Good Leaders Embrace Their Limits

Editors’ note: 

This article is published in partnership with Crossway and adapted from Lead by Paul David Tripp, 2020. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, crossway.org.

Once I was speaking at a mens conference and was asked if I could choose a superpower, what it would be. Others had chosen the ability to fly or to be incredibly strong, but I immediately said, I wish I had the power to create 10 days in a week.

I hate limits. I want more time so I can do more than time allows. I want more strength so I can accomplish more. I want more wisdom so I dont have to invest so much time researching and learning. I want to be infinite and almighty. There are still moments in my life when I want to be God.

I wish I could say I’m free of the frustration of the limits God has set for me, but I cant.

In ministry, it’s tempting to try to do more than you can realistically and healthily do. It’s tempting to write job descriptions for others that ask more of them than they can responsibly handle. And it’s tempting to let a leader work way beyond his limits because his work seems essential to the success of the ministry enterprise.

Leaders with Limits

The only limitless being in the cosmos is its Creator. Everyone and everything has been designed by God with limits, and it never worksnever results in anything goodto attempt to live, minister, and lead outside the boundaries of the limits God has set. Identifying those limitsand what it means for the way a leadership community makes decisions and does its workis a vital aspect of what that community must do to ensure its members remain spiritually, physically, emotionally, and physically healthy. Every leader is a package of God-given gifts and God-assigned limits. It’s dangerous to focus on the one without humbly remembering the other.

If youre a leader, you aren’t just a package of strengths, gifts, and experiences; you’re also a collection of weaknesses and susceptibilities. Here, the gospel offers such sweet encouragement. We don’t have to fear our limits, because God doesnt send us out on our own; where he sends us, he goes too. We don’t have to curse our weaknesses, because our weaknesses are a workroom for his grace. Our limits and weaknesses are not in the way of what God can do through us, but our denial of limits and delusions of independent strength are.

We don’t have to fear our limits, because God doesnt send us out on our own; where he sends us, he goes too.

So I want to consider with you one specific limit that God, in his Creator wisdom, has set for us. And I want to consider how constant recognition and humble admission of this limit helps a leadership community assess its plans, assign its work, and evaluate its health: all leaders have limited maturity.

Limited Spiritual Maturity

The limited spiritual maturity of every member of the leadership community needs to be the assumption of everyone in that community. Every leader is a person in the middle of his own sanctification. No matter how long weve been in ministry leadership, no matter how well trained, no matter how theologically mature, were all still in need of future spiritual development. We all have blind spots. We’re all susceptible to temptation. Each of us has character weaknesses. Were all still in need of the rescuing, convicting, transforming power of the gospel.

So a leadership community must not make assumptions about its leaders that keep them from having gospel concern for one another and candid community conversations. Leadership communities need to commit to pastoring every member of that community. We cant allow any member to live in spiritual isolation and separation. God has called us not just to the external work of gospel ministry, but to leadership one anothering as well. It’s my experience, as I have dealt with fallen or lapsed pastors, that around them was a weak or dysfunctional leadership community that failed, in pastoral love and care, to protect that leader from himself.

Every leader needs to be the object of ongoing discipleship, every leader needs at moments to be confronted, every leader needs the comforts of the gospel, every leader needs help seeing what he wouldnt see on his own, and every leader needs to be granted the love and encouragement to deal with the artifacts of the old self still within him.

If this is so, then we cant be so busy envisioning, designing, maintaining, evaluating, and reengineering ministry that we have little time to care for the souls of the ones leading this gospel work.

Living and Ministering with Limits

Until we’re on the other side, well live, minister, relate, and live with limits. Our limits arent in the way of what God intends to do through us, because theyre all the product of his wise and loving choice. What he calls us to is possible to do inside the limits he has made. So it’s part of our gospel calling to have those limits before our eyes and in our leadership-community conversations.

Our limits arent in the way of what God intends to do through us, because theyre all the product of his wise and loving choice.

We must resist the temptation to live outside those limits or to make the assumption were all dealing with our limits in ways that are humble and wise. God isnt afraid to call limited people into gospel leadership, so we shouldnt be afraid, with gospel humility and hope, to put those limits on the tablenot just once, but again and again, knowing well need to retain this commitment until his work in us is complete.

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