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This blog post is Part 1 of a series entitled, "(re)born to Lead" by Pastor Jeffrey Dean Smith of Donelson First in Nashville, TN. 

Message Date: October 2, 2022

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At the age of 20, he became a King. He was young though he led like one who had been in his prime for many, many years. He was fearless. He had never been defeated in battle.  

His name was Alexander.  

Over 2,000 years ago, Alexander was in battle marching his troops through the Persian desert. It was hot, desolate, and dry. With 30,000 soldiers traveling, you would imagine, eventually, these men were in need of life’s greatest necessity – water.   Alexander, seeing the need to quickly find water or his soldiers would all die, sent a small group of men off in search of water. The remaining soldiers set up camp and waited. After searching and searching, these men found water. However, the problem would be transporting the water back to quench the thirst of 30,000+ soldiers in the desert. So the decision was made for the soldiers to stay at the water’s edge and to send a few back to lead the remaining troops safely to this water. One soldier dipped his helmet into the water, filled it the best he could, and carefully carried the helmet back to where the troops were camped. He approached King Alexander and proudly proclaimed, “My King we have found water!” The soldier proceeded to hand Alexander the helmet believing that the king would find the water refreshing and the soldier would be commended for his ability to carry this water all the way across the desert to his great king.  

It would be at this moment, in front of 30,000 thirsty men, where Alexander lifted the helmet in the sky, and did the UNTHINKABLE! Alexander proclaimed, “If you can’t drink, neither will I.” And Alexander proceeded to turn the helmet upside down and to pour the water out…   This demonstration of leadership was how King Alexander truly became - Alexander the Great.  

When we think of great leaders, we often envision this-very-dynamic - - one person, one moment, and one unthinkable conclusion.  

What if I were to tell you that, though yes, such people in such moments displayed tremendous leadership, these moments in many ways have aided a false narrative we each hold as to what makes for a truly great leader.  

What if, instead, I were to tell you that YOU, YES YOU, have within you the same ability to display remarkable leadership & to do the unthinkable with your life & in the lives of others!  

To be a Godly leader, does require one extremely critical reality. And today we begin our discussion here.

What are some things of which you can’t have one without the other?

July 4th + Fireworks

Sundays + Cinco Chips + Salsa

Fall Saturdays + College Football

Spaghetti + Meatballs

DF Mason Jar + Iced Tea

Peanut Butter + Jelly

Popcorn + Movies

Tiger Woods + Golf

Track + Field

California + Sunshine

Arkansas Razorbacks + Disappointment  

Here’s a critical one you can’t have without the other:

As it relates to my influence as a Christ-follower, I can’t be a true: Leader without + God in the mix!  

What makes a great leader? Drive. Determination. Accountability. Passion. Courage. Fearlessness. Humility. Endurance.   Yes, all of these attributes can contribute to one becoming a truly great leader.  

Who do you think of when you think of a great leader?

Moses – standing in front of the Red Sea as 1M+ Israelites appear to be cornered at the water’s edge awaiting their sure death by the enclosing Egyptian Army? Not a moment to soon, Moses parts the water and God’s people cross on dry ground safely to the other side. 

Young David – who, though anointed to be Israel’s next King, had to go into hiding running for his very life because King Saul wanted him dead. And at the moment, while in a cave, David could have killed the King. He instead sparred his life in reverence to Saul & to the Lord.  

To be a leader doesn’t require a large audience nor a big stage nor one to become a household name.  

It has been said: Leaders are not born. They are made. I would agree with this. However…   

I would say this is a more accurate statement for the one who chooses to live the true life for which God intends:

Godly leaders are not born. Goldy leaders are (re)born. 

1 Peter 1:23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.  

2 Corinthians 5:17  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!    

I want to ask you a question, but before asking this question, I have 2 pre-requisite questions.

Do I believe the Bible to be fully true?

Do I believe that everything Jesus said is true?  

