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How Do You Spot True Leaders In Your Church?

If you’re looking for an example of the perfect Christian—this blog is going to let you down faster than you can say “La La Land wins Best Picture…”

If you’re looking for a blog about a guy who never misses church, who never swears, who never screams at God, who never hits rock bottom—you should probably go find a website with more puppy videos and unicorn memes.

If you’re looking for someone innocent, sinless, quiet, pious, always expelling the J-O-Y of C-H-R-I-S-T with jazz hands—feel free to unsubscribe. As much as I want to be, I’m just not that cup of decaffeinated orange blossom tea.

I don’t have a peppy 12 life-changing reasons list for you today.
I don’t have any strategic words about millennials or Hungry Hungry Hippos.
I don’t have a delightful anecdote of finding some beautiful message from God in a fortune cookie or an elephant turd.

I just have these words of struggle.
I just have a long list of unanswered prayers.
I just have a litany of “why God” questions.
I just have 56 started blog posts without conclusions.
I just have a revised book proposal that never resolves.
I just have a seminary acceptance letter and no plan.
I just have a house on the market that isn’t selling.
I just have a weary soul and a restless heart.

I mean, I’ve been around Christians long enough to know the right phrases to say:

“God always has a plan.”
“Sometimes everything has to fall apart for the right things to fall into place.”
“You just need to pray more, read the bible, work harder at your faith.”

The truth is, I just can’t do that crap right now; I can’t do the cliche religion stuff.

Tell me why losing a friend to suicide was “meant to be” or “part of God’s plan” and I will smack you in the face… even if you’re the Pope. That’s real life and real life is just plain hard sometimes.

I shared a few weeks ago that I’m quietly having one of the hardest years of my life. One of my mentors finally said, “Wow, you’re having a Job year, aren’t ya.”

Not exactly the bible character you want to emulate.

I am having a year of no.
A year of exodus.
A year of goodbyes and loss.
A year of “you’re not welcome here.”
A year of floods and disastrous projects.
A year of stress and illness.
A year of giants who’ve come back from the dead.
A year of rejection.
A year of zapped energy, lab tests that come back worse and worse.
A year of “seems like you’re always having a bad year.”
A year of why.
A year of don’t hope for good things, they’re not part of your story.
A year of fog and confusion.
A year of what’s the point.
A year of sorry I forgot about you.
A year of angry words incessantly hurled in my direction.
A year of “when are you ever going to get that done.”
A year of waiting.
A year of “get me out of here.”

I keep trying to muscle through, I mean heck, I’m the “Recklessly Alive” guy. I am supposed to be a bright shining example of how to do this whole following Jesus thing.

I’m the one who teaches you 10 Ways to Fall in Love with the Bible and How to Pray Dangerous Prayers. I am the one giving you ideas How to Up your Prayer Game and  20 Christian Books that will Ruin Your Life for the Better.

But what it’s taken me 28 years to realize is that this image I have of what the perfect Christian should look like is a steaming pile of poo-poo.

I haven’t written much these past few months because I don’t know how to lead in a place of desolation. No part of me feels connected to God or faith or church. No part of me feels like a leader.

What I’m learning is that an authentic follower of Jesus, a true leader in the Kingdom of God, isn’t as easy to spot as the people in power want you to believe. What if leadership isn’t about who has the title and the microphone, what if it’s about something more?

If you want to find the greatest leaders in your church, follow this one piece of advice:

Turn around.

  • Stop looking to the stage for the ones screaming FOLLOW ME.
  • Stop watching for the most gregarious personality, the center of attention, the who says exactly what everyone wants to hear.
  • Stop looking for leaders in the way our celebrity culture has trained us to—the most attractive, the most talented, the most charming, with the most Instagram followers—and start looking for the type of leaders God picks.

Turn around.

  • Look for the quiet ones in the back row who aren’t in it for the attention or the accolades.
  • Look for ones who could care less about the perfect rituals or the way things should look.
  • Look for the ones putting themselves in danger’s way, traveling to the places of the world the elite class would never step foot in.
  • Look for the ones who are drawn to the marginalized, the disabled, the untouchables of the world.
  • Look for the ones who make it their mission to exist in the tension of the chaos around us.
  • Look for the ones who are rough around the edges, who’ve survived horrible traumas, and are challenging the status quo.
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” -Matthew 20:25


Leadership—at its purest form—is about humbling yourself before men and before God. It’s choosing to be authentic in the mess and real about the struggles we face. It’s about leading by example long before you tell anyone else how to live their life.

