministry is not easy. People are not easy to deal with. At times it all mounts up and leaders have dark nights of the soul. Here are some excellent thoughts from Chuck Lawless on what can contribute to this!

Originally posted by Chuck Lawless

Why Christian Leaders Struggle with “Dark Nights of the Soul”

If you read church history at all, you’ll learn that men as faithful to God as Martin Luther and Charles Spurgeon struggled with bouts of at least heaviness, if not depression. I’m convinced more church leaders than we know face these battles. Here are some reasons we do, followed by a simple suggestion when we struggle:

Our calling is a calling of God. We’re blessed to have that calling, but we still answer to the Creator of eternity. That’s a weighty reality that sometimes gets really heavy.  

We work with life and death. In fact, we work in the light of eternity, reminding people of life and death matters. Just that fact can pound on our shoulders.

We live with our own sin. No church leader I know wants to be hypocritical in front of church members, but all of us know our own sin issues. Our desire to be leaders of integrity increases the burden of our own sin.

Sometimes, few people respond to our leading. Jesus warned us that many would not choose the right path, but His warning doesn’t lessen the pain when few people respond positively to our ministry.

We carry the weight of the burdens of others. Yes, we can pray and turn them over to God – but our heart still hurts when others hurt.

Many of us have few real friends. Sometimes we’ve made that choice (wrongly, in my opinion), but it’s still lonely when you bear ministry alone.

We don’t always use spiritual disciplines well. For some, disciplines are sporadic at best. For others, we turn to them only as a Band-Aid to try to legalistically fix our issues. Neither takes us closer to the God who wants to heal us.

We tend to be perfectionists. I don’t know many pastors who like to mess up. We want to do well, to please others as we serve God. Any failure brings pain.

We haven’t learned the power of 2 Corinthians 12:10. We preach about strength in weakness, but we haven’t learned how to live it. Our head theology doesn't get translated to our heart living. 

We struggle with the dark night, and then beat ourselves up for being depressed. “No strong believer should feel this way,” we think – and the cycle continues. 

If you’re struggling with this kind of anguish, I plead with you to talk with a brother or sister in Christ. You’re not the only one facing this battle, but you likely won’t win it if you battle alone. For all of us – let’s say a prayer today for our church leaders.






On whose authority and for whose glory?

“For the scriptures say that God told Pharaoh, ‘I have appointed you for the very purpose of displaying my power in you, and so that my fame might spread throughout the earth.’ ” - Romans 9:17, NLT

Jesus, in my life, this is my deep and genuine desire, that you would display your power through me and that your fame might spread everywhere.

The thought in Romans 9:17 is a reference concerning Pharaoh in Exodus 9:16, “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” (ESV) 

I’m not sure if Pharaoh ever got this or understood it!

Many leaders never get this or understand it!

There is too much personal glory in leadership. Too much about the leader and not enough about Jesus…His plan and purpose!

As a leader in ministry, I need to always remember whom my leadership is all about.  It is certainly not about me, but about Jesus and His purpose for me. At the Leaders Who Last seminars, I always say that leadership is not about the leader, but about Jesus and those He has privileged the leader to lead.  

In 2 Samuel 5:12 we find this concerning King David;

And David knew that the Lord had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel.” (ESV)

David understood two things:

  1. God had chosen him and placed him in a leadership role
  2. God chose and placed him not for his own sake, but for the sake of the people

I think about this quite often and ask the Lord to help me never forget that He placed me in leadership, and that He did it for the sake of the people I serve, not for my sake.

Recently, I was struck with John 7:18, which conveys a similar idea, “The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.”  (ESV) 

I neither want to speak on my own authority or seek my own glory.

I once served under a leader who signed off his emails and letters with, “For Jesus Fame.”

Lord Jesus, by your grace help my leadership to be about you and for you, so that your fame might spread throughout the earth. Help me be led by you, empowered by you and honoring to you in the leadership responsibilities you have allowed me to have.


Common tensions many leaders face

There are always tensions in leadership; things that can cause us to go off the rails on one side or the other side of an issue. Here are ten of them from Chuck Lawless.

Originally posted by Chuck Lawless

Ten fine lines of church leadership tension

1.  Vision vs. ego. I want church leaders to long for God to use them to do something significant for His glory. I want them praying for God to mark history through them so the nations might know His name. There’s a fine line, though, between “God, use me mightily” and “God, make sure the press knows how much You’ve used me.”

2.  Full effort vs. self-dependence. Frankly, we don’t need any more lazy ministers of the gospel. We need leaders who give their absolute best – learning well, planning fully, working diligently, assessing honestly, taking their paycheck without shame. There’s a fine line, though, between giving full effort and depending on self rather than on God.

3.  Faith vs. recklessness. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). By faith, the heroes of Hebrews 11 did some phenomenal things – including dying for the sake of the gospel. There’s a fine line, though, between living by faith and making reckless choices that we claim as faith steps.

4.  God-centered pragmatism vs. man-centered pragmatism. It’s right to ask the questions, “Is God using our church to make disciples – and if not, why not? Might we need to change something to do God’s work more effectively?” There’s a fine line, though, between asking these questions and making changes that lose a Godward focus.

5.  Disciplemaking church vs. classroom. Few people would deny that several generations of church leaders have failed in discipleship. We’ve taught too little doctrine and expected too little accountability. There’s a fine line, though, between addressing this problem biblically and turning the church into a classroom where information transfer is assumed to be enough.

