Perhaps the most profound words Jesus ever uttered in relation to the issue of allowing God to lead through us can be found in John 15:5 where He said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” It’s a verse that speaks of reliance and is one we would do well to meditate on often. Apart from Him we can still run attractive programmes. Apart from Him we can deliver entertaining messages. Apart from Him we can have enjoyable times of worship with great music. But apart from Him all these things will produce no lasting fruit.
When I started as youth pastor in my first church I felt totally out of my comfort zone. Like Solomon I frequently prayed for wisdom (1 Kings 3:3-14) – it was a scary time! Yet after a few years, when I felt confident in what I was doing, the temptation was to pay lip service to God and rely on my own ability to organise a great programme or offer great counsel to a young person in need. That was an even scarier time for now I realised my reliance had shifted from Him and His adequacy to me and my adequacy.
If the phrase “apart from me you can do nothing” became our chief rule of leadership what would change? Firstly, we wouldn’t be tempted to become confident in our own ability or proud when others praised us. Scripture contains examples of people who became self important and fell because their reliance shifted from God to themselves. Samson forgot that the true source of his power was in God and not the length of his hair (Judges 13:2-5; 16:6-17). King Solomon, who started with such reliance upon God for wisdom, eventually relied upon his own way of doing things and suffered the consequences (1 Kings 11:1-3). Peter relied upon his own strength to stay loyal to Christ and soon found himself three times denying the One he vowed before others he would never deny (Mark 14:27-31; 66-72).
The second thing that will happen when we remind ourselves that apart from God we can do nothing, is ironically the opposite of the first. As you reflect on your youth leadership, do you ever feel inadequate, insecure, weak, ineffective, unworthy, incompetent and hypocritical? Do you find yourself saying, “I can’t do this!” “There are plenty of others better than me!” and “I’m not that good a Christian.” The temptation in these moments is to wrongly place reliance upon ourselves and our lack of suitability and in so doing miss out on what God wants to do through us.
Instead of feeling discouraged about our weaknesses we need to shift our reliance upon ourselves and place it where it belongs, on God. We need to remind ourselves that such feelings of inadequacy puts us in the very place God wants us to be and makes us exactly the sort of leader He is looking for and able to lead through. Consider some of the people in Scripture He called to lead: Moses, Gideon, David, Jeremiah, Paul, Peter and Timothy. All struggled with major weaknesses and self doubts, and yet God used them for one reason and one reason alone: they (in their best moments) relied on Him to lead through them.
If you want God to lead through you, you need to confront this issue of reliance. Your frequent prayer will be “I can’t do this, but Lord, I believe you can do this through me.” Or as Paul said “I can do everything (but only) through Christ who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13). As you settle this issue in your own mind, whenever you see evidence of fruit in your ministry you will know that it was not brought about through any effort of your own but by God leading His church through you.
Leading out of our own strength and ability is tiring and never fully satisfies. With it comes a sense of fear that things might start to go wrong or that people might find out just how weak and ineffective we really are. Yet having God lead through us brings a new freedom and sense of peace to leadership. No longer is it about us but it is about Him and youth leadership becomes an exercise in following Him as He leads through us, all for His glory.