Sometimes the greatest act of leadership is simply letting the world see you for who you truly are—scars, tears, bruises, moles, and all— and choosing to serve in whatever way you can.

So today, in a year of no’s, in a season where no part of me feels like a leader, I’m choosing one very important yes. I am saying yes to all of you, to showing up in these words when almost nothing is going right. I’m saying yes to this post in hopes that we can all just freaking stop.

  • Stop pretending.
  • Stop hiding.
  • Stop showering the power-hungry with admiration and start elevating the servant leaders among us.
  • Stop running from the tension of life’s inevitable pain and just be ourselves before the world and before God.

If you want to find the true leaders in your church, turn around. They’re there, crying in the back row, probably hoping you never notice them.

They are ones that fully grasp what it means to pick up their cross and follow Jesus.

They are the real leaders among us; let’s all be more like them.



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About Sam

in love with all things Jesus, music, adventure, writing, teaching, laughter, running, friendship. Founder of recklesslyalive.com.

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  1. A thought provoking message. As always I admire your honesty and tenacity. Keeping you in prayer!

    • Thanks JM! I always appreciate you and the encouragement you send me. I loved, loved, loved the “You’re Gonna Be Ok” song you sent. Talk to you soon!

  2. This is real. Your words cut to the core; your transparency reminds us that, even in all our brokenness, we’re not alone. Thank you, Sam, for who you are.

  3. I was just thinking about this today morning as I was reading about David. I think one of the reason David was such a great king and leader is that he was a shepherd first. It is that heart that looks after its flock, that looks out for the hurting ones and protects them, that comes to serve and not to be served. It’s hard to find these true leaders in today’s society that promotes everything opposite to that, though.

    I’m so sorry it’s a hard season for you, Sam. I know the Lord is doing great things in your heart as He is taking the control out of your hands and reminding it’s all in His hands. It can be so, so hard though. I’m praying for you.

    • I completely agree with you about David and I also think it’s important in that story to look at his imperfections and shortcomings. To know that everyone makes mistakes and falls short of the glory of God. Thank you for sharing this and for the encouragement. I really appreciate you!

  4. Jesus never said it would be easy. But he did say that he would always be there to be with us. Sam, you are an awesome, genuine young man, and have a great future ahead of you. In 20 years you will look back at this and see that it is a training ground, your boot camp, the time in your life that made you strong, and firm in your faith. Keep writing, keep reaching out, keep at it. You want to get that book done? Reach out to me and let me be your accountability partner.

  5. WOW!
    Turn Around

  6. Thank you for sharing your heart! God is using you in a mighty way. I see you trusting Him… turning your eyes (and ours) to Him, despite the pain, and that’s the very best thing you can do. Praying an overflowing measure of grace be with you Sam.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this. Our Americanized church culture has made it so shameful to be broken- a complete opposite message than the one Jesus shared. It’s upsetting because when we mask our brokenness, the work and weightiness of the Cross is diminished! This past year for me, my senior year of high school has been marked by hurt, mainly from church leaders. This experience has brought me closer to God but very leery of authorities in the church who seem to be acting in an unbiblical way. Your points are so necessary and true, that the greatest leaders are the ones in the back, the ones who are openly broken, the ones who are humble. How messed up we’ve made leadership in the modern church! Thank you for your honesty and convicting message. I’m praying that more will take the time to absorb this truth of Christlike servanthearted leadership.

  8. I’m sorry–I’ve had Job years, and they are awful while you’re in them. No sugar coating. I’ve been reading lately about how we tend to choose leaders based on the skills that get them the job (the ones you mention–gregariousness, confidence, etc), but those are not the skills that actually enable them to do the job. Which is why so many of our celebrity leaders and even local leaders let us down. We need to do some soul searching about what we value.

  9. Hello good Sir. Thank you for being so honest. I am having a year of yuck as well. Just know your words and your experience make a difference. I know people say this all the time but that “if just one person is affected” cliche fits here. I honestly am in my first year of marriage (of a nine year relationship) but it’s been one of the hardest years of our lives. Thank the lord our relationship is good but life is throwing curve balls left right and center. These are hitting right in the gut.

    It is times like these that you blog helps. it really does. not the read this book ones (i do enjoy those) but it’s the ones like these that let me know i’m not alone. I am 31 so we are around the same age and each post like this one i read i’m like “YUP I HEAR YA”.
    We will get through.
    Seasons are a changing and this one is no different. Thank you for your honestly and real world perspective. it helps me know there are others out there fighting the good fight with me.
    So thank you.

  10. Sam, I could lecture or tell you about my horrendous years but let’s just say, yup, I’ve been there as well. Sometimes all I could do was curl up in a ball to cry and ask God “why?” That didn’t fix anything but it did allow me to focus on whether I was willing to depend on sight or faith. Faith won. Valleys of shadows fade but strengthen my character. Speak your heart. Sometimes it will soothe us, sometimes it will soothe you and sometimes it will give God a chance to hear and send help. One step, minute, inch…. at a time. It is not instant gratification or a sprint, it is a joint adventurous marathon where we each have to reach a “hand” out to help conquer the next obstacle. Onward to the finish line, sometimes the best advice is: don’t forget to look up and breathe on occasion.

  11. Thanks for your words of authenticity and honesty. Life can suck, is messy, is hard. In it with you friend.

  12. I am singing God’s praises for your honesty and vulnerability. For years I felt so defeated because I thought I was the only one struggling, hurting, failing in my walk with the Lord. It wasn’t until I started reading whole books of the Bible that God opened my eyes to the frailty of the human heart and gave me a deeper insight into the lives of David, Job, Moses, etc. These frail men were considered heroes of the faith. My understanding was opened to the reality of their fallen nature, my fallen nature, all of mankind’s, and the struggles that we face as a result.

    But there was another hurdle to cross. I was tricked into thinking that I could read about great spiritual victories, heroes of the faith, deep spiritual truths and that was enough. I had it in my head but was I truly changed? It wasn’t until I faced the dark hours of questioning, struggling, seeking, and agonizing that God did His work in my life. How freeing it was to get insight into what God wants me to understand and then began conforming my life into the image of His precious Son, the Lord Jesus. I am thankful for the journey that led me to taking up my cross and following Him instead of the “I have it all together” image the world wants me to believe. What relief there is in knowing that it is in the midst of struggles, failures, and weakness that God is helping me to understand and walk in the truth that I have read in His Word, a blog post, or favorite book. I should not have been surprised to find out that I needed to be exercised in those truths for them to become the fabric of my being. I call it “living life in the trenches.” Life in the trenches is painful, daily, costly, but I wouldn’t trade if for anything in the world for it is the only way to be truly alive in Him and eventually reaps the peaceable fruit of righteousness. A small price to pay for the renewing of my mind.

    Press on young man! Cry out to Him! Cry out to others! Be genuine! And always remember, He will see you through. You are in my prayers.

  13. Hey Sam

    What a privilege it is to read a post brimming with truth and life. I seldom see the focus go to the back of the room where faith is fresh from frightened adventurous hearts or the broken servant on their last leg, starving from lack of encouragement, pushes through to the next God-given task. I’m convinced you have your finger on the pulse of the Holy Spirit to tell it how it is.

    I agree with you 100%, the Institute of ‘church’ has become a Saul and despite the mess it has become, God has been busily growing His David’s in their midst. He has never been interested in appearance or ability, it has always been the heart that impresses God.

    At the back of the line where it’s at its darkest, the faithful are getting their hands dirty serving with passion not caring if anyone can see them. But someone is watching and they are the ones He will bless and raise to the front. The first will be last and the last shall be the first; humility will break His doors down every time.

    We are going to witness a shift in church thinking like never before; the future holds a lot of pain but people like yourself are on the other side and it will be this new breed He will work with.

    I am so inspired by what you are saying here in this post, to you and many others religion is not good enough, you want more and He will give it.

    Love your work

    Tony C