Remembering the Why – Junius Dotson

“You cannot teach what you do not know. You cannot model what you do not practice. You cannot lead where you’re not willing to go. This is such an important concept for being a well-grounded, spiritually whole, and healthy leader.”

If you’re reading this book, I’m going to make an assumption that you want to grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Maybe you’re someone who is responsible for helping to lead others to grow. Maybe you’re gathered with a small group of friends who are seeking to grow in discipleship and in community. I want to ask you to think about your call to follow Jesus, when you first accepted Christ. Think about the feelings you experienced, the zeal you had for Jesus, and the closeness you felt to him. I confess that I can get too busy doing the work of the church and forget the Great Commission: Go and make disciples. We’ve got to ask ourselves and each other: “How are you doing that?” And the reason can’t be “because I want a larger congregation” or more power or influence. Our why is that we are called to make disciples. 

I remember being in a consultation with a group of church leaders, talking about next steps in their ministries. As we were talking about those next steps, I lifted up the vision of helping people grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ. One of the leaders shared very candidly, “I started with that desire, but I’m so far from that. The only thing I’m concerned about at this point is how do I get more volunteers. How do I keep this ministry going?” Her honest reflection was not a complaint but a lament. She had lost her why and had gotten swept up in the business of ministry. The expectations of her leadership created a seductive shift from “being” to “doing.” I invited her and the rest of the group to spend some time reconnecting with the why of their leadership. When you have clarity about your why, it brings what you are doing into sharper focus. It reignites your passion for Jesus and for ministry. Do you know your why? 

I discovered my personal why when I came of age as a teenager at Windsor Village UMC in Houston, Texas. That was the first time the Word of God became flesh in my life. I became deeply connected to God and felt clearly the call God had placed on my life. That experience got me connected not just to the church but to the living God and gave me a framework for how I’d live my life and lead others. It gave me a framework for the power of Christian community. That same why led me to go plant a new church. 

This is why I teach churches the phrase “Discipleship begins with me.” You cannot teach what you do not know. You cannot model what you do not practice. You cannot lead where you’re not willing to go. This is such an important concept for being a well-grounded, spiritually whole, and healthy leader. Leadership is first and foremost leadership of oneself. Lead yourself well, because how you lead yourself shapes how you lead others. How you lead yourself shapes how you relate to others and engage the world. Because this is such a cyclical thing and a relational journey we are on, people lead as they have experienced being led. 

I have shared many times with leaders who are preparing for an important meeting, “You may have a tough meeting tonight. People have been working all day, and there may be some disgruntled people who are anxious or fearful of whatever we’re dealing with. Go spend some time taking care of yourself. Go to a movie or to the gym. Listen to a song that inspires you. Get into a healthy headspace. Someone in the room needs to be centered.”

When I become irritable and short with people, I know these are warning signs that I need time alone with God. When I get frustrated easily, then I know I’m running off course. I know that when I see red flags, the answer is not let me plan this other thing or read another book. My plan is, go be with God. Reconnect with God and reset. Then, I have the capacity to handle what’s in front of me. The answer will always be going back to the center—to God. That will increase your capacity to do what you need to do. 

In the next chapter, I’ll share more with you about just how desperately I have needed wholeness in Jesus Christ. I learned that freedom and authenticity go together. When we tell the truth about the burdens we bear, it’s easier to lay them down and learn how to live freely and lightly. We just have to watch how Jesus does it.

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