Leading is hard. There’s no question about that. And leading a youth ministry is on a whole new level. Volunteers, tireless middle schoolers, sarcastic high schoolers, events, games, sermons, calendaring, budgeting… it never ends. And if you’re anything like me, you were thrown into the deep end. So what do we do? How do we lead well while continuing to grow as leaders?

In July of 2015, I was offered a part time Youth Director position with the Vineyard church in Tuscaloosa, AL. At that point, I had been a volunteer in youth ministry for about 6 years. I had a full time job at Best Buy and was stepping into bi-vocational ministry for the first time. I went from being a volunteer to being “the youth guy,” and it showed.

The pastor of the church (and my new boss) asked me a simple question that started me down a life changing road: “Do you read?” The short answer was no. The only books I was familiar with were the ones that had been turned into movies. His response to my short and disappointing answer was, “You won’t grow as a leader if you’re not reading.”

To be clear, his question had little to do with my knowledge of books and far more to do with my ability to lead myself well. See, I had grown accustomed to relying on other people and other leaders to lead and develop me. As long as someone was intentionally investing in and shepherding me, I was growing. But the truth is, our growth in leadership and as followers of Jesus should not solely depend on the intentionality of others. So why does self-leadership matter?

Learning to lead ourselves well does two things. First, it feeds a hungry heart. If you’re a leader, you’re probably hungry for growth. Rather than depending on others for that growth, self-leadership enables you to grow at an exponentially faster rate. There is no shortage of ways to feed and lead yourself in 2019. Paper books, digital books, audio books, podcasts, blogs, and sermons are just a few of the resources available to us. The measure of your growth is directly related to the level of your intentionality.

Secondly, leading ourselves well gains respect and influence. Andy Stanley says, “You will not be a leader worth following if you don’t lead yourself well.” Our heart as leaders is never to be the most well-known or have the most influence. Our heart is to faithfully shepherd and lead those whom God has given us. People are encouraged and influenced by leaders who lead themselves well. Not only that, but as people see us live out self-leadership, they are driven to lead themselves as well.

Now, I certainly did not come up with the idea of self-leadership. I actually heard about it, ironically, while listening to a leadership podcast. And my encouragement to anyone who is in leadership and wants to grow as a leader is this: be intentional and lead yourself well.

Bryan Leonardy
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