10 Principles to Lead Right Where You Are

By Jarrett Stephens

I love the Prestonwood Network, and I am always grateful to contribute to it in any way that I can. What I want to share with you today is not rocket science. For many of you, these principles will be reminders. Above all, I hope that they are an encouragement to you.

I still remember walking into Curtis Elementary School in the 5th grade and seeing, painted on the wall for all to see, the words: “If every student were just like me, what kind of school would Curtis Elementary be?” I would read that and think, “Curtis Elementary would be very average. Especially in math!”

Through the years, I’ve thought about that question as it relates to our work in the Church and I want to pose the question to you in a bit of a different light. How would you answer the question posed this way: “If every staff member or church leader were just like me, what kind of staff … what kind of culture … what kind of team … what kind of church would your church be?”

It’s a good question to think about, and I want us to ponder it as we think about leading, when we are not the leader.

I’m going to give you my “Top 10” principles for leading, no matter where God has you. These are in no particular order, but I believe if you want to have healthy teams with a healthy culture, then all of us have to implement these principles and apply them in our lives.

  1. Understand the Difference Between Your Calling vs. Your Assignment

For those of us who have been called to ministry, God has called us to Himself. Our calling is always under the authority of God. We go where He tells us to go, do what He tells us to do, follow Him wherever He leads.

But, if we serve on a team, then we are also willingly serving under the authority of the leader(s) in which we serve. And so, in being under their authority, we are ultimately under God’s authority. And how we fulfill our assignment under their authority will ultimately determine where else we go under God’s authority.

We all have to determine to be faithful to the calling God has placed in our lives. And more often than not, we are tested and trained for our future calling by being faithful in our assignment, first.

  1. Assume the Towel

This is a statement I make nearly every day when I drive on our campus. This is all about our IDENTITY because this is the identity of our Savior.

“But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” —Matthew 20:25–28

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. —Philippians 2:5–8

“Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” —John 13:1–5

Everybody likes to be called a servant; we just don’t want to be treated like one.

As pastors and ministers, we are the chief servants.

This is who we are. We are servants. And guess what? Servants don’t get bent out of shape when they are treated like servants! That’s who they are.

This is a mindset we have to take each and every day! And the only way I know to do this is the spiritual discipline of time alone with God: Spend time in the Word and in prayer. It’s in our daily time with Jesus that we are reminded of our identity as servants.

  1. Have a Bias toward Action

When you are not the senior leader, you tend to think, believe, and work as if you are not in control. And when you are not in control, the tendency is to get passive and to grow apathetic.

If you want to lead right now, you have to take action and start moving. You may not be in control of the organization, but there are two things you can control:

  1. Attitude
  2. Effort

You are in control of how you come to work every day and the energy you put into your work. Have a bias toward action!

  1. Humility + Longevity + Faithfulness = Increased Leadership & Influence

If you want to lead up, this is the way to do it! This formula has shaped my leadership, and I believe that it will greatly help yours. We always need to ask ourselves some questions before we decide to challenge the process or bring our opinions to the table. Questions such as:

  • “Am I acting as if I have all the answers?”
  • “Have I been in my position long enough to know how this decision will affect the organization?
  • “Do I have the leadership chips that can only come with time in making this decision or sharing my idea?

There is no substitute for humility, longevity and faithfulness. It is the way to increased leadership and influence that every leader desires. There is simply no shortcut.

  1. Choose to Trust

You have to choose to trust the leaders whom you work for, and you have to give them the benefit of the doubt.

We don’t know what the leaders we are serving under are facing at any given time. We need to be aware that we are not privy to some conversations they are. Our leaders may have more information about a certain situation or circumstance than we do.

So, we must choose to trust in and believe the best in leaders we serve under. This is a choice we make!

We need to follow just as we want to be followed when we are the leader.

We want people to give us the benefit of the doubt, and we want people to choose to believe the best in us. And so we need to give our superiors and teammates that same benefit.

One day we may be the leader of an organization or team, and we will want people to follow us. This means we should follow now in a way that we want to be followed later.

  1. Hold the Tongue

Criticism and cynicism are always revealed in our communication. I can’t encourage you enough to watch your words. What you say always reveals your heart. If you are constantly negative and critical about your leaders, it will pour out in your communication.

We must have people to vent to, and we need to have people we can talk to. I just challenge you not to allow it to be your teammates. We’ll never regret something we don’t say.

Remember how much the Scripture says about the tongue:

“Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you.” —Proverbs 4:24

“The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near.… When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth. The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense.” —Proverbs 10:14, 19–21

“An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips.” —Proverbs 12:13a

These are just a few of the many Scriptures on taming the tongue (Read more: James 3; Proverbs 14:3; 15:2–4; 17:27–28; 18:6–8; 21:23; 26:20).

I always know when my heart is straying and I’m not leading in an honorable way when I notice my speech getting away from me. It usually comes in the form of criticism, negativity and cynicism.

We should be high on praise and low on criticism when it comes to speaking about those we serve with and under.

  1. Keep a Proper Perspective

See the big picture. Know that God is completely in control and do the best you can to think long-term. I try to remind myself every day to trust God and entrust everything to Him.

The situation you are in right now will not always be the way it is. So, look up in trust. Look in and take courage. And look out to the future of what God will one day reveal to you. Keep a proper perspective of where you are and trust that God is using the situation you are in and the leadership you are under to prepare you for future ministry.

  1. Look for a Lane to Run In

No matter where I have been, God has always given me a lane of ministry to run in. This lane is a ministry opportunity that I am passionate at and feel equipped to serve and help others.

The lane looks different for each season of my life. It has included developing a mission strategy for a ministry, writing a book, as well as giving leadership to some other assignments in the church.

I think social media can derail many of us and allow the thief of comparison to come in and rob us of joy and take us off our mission. It is so easy to scroll and see others’ highlight reel, and then to grow jealous, impatient, and bitter. Don’t fall into the Enemy’s trap. Comparison will keep us from being content in what God has placed before us.

Look for the lane that God has called you to, and run with faithfulness. It’s OK for the lane to be outside of your normal responsibilities; just make sure it is adding value to your organization and not taking away from your work.

  1. When in Doubt, Wait

There is always wisdom in waiting. When thinking about any leadership decision … making a move, challenging the system … wait.

Remember, God cares way more about your heart than He does your ideas, your title or your position. Go back to your calling vs. assignment. Don’t rush ahead of God, and remind yourself that it is often in the waiting where God does His best work.

  1. Take Advantage of This Season

This time you have is a gift from God, and you’ll never get this time back. God has you here for this season for a specific purpose. He is shaping you and preparing you. Don’t miss out on God’s work because you are worried about a title or position.

I am not telling you to be a “yes-man” or to be someone you are not. But I am telling you that this season is the best time for God to prepare you to be the leader He wants to use.

Make it your ambition to honor God in this season – and that’s key – it’s a season of your life.

Jarrett Stephens serves as Teaching Pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas. Connect with Jarrett on Twitter: @jarrettstephens.