Have you given thought to how you might practice and improve your leadership skills during the season of Advent? Think about it. Advent provides an excellent opportunity to focus on and improve certain aspects of your leadership that you might not otherwise choose to improve.

So, as you enter this Advent season, I challenge you to take advantage of the opportunity to grow and improve as a leader. Start by rethinking the coming of Jesus by answering these two questions, “What is Advent? and “What does Advent have to do with being a Christ-centered leader?”

What is Advent?

It is relatively simple to answer the question “What is Advent?” In the early church, Advent began with watching and waiting for Jesus to return. Remember, from the Acts of the Apostles, when Jesus ascended, the message to his followers was, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.”

As the centuries passed and the church grew weary of waiting, Advent became preparing for the birth of Jesus. So, there were seemingly two advents, the celebration of his first coming, Jesus born in Bethlehem, and the preparation for his second coming, Jesus who will return someday.

Over the years, Advent has become more of a focus on the birth of Jesus, with one exception. The first Sunday in Advent focuses upon what is known as “the second coming” of Jesus.

Christ-Centered Leaders & Advent

It is a little more complicated to answer the question “What does Advent have to do with being a Christ-centered leader?” The answer depends on your understanding and focus on being a leader.

Advent provides an opportunity to practice key disciplines in your Christian living. Beyond the energy-draining activities of preparing for Christmas and trying to resist the pressure to sing Christmas carols before Christmas arrives, Advent provides you with the time and space to practice the discipline of waiting, particularly the discipline of waiting in hope. Advent gives you the opportunity to model waiting as a leader and to participate in waiting as a member of the community of faith.

Waiting is a Challenge

In our culture, waiting is a challenge. Most of us are not very good at it. We live in a time when we want what we want when we want it. And we want it on our own terms, exactly the way we perceive it. We have not had training in waiting. There are no seminary courses that teach waiting. There are no church programs to provide steps on learning to wait. Yet waiting is a necessary aspect of life and is a valued characteristic of Christ-centered leaders.

So, how do you lead others in something you are not very good at yourself? Well, because most of us learn waiting either by experience or by practicing it as a spiritual discipline, let’s take advantage of the opportunity to rethink the coming of Jesus and the practice of waiting.

To help you focus, take a few minutes to read this scripture, Mark 13:24-37,  reflect upon it from the context in which it was written, respond to it by thinking about the implications of its truth, and return at the end of the day to focus upon how the scripture came to life for you. This particular practice will help you rethink the coming of Jesus as well as assist you in becoming the Christ-centered leader needed at this time. 

Read Mark 13:24-37

24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 “Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels and gather the elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he[b] is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert,[c] for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake, for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening or at midnight or at cockcrow or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Reflect

The good news according to Mark is, that God sent Jesus to oppose the evil, pain, and suffering of the world. He wrote his good news during a time when the followers of Jesus were known as insurrectionists, enemies of the government. So, the followers of Jesus were under great persecution. 

Mark wrote to give his people hope. Because there was a danger in writing the truth about the government and about the persecution, he used figurative language to get his message out. He used imagery to express the inexpressible. He wanted his people who were experiencing the evils of hate and persecution, that there was hope.  

Mark’s Message for Advent

It is difficult for us today to grasp the rich meaning of Mark’s message.  Too many people get caught up in a desperate attempt to know the future, so they focus more on the imagery and miss the point of the hope. They try to predict the future or confuse the imagery with reality. The truth of the scripture is, in the midst of pain, suffering, and evil, there is hope of deliverance.  

So, Mark’s story is not to be taken literally. It is not a travel guide into the future, but an assurance that despite all signs to the contrary, all the hurt, chaos, wars, separation, and uncertainty, there is hope. Hope in the living God we know in and through Jesus.

The Context of Hope

Let’s put Mark into context. The world as his people knew it was coming apart. It was like the sun was not shining. There was darkness. Even the darkness was darker than usual. The situation was so bad it was like the stars falling from heaven because even the powers of heaven were being shaken. The situations the people were facing were indescribable except for imagery and metaphors. 

The imagery he used helped put the situations and circumstances in which they were living in the context of hope. The shock of the coming of Jesus was not destruction. At the heart of Mark’s story is hope. Mark understood that God sent Jesus to oppose the suffering, pain, and evil in the world.

God’s offer of a New World

At the heart of Mark’s story is the shattering of the shapes of oppression, injustice, and evil that keep us from living the way God has intended for us to live. It is not a “business as usual” festival of things that make us feel warm and fuzzy. It is not an innocent baby who comes gently to fit into our preconceived world. Instead, it is both a welcomed prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus,” and it is a dreaded experience because it disrupts our comfort and convenience. 