6.  Burden vs. discouragement. I long to see church leaders who are broken over their communities. We need leaders who grieve the unreached living in their ministry area and around the world – leaders who cannot help but weep over the lost. There’s a fine line, though, between bearing that Great Commission weight and getting discouraged and defeated if few people respond.

7.  Corporately evangelizing vs. not personally evangelizing. Here, I’m thinking primarily of preaching pastors. Gospel-centered preaching should always point to the cross and call hearers to respond in faith and repentance. There’s a fine line, though, between evangelizing through this means and granting oneself permission to ignore personal evangelism.

8.  Contextualization vs. compromise. Contextualization may be as simple as speaking the gospel in the language of the hearers or as complicated as understanding the worldview of an unreached people group – and is, in my opinion, a necessary task in sharing the gospel. There’s a fine line, though, between legitimate contextualization and compromise to reach more people.

9.  Building God’s kingdom vs. building our own kingdom. Building God’s kingdom includes reaching non-believers, equipping believers, and addressing social issues. “Success” might even bring legitimate opportunities for more godly influence in His kingdom. There’s a fine line, though, between using our gifts fully for God’s kingdom and thinking God’s kingdom needs us.

10.  Global focus vs. “Jerusalem neglect.” I am deeply grateful for churches that engage the nations, pray for unreached people groups, and send their own to the ends of the earth on short-term or long-term commitments. There’s a fine line, though, between prioritizing the nations and ignoring the local community (and vice-versa, for that matter).

Here’s the point: we need to live on the fine line that separates these tensions. For example, the enemy would not want us on the line of vision vs. ego; he would want us to have no vision at all or be arrogant about our vision. He would want us to be lazy or self-dependent, faithless or reckless, unconcerned or discouraged. We counter his calls to the extremes by living on the line – and trusting God to empower us and guard us there.




A few thoughts for younger leaders from an aging warrior!

“As long as I am still here I intend to keep sending these reminders to you, hoping to impress them so clearly upon you that you will remember them long after I have gone." 2 Peter 1:14,15 (The Living Bible)

Jesus, it occurs to me to that this is what I’m all about with leaders I have the privilege of influencing and impacting. I want to continue to remind them of a few solid principles that will enable them to complete their race.

Here are a few of those solid principles which I want to pass on to the next generation of leaders that, I hope, they will remember long after I’m gone so that they are indeed “Leaders Who Last.”

1.  Keep Jesus and his gospel central in all you do

Jesus is your life (Colossians 3:4), not your success, your fruitfulness or your influence. It’s so easy to substitute something else or someone else for Jesus. Calvin said that our hearts are idol factories. We want Jesus and his gospel to be foundational to who we are and what we do. Our value and worth is not based on what we accomplish or how respected or popular we are but on what Jesus has done for us, and our standing with him because of his death and resurrection.

I love Psalm 142:5 in the NLT in this regard: “Then I pray to you O Lord. I say, you are my place of refuge. You are all I really want in life.” This helps me to stay focused on Jesus and not something or someone else as my place of refuge or what I really want in life.

2.  Live and minister for an audience of one

Who are you really working and living for? It’s so easy to become a man-pleaser (Galatians 1:10) and attempt to give people what they want instead of what they need. It’s too easy to try and keep people happy and not upset or offend them. By his grace, lovingly do the God-pleasing, God-honoring thing and let the chips fall where they may. In the last analysis, you stand before God and God alone. The question to ask is what would Jesus have me do--not what will protect my job or popularity.

3.  Pace yourself for the long haul

Too many leaders are moving at an unsustainable pace which will eventually catch up with them and those they lead. The racetrack is littered with exhausted and spent leaders who forgot the length of the race they were in.

Remember, you are in a long-distance race--not a 100 meter race. Rhythms of work and rest, practicing Sabbath as principle and not just a day is key to stewarding your time and physical body in a God-honoring way.

4.  Build a team and don’t try to do it all by yourself

Too many leaders I have worked with or coached try to do too much themselves and have a difficult time delegating and trusting others with decision-making authority. Delegate or suffocate--it’s that simple! Exodus 18 is a must-read on this topic. All leaders need a complementary team around them to carry out their God-given vision. Some people will actually do a better job than you would, if given the opportunity. There are too many insecure and controlling leaders who won’t share ministry!

5.  Stay focused on your “Few Themes"

This is from C.S. Lewis who said that everyone is composed of a “Few Themes.” Most leaders will only be really good at one or two things. Even Michael Jordan was supremely great only at playing basketball. He was okay at golf and baseball but not great. He wasn’t even a particularly great basketball coach or owner. Identify your key passion and stay focused on that and learn to say no to other things. Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” is excellent on this idea of becoming really good at one thing.

6.  Always keep the ”Big Rocks” in mind and plan your work around these

Identify the things that will keep you healthy and strong and then plan your work around those things. Most leaders plan their work first and then try to fit in the things that will keep them strong and healthy. The most important things wind up getting the “leftovers.”

Do it the other way around. Ministry and work will expand and eat up most of your time. Don’t let that happen to you. Set reasonable boundaries around your work hours by allowing adequate and generous amounts of time for Jesus, family, sleeping, eating and exercising. Please don’t sacrifice these on the altar of work/ministry. The needs will always exceed the resources! All work and no play/rest/relationships will make Jack not only a dull boy, but eventually a sick (or dead) boy!