An important quality for leaders to possess is the ability to not just see an opportunity in front of them but the willingness to step out and act in response to that opportunity. This can involve meeting a need in the marketplace with a new business idea or invention. It can involve meeting a need in the community by starting a new outreach program like Faith Church did over 10 years ago with the Faith Centre and for us in the church it often involves seeing a spiritual need in children, youth, families or even other countries so we step out to pray, love and share Jesus with those around us and those around the world.
Whenever someone takes that leading step forward to do something new and fresh we call that initiative. While many people might be able to see opportunities in front of them, it is the leader who steps out and does something. Effective leaders are those who take that first step forward and push themselves into action even if the change they implement causes tension and conflict. New things often challenge the status quo and so those who take the initiative often find themselves working in difficult situations, but they move ahead anyway. What these leaders do may not always be fully effective and there is always some risk involved, but leaders are those who are willing to put it all on the line and do something. Peter was a leader who clearly shows us what initiative looks like.
Peter was a fisherman when Jesus called him. He ran his business with his brother Andrew and was probably connected to, or partners with, James and John. With all the fishing boats around the Sea of Galilee and all the fishermen Jesus could have reached out to – he chose Peter for a reason. In Peter, Jesus saw a man who would take the initiative. Peter was someone willing to step out and do something when others wouldn’t and that is what makes an effective leader. Let’s look at Peter’s story: Luke 5:1-11.
Jesus could see that Peter would be the kind of leader who would take the initiative which is why with all the fishermen along the sea of Galilee he could have chosen that day, he asked to use Peter’s boat and with that invitation, Peter saw the opportunity to be part of something new and special with Jesus. When Jesus then asked Peter to go out into deeper water and let his nets down to catch fish, Peter had some doubts, but he once again took the initiative and agreed. At the end of the story when Jesus invited Peter to be part of something much larger than catching fish for the rest of his life – without knowing all that lied ahead of him, Peter left his nets and boats and followed Jesus. Peter knew he wanted to be part of something larger than himself – something new that seemed to be God ordained – so he grabbed hold of the opportunity, took the risk, and stepped out in faith. Peter went with Jesus and that is initiative.
Among the disciples, Peter was always the one who took the initiative and did something. It was Peter who fist proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah. It was Peter who asked Jesus if he could step out of the boat and walk with him on the water. It was Peter who took out his sword to fight when Jesus was betrayed in the garden of Gethsemane and it was Peter who followed along in the shadows when Jesus was arrested and led away. It was also Peter who not only ran to the tomb when the disciples heard it was empty, but it was Peter who ran into the tomb to see what was going on. And then it was Peter who stood up and preached the first Holy Spirit inspired sermon that helped transform more than 3,000 people who chose to give their hearts and lives to Jesus. Taking the initiative that day changed the world because it created the Church. Peter was always the one who was willing to take the initiative and throughout his life he shows us what is needed to take the initiative and lead.
In his book The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, John Maxwell outlines four qualities that are needed if we are to be leaders with initiative and we see these 4 qualities in Peter:
1. Know what you want
2. Push yourselves to act
3. Take more risks
4. Be willing to make more mistakes.
Leaders who take the initiative first know what they want. This doesn’t mean we always see clearly what we are to do or where we are going to end up, sometimes it just means knowing that we want something more so we move forward. Peter had no idea what it meant to be a fisher of men and women, but he knew that Jesus was a pretty amazing man and he wanted more of what Jesus had to offer. Peter could see God’s power in Jesus and he knew he wanted to be part of something like this – he knew what he wanted. Knowing what we want doesn’t mean we know where we will end up, or what the journey will look like, but it does motivate us to act when opportunity comes.
So what is it that we want? While the specifics of what we all want to experience in life will be different, what most of us want is simply more. Now when I say we want more, I’m not just talking about more money or position or power, although those aren’t bad things. Many businesses start or expand because people want more money or market-share and some people step out in politics or community service because they want more power to bring about needed change. So money and power aren’t always bad things, but that’s not really what I’m talking about when I say we all want more. I’m talking about more of those things that are intangible, like meaning or purpose or peace.
What motivates many people to take that leaning step forward is a desire to experience more meaning or purpose in life. What motivated me to leave my job at the movie theater and go to seminary was knowing that I wanted more than popping popcorn and selling movie tickets. It was a good job and I had opportunities to advance and move on in business – but I knew it wasn’t for me. I was looking for something different, something more. Wanting more will move us to act and take that leading step forward when we see an opportunity that connects with our desire.
It is also my hope that we will all want more of Jesus and more of God’s grace and love and power both for ourselves and others. Jesus came to bring people more of God’s kingdom which includes justice, peace, righteousness and love and I hope we all want to experience more of this kingdom and then share more of God’s kingdom with others. Jesus said that we are to make disciples of all nations and that means sharing more of God with more people.
Wanting more and working more for God’s kingdom does mean we have to push ourselves to act because taking the initiative and stepping out in new ways often brings change and change challenges the status quo and challenging the status quo creates conflict and stress. Leaving behind his nets and boats for a new life challenged Peter’s world. Walking on water challenged Peter’s sense of reality and preaching the power of Jesus resurrection challenged the religions and political leaders and authority of his day. These things were not easy, yet Peter always seemed willing to push himself into action.
It is too easy today to be complacent and allow someone else to take responsibility and work for change. We hear about needs all around us and opportunities to make a difference in the world but many times we leave it up to someone else to do the work. We think it will be someone else who will volunteer at the food bank or care for those who are sick or help out in the kitchen. It will be someone else who will work with the children, give to the work in Sierra Leone, go on the mission trip, or pray for those in need. We let others do the work because taking the initiative is work.
But if we always sit back and let someone else do the work, not only will nothing get done, but we will miss out on everything. We will miss out on the experience of feeling God’s power working in us. We will miss out on the blessing of feeling God’s peace and hearing God say – well done, my good and faithful servant. So we have to not only look for the opportunities to step out but then we need to push ourselves and actually do something. The time of sitting on the sidelines and watching other people enter the game is over – we need to act.
Now if we are going to do something, it will mean taking more risks. Stepping out often means getting involved in new activities we may not do well and might be beyond our abilities. We might look foolish or have to admit we need help, but taking risks is all part of being a leader. Think of the risk involved when Peter stepped out of a boat and walked on water. Think of the risk involved in standing up in a hostile city to preach about Jesus when you fully expect the local authorizes will throw you into jail or send you to the cross. Peter took huge risks, but being a leader means taking risks.
How can we learn to become risk-takers? Maybe the key is to start taking small risks and learning what it feels like to experience the fear and anxiety that comes with the unknown. Peter didn’t start by walking on water or preaching to thousands, he started by allowing Jesus to use his boat and then put his nets down into deep water when he didn’t think there would be any fish there. That day led to the next, and then the next, and then the next. I’m sure there was fear and anxiety that came each day Peter walked with Jesus, but he learned to live with those feelings and then worked through them. Peter learned to trust Jesus each day they were together. What small risks can we take today in order to help us be more comfortable with risk-taking tomorrow?
At work it might mean speaking up when we have suggestions to improve the organization. In the community it might be making suggestions for needed improvements and then be part of the team that works for those changes. In the church it might mean stepping out to join a group, signing up to help with the Blessing of the Backpacks or just speaking to the people around you on the way out after worship. If we learn to take risks in small areas of life and faith it might help us be more confident when God asks us for the big steps of faith, like leading a Bible Study or sharing our faith with a friend or even starting a new congregation or going into the mission field. More often than not, God wants to lead us into deeper faith not push us off the deep end.
One of the risks involved when we take the initiative is making mistakes and if there is any leader who knows something about making mistakes, it’s Peter. Peter was the first one who proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah, but in his next breath he failed to understand what that meant and so Jesus rebuked him. Jesus actually said to Peter, “get behind me Satan.” Peter was the only one who stepped out of the boat to walk on the water but it didn’t last long because when he got scared Peter started to sink. Peter was the only one to act when Jesus was arrested and he took out his sword and struck one of the guards, but again, Jesus rebuked Peter and told him to put his sword away. Peter often failed – but those mistakes where not futile and those failures were not final.
We often think that failure is futile. Why take the initiative and do something if we are going to fail? If we were to ask Edison that, he will tell us that each failure leads us closer to success. It took Edison hundreds of tries before he found an electric light bulb that was viable. All inventors, carpenters, builders, athletes and business leaders will tell you that no success is possible without making mistakes along the way. Many times we learn more through our failures than we do success so we need to remember that failure is not futile, it is how we learn, grow and succeed.
Our failures are also not final – ask Abraham Lincoln. He was defeated twice in his bid to become a US Senator and he lost his bid to become the vice president but none of those failures were final because as we all know he went on to become the president of the United States. Failure only means the end if we stop taking the initiative and if we stop acting. The clearest symbol of failure not being final stands before us today – the cross. At the time of Jesus, the cross was the symbol of finality because it was a symbol of death and death was final – until Jesus. Today we know that even death does not have the final word and with the resurrection of Jesus comes the truth that no failure is final. In fact it is the work of God to redeem all things. In 1 Corinthians 15:54b it says Death has been swallowed up in victory and if death has been destroyed then we know that no failure is final because victory will prevail.
So mistakes are not futile because we can learn from them, and failure is not final because God redeems all things, so we can’t be afraid to try and fail. Good leaders make mistakes so we can’t be afraid to try and fail. Failure is nothing to be feared – what is to be feared is never trying anything at all. What is to be feared is never taking the initiative to do what God is calling us to do and missing out on all God has for us.
We need to learn how to take the initiative in life and faith. Peter shows us that what is involves is
1. knowing what we want,
2. pushing ourselves to act,
3. taking more risks
4. being willing to make mistakes.
If we will do these things – the rewards are priceless. The reward for Peter was walking with Jesus and bringing God’s kingdom into this world. It was seeing miracles performed and performing miracles himself. It was seeing lives changed and the world changed. It was knowing God’s power and peace for himself. When we are willing to take the initiative in life, in relationships and in faith and step out to work for change the reward is the opportunity to experience for ourselves the fullness and abundance that only God can offer. The reward is experiencing the purpose of God in our lives and the peace of God in our hearts and seeing the power of God working in us and through us. So let’s take the initiative and reach out for more – more of all that God has to offer.
Leadership Principles ~ INITIATIVE
1. Read the stories of Peter who always took the initiative:
• Matthew 14:22-33
• Luke 5:1-11, 9:18-36,
• John 13:1-16, 18:1-11, 20:1-9
2. Start and complete one project you have been putting off.
• Take on a project at home, in your yard or at work
• Attend to a strained relationship
• Begin or finish a book you have had on your list
• Engage in an activity you have wanted to try
Take the leading step forward and do something this week.
3. Look for new opportunities at home, at work, in the church, community and world.
• Where do you see needs that you can address?
• Who is looking for the gifts, skills and passions you have to offer?
• What dreams and goals can you pursue?
• Where is God calling you to step out in faith?
4. Act on one of the new opportunities you identified in #2.
5. Take a risk and be willing to make a mistake. What one activity have you wanted to try but have not been willing to take part in for fear of failure? Take a risk and try it this week.
Only those who dare to fail greatly can achieve greatly.