The Best

Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
Has someone taken your faith?
It's real, the pain you feel
You trust, you must
Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?

If you haven’t noticed, I write. A lot. It’s probably a little weird. But it’s the best way for me to think. I write way more than I ever publish because it helps me organize my thoughts, and God moves in my heart as I write. And the things I publish often start a conversation with friends, strangers and family. People that think differently than I do, people I can talk to and hash out ideas and become better.

Better at what? Better at everything. I’ve always been pretty discontent. No matter what I do, how far I get, or where I go, I want to do better. I want to do the best I absolutely can.

I’m always having to talk myself down from being ‘the best of all’ at something. Because no matter how narrow the niche, there’s always somebody better at it then you, and there’s really no point in having any self-loathing over that. (but it’s still really hard)

Why be better, though? I guess I kind of take it for granted, but I always want to be better because what’s the point of doing x, y and z if you do it half way? If your heart’s not in it, why bother? Why waste your time?

Fill your own values in for the x and y and z. For me, the big ones right now are student ministry and my job.

Student ministry because, if I really believe that I can change the lives of students, then I should lean all the way into that and pursue it with my entire heart, my entire passion, my entire calendar and my entire bank account.

Work because, even though I do secular work, God made work. And it is God-honoring to do good work, to work as if I work for Jesus. (see Colossians 3:23)

In the future, I might take some things off the list (and unless a 747 filled with cash crash lands into my house, it will probably be student ministry) and add other things on to the list. (being a husband, father, and mentor) But for where I am, and what I’m doing, I want to be the very best I can be at both these things.

But how do I know if I’m doing a good job at those things? Work is relatively easy. If I were a farmer, I could look at the fields I harvested, the seeds I planted, the acres and acres I worked on.

Of course, I’m not a farmer. (praise the Lord, I’d starve!) But I can still see code I’ve written, servers I’ve fixed, and alerts I’ve responded to. I recently started paying attention to the contribution bar on my GitHub account, and for you it only shows my open source activity, but for me it shows all the code I’ve written while working, and just that one little visual has been enough to bump up my productivity.

But… when I lead students, where’s my contribution graph? Where are the acres of fields I can point to as, “This is how I know I’m doing good”?

This is part of what I was getting at in my post two days ago on Success. How do I know I’m being successful? How can I be the best I can be?

Some of the best leaders I know spend a lot of time analyzing. They analyze what they’re doing, what they’re seeing, what’s happening. They take data in and they look at how effective they are. And then, with boldness, they act. They do big things, bold things. They act with one motivation: to be better at the things God made them to do.

But I know really good leaders. Good leaders that spend so much time analyzing, planning, thinking … they begin to doubt. I fall into this trap so many times. I look, I’m not sure if I’m doing good, and I’m not sure what I can make ‘better’. We over-analyze our effectiveness so much, we begin to wonder if we’re effective at all and if we should just give up. There have been times in my life, for months, where every day or every week, I just felt like giving up.

That sucks.

Ministry, especially, is hard and tough. Paul warns us that some of us plant seeds, some of us water seeds, and some of us harvest, but it’s God that does the growing. It’s not our work. (1 Corinthians 3:5-9)

I admit that I often get my motivation to be the best from pride and ego. This is where my competitive spirit kicks in and it gets very, very ugly, very quickly.

But the last few weeks, God’s been reminding me that doing ministry – helping kids – is what He wants for me, and my desire to do it the Best I can needs to be out of pure motives, not selfish ones.

And how do you do it the best? I’ve read some great writings on this lately.

First of all, we do it one at a time. This is hard. We want to appeal to the masses, but ministry happens on an individual, personal level. Some people are called to make a small difference in a lot of lives, but those of us called to make a big difference in a few lives can’t overlook how important the ministry of one is. As my pastor Andy Stanley likes to say: “Do for one what you wish you could do for all.” You can’t do everything for everybody. Don’t let that stop you from doing a few important things for a few people that are really important to God.

Secondly, the main thing is to show up. The biggest win, far more often than not, is by showing up. It’s cheesy, but our biggest asset is always our presence, not our presents. Culture wants to say that the most important thing is “quality time”. But “quantity time” is even more important. You’d be amazed at how valuable hanging out and doing nothing in particular really is.

Thirdly, and this is closely related to the last thing, but our best asset is our own spiritual life. The best way, bar none, to be the best leader you can be? To be the best follower of Jesus you can be. The gap between this and the second best thing on the list is so far there might as well not be a list.

I love the way John MacArthur says it in his book on Called to Lead:

To put it simply, leadership is influence. The ideal leader is someone whose life and character motivate people to follow. The best kind of leadership derives its authority first from the force of a righteous example, and not merely from the power of prestige, personality, or position. -John MacArthur, Called to Lead.

As further evidence of God working on my heart about this, I pulled up my Kindle highlights to find that quote from MacArthur’s book, when the Kindle site had a flash card from a book I read by Donald Miller on this very idea of just showing up and being available in the lives of fatherless boys:

He was somebody who stepped into my life and helped me believe I was here on purpose, and for a purpose. I don’t think there are very many things more important than this when we are kids. -Donald Miller, To Own a Dragon

And finally:

We need strong men to build into the lives of our younger men and boys. Not extraordinary people; just ordinary, everyday men who care enough to invest themselves—their time, attention, and wisdom—in the lives of others, whether as a part of their natural leadership environment or as an additional relationship they purposefully undertake. We need people like that—men and women—to stem the tide of wasted lives and wasted potential that is increasing at an alarming rate across our nation. -Tony Dungy, The Mentor Leader

What makes the best leader? How do you become the best you can be?

It’s really, really, really hard, but I’m reminded again and again that the best leaders are the best followers of Jesus. They don’t puff out there chests. They don’t let the enemy sway them with discontentment over their mission – or their fruit. They don’t blow in the wind when opposition comes.

Great leaders – the best leaders – buckle down when life is hard. They do hard things. They have hard conversations. They run towards the mess – when all others run away. They love the unlovable. They seek out those others throw out. They build up the people the world tears down.

Great leaders? Great leaders follow Jesus so close they can proclaim – with no sense of arrogance, that you should “imitate me as I imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)

We need more leaders like that.