I picked up the hotel room movie guide and was struck by the tag line for a program titled Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: “We will be known forever by the tracks we leave behind.”
We don’t often think in such terms. We live our lives from day to day with little or no thought about the tracks we are leaving behind. It’s not a question of whether we leave a legacy or not; the only question is whether it’s a legacy we want to leave behind.
Many people naturally aspire to leadership, to influence, to making a difference in as many lives as possible. But leadership seldom happens naturally. Such a legacy is the product of a leadership perspective, leadership character, and leadership development. All three are on display in an early Christian letter in the Bible.
Paul, the great church planter of the first century, wrote the following to his protégé Titus:
Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness — in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior (Titus 1:1-3).
Notice Paul’s perspective, how he identified himself in this letter. He called himself “a servant of God” and “an apostle of Jesus Christ.” To Paul, those two terms were virtually interchangeable.
To be a Christian leader means being a servant. Paul isn’t the only one who serves as our model in this. Other leaders in the early church signed their letters:
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (James 1:1).
Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:1).
Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ (Jude 1:1).
They were all servants first, foremost, and fully. After all, that’s the way Jesus said it should be:
“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mark 10:42-44).
This is our perspective. If you would leave a legacy of leadership, be a servant. Swallow your pride. Wash people’s feet. Stoop as low as you can because the most effective leaders are the willingest workers, the ones who show up early and stay late because there’s garbage to take out and coffee to brew.
Paul also wrote to Titus:
An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless — not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it (1:6-9).
Paul’s counsel to Titus makes it clear that anyone who wants to leave a legacy of leadership should focus not on building a following but on building strong character and a sturdy reputation. In fact, anyone who would lead others might use Paul’s words as a sort of checklist from time to time:
- Is my conduct blameless?
- Am I faithful to my spouse?
- Am I teaching and training my young children well?
- Am I pushy and overbearing?
- Is my temper under control?
- Are my appetites under control?
- Am I belligerent?
- Am I honest in my business practices?
- Do I show hospitality to others?
- Am I drawn to good things and positive people?
- Am I self-controlled?
- Am I upright and fair-minded?
- Is my way of life holy and pure?
- Am I disciplined?
- Do I have a grasp of what is biblical, sound doctrine?
That may seem like an unrealistic standard to some, but it’s not a call to legalistic perfection. It’s a depiction of what a leader looks like so that Titus would be sure to know one when he saw one. And though Paul used male language when he wrote to Titus, it doesn’t mean only men may lead. In other letters, he unabashedly referred to women in leadership, even to one who was “outstanding among the apostles” (Romans 16:7).
If you would leave a legacy of leadership to those you love — those who come after you, those you may not even know yet — focus on building the kind of character Paul describes to Titus. If you read the checklist above and a few weak areas pop out at you, start focusing your prayers, seek help, and become accountable to someone in those areas, because true leadership is a product of character.
Paul introduced himself as a servant, described the character of a leader, and then explained why the development of such character is so important in the church:
For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach — and that for the sake of dishonest gain. One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good (Titus 1:10-16).
At the time Titus lived and ministered there, Crete was an excessively materialistic, greedy, belligerent, dishonest society. That may not resemble your country, city, or neighborhood. But when it comes to leaving a legacy, it won’t do for us to whitewash ourselves or our situations. Paul’s words suggest that anyone who aspires to lead should be prepared for a struggle. That’s how we develop.
It may be a struggle like Titus faced, against “liars, evil brutes, and lazy gluttons,” or it may be a struggle against wonderful, well-intentioned people. It may be a struggle against folks who are “detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good,” or with people who are smarter than we but don’t have all the information we have. It may be a struggle against “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12) or against our own thickheadedness or immaturity. Or it may just be a struggle to develop the skills and training we need.
If you would leave a legacy of leadership, be prepared to struggle with yourself, with others, with God, with circumstances, with your spouse, with your superiors or subordinates, with your need to learn more skills. Be prepared, even, to struggle with the very calling and aspiration to be a leader when it would be easier to just lay low, sit back, and let your legacy be — whatever it’s going to be. This is the way to spiritual development.
But if you are determined to leave a legacy of leadership, begin now — or continue — to cultivate a leader’s perspective, character, and development. This way, years from now — even generations from now — you will be remembered by the tracks you leave behind.