Note: This article originally appeared on charismamag.com in July 2013.
Self-conscious about a chipped front tooth, my unruly red hair and the spray of freckles across my nose and cheeks, I was shy and withdrawn throughout high school. But by the time I had been in college for a semester, I’d developed, of all things, a desire to be a leader.
How do you admit you want to be a leader without being egotistical? Scripture says those who desire the office of overseer want a good thing (1 Tim. 3:1).
To fulfill my inclinations to lead, I ran for college class president and served three years in a row. Then I attempted a step up by running for vice president of the whole student body but had my ego trimmed by failing to get elected. The next year I failed to get elected as student body president. But the desire for leadership opportunities remained with me.
I haven’t done a scientific poll, but I suspect most people who are in key places of leadership have very much wanted to be there—not because they needed a position to bolster their personality but because they wanted to see things accomplished. Any group—from school club to church to entire nation—needs the service of leaders to give direction. By offering leadership, a person provides a badly needed service.
When I was elected general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, I had not sought the office. In fact, I was surprised to be elected.
(In our movement, a person can’t campaign for an office—and I trust we will never get to that place. The system is designed to allow God to put people in place through the will of the body and the Holy Spirit. It worries me to hear about people making speeches before they’re elected to a church office. I realize the Assemblies of God system isn’t perfect, but it has produced some good and godly people. I hope we never become politicized.).
God seems to have shaped my desire to lead. He has molded my leadership dreams through the realities of being a servant to others. I had pastored 17 years in Costa Mesa and was sitting on the platform at District Council during the 1988 balloting for assistant district superintendent. Ray Rachels had just been elected superintendent, and suddenly it became apparent that I was the front-runner for the assistant superintendent’s position.
Not looking to leave my pastorate, I sat there trying to decide what to do. Do I go up and take my name out?
Prompting what seemed like a split-second decision, I felt the Lord speak to me that although I had been a good leader for 17 years, I wasn’t very good at being a servant. If elected, I sensed I should accept the decision and “shine Ray Rachels’ shoes for a while.”
Those thoughts came out of the blue and caused me to scrutinize my motives. For the next five years, I did my best to serve Ray and to serve the district. Then I was elected general secretary of the fellowship. My good friend Wayne Tesch once introduced me to a crowd in a way that reflects the nature of growing in servant leadership:
When I worked with George as a pastor, he was number one. Then he went to the district, and he became number two. Then he went to the General Council and became number three. Ever since I’ve known him, he’s been going downhill.
For 19 years, I gave up the number one position—five years as assistant superintendent and 14 years as general secretary. I was not in the lead. But I supported the people who were in the lead.
I had no idea what a defining moment that split-second decision was. I simply trusted the voice of the Holy Spirit. In looking back, I see that serving with Ray Rachels as assistant superintendent prepared me for the 14 years that followed serving with General Superintendent Thomas Trask as general secretary for the fellowship.
The truth about leadership, as with anything in serving God, is that when you commit to God’s will, your steps are truly ordered by the Lord. He knows what is coming next and uses each ministry assignment for what you contribute to the kingdom at that time as well as preparation for what He wants you to do next.
My experiences as assistant district superintendent and general secretary have taught me what a huge part servanthood plays in the life of the believer. My responsibilities in these roles were to support the leadership and to be the best possible member of the team. My own agenda was secondary. To lead well, you must serve well.
Aspiring to lead is a legitimate part of a call to lead. In order to start on your own leadership road trip, you’ve likely felt a yearning to lead. Your experience can help you sense when others in your care feel the same tug toward leading. Keep an eye out for those in your flock God may be raising up to lead His church.
George O. Wood is the general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.