Four Traits of Leaders

Nov. 4, 2011 Crawford Loritts

Session Transcript

Download a summary of Crawford Loritts' message here, listen here, or read his entire message below.

Pastor Crawford Loritts: I have something very heavy on my heart tonight. Nancy asked me to speak on this. The whole issue of leadership as an identity is a big, big issue.

Nothing ever happens in ministry apart from these three things—I don’t care how smart you are, how insightful you are, how gifted you are—nothing ever happens in ministry apart from these three things: faith, prayer, and a person to lead.

You can have the greatest ideas in the world, but nothing of God ever happens in ministry apart from faith, prayer, and a person to lead. That’s His method.

Whenever you don’t have those three things, you don’t have distinctively Christian leadership. You have no ventures from God.

I’m going to talk about two of those three things tonight and tomorrow. Tonight I’m going to talk about leadership, and tomorrow I want to talk about faith, because that’s the crux of the matter. God wants us to translate His vision into reality, and that’s what it’s really about.

It’s not about your dream, and it’s not about my dream, and it’s not about my ideas that I want God to sanction. It’s all about what God wants to get done through your life during your moment in history.

That’s what every person must be delightfully obsessed with—delightfully obsessed with what God wants done in and through my life during my moment in history. It’s not a job, it’s not a gig, it’s not a career, it’s not a way for you to get fulfilled, it’s not about your gifts. It’s not about the celebration of your talents.

It’s not about the celebration of what I want. I must be obsessed with, “What is it that God wants done through my life during my moment in history?”

Father, we pray in the name of Your Son that You will speak to us. Lord Jesus, visit us. There’s a lot at stake, Father. We’re too old to be just roaming around and going to conferences just to spend money and buy books. Lord, we’re here because we want to hear from heaven. We’re here because You have something to say to us. And God, You know I can’t change anybody’s life. I can’t even change my own. We need You to show up and speak, so work in a great way. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Nancy does not realize this, but she is one of the key people that encouraged me to write this book entitled Leadership as an Identity. I gave that presentation to Life Action leadership a number of years ago, and I never forgot her encouragement along the way. Finally, some years later, we translated it into a book.

I want say some preliminary things here. Forgive me for how I’m going to approach this tonight. I normally like to walk through a text of Scripture, and I will do that tomorrow; but because of the essence and the breadth of the summary that I want to give (the book goes into more detail), I’m going to summarize things.

First of all, I want us to get to some common ground. I am not going to be talking about leadership praxis, or how to lead this evening. That’s not the issue.

There’s a difference between leadership development and leader development. Leader development is what’s important.

Now, leadership development (how you get something done) is important—knowing how to set goals, knowing how to have measurable objectives, knowing how to delegate authority, knowing how to align people. That is not unspiritual. Nehemiah is in the Bible, and Moses, and all the rest.

The how-to’s are there, but underneath all that is the more substantive stuff that we tend to ignore. The Bible is more concerned about leader development. So, “put that in a bucket over here,” and I’ll come back to that.

The other thing that I want to say this evening is this: Leadership in the Bible has nothing to do with a position. Nothing, nothing, nothing—nothing to do with a position. You’re going to see that as things unfold. Leadership in the Bible only exists to implement God’s assignment.

To be a leader means to live in the verb position—it means something is to be done. God trusts you with His assignment. That is the bottom line about being a leader.

If you’re obsessed with your position—and please forgive me, I’m going to be pretty “bottom line” tonight—if you’re obsessed about your position and driven by recognition, and you think you have to share the stage with God, God will take His hand off of you, because it’s never about you; it’s never about me. God never gave us a gift or a talent to celebrate ourselves, so that there might be self-actualization and fulfillment.

That’s not the reason for the gifts; that’s not the reason for the talents. It’s all about a stewardship responsibility to translate His vision into reality during my moment in history. Leadership is always about implementation of God’s assignments. Always. It’s the only reason you have a leader.

You don’t have a leader so he’s pompous, or so he’s full of himself, or she’s full of herself, or for any of that kind of thing. The only reason you have a leader is because something has to be done.

