Danny Anderson: The Most Important Question a Leader Must Ask

Recently, I was asked to speak on a webinar to about 2,000 family ministry leaders. I was told I had 25 minutes to speak on any aspect of leadership. I asked myself, “What is the most impactful thing I could say in 25 minutes?” There are so many important things I could talk about: empowering leaders, recruiting volunteers, casting vision, creating a healthy culture, having the difficult conversation, and on and on!

After sleeping on it, I decided to talk about the heart. Why did I land on this topic?  For one reason, the leader’s heart is the source of all leadership. In short, leaders lead from their hearts. The Bible refers to the heart as the “inner self” in 2 Corinthians 4:16. It includes your will, thoughts, ideas, feelings, emotions, motivations, desires, and appetites. Your heart is your inner dimension, and whether you realize it or not, your leadership comes from and is determined by its condition.

Therefore, the most important question a ministry leader must ask is, “How are things with my heart?” The instruction we receive from the Bible is simple, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23) You and I are to watch over and protect our inner dimension because it’s from that place that we act and react. The way you plan, write, do meetings, solve problems, train employees, handle stress and disappointment, handle criticism and accusation, and success and failure are all dictated by the condition of your heart; therefore, it must be the first thing you take care of every day. Dallas Willard wrote, “Those with a well-kept heart are people who are prepared and capable of responding to the situations of life in ways that are good and right.”

Unfortunately, many leaders ignore the condition of their inner dimension to their own peril. They run their lives like people drive their cars–they just drive them until something breaks, and then they take it into the shop. That might not be a terrible strategy for a car, but it’s a devastating strategy for a leader.

Most leaders never take the time to look under the hood in order to see if everything is okay. The problem with running your life like that (without looking under the hood at our hearts) is that the breakdown often destroys everything—your marriage, family, and ministry. Peter Scazzero said, “You can’t run your life at warp speed without warping your soul.”

So how exactly does a leader take care of his/her heart?

Spend time alone with God.

Many ministry leaders struggle to spend time alone with God. It seems to be just another thing to do. We look at it the same way we do flossing. We know we need to. It’s important. But it just doesn’t get done.

What if the purpose of your time alone with God was to monitor your heart and to get rid of anything that wasn’t holy in your thoughts, motivations, feelings, and choices?

The motivation for our time alone with God is the transformation of our inner self into the likeness of Christ himself. We meet with God to ensure that our hearts are in alignment with the Father and that our thoughts and desires are in tune with the scriptures.

Just about every morning of my life these days, I wake up early in the morning to meet with God at my kitchen table. The purpose is not to learn something new or study the Bible, although the Bible is always involved and there is a lot of learning. No… the purpose is to manage my heart. I ask God what the psalmist asked,

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

test me and know my anxious thoughts.

Point out anything in me that offends you,

and lead me along the path of everlasting life. 
Psalm 139:23-24

Memorize and meditate on scripture.

Having God’s word flowing through your mind throughout the day keeps your heart in alignment with God and His will. As Joshua took over for Moses, He faced the daunting task of moving God’s people into the promised land that was already inhabited by people, some of them giants!

What was God’s instruction to Joshua? God tells him the key to his success is to meditate on His words. Listen to what He says in Joshua 1:8, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

God’s Word expresses the order of His Kingdom. As you take it into your mind and heart through memorization and mediation, your heart becomes aligned with His will.

Read books about the inner life.

Dallas Willard wrote, “Understanding is the basis of care.” What he meant was that if we don’t understand something, we cannot care for it. The reason I take my car or computer or phone to someone else to be fixed is that I don’t understand how they work.

If you and I want to know how to care for our hearts, we have to understand it. You must understand the different parts of your soul, the mind, the will, the emotions, and the desires. You must understand how each part affects the other parts. When you understand it, you can begin to take measures to care for it. The following are some of my favorite books on the inner life:

  • Renovation of the Heart, by Dallas Willard
  • The Great Omission, by Dallas Willard
  • Soul Keeping, by John Ortberg
  • The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas A Kempis
  • Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, by Ruth Haley Barton
  • The Emotionally Healthy Church and The Emotionally Healthy Leader, by Peter Scazzero

Invite others in.

For various reasons, many leaders choose to do leadership in isolation. We don’t allow other people to get too close. Sure, you know a lot of people, but not a lot of people know you. The real you. This is one of the greatest mistakes a leader can make. In Proverbs 27 we read, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” As leaders, You and I need other people to help us with how it is with our heart. You need people to sharpen you when you get off course. You need people to ask the tough questions that no one else is asking. I have noticed that unless you give permission, it won’t happen.

It can be really hard to take this step because it requires deep trust. You, as the leader, must be able to trust a few people with what is really going on inside. This requires two things: discernment and time.

You have to choose people who you know love you, meaning that they want what is best for you no matter what. These people must also want the same thing you want, a heart that is prepared and ready to do what is good and right in all situations. It takes time to find these people.

Practically speaking, I meet with a group of men every other Friday morning. We go through some of the books I mentioned, and we talk about the condition of our hearts. It’s real. It’s authentic. It’s risky. But I do it because I know that everything I do as a leader comes from my heart. if I want to be in ministry for 40 years and finish well, I need to make sure things are well in my heart–and so do you.

So, let me ask you, “How are things with your heart?”

Danny is a Coach with CourageToLead and Senior Pastor of Emmanuel Church located south of Indianapolis. Danny has hands-on experience in transitioning a church, creating and casting a new vision, simplifying programs, building teams, and launching new campuses. He enjoys spending time with his wife, Jackie, his sons Andrew and Beau, and his daughter Ruby.