With the coming of Jesus, there is a growing awareness that this world is not the one God has in mind for us. God is offering us a new world shaped according to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. God is working on a world precisely for those who are ready and able to relinquish the old world. Part of preparing for the coming of Jesus is to acknowledge our participation in the darkness and despair of the old world so we can be embraced by the light and hope of the new one. Part of our preparation is to wait for the coming of the One who brings the light and hope of new life. 

The Coming of Jesus

To experience and receive God’s Advent, we have to rethink the coming of Jesus. That means that the coming of Jesus shatters our preconceived notions, our preferences, and our participation in the hate, lust, greed that leads to racism, crime, war and a thousand other evils. By rethinking the coming of Jesus, we focus upon him who has come to oppose the evil, pain and suffering of this world. Jesus is our hope!

The coming of Jesus meets you precisely where your hurt and hope meet. The question is, are you bold enough to be honest with yourself and with the people around you? Are you ready and open for the new life he brings? Have you experienced hope in and through Jesus for whom you are waiting? Has God’s grace led you to trust Jesus enough to relinquish the old world and to receive the new one?   

A Promise from God

The new world is a promise from God. It is not a domesticated political agenda or some form of a doctrine of progress. God does not provide happy endings for the futures we are engineering. God provides a future beyond our knowledge and control, and not even the angels in heaven know the hour of its coming. 

But even with this caution against wanting to know too much, we are still left with too little. We still have the question of how to hope in the meantime when nothing ever happens. And that is why the writer of Mark remembered the other word which Jesus said. This word was a parable about a man who went on a trip and left his servants to manage the house while he was gone. That, of course, is a description of the situation of the church, left in charge of the house while the Master is absent. 

Be on the Lookout

What Jesus said about the servants is also true of the church: we need constantly to be on the lookout. The house can never be in disarray, because, as Jesus stated it, “You do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning – lest he come suddenly and find you asleep” (Mark 13:35-36). 

Mark is pointing out something significant here. The master could come “in the evening,” and, in the very next chapter, he tells us that “when it was evening” Jesus ate his last meal with the disciples, and told them, “one of you will betray me.” 

The master could come “at midnight,” and Mark records that, later that night, the disciples went with Jesus to Gethsemane. While Jesus prayed his cry of anguish, the disciples, no doubt weary of waiting, slept. Jesus asked them, “Could you not watch one hour?” 

Maybe the master will come “at cockcrow,” and Peter turned to the accusing maid with a curse and a denial, “I do not know this man.” The rooster crowed. 

Maybe the coming of the master will be “in the morning,” and “as soon as it was morning,” Jesus was bound and led away to his trial and to his death. 

The Promise of God’s Future

Mark has woven into the fabric of his gospel the possibility that every moment of the day is already alive with the promise of God’s future. As we look toward the horizon for the coming of Jesus, we know that each passing moment is filled with the potential for faith or denial, decision or tragedy, hope or despair. 

Those who trust the promise are able to see signs of its coming all around them. Those who believe that, in God’s good time, something is about to happen, also know that, even now, something is happening. 

Wait

Waiting is so important that Mark wrote three times to wait. Using the word “watch” he is instructing his followers to “wait”: “Take heed, watch” (verse 33). “Watch therefore” (verse 35). And “watch” (verse 37). To watch is “to shake off sleep” which implies being awake, alert, and prepared. It suggests staying aware of your actions, thoughts, and surroundings, so you can recognize Jesus in your everyday relationships and interactions with people. 

The point is clear. Although Jesus will come at a time known only to God, he will surely come, and no amount of delay or suffering we experience while waiting should dissuade us from that fact. The expectation of the second coming should keep us alert, and faithful to being who God has created us to be.

The question is, “Where have you seen Jesus this week?” 

Respond 

Advent is when you become a leader in waiting. You have the opportunity to give yourself the space to grow in faith as you keep watch for Jesus. When you have waited for God in the darkest and most difficult moments of your life, you can effectively model for others the spiritual discipline of waiting. It is only when you have stood still waiting for God’s transforming love that you not only have the power to face and address evil, pain, and suffering, but you develop the inner authority to ask others to do the same.

It is as you wait, trusting God’s leading, that you experience the grace to step out in faith and to lead with courageous action. As you learn to wait on God, God provides clear direction. It is at that point that you have the courage to act when the time is right. Christ-centered leadership is about knowing when to wait and when to act.

