When I was in college, we were required to read a book titled What makes Sammy Run?  It dealt with a New York businessman who was driven and explored his motivation and what drove him in his business experience. The same question could be asked of leaders.  What makes them run, tick, want to lead?

The Apostle Paul makes it clear that to desire the office of leader/overseer/bishop is a noble desire (I Timothy 3:1).  At the same time, he warns against selfish ambition (Philippians 1:16, 2:3).  Jeremiah raises the question, “Are you seeking great things for yourself, do not seek them!” (Jeremiah 45:5) We can, and should, make a distinction between admirable ambition with God’s glory in mind and selfish ambition with our own glory in mind?

Paul tells the Thessalonians in his first letter (2:3): “My message is true, my motives are pure, my conduct is absolutely above board.” (Phillips translation). Motives are hard to ascertain and it is difficult to be objective. My motives are mixed a lot of the time. It feels nice to be needed, appreciated, admired, but when the craving for this is high and I need it to feel secure and significant, I am on shaky ground in my leadership. I will tend to use and manipulate people. I will not be honest with my sin because the desire to succeed and look good is so strong that it leads to self-deception and self-promotion.

A pastor I know well shared with a group of us that for many years he was motivated by the need to be needed. Ministry was all about him, how much he was respected, liked and admired. It nearly sent him to an early grave, as he was constantly trying to please everybody, be liked and, at the same time, ruining his health and neglecting his family. He led for the wrong reasons. Fortunately, God brought this to his attention and he experienced a “motive makeover.”

Insecurity and the need to be needed and liked can be a motive to lead, and perhaps is for a great many leaders. But John Maxwell says, “If you need people you can’t lead people.” Leaders who need the accolades and approval of others to feel good about themselves can be very dangerous leaders.

Recently, in my times with the Lord in John’s gospel, the issue of motivation has surfaced. What drives me to want to lead? Is it love for Jesus? Is it love for people? Is it a desire to see God’s purposes carried out? Or is it all about me, how I am perceived, how successful I think I am, how people view me and evaluate me, how much they like me? Here are some passages from The Message that have hit home with me:

“How do you expect to get anywhere with God when you spend all your time jockeying for position with each other.” John 5:44

“A person making things up tries to make himself look good.” John 7:18

“I am not trying to get anything for myself.  God intends something gloriously grand here and is making the decisions that will bring it about.” John 8:59

“When push came to shove, they cared more for human approval than God’s glory.” John 12:43

We admire King David’s life and leadership. He was not perfect and had his sin and its consequences to deal with, but God called him a man after His own heart. A peek into David’s leadership is found in II Samuel 5:12: “David knew that the Lord had established him as king over Israel and had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel.” David understood that God had placed him in leadership–not for David’s glory but to serve the Lord and His people. 

These days I am searching my heart and asking God to give me God-pleasing motives and to deliver me from leading and serving out of selfish ambition. As a worship song I like expresses it: “I’m coming back to the heart of worship and it’s all about you, Jesus, it’s all about you.” 

Lord, forgive me for making leadership about me, when it’s all about You!

What makes you run, tick and lead?