It was twenty-five years ago but it seems like yesterday.
I walked away from the meeting feeling humiliated and ashamed. What began as a casual meeting with my supervisor turned into a moment of embarrassment. Sitting calmly in a restaurant, Tim looked at me and said, “I’ve never met another staff who was so self-promoting.” Ouch!
I was too bewildered and hurt to follow-up on the conversation. Within several months, Tim floated out of my life because of some organizational changes. There’s no doubt that I was wounded and he could have handled this observation differently. But, like the Lord usually does, he turns moments of hurtful statements into redemptive life lessons.
I examined my self-promoting attitudes. There were multiple reasons for my self-fixation at that point in my ministry. One reason was my own insecurity in accepting God’s design of me. I wasn’t content to embrace who I was in Christ so I sought respect from others through self-promotion. This is really a polite way of saying I was self-absorbed.
Since that moment of clarity into the nature of my soul I’ve worked at the practice of others-promoting and not self-promoting. This is not necessarily easier but it is more rewarding. Two passages have anchored my practice of others-promoting.
The first is the classic statement by John the Baptist. In reference to Jesus, John said that “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). I feebly work at allowing the Lord to increase while I decrease in my ego efforts. When I others-promote, I choose to honor others in the Lord’s body rather than promoting myself (Romans 12:10).
In 1 Peter 4:10-11, the writer describes the nature of spiritual gifts, those supernatural enablings that give substance to our design: “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. . . . [bringing] glory to God” (NLT). Peter’s instruction on spiritual gifts is pretty simple:
- Use them.
- Use them well.
- Use them to serve for God’s glory.
Practicing others-promotion turns this command into reality. We help people identify their giftedness, we encourage them to use it well, and we place them in positions that increases their service and influence for God’s glory.
In my former leadership position, I worked at intentionally promoting staff. This “promoting” was not simply to a position but for opportunities of influence. To promote someone, I first looked at how their life and ministry blessed people. In his little book Surprise the World, author Michael Frost describes how the etymology of the word “bless” means to “add strength to another’s arm.” Blessing fills people with encouragement and strength so they flourish. I observed how people bless others. Do people around them feel encouraged and strengthened to flourish?
When we engage in others-promotion, we listen to what animates people. After all, Jesus said that what comes out of our mouths reveals what’s in our hearts (Luke 6:45).
I listen carefully to what excites people. For example, my friend Matt uses the word “motivation” and “excitement” a lot. Those are not prominent words in my vocabulary but Matt has a gift for motivating others. I’ve made it my goal to place Matt in positions where he can not only use but develop this gift of motivation.
Others-promotion helps people think about gift-development. Highly motivated leaders who serve from a genuine humility need permission to think about development. Leaders can be so others-focused that both caring and developing themselves is not a task that comes naturally. We serve people by giving them permission to seek personal development. Personal development can be as simple as reading a book, attending a seminar, or taking course work to pursue a degree. Others-promotion gives people the freedom to intentionally develop their God-given design.
In others-promotion we give people the space and permission to use their gifts. This means volunteering people. I don’t volunteer leaders because there’s simply a need. I volunteer people for positions and opportunities to grow their giftedness. I want to unleash a person’s gifting, giving them a platform, a position or space where they can flourish and contribute. There’s a downside to this action though. The downside is that I must be willing to promote people in areas that I might excel in. Many times, I have to die to my ego needs so others may flourish.
It took me a while to fall asleep my final day as a Regional Leader. I was ready to pass the baton of leadership to my friend. I laid there, staring at the ceiling, thinking about the transition and picturing how God was writing a story in our region and that I had been a part of that story. Then a Holy Spirit insight occurred. The story was not my biography!
The story’s author, God, wrote me in the story line as a main character for a chapter or two. He was now introducing another character in His story. You see, the story is about the Lord and not about me or my replacement. It’s not a biography of my exploits but a redemptive tale of God’s work. The realization was pretty simple, life is not about me!
Others-promoting is ultimately God-promoting — we promote others so God is glorified.
Others-promotion starts in simple ways. We let another lead a small group, give someone a platform to teach, volunteer another to serve from their gifts, affirm a friend’s giftedness, or change a conversation from self to the success of a friend. These small ways practice others-promotion — releasing people to serve with a God-promoting attitude.