I can’t tell you how passionate I am about that! As we get to these four traits, you’ll see how passionate God is about that.

Now, another way, by framing this (and I’m not chasing rabbits, I promise you). A number of years ago (this is where all this stuff came out of), for about thirteen or fourteen years, I was a visiting professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity Schooloutside of Chicago, and I taught two courses there: one on preaching for transformation, and one on the essence of biblical leadership.

I love reading about leadership. I love it. But something happened to me the first couple of years I taught the course.

All these books that I would read about what was distinctively Christian leadership, many of them blessed my soul, but some of them disturbed me a little bit, because they were a little bit “swampish.” They would take a few Bible verses out of context and apply it to some leadership practice and say that that was distinctive Christian leadership.

Then the Lord just tapped me and said, “Okay, Buddy, what about you? What does the Bible distinctively teach about leadership? What did every great man or woman of God, that God trusted with His assignments, have in common?”

So I went back to the Scriptures, and I tried as hard as I could not to be biased, although I’m sure I had some of that. As I read through the Scriptures, that question loomed in my mind. What is it that every great woman or man of God, that God trusted with His assignment, had in common?

What I discovered is that God has an amazing sense of humor. Number one, there’s no common background.

Be very careful of taking these leadership profile tests. And I take them; we use them on our staff, and our Human Resources person in our church passes them out, and I’m a little bit of a believer in it. But be careful of taking these tests that say, “If you have this particular profile, this sets you up to be a leader.”

“You’re high D and high I—that’s the profile, right there; you can get it done. Sorry, S and C, that’s who you are.” Don’t shoehorn the Bible into those four categories, because you’re going to make some huge mistakes.

It’s amazing; if you read the Scriptures with any degree of intellectual honesty, the leaders were all over the map. You’ve got reluctant people, you’ve got shy people, you’ve got uneducated people, you’ve got educated people. You’ve got folks with great families, you’ve got dysfunctional people, you’ve got messed up folks. It gives you hope!

Seriously, there’s no pattern. Be careful of that. God is in the business of “hitting straight licks with crooked sticks.”

As I read through the Scriptures, I came to the conclusion—this was amazing to me—that every great man or woman of God, that God trusted with His assignment and used mightily during their moment in history to make an impact in time for eternity, had at least these four things in common.

By the way, when you hear guys like me speak ... it’s probably more than four. It might be 73½ or something, but they had these four things in common.
I need to say also, these four things also should be true of every follower of Christ. But here’s the thing: They’re exponentially, passionately, overwhelmingly true of the people that God would trust with His assignments.

I have nothing earth-shattering to say. These four things are obvious. If you’ve been a follower of Jesus for more than two or three years, you’ve probably discovered these things. But I want to remind you, these are the four things that we’re to lead with. These are the four things that represent our biographical profile. These are the four things that God will use.

The first thing that every great man or woman of God, that God trusts with His assignments, is characterized by, is that they’re marked profoundly by brokenness. Ladies, listen to me, hear me: God never, ever uses anyone over the long haul that comes to Him “together.”

Don’t hear me saying that God doesn’t use our talents or our abilities. He does. But I think, guys like me, pastors and leaders, we do our people a hellacious disservice when we a la carte spiritual gifts from the bigger picture of godly disciplines. Your gift only has heaven’s anointing when you’re broken.

I want to say a couple of things here. Brokenness is not woundedness. The worst thing you can do is to put a wounded person in a position of leadership, because they’re using the platform for their own therapy. Seriously.

And people don’t grow beyond their hurts and dysfunctions, so please understand, when the Bible talks about brokenness, it’s not talking about woundedness.

Now, hear me on this: You cannot be broken without being wounded. But brokenness implies that we have taken those wounds to the cross, and we’re pursuing a path of health. I define brokenness as a permanent awareness of God-neediness.

“I need Thee, oh, I need Thee; every hour I need Thee!” That’s the theme song of the person God uses.

Here are several anchor texts; you could go almost anywhere for this, and I go into more detail in the book, but I think brokenness really stands on these two pillars.

Number one, brokenness is proactive surrender.

What do I mean by that? Well, you recall that Moses was used of God greatly. Amazing. Later on. Later on.

But in Exodus 3 and 4, here he is eighty years old. For forty years he’s been looking at the “south side” of sheep. Right?

By the time we meet Moses in the desert, in Exodus 3, Moses is not proud; he is not pompous. In fact, I think it’s safe to say, if you read chapters 3 and 4, that Moses is struggling with some hesitancy and has lost his self-confidence.

He meets God in this burning bush. It wasn’t the fact that the bush was burning that attracted him; brush fires take place in that part of the world all the time. But it was the fact that the bush wasn’t consumed. So he approaches God, and God says, “Take off your sandals, for the ground on which you’re standing is holy.”

I think the main reason God wanted Moses to take his sandals off is to see the amazing distance between him and God. God wanted Moses’ feet to touch the dirt from whence he came; He wanted that juxtaposition, that distance. “I’m touching dirt, but I’m looking at God!”

Then God calls him. And Moses begins to try to unravel the calling, right? He begins to tamp it down, and he says, “I don’t want to do that.” He tries to talk God out of it.

Then God, with great intensity (I really believe that’s how you should read Exodus 4), says, “All right, Moses, you say you can’t do it. What’s that you’ve got in your hand?”

“A staff.” (A rod, actually.)

“Throw it down.” It becomes a snake. “Pick it back up.”

“Show me your hand. (Eighty-year-old hand, varicose veins ... there you go.) Put it in your bosom. Take it out.”


“Put it back in.”


What God was saying to Moses was, “I don’t use what you bring to the table, anyway. But I use what you surrender to Me.” It is not the amount of gifts that you have, but the depth of your dependence that matters.

Do you hear me? It’s the depth. And every great man or woman of God is constantly giving over, giving over, giving over.

The second part of brokenness, after proactive surrender, the constant giving over, has to do with an acute awareness of our sinfulness. Every great man or woman of God, that God trusted with His assignments, understood that they were a quarter inch away from doing the most damnable, despicable, awful, ugly things imaginable.

David forgot that. In his great prayer of repentance in Psalm 51, he says, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (vv. 16–17).

Don’t ever pray that God will take away the remembrance of your devastating failures. In fact, contrition is the active remembrance of the pain that your sin caused. That’s not guilt—that’s been taken away. But don’t step back too far.

Here’s the point: The reason God wants us to be broken is because His assignments are always holy. His assignments are always a statement about Him, not a statement about me.

I don’t lead by my biographical sketch. I don’t lead by my résumé. I don’t lead by this nonsense. It’s not about you, it never was about you, and it never will be about you. It’s always about what God wants done; so He needs reliant people. That’s the very first thing.

I need to tell you this, some of you are frustrated in ministry because there’s too much of you involved in ministry. Some of you, God won’t let you go any further; He won’t do any more through you. Why? Because your head is too big—it’s too much about you.

By the way, brokenness is not just a point; it’s also a process. There are seasons of brokenness, times of pressing in. Brokenness is your friend. Brokenness is your ally. The pain that you feel ... those tears are holy fertilizer.

That’s why God said to Moses, “You’re usable now, Buddy. You don’t think you bring anything to the table? Watch Me. You’re hesitant? That’s where I want you.
Every great man or woman of God, every person God trusted with His assignments, first of all was marked by brokenness.

Now, the second one—I really need you to listen on this one. You can fall asleep after the second one, but I need you to listen to this.

This second one is hard to articulate. I think I explain it better in the book.

Every great man or woman of God, that God entrusted with His assignments, was characterized and marked by what I call uncommon communion.

What do I mean by that? Let me see if I can explain. I do not mean just your devotional life or just your prayer life. Listen to me, this is going to help somebody: If you can measure what you’re doing, ninety-nine percent of the time it’s not from God.

God uses gaps. In other words, the assignment is always greater than what I can bring to the table. The reason for that is this: God uses the assignment to develop the leader and his character.

It’s about me understanding that, “Here I am, but over there is where I need to be; how can I get past here?” That uncommon communion means that with the gap, God is calling for me to enter into the tent of meeting (Exodus 33)—to get into that tent of meeting and to tap His heart for the resources I need to do what He’s called me to do. So in the process of accomplishing something, I become somebody.

This will help you with burnout. The people who typically burn out in ministry—I know this is counter-intuitive—are those who separate too much their personal life from the ministry. But when I understand that the ministry is God’s primary tool of my sanctification, it drives me to the heart of God, and that’s where I get the resources to do what He’s called me to do.

That’s why Moses had that tent of meeting, in Exodus 33, where he would go outside the camp. He would walk into that tent of meeting, and God would meet with him; 2.5 million Israelites he had to lead, and I know he prayed, “God, help me! Help me! Help me! I don’t have what I need, but I know I have Who I need. Help me.”

And God would help him.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve fallen on my face and wept, “God, help me! I don’t have what I need to lead this church. I don’t have what I need for all this national stuff You’ve called me to. Help me, help me, help me . . .”

See, here’s the thing with leadership. It’s the reason God uses people, not committees, to lead, because the leader is the portrait, the desired destination at which other people need to arrive. I hate to say this, but if you say that God has called you to lead, the assumption is, of necessity you’ve got to be the desired destination at which others need to arrive.

In the words of Howard Hendricks, celebrated professor from Dallas Seminary, “If you want somebody to bleed, you’ve got to hemorrhage.” It’s God’s way.

I’ve never met a great man or woman of God, that God trusted with His assignments, that did not have a great prayer life, because the very nature of what He’s called you to do, whatever that might be, requires resources that you do not have. You press into Him to get them.

I want to encourage you, don’t run from the gap. Don’t quit. Press into it. The greatest gift you can give to the women who are looking to you is to let them see you (and I’m going to talk more about this tomorrow morning) believing God for what you all don’t have.

My oldest son and I, just last week, were at The Cove, the Billy Graham training center, speaking together. I took him down the road to Conover, North Carolina, which is where the old family homestead is. My great-grandfather Peter, who was a slave, is buried there, and my grandparents, his great-grandparents.

I began to tell him stories as we looked at the graves. These were men and women of God, who walked with God; and none of them had anything that they needed, to do what God called them to do.

I said to him, with tears streaming down my cheeks, “Boy, let me tell you something. These people paid my tuition so I could be where I am today. And they didn’t quit.”

Leadership is not a game, okay? It’s not a place to show off. It is a place to demonstrate the greatness of our God, to bring glory to Him.

Every great man or woman of God, that God has raised up and given assignments to, who left a mark during their moment in history, was characterized by brokenness. God is not going to use anything or anyone who comes to Him “together.” He smashes it and remakes it, so there’s a holy handicap. Always pressing into His heart.

And then, He leaves a gap. Because He says, “I want you to obey Me when you don’t know where you’re going, you don’t know when I’m going to deliver, and you don’t know why I’m doing the excruciating. I want you to obey Me. You’re always going to have to come to Me, and I will a la carte the answers to you.”
That seems cruel, doesn’t it? But that’s the way it works.

Thirdly, every great man or woman of God, that God trusted with His assignments—who left their mark on their moment in history, who made a statement for the glory of God—was characterized by servanthood as an identity, not as a strategy. I want to make that distinction.

We talk so much about servant leadership, that I think we don’t know what we’re talking about. It is not servanthood as a strategy, but it’s servanthood as an identity.

Do you follow what I’m saying?

Listen, be very careful of borrowing the world’s understanding. Everybody in the world is talking about “servant leadership.” All the corporations are talking about servant leadership.

And you don’t need to have an MBA from Wharton School of Business to figure out why. If people feel like you’ve served them, then there’s a little quid pro quo, right? “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” And it all affects the bottom line.

Biblical leaders don’t serve because of reciprocity. If you give to get something in return, you’ve not really given—you’ve invested. But servanthood is part of the identity of a leader.

 There are three dimensions of what leadership is all about:
1. It’s all about God.
2. It’s all about His assignments
3. It’s all about people.

I serve God, I serve His assignments, and I serve people. Leaders glorify God, are passionate about doing everything God says to do, and in the process they love and develop others, so that people are always better because they hung out with them.

That’s the true mark of your leadership. The true mark of your leadership is not that you can just kind of beat people down, talk them into stuff, be brazen with your personality, manipulate people, orchestrate your own reality, etc. You might be able to get some tasks done that way, but you’ll have bodies all over the place.

In the Bible, leadership is about people. By the way, in the Scriptures, the only reason a leader is given a position is because it’s a platform to serve people. That’s the only reason.

The only reason I can justify being a senior pastor is not because I get the big office and my name on the fancy letterhead, and people say nice things to me. The only reason I can justify that is that I get the opportunity to serve.

Leadership finds servants. The position of leadership finds the people serving. Please forgive my directness here, but don’t you ever, ever ask anyone to do anything that either you have not done yourself, or you’re not willing to do.

There are so many illustrations of this, but let me go to the ultimate one. The ultimate one is found in John 13—Jesus washing the feet of His disciples.

What makes that a particularly hard pill for Peter and the disciples to swallow—and don’t get too hard on Peter on this one, because if you understand the customs of the times, you understand why he was just incensed that Jesus would do this. During that time, if you were a household of some substance, and you had some resources, then you had servants in the household. Washing the feet of your invited guests was the job of the lowliest of the servants—the one that was just recently hired.

Back then, washing feet was a common practice. I live in Atlanta. It’s kind of like, if you come to my house in August or July in “Hot-lanta,” the very first thing Karen will say is, “Do you want a glass of iced tea?” or “Do you want some lemonade?” . . . something cool and refreshing.

Well, that’s what you did when somebody visited your home in the Middle East during that time. It was dusty and dirty, and a way of showing hospitality was to wash and massage their dirty feet.

The second reason they did that was kind of a hygiene thing. They didn’t sit in chairs when they ate; they reclined. And you didn’t want “Leroy” putting his dirty “dogs” in your lamb stew, so you said, “Hey, scrub those feet there, Buddy.” (If Karen was here, after this, she would be saying, “Why did you say that?”)
But that’s the truth! (Don’t tell her I said that. She’ll be looking at this, though).

So here you have Jesus . . . now, feel this. The Lord of history; the One who created them, according to Colossians 1; the One who would die on the cross in their place and for their sin—He could have said, “Peter, James, John, Andrew, Bartholomew, Thomas, one of you guys go get some water and wash these feet. I’m hurting here; I need to think through a few things.”

But the Lord of history gets a basin of water that He created, wraps a towel around Himself, gets down on His knees, and He washes feet.

Hear me: Your integrity to lead is in direct proportion to your ability to serve. I actually have a bit of a personal policy. All those years I served with Campus Crusade for Christ in leadership, and even at our church, I typically don’t give positions to people who are campaigning for it. There’s something about that that just . . . Find servants.

See, some of us are just too concerned about recognition, and we won’t serve until we get the recognition. But God says, “No, you serve, and I control the recognition. If I want you to have it, I’ll give it to you, but serving is not optional.”

I actually think—this is so terrible for me to say this, but having been around the block a little bit—there’s nothing worse than a carnal leader. If you’re not willing to serve, the best thing for you to do is first to repent and be ready to serve.

But if you’re not ready to serve, the best thing you can do is resign, because God does not do double billing. I’m a steward of people and of what He wants to accomplish. Servanthood is not just what I do; servanthood is who I am. If I can’t serve, I don’t deserve recognition.

Every great man or woman of God, that God has used and trusted with His assignments—who left their mark in history, who God really smiled on and commended—was marked by brokenness, uncommon communion, servanthood as an identity, and here’s the fourth one: radical, immediate obedience.

I’ve had some people take me to task on this, but that’s okay; I’ve stood my ground. You see, here’s where we need to be careful of allowing the world’s way of thinking to affect how we do ministry.

What do I mean? Too many of us—I don’t like this; I see it sometimes even in our church, and I see it in Christian organizations, and I don’t like it because I think it is a devastating trend—refer to ministry as “jobs.”

We refer to what we do as a “project.” No, no, everything God calls you to do is an assignment. It’s not optional.

You ought to be praying a lot more before you say yes to a challenge that your pastor or the chairman of your elders or somebody gives you. You pray about that, because that’s God’s call for your life; and implicit in that call for your life is obedience.

This is not a project where you say, “Boy, I’d really like to be involved in this, this is really great!” No, it’s an assignment—which means, what God wants done has got to get done.

Dr. Bill Bright was the founder and president of Campus Crusade for Christ, and I remember something he used to say to us younger leaders all the time. This is burned in my heart, and this is the reason God used Bill Bright so greatly.

In fact, he was the embodiment of all four of these things.

Dr. Bright used to look us in the eye all the time and say, “You know what? You don’t have to be successful, but you do have to be obedient.” You don’t have to be successful in that you hit your target numbers, or all the people respond, or whatever you’re trying to do; but you do have to be obedient.

I love Paul’s eulogy of David in Acts 13. Beginning at verse 22, he’s contrasting the motivation of Saul with the motivation of David, and he says,

“When He [God] had removed him [Saul], he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said [it’s an interesting line here], ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.”

I’m reading from the English Standard Version, but do you know that that word will there, in the Greek text, is plural? They didn’t translate it that way, but it is plural, and I wonder why they didn’t.

He says, “I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my own heart, who will do all my [wills],” as an assignment. I’ve found a David who will do it.

It’s interesting, that’s what made David great. What made David great was not that he didn’t fail—we know he did that. What made him great was that he just kept doing what God said. He just kept doing what God said, doing what He said. “I don’t know what this is going to take, but this is what He said.”

You wake up every morning and say, “God, help me to show up. Help me not to run. Help me not to quit. Help me to finish it. Help me not to be lazy.”

And having done that day in and day out, those “wills” wove a tapestry of God’s purpose for David.

So he says in verse 36, “For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption.”

The greatest thing that could ever be said about Crawford Loritts is that I did what God told me to do; and what He does with that is His business. The greatest thing that can ever be said about you is that you did what God told you to do.

I have to tell you, I’ve been around some great leaders in my life, and the truly great Christian leaders—this is uncanny—you get the sense when you’re in their presence that they would rather die than disobey God. How about you?

The question tonight is, can God trust you—can He trust me—with His assignments? Am I using God as a platform to get to where I want to be? See, when you understand these things, you conclude several things:

1. Don’t ever tell God how to use you. God can do with you and with me whatever He wants to do

2. What God has for you, no mortal man can take from you. Tremendous freedom! You don’t have to look out rear view or the side mirror; you don’t have to compare yourself with anyone else.

3. You don’t have to lead with your “rights”; just respond to what is right. By the way, people who lead with their rights only grow to the level of their demands. And I have learned in my life that often, in order for me to get to where God wants me to be, my “rights” have to be violated. But it’s not a statement about me anyway, is it? It’s not about my image; it’s all about Him.

4. You don’t lead with your gifts, but you lead with brokenness. I didn’t say gifts aren’t important—they are important—but I just think we have the cart before the horse. You lead with brokenness, you lead with Jesus, you lead with your heart for Him. Then He just breathes on what gifts you have, whether you have five or two, or a half of one, or whatever. That’s kind of unimportant.

Let’s pray.

Holy Father, thank You for Your goodness. Lord, we just want to do what You tell us to do. We get in our way; and if we get in our way, we know we get in Your way. I just pray that You’ll help us to die daily. Teach us how to quickly respond to God. Teach us, O God, and remind us constantly that You control the clock and the calendar, and arrogance is an awful thing, and we have to trust You and depend on You.

Lord, may we give to the people who look to us for leadership the gift of authentic godliness. May we give to them the gift of authentic love for the Savior and a passion for them. And Lord Jesus, may we have a passion to stand before Your throne and say, “I may not have been the sharpest pencil in the box—I may not have been the most gifted person, but by Your grace I did what You told me to do.”
Glorify Yourself, Father. In Jesus’ name, amen.