I hope that you answered “Yes!” to both of these pre-requisite questions. Okay…hold on to these answers as you answer this next question:   

Who is the greatest leader to have ever walked this planet?

Jesus Christ.  

So…if you believe that the Bible is fully true, and if you believe that everything Jesus said is true, AND if you also believe that Jesus Christ is the greatest leader to have ever walked the planet, then hold firmly to these answers as you read this next statement from Jesus:  

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. John 14:12-14  

So, let’s put all of this together: 

I believe the Bible to be fully true. I believe everything Jesus said is true. I believe Jesus is the greatest leader to have ever walked the planet. I believe Jesus said I can do everything that he did and… I believe Jesus said I can do even greater things than he did! Therefore…   I must also believe that I have within me the ability to be the greatest leader among leaders who has ever walked this planet.  

Do you believe this about yourself?

Look…these are not my words! This is what scripture is telling us! I’m just connecting the dots for us.  

You are probably thinking: “Yes, Jeffrey, theoretically this is true. But is it really true about me?” I asked a friend to answer these exact questions this week and he said, “Yes Jeffrey, I see what you’re saying, but just because you say it and just because I read it doesn’t mean that I have the ability to do it. After all, He is Jesus, and I am not!”  

Maybe you feel this way too. You see what scripture says and you read what Jesus stated and you even believe scripture to be true! But…in your mind, you also think: “ I could never be that kind of leader. I could never be the leader anywhere close to who Jesus was!”  

So, if you are thinking this way, could it be that this instead is actually true:

I do not think scripture is true. I do not think that Jesus spoke the truth. I do not think I can do as Jesus did. Therefore, it must be true that I can never be as great a leader as Jesus!  

Look church, it’s either one or the other! Both can’t be true. Either we take God at His Word, or we don’t!  

Now…in full disclosure…I’ve struggled with this week as well. I’ve thought, “There’s no way I can be anywhere close to the leader Jesus was when He walked the planet!” But when I look at His words, and I do believe them to be true, I come to the conclusion that my struggle with this reality has everything to do with who I’ve been. You see I know my past. And all the things I’ve done. I know there have been times when I haven’t led like Jesus. Guys, this is why I believe the statement is so important:

Becoming a leader like Jesus is less about who I’ve been and has everything to do with who I am becoming.  

You see as Christians… We often view our faith through the lens of who we’ve been, rather than who we can become. This is why we must begin believing:

Faith is less about what I think I can do and more about placing my faith in what He can do through me.  

Over the next 7 weeks, I want to show you how you can take God at His Word and become the (re) born leader He already has empowered you to be.    

As we often do when I begin a new series here at Donelson First, I again want to offer you several goals for the series. We will work through these as we move forward this fall.  

The goals of (re)born to Lead series in my life:

Learn to fully take God at His Word.

Understand what it means to be (re)born.

If I have never made the decision to be (re)born, do so.

Embrace God’s anointing on my life to be the leader He desires.

Develop a personal strategy to lead others to embrace God’s anointing on their life.  

It’s almost unthinkable to the world that being a great leader is something we each can become. It’s almost unthinkable to the world that being a great leader doesn’t require fame or popularity. It’s almost unthinkable to the world that being a great leader has anything to do with our Creator.   

I need to know this, believe this, claim this, and live this truth:  

As a (re)born Christian, I have within me the ability to be a great leader who can accomplish the unthinkable and inspire others to do the same.  

You see, within every born-again Christian, there is a God-honored, God-provided, God-anointed ability to lead.  

I want to offer you an example of one such man in the Bible...  

There is a man in the NT, whom God uses to do exactly this – a man who literally changed the world…and has most likely changed your life for the better, too.  

This leader led a small group of early Christians to do the unthinkable. His name was Paul.

Paul was actually born Saul. He was born in Tarsus in Cilicia around AD 1–5 in a province in the southeastern corner of modern-day Tarsus. Tarsus is in south-central Turkey, about 12 miles inland from the Mediterranean. Saul was of Benjamite lineage and Hebrew ancestry. We know that his parents were Pharisees - - fervent Jewish nationalists who adhered strictly to the Law of Moses—who sought to protect their children from “contamination” from the Gentiles. Anything Greek would have been despised in Saul’s household, yet he could speak Greek and Latin. His household would have spoken Aramaic, a derivative of Hebrew, which was the official language of Judea. Saul’s family were Roman citizens but viewed Jerusalem as a truly sacred and holy city. At age thirteen Saul was sent to Judea to learn from a rabbi named Gamaliel (goo-may-LEE-ul).

His education would continue for 5-6 years as Saul learned such things as dissecting Scripture. It was during this time that he developed a question-and-answer style of teaching known in ancient times as “diatribe.” Saul went on to become a lawyer, and all signs pointed to his becoming a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court of 71. Saul was zealous for his faith, and this faith did not allow for compromise. It is this zeal that led Saul down the path of religious extremism.   

Had Paul remained Saul, he would have most likely continued to be given privileges by the leaders of the Roman government. He would have been given access and accommodations to many of the places to which he traveled, and he would have continued his rampage of persecuting Christians. But eventually, he would die, and his name would have most likely been forgotten.  

Instead, a leader was (re) born and the unthinkable happened!  

Acts 9:1-19

Wow! The Christian killer is born again. And then he does the unthinkable:

Acts 9:20

After Saul surrendered his life to Jesus Christ, he quickly began to preach “Jesus saves!”  

Saul had influence.  

But it was only after he was (re)born that he became the true leader that to this very day he has remained! 

Some 2,000+ years after his time on earth, the words he wrote are still being read, quoted, preached, studied, and applied to countless lives all around the world.  

Acts 9:21-31  

The Christian killer has now done the unthinkable to those who once knew him best and to those who feared him most!  

His willingness to be used by God set into motion actions that resulted in the overarching spread of the New Testament.

Within every (re) born Christian is the ability to lead others to do the unthinkable.  

As quickly as Saul was converted, it was as if a switch flipped in his life. He didn’t hesitate. He didn’t because he didn’t expect anything of himself other than seizing the opportunity to go and to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the world.  

Man, do we do the same? I want to do the same! Do you?  

Do I see my life as a Christian in such a way? Do I actively pursue opportunities to preach the gospel message to the world? Do I expect God to use me to do the unthinkable?  

Saul did! This tells me…I should too!  

A critical part of the story is the impressive move on the part of this man named Ananias who chose to do the UNTHINKABLE.

  • We never hear from him again in Scripture.
  • He fearlessly walks into a house where the world’s most powerful Christian killer is staying.  

Acts 2:17: “placed his hands on Saul!”  

We see how critical his display of leadership was in the conversion of Saul.  

I wonder what UNTHINKABLE God might be asking of you as He calls you to moments of great leadership? 

Leaders aren’t merely great because they have power and prestige. Leaders are great because they allow God to use them for something bigger than themselves…for something unthinkable.  

And look at the result of what Saul chose to do:

Acts 9:31 

A true leader leads and such leading empowers another to lead. That leader then hits repeat and chooses to empower the life of another. The end result is that there is no end result. True leadership is a constant pay-it-forward.  

Saul would change his name. Paul would go on to write at least 13 books of the NT. Over the remainder of his life, he would be hunted, arrested, imprisoned, beaten, and eventually martyred.  

Paul wrote some extremely challenging and life-altering letters to the New Testament church and to its leaders. There was never a time during the life of Paul after his conversion to Jesus when Christians were not being persecuted. Though the church did experience seasons of peace, Christians everywhere continued to die for their faith.  

Despite these overwhelming obstacles and challenges for the Church and for Paul personally, Paul would become the greatest spiritual leader other than Jesus Christ to ever live.  

He inspired Christians to do the unthinkable. He called them to stay the course, to not grow weary, to never give up, to go the distance, to have endurance, to abandon all, and to be willing to even die for the sake of Jesus Christ.   This is why Paul could make such statements as these:      

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10  

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9    

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:12-13  

Paul inspired Christians, who at the time of such writings were being arrested, beaten, tortured, and killed, to do the unthinkable.  

But take note: Paul would have never become the leader he did had it not been for being (re)born.  

I am of the belief the same is true for you and for me.  

Paul became a true leader not because he was made to lead, but because he was (re)born to lead.  

So, how do you and I do the same? How can we choose to live such a life as a Christian that is willing to do the unthinkable for the sake of Christ? Well, this will be our study this fall.

The series: (re)born to lead. Principles for living the unthinkable life.  

The year was 1775 when young George Washington was elected as Major General and Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. A hero of the American Revolution, Washington is acclaimed for his daring surprise attack on British-aligned mercenaries on Christmas evening in 1776.  

Led by Washington himself, the Continental Army triumphed by crossing the icy Delaware River and attacking the enemy camp in Trenton, New Jersey.  

It would still be a few more years, but in October 1781, British General Charles Cornwallis surrendered in Yorktown, Virginia, sealing the defeat of the world’s most powerful nation.  

The thirteen colonies were free and on September 17, 1787, the colonies adopted the U.S. Constitution to “form a more perfect union.”  

But did you know, at the end of the American Revolution, the greatest hero of the war did the unthinkable? You see, after almost every previous battle on the planet, the winning hero would typically assume the role of a dictator. After all, George Washington’s much smaller and less experienced Army had just defeated the most powerful man and Army on the planet – the King and nation of England. However, rather than take his rightful place as the new “leader” of America, he instead returned the Army to the United States Congress and then he…returned to civilian life.  

Washington shocked the world and, on that day, proved to truly be the greatest leader on the planet. Of course, soon thereafter he would in fact be chosen as America’s first true Commander-in-Chief.  

What most don’t know is that we have been given a very unique inside look into the spiritual life of one of our nations, if not our planets, greatest godly leaders. While a young soldier, George Washington recorded his thoughts and prayers in a journal consisting of 24 pages in his own handwriting in his personal field notebook.  

Now there have been countless people who have surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ and been reborn. But I dare say there are probably few people who, at that moment of salvation, penned the very prayer they prayed asking Jesus to be their savior. But America’s first president did exactly this and it is recorded on page 1 of this 24-page book, and I close with this:

Sunday Morning…. Almighty God, and most merciful Father, who didst command the children of Israel to offer a daily sacrifice to Thee, that nearby they might glorify and praise Thee for thy protection both night and day. Receive O Lord, my morning sacrifice which I now offer up today. I yield my life humbly to Thee. Let my heart, therefore gracious God, be so affected with the glory and majesty of Thee, that I might not do mine own will, but that I would wait on the Thee as I follow the duties Thou dost require of me. I ask Thee that all of my sins be forgiven and that they be removed as far as the east is from the west. Would You accept me as a child of Yours, that You would save me by the grace of Jesus Christ.  

George Washington Sunday Morning, Personal Prayer Book  

It would be just three days later that, our soon-to-be President, would write:

Wednesday Morning… I now realize it is impossible to lead and to govern well the world without being born again of Jesus Christ.

George Washington Wednesday Morning, Personal Prayer Book

This great leader did not know what was to come with his life. But he did understand, in order to lead like Jesus, it would be required of him to be (re)born. Oh, that each of us would realize the same, and do as young George Washington, surrendering all to Jesus Christ.   


Jeffrey Dean Smith is a husband, father to Bailey & Brynnan, author, and the Senior Pastor at Donelson First in Nashville, TN. If you are in Music City, meet Jeffrey and enjoy iced tea on the front lawn each Sunday at 10:30a.