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Leadership for the Long Haul

Today’s blog post is from SLU alum, Justin Miller. Justin is the co-founder and CEO of CARE for AIDS, a ministry that works to empower people to live a life beyond AIDS. To learn more about the work of CARE for AIDS, visit, or to learn more from Justin and his leadership content, visit

When I was in high school, I heard Dr. Jay say many times, “It is time for the boy to sit down and the man to stand up.” For the first time, I believed I was called and capable to lead at a young age, and God gave me an assignment much sooner than I ever expected.

At 18 years old, I was confronted with the HIV epidemic—it was destroying lives, families, and communities around the world, and I knew the Church needed to act. Unfortunately, the level of ignorance about and indifference towards this issue was so high among the American church. So, I decided that I needed to see the HIV epidemic firsthand and meet those people closest to the crisis. That decision led me to Kenya to film a documentary.

Through that trip, I met mothers and fathers who were bearing the shame of this disease and the fear of what would happen if they died and orphaned their children. I saw an opportunity, and felt a responsibility, to team up with two Kenyan leaders to call the Church to a higher level of compassion for and engagement with this group of people. We quickly realized that the Kenyan church was the perfect system to deliver life-saving care to those who needed it most. A few months after that first trip, my co-founders and I officially launched a ministry called CARE for AIDS. We began providing services like counseling, job training, and medical support— all through the local African church. These services empower HIV+ parents to live a long life and prevent their children from being orphaned. Now, ten years later, we are operating 50 centers across East Africa. CARE for AIDS has almost 11,000 graduates of the program with over 32,000 orphans prevented and more than 2,600 salvations.

Eugene Peterson describes the Christian life as “a long obedience in the same direction.” I believe that statement also reflects the nature of our leadership journey. Alongside God’s unmerited favor on our work, I attribute the success of CARE for AIDS to an unrelenting force applied in the same direction over ten years. We were clearly not an overnight success, nor did we have a breakthrough moment that catapulted us forward. We simply had the unshakeable belief of what could and should be true and put in the faithful, gritty work to make that vision a reality.

So, how do you run the race well?

How do you live out this long obedience when everything in our world entices us to take a shortcut?

How do we ensure that we don’t lose focus, lose heart, or lose steam in pursuit of these dreams?

I believe there are three main practices that every leader can implement that will help them lead well for the long haul:

  1. Set your destination. I’ll never forget listening to Dr. Jay tell the story about the whales who beached themselves on the coast of California. The headline the next day read, “Giants perish while chasing minnows.” Whether it’s personally or organizationally, I never want to lose sight of the big dream in front of me and follow diversions that promise ease, excitement, or eminence at the expense of long-term impact. Get fanatical about defining your preferred future, mapping out how to get there, and saying “no” to 95% of the good opportunities that come your way so you can make space for the work that will get you where you need to go.
  2. Set your expectations. Leadership is not for the faint of heart. The journey is slow and arduous. Much like our faith, our leadership is built through the small, ordinary, mundane tasks. As Dr. Jay always says, “Big doors of opportunity swing on small hinges of obedience.” Leadership is a high calling, but it means putting aside your pride in favor of the people and purpose that God has called you to serve. There will be mountaintop moments, but you will be largely laboring in the valleys to get up the next mountain. It may not be an easy journey, but it is one you should choose every time because it brings you closer to God than you could imagine.
  3. Set your pace. Leadership is a marathon, not a sprint. The path of leadership is littered with the disillusioned, drained, and depressed because they burned out. We believe we are earning favor with God and others by exhausting ourselves for a cause. But, God cares more about our hearts being fully surrendered to him, and he cannot use us if we are sick, stressed, or self-reliant. We must prioritize our own physical, spiritual, mental, and relational health, so we can be fit to lead for the long run.

My story with CARE for AIDS may never have started, nor survived, had it not been for the investment of SLU. As you count the costs of leadership, ask yourself,

Do you have a clear picture of the future, accurate expectations, and a sustainable pace?

Most importantly, do you have an unwavering confidence that you are not defined by what you do, but by whose you are?

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