The Discipline of Surrender

The late Pastor Adrien Rogers made the observation that around 1960, Americans made a switch in the term they chose to describe their relationship with God. People started to use the word “commitment” in place of what used to be “surrender.” The difference? With a commitment, you retain control. With surrender you give it up.

In Christian leadership there has been a focus on vision casting, strategic plans, and implementing best practices. Leadership retreats are renamed leadership “advances” because we don’t use the word “retreat” around here. Leaders are chasing hard after the mission.

Yet at the most critical moment of his mission, when all the chips were on the table, Jesus chose surrender. “Not my will, but yours be done.” In fact, when other leaders in the bible pursued their mission it was almost always paired with a surrender to the prompting and direction of God.

Remember the great commission. Jesus voiced the clarion call to go into all the world and preach the gospel to all nations. There was clarity, there was urgency. Yet in the same breath he said “go” he also said “wait.” But wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon you. Don’t you dare fall victim to trying to do the mission in your own strength. You won’t be able to accomplish it without surrender to the Holy Spirit. So, wait for him to come and then you can go. Throughout the book of Acts (it’s named the Acts of the Apostles, but a more accurate title is the Acts of the Holy Spirit) we see God opening doors, “and now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem” (Acts 20:22). And closing doors, they were “kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia” (Acts 16:6-8).

Leadership is always coupled with surrender. And one of the cardinal leadership sins is pride. Not only will it turn people off, and ruin team dynamics, and ultimately cap the growth and potential of your church or organization; it will also block you from practicing the critical leadership discipline of surrender. When you are filled with pride, there’s no need for God. You’ve got it all figured out.

Some warning signs that pride has crept in to your leadership are things like, a hesitation or unwillingness to share the spotlight with other leaders, an inability to learn from others without critiquing and finding flaws, a natural tendency to blame others instead of admitting mistakes.

1 Peter 5:5, “God opposes the proud. He gives grace to the humble.” As a leader you have a choice. Do you want opposition from God in your leadership, or do you want grace and favor? Do you want the Spirit of God at your back or in your face. Do you want to travel your leadership journey with a tailwind or a headwind? If you are humble and surrendered, the favor of God will carry you. If you are proud, you’re rowing into the wind.

There are some practical ways to stay surrendered in your leadership. Remind anyone who will listen that God is the leader of your ministry. He is the head of your church. He is the boss of your organization. If you are able, start your meetings with a prayer that acknowledges things like: “Jesus you are the leader, may your voice be the loudest, we’re not smart enough to do this on our own, we’re just thankful to be included in what you are doing.” And make time for soul care. Sabbath rest is God’s good gift to you. It’s the rhythm that’s baked in to how he created us. He says once a week you should take a day off. And you are supposed to respond simply with, “That’s a great idea God! I think I will.” Your marriage will work better when you are rested. You will be more patient with your kids when you have some margin. You will be more efficient at work when you are balanced. And most importantly, you’ll be more surrendered to God when you are regularly connected to His voice.

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