So, let’s be clear regarding waiting. Waiting is more than:

Having patience. 

Although patience is a virtue and one of the fruits of the spirit, waiting is different than having patience. Waiting is a spiritual discipline and strength that grows out of a deep inner peace given by God’s presence to those who trust God. By learning to wait upon God’s direction, Christ-centered leaders will produce loving, forgiving, generous attitudes toward others, but the purpose of waiting is to act courageously in God’s time.

Being tolerant.

Although tolerance is the ability or willingness to accept feelings, habits, beliefs, or behaviors that are different from your own, waiting is different than being tolerant.  Waiting is a spiritual discipline and strength that grows out of your convictions of trust and obedience in response to God’s grace and is not a reaction to the beliefs and behaviors of others. By learning to wait, Christ-centered leaders learn to accept opinions and behaviors of different people, but the purpose of waiting is to respond courageously in God’s time.

The Meaning of Waiting

Maybe this will help put meaning and face to waiting. Sue Monk Kidd tells a story about her daughter being the Bethlehem star one year in a Christmas play. After her first rehearsal, her daughter burst through the door with her costume, a five-pointed star lined in shiny gold tinsel. It was designed to drape over her like a sandwich board.

Sue asked her daughter, “What exactly will you be doing in the play?” Her daughter answered, “I just stand there and shine.” 

Shine

Jesus’ disciples were concerned about the future and their part in it. Jesus wanted them to know that their role was to stay behind and shine. But they would not be alone. He would be with them. Christ-centered leaders learn to shine while waiting. So, you work while waiting. You live as God has created you to live while waiting. 

Once John Wesley was asked what he would do if he knew this was his last day on earth. He replied, “At 4:00, I would have some tea. At 6:00, I would visit Mrs. Brown in the hospital. Then at 7:30, I would conduct a mid-week prayer service. At 10:00, I would go to bed and would wake up in glory.”

When Martin Luther was asked what he would do on the day of Jesus’ return, he said he would go out and plant a tree. Mark tells us that Jesus expects each of us to be about our work so that when he comes, he will find us faithfully taking care of the world.

The Coming of Jesus

Some years ago, a tourist visited the Castle Villa Asconti along the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy. The old gardener opened the gates and the visitor stepped into the garden, which was perfectly kept. The visitor asked when the owner was last there. The gardener replied, “Twelve years ago.”

“Does he ever write?” “No,” was the answer.

“Where do you get your instructions?” The gardener answered, “From his agent in Milan.”

“Does the master ever come?” “No,” was the reply.

“But you keep the grounds as though your master was coming back tomorrow.” The old gardener quickly replied, “Today, sir, today.” 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. Take a few moments to reflect on the following questions. They are designed to lead you into the waiting room of your soul. This is where you wait for God to revive you, to restore you, and to make you new. This is the place where you wait for God to come to you in ways you can see and know.

Where are you longing for God to enter your life with love, hope, and peace? In the words of Mark, where do you long for God to “shake the heavens” and to do something that you do not expect? What relationships do you desire to be restored? In what parts of your life do you need a tender shepherd to lead you and to care for you?

Where is the place in your ministry where you need to be “strengthened to the end” by the presence of God revealed to you in some new way?

Give God thanks for the day and for the ways God has shown up in your life. With whom do you need to celebrate the hope you have experienced?   

The words “Do to others as you would have them do to you” are known as the “Golden Rule.” With those words, Jesus is giving direction on how to actively follow him and is giving us a clue to what it means to be a Christ-centered leader. 

As a follower of Jesus, you take the initiative to love others the way you want to be loved. People pay attention to who you are, what you say, and how you behave. As a Christ-centered leader, your words and actions shape the reality of the people who are entrusted to your care. So, you model for them the “Golden Rule.” To “do to others as you would have them do to you” is a primary action on your part as a leader. 

Love and Truth

With that in mind, people are watching you on how to respond to the challenges of communicating love and truth in the midst of cultural changes. They are watching to discover just how they should be living their lives in relationship to the people around them. 

One area people want and need you to be their leader is around social media. As human beings, we need connection and companionship with one another to be healthy and to thrive in life. 

The Strength of Our Connections

The strength of our connections has a huge impact on our emotional and spiritual health, as well as our witness to God’s love in everyday relationships. Being socially connected to others eases stress, anxiety, and depression. It also boosts self-worth, provides comfort and joy, as well as prevents loneliness. Social media has begun to serve as a major connection for many people you serve. 

Just as social media can be a positive influence in developing relationships, it can also be a negative influence. We are living in a time when our use of social media has elevated loud, intense, and conflicting voices. Instead of helping build stronger and more healthy connections, the disciplined use of social media has provided a false sense of security that leads to the erosion of relationships. Lacking strong social connections can pose a serious risk to who you are as a follower of Jesus.

So, the question is, how do you model “do to others as you would have them do to you” in a culture that supports and propagates the extreme voices that are causing harm and division?

Let’s look at the “Golden Rule” for guidance.

Read Matthew 7:12 

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” 

Reflect

These words, known as the “Golden Rule” are Jesus’ words in response to, “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asked for bread, would give a stone? Or if the child asked for a fish, would give a snake? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” 

In essence, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you,” Jesus is teaching what God wants to see in our lives. What God wants is initiated by the things God has already done for us. Said another way, God is doing for us what God wants us to do. According to William Barclay, this is the high point of the Sermon on the Mount. 

The Golden Rule in Positive and Negative Form

In history, there are negative parallels to this statement. Statements like, “Whatever angers you when you suffer at the hands of others, do not do to others” (Athenian in the fourth century B.C.), or “Whatever is displeasing to you do not do to your neighbor” (Hillel), or “What thou thyself hatest, to no man do” (Tobit 4:16). There are negative parallels found in other religions like Buddhism and Confucianism. Confucious said, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” 

But Jesus placed this teaching in a positive form. He made it a model for action for his followers. “…you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you…” This is the fulfillment of the will of God as revealed by the prophets in the Old Testament. 

A Focus on Love and Relationship

Here is what is important. The positive form of the golden rule differs from the negative form. When you put it in a negative form, you are taking love and relationships out of the teaching. To be who God has created you to be, you take the initiative to love, to do good, and to care for the well-being of the people around you. 

When you put it in a negative form the teaching becomes a rule not to do certain things like not hurt others. It means not developing relationships with people with whom you disagree or see the world differently than you do. In other words, it is a contradiction to God’s goodness to just not do something. 

When the teaching is lived positively, you actively do to others what you want them to do to you. As a Jesus follower, you love with the love of God you have experienced in Jesus. You forgive as you want to be forgiven. Praise as you wish to be praised. You understand as you want to be understood. 

Your Faithful Response

On the one hand, this makes life more complicated. On the other hand, it is your faithful response to what God has already done for you. It means less time to spend on your own desires, activities, and preferences and more time loving others as you have been loved. 

To live this teaching to its fullest, you will have to become a new person, with a new focus, and with a new motivation. The love of God, experienced in and through Jesus becomes your new mode of operation. You begin to live doing to others what you want them to do to you. 

Living the Golden Rule

Now, what does this “Golden Rule” have to do with Christ-centered leadership? 

Healthy relationships, whether face-to-face or through online activity, reflect respectful communication. It is never okay for you to say or do anything contrary to the Golden Rule. 

Just as the spoken word has power, the written word communicated through social media has power. Whether spoken or written, words create images and assumptions. They shape the way people view one another and the world. 

Words either encourage and build up, or they discourage and tear down. Words can cultivate relationships and set the course for decision-making. They can also feed prejudices and create images of hatred and fear. All words, in whatever form communicated, shape us either in love and hope or in anger and despair.  

Your Words Matter

So, as a leader, your words make a difference. The apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian church, “…no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body, we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself. (Ephesians 4:25, The Message).

When you stand to preach or to address a group, use words that encourage and support, words that do good to the people who hear them. Put away general characterizations, innuendo, and inference. 

Before speaking or writing, not only check your references but check your motives. If it is anything other than to bring God glory or to introduce people to Jesus, put it away. Your agenda is to be the leader who models the love and care of the living God for all persons. There is no place for anything other than the good news of God’s love experienced in and through Jesus. Your words reveal your agenda. 

When You’re Speaking of Others

When you are speaking of others, use words that encourage and support them, words that do good to the people who hear them. Put away gossip. Share only information you have checked out personally, and don’t share harmful or hurtful words. Be aware of your thoughts and feelings. Speak out of your integrity. Your words reflect who you are. 

When you are speaking to others, be generous. Being aware of your own thoughts and feelings will help you speak words that give care and encouragement to others. Keep in mind that when you are hurting you hurt others. So, care for yourself and be aware of when you are projecting your pain upon others. 

Speak to others the way you want them to speak to you. Offer support and praise even in difficult situations. Keep in mind that people are doing the best they can. Give them the benefit of the doubt and offer words of support, praise, and encouragement. Put your words of care and support into action. 

Social Media and the Golden Rule

When it comes to social media, keep in mind what has been said above. Your self-awareness is even more critical regarding your words on social media. Treat others with the same respect you want for yourself. Keep in mind that it is easier to put words on a screen than it is to speak to them face to face.

Because people do not see your face or hear the inflection of your voice, your words can be misunderstood. So, take advantage of the opportunity to develop and maintain relationships with your spoken or written words. Your social media presence reveals more about you than you might want to reveal. Remember, even on social media, who you are is how you lead. 

Respond

In the midst of cultural changes, model how to adapt to the changes. Model the Golden Rule. Use “Do to others as you would have them do to you” to model:    

Relationships We all need relationships and the face-to-face company of others to be happy and healthy. Social media is not a replacement for those relationships. Model how to build and nurture meaningful relationships using social media as a means of support.  

  • Set aside time each week to interact offline with friends and family.
  • Make time to meet face-to-face with a friend. Initiate the invitation. Do unto others as you would have them do to you.
  • Don’t let social awkwardness be an excuse to bypass face-to-face meetings.
  • Invite a coworker out for lunch or ask a neighbor or classmate to join you for coffee.
  • Interact with strangers. Look up from your screen and connect with people you cross paths with at the grocery store or the coffee shop. Simply smiling or saying hello is important.

Focus

Keep your focus on Jesus. Your words are a reflection of who you are. Use social media as a way of witnessing to God’s love for you and for the people who are listening to you online.   

Gratitude

Feeling and expressing gratitude about the important things in your life can be a welcome relief to the resentment, animosity, and discontent sometimes generated by social media.

Mindfulness

Keep in mind that not everyone is as interested in your opinion as you are. Be fully engaged in the present. How might you use social media to share God’s goodness?

Have the same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus. Even though he could have…he didn’t. Take a moment to read Philippians 2:1-8:

Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: 

Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Reflection

Reflect upon the relationships that bring meaning and joy to your life. Model by expressing your gratitude on social media. As you reflect, be generous, kind, and loving. Remember to do to others what you want them to do to you.  

Jesus is teaching what God wants to see in our lives. What God wants is initiated by the things God has already done for us. Said another way, God is doing for us what God wants us to do. So, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.Even social media.

Who you are is how you lead.

Return

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. How did you use social media today? How did you use your words to “do to others as you would have them do to you?” How might you model the Golden Rule tomorrow? With whom do you need to confess your struggle to offer grace to others? With whom do you need to celebrate God’s grace for you?    

Prayer

O God, be my guiding light that I may have a clear vision for the days in which I am living. You are my wisdom, strength, and guide. In you, I find my joy and peace. You are my true goal. Only you can satisfy my soul. Help me be your love in human form. As people are learning to live by your love, use me to develop true relationships of love that bind your people together. I am grateful, O God, for your love and hope in Jesus. Amen.

What motivates and empowers you to lead in the midst of the cultural changes you are facing today? How do you move forward when friends, family, colleagues, and others seem to be losing heart, giving up, and walking away?  

There have been volumes written on what you need to do to be an effective and successful leader. There are lists of characteristics, research, and more advice than any one of us could follow in a lifetime. For the most part, it is all good and all needed. But what motivates and empowers you as a Christ-centered leader is something that cannot be reproduced or measured. As a follower of Jesus, you have been given something, someone, who assists you in imagining a better future and who provides you with the faith to move forward into that future. 

The apostle Paul wrote these words to the church in Rome, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” 

You have been given hope. Hope, not as wishful thinking, but hope as the agency to navigate the barriers and obstacles that stand in the way of God’s plan of love and peace. What is unusual about this hope is it is not something that you or any other leader can obtain. This hope is only in being found by the One who gives it.   

Read Matthew 14:22-33 

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into a boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So, Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind,[b] he became frightened, and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Reflect

Matthew tells a story of an experience that the disciples had with Jesus. The disciples are in the boat trying to make their way across the sea, but they were not getting anyway. They were rowing but the wind was blowing against them. Just before dawn, Jesus comes to them walking on the sea.

In ancient times, the sea was the place of evil. The enemy to all that was good was in the water. In this story, the water is a symbol of all the forces that are against us.

Jesus comes to the disciples on the sea. In other words, in the midst of all that is against us, God is with us. There is no power, no storm, no wind, no force in the world that God cannot conquer, no evil over which God is not superior. The message here is, there is nothing that can destroy your life because God loves and cares for you.

I am

Now, this story is not a miracle story. It is deeper than that. Jesus comes in the storm on the sea and says, “Take heart, I am.” These words are translated, “It is I” or “I am he.” What Jesus actually says is, “I am.” The name for God. God came to them in the storm in the person of Jesus.

They cannot believe it. At first, they say, “It is a ghost.”

But as Jesus gets closer, Simon Peter says to him, “Lord, if it is you” …or “if you are, tell me to come to you on the water.” These are the same words used in the wilderness by the devil, “If you are the son of God…” The words of Simon Peter are the words of the tempter. In other words, Simon Peter is putting Jesus to the test.

So, Matthew is telling us that in his attempt to put Jesus to the test, Simon Peter ends up testing himself. It is Simon Peter who does not believe. In other words, you don’t test God. Jesus got in the boat, and everything was all right. The storm was quieted, and the disciples fell to their knees and worshiped Jesus.

You are Never Alone

Matthew was telling the story to the church. It was for all the followers of Jesus, in all their little boats, in all of the storms, trying to make it alone. The disciples were never alone, but they were trying to make it alone, and they couldn’t.

The lesson in this story is, you are never alone. The church is never alone. God is with us. But we are never exempt from the temptation to try to go it alone.

So, we are all in the boat. We can give pep talks to one another. Some of us can bail while others of us will sing. But the truth is that without trust in God, we are not going to make it to shore. But, if we trust God, “we are more than conquerors through him who loves us… and neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, not things to come, nor power, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

So, what does that story have to do with being found or with leading with hope?

Respond 

In the church, it is not uncommon for us to urge each other to give a witness to our faith. Sometimes we assume that sharing stories of faith is easy. I must confess that I have found it incredibly difficult. Although I do regularly as a preacher, it is tough to talk about things so deeply meaningful and profoundly intimate. 

Several years ago, a young father called me about his church membership. He and his family were actively involved in programs and activities of the church. In our conversation he said he was tired of searching for God and that he and his family were leaving the church. He said he was tired of searching for answers and needed to be in a church that could provide some answers. As I listened to him, I tried to understand his dissatisfaction. We talked about his work, his family relationships, and his contentment with his life. During our conversation, he said, “I feel like I’m running the bases, but I never reach home.” Then he said, “I am not sure I really believe in God.” 

God Believes in You

My next words to him were words I had used before.  I had heard them as a teenager in a Sunday school class.  It was there they had taken root in my life and began to shape my understanding of God’s love. Because they were meaningful to me, I had offered them to others through sermons, bible studies, and conversations along my faith journey. 

So, I offered the same words to him, “At this moment, it doesn’t matter whether you believe in God or not.  God believes in you.” I said, “I know you are searching for God.  But have you ever thought that God is also searching for you?  Can you imagine that God believes in you so much that God is searching for you?” 

I remembered words that had profoundly shaped my understanding of God’s love.  They were words of one of my instructors in seminary.  At that moment, I offered them to this young father.

I will come for you

“When our parents, Adam and Eve, left the garden of Eden, God whispered in their ear, ‘I will come for you.’  Adam and Eve didn’t understand God’s word as a promise.  They interpreted the word as a threat.  So, they ran and hid. 

As human beings, we have been running and hiding ever since.  But God has come searching for us.  God has come as a fragile, vulnerable baby, growing up with the comforts and restraints of home, family, community, and culture. 

As he grew up and matured, he worked hard. He experienced both joy and exhaustion. He learned what it was to love and be loved. He experienced what it was like to have people betray him. He had a dream of making the world a better place. His dream was rejected. He experienced the pain of having his friends turn against him. He suffered and died for his dream.  That is how God has come searching for you and for me.” 

Being Found By God

I wish I could say that my words made a difference. I did not hear him say to me, “I never thought of it that way before,” Or, “Now, I know that God loves me and my family,” Or, “Thanks Pastor.” The reality is, all I could do was to tell him a story of Jesus, “I AM” walking toward him on the water, in the midst of his search for answers. 

What would happen if you and I began to tell our stories of “being found” by God? What would happen if we took John Wesley seriously and began to “Offer them Christ” as we developed relationships and talked about what was deeply meaningful to us? 

Offer of Hope

What I know is this, to offer Christ is an offer of hope. The offer is more than sharing “spiritual facts” which lead to a mental assent to correct understanding and logical decisions.  You don’t experience hope as a form of indoctrination. 

The offer of Christ is not, what I grew up hearing, “closing the deal” for Jesus.  You and I don’t experience hope by being manipulated into saying “yes” to carefully worded questions.

The offer of Christ is a two-way process of honest interaction. Because you and I simply do not see everything the same way, we develop a friend-to-friend relationship.  So, the offer of Christ is not a single encounter.  It is an extended relationship of mutual respect and care.  It is within the relationship that hope is developed, experienced, and lived out. 

As important as it is, the offer of Christ is more than inviting people to worship or to participate in the programs of the church.  To offer Christ is to create a space where people can talk about their discontent and dissatisfaction in their search for God, and then embody the hope they need to experience the love of God that will never let them go. It is in and through our relationships that we can share our experiences of God searching for us. It is in and through our relationships that we share being found by God’s love in Jesus. Hope becomes a sign of who you are, and who you are is how you lead.

T. S. Elliot wrote, “the life we seek is not in knowing but in being known, not in seeking but in being sought, not in finding but in being found.” It is in being found by God that you are empowered to lead with hope. 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. Where do you experience hope? What happened? With whom did you share hope?  How did you express being found by God’s love in Jesus? With whom do you need to confess your struggle with hope? With whom do you need to celebrate the hope you have experienced in and through them?   

Prayer

O God, be my guiding light that I may have clear vision for the days in which I am living. You are my wisdom, strength and guide. In you I find my joy and peace. You are my true goal. Only you can satisfy my soul. Help me be your love in human form. As people are quietly quitting your church, help me develop true relationships of love that bind your people together, so that the people I encounter today and tomorrow will experience your love and grace through me. I am grateful, O God, for your love and hope in Jesus. Amen. 

There is a phenomenon that is permeating our culture. It is called “quiet quitting.” In the workplace, it is experienced when employees put in the minimum amount of effort to keep their jobs. There is little meaning or joy in their work, so they quietly do as little as possible before walking away. 

In the church, it is seen when members are unhappy with some aspect of their role in the church and participate marginally before silently walking away. They too find little meaning or joy in their faith, which has been reduced to participating in pseudo-religious activities and programs. 

Uncommitted Church Members or Ineffective Leadership?

Some have raised the question, “Is quiet quitting about uncommitted church members or about ineffective leadership? The research shows that poor leadership leads to more quiet quitters than effective leadership. Although I believe the problem is deeper than leadership, I am trying to help you be the leader God has created you to be in the midst of the cultural changes we are facing today. 

You are leading in a complex time. People have been leaving the church for many years and for many reasons. It is an issue influenced by societal changes, personal beliefs, and experiences. I don’t want to focus on the negative, but let’s look at some common reasons why people leave church. You might have experienced several of these for yourself. 

Why People Leave the Church

People leave church because of: 

Busy Lifestyles 

The demands of life, such as work, family, and other commitments, have made it challenging for some people to maintain active involvement in a church community. Youth and children’s activities which are held on Sunday mornings have been a big reason for the decline in participation. 

Generational Differences

People of all ages, but younger generations in particular, have been less motivated to attend worship or participate in church programs. People have begun to look for more flexible and non-traditional forms of spirituality. The reality is the church has not adapted to some cultural changes and has for years had difficulties in relating to younger generations. 

Negative Church Experiences

Unpleasant experiences within a church, such as conflicts, scandals, or mistreatment, have led people to lose faith in the institution and its leadership. Because the church has become more of a religious club, people are opting out of club conflicts. 

Changing Beliefs

Some people have undergone personal spiritual or religious transformations, leading them to question or abandon the beliefs they learned as a child or were taught in their churches. 

Doctrinal Disagreements

Sometimes differences in interpreting doctrine or differences in understanding the teachings of Jesus have led people to look for alternative denominations or spiritual paths. These differences are usually based upon personal preferences and preconceived unchecked ideas. 

Societal and Cultural Shifts

Changing societal norms and values, particularly in more secular or diverse communities, has led some people to question the role of faith in their lives. They have found the teachings and practices of the church no longer relevant to their lives, so they disconnect from the church as an institution. 

Leading the Church in the Midst of Change

Every reason listed above is true and valid when the church is viewed as one institution among others in competition for the interest and participation of its members. When you start from the perspective that the church exists to serve its members and their preferences then you, as the leader and the church as a whole, are continually jumping from the “pinnacle of the temple” to entertain and keep the interest of the people you want to reach. 

In other words, when the church does not meet the perceived needs of individuals those people seek to have those needs met elsewhere. 

As a Christ-centered leader, how do you lead in the midst of cultural changes? What is your focus during this time of quiet quitting? 

Let’s look at the scripture to bring clarity to your focus. 

Read: John 1:1-14 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being  in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overtake it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,  who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 

Reflect 

As we reflect upon this scripture, let’s start with incarnation. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us…” The word translated “lived among us” is literally “he pitched his tent among us.” When John wrote his gospel, the people were wandering nomads. They didn’t just take their tents on vacation; they lived in their tents. So, John’s good news is, “God became one of us and lived among us. He pitched his tent in our midst.” Today we might translate it “And the Word became flesh and parked his RV next to ours.” Or “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” The point is, God has decided to become a member of the human race. This is called incarnation. 

Incarnation is God’s method of evangelizing love. The method is to become a human being, to live with us, and to love us in our everyday situations. When we search the scriptures, we find that God made other attempts to evangelize his love. 

For example, one method found in the Old Testament was the revelation from Sinai. There God came down to earth in the thunder, the lightning, and the smoke on the mountain. God spoke and Moses presented God’s message on tablets of stone. We know that message to be the covenant of the Ten Commandments. 

The New Testament

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says that God was a little disappointed in that method. The purpose of the covenant was to provide love, life, and vitality to God’s people, but the purpose was lost in the “keeping” of the covenant. So, God discarded the old covenant and wrote a new one. God did not discard the commandments. God used a different method to have the commandments come to life.    

The New Testament method is God revealing his nature of love in the human person of Jesus. This was God’s new approach to evangelism, to model his love in a human being. It is in Jesus that God confronts the world with his visible Word. It is in Jesus that God models his love for us. Jesus is the incarnation of God’s love. 

So, as a Christ-centered leader, your focus is upon the incarnation as the evidence that God has come to be with us. And that we cannot be related to God without being related to the people around us. 

God’s Dwelling Place

That is part of the good news according to Matthew. Jesus said, “… I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked, and you gave me clothing, I was sick, and you took care of me, I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40). 

Jesus was affirming his place in the human family. God has become one of us. The dwelling place of God is with us. In fact, we call him “God is with us.” With God’s new covenant, we can no longer deal with God without dealing with one another. 

Your Focus is Incarnational

So, part of your focus as a Christ-centered leader is incarnational. You become the love of God in human form. One way of being God’s love in human form is to love others as God in Jesus has loved you. 

The Word became flesh leads directly to the body of Christ. The church is the living, breathing body of Christ in the world. We are an extension of his life and ministry, actively participating in his ongoing work. This is the fundamental expression of our faith. This is who we are as grace-filled Jesus followers. 

Love of God in Human Form

Just as you, as a Jesus follower, are the love of God in human form, the body of Christ is the incarnation of God’s love in the world. We are the body of Christ because of the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection is simply God’s way of saying to us, “You might reject my covenant and presence, but I’m going to have the last word. I’m going to put my son right down there in the midst of you and he is going to dwell among you.”  God raised Jesus from the dead and we are the evidence of the resurrection. We are his body, living and breathing in the world today. 

The early followers of Jesus did not say that Jesus is risen because the grave is empty. They said, “He is risen because we are alive with his spirit, and we are doing the same things that he has taught us to do. We are the evidence that he is alive; healing, feeding, caring, serving in the world today.” 

Reshaping Lives

In The Acts of the Apostles, Simon Peter essentially says that the resurrection of Jesus is the reshaping of the lives of the believers to conform to his life, the reshaping of their minds to conform to his mind, the reshaping of their style of life to conform to the love of God. 

As a Christ-centered leader, your focus is on the resurrection and upon the followers of Jesus being the evidence of the resurrection in every situation and circumstance they might find themselves. 

Your work is to equip people to be who they have been created to be. They are part of the body of Christ, the evidence of the resurrection. As the body of Christ, living and breathing in the world, we already know that God has refused to take the world’s no for an answer to his love. So, with courage and boldness, we love one another as we have been loved by God. 

Model God’s Love

The Word became flesh, and the body of Christ leads directly to establishing loving and caring relationships with people. As a Christ-centered leader, your focus is on modeling God’s love so that through healthy relationships people can and will love others as they have been loved. 

Relationships within the body of Christ are fundamental to the spiritual, emotional, and social well-being of all people. It is within the body of Christ where people connect and learn from one another. It is where they build friendships, discuss faith, grow as followers of Jesus, and develop supportive and caring people who then love and care for the community at large.  Relationships within the body of Christ focus upon God’s love which leads to the practice of forgiveness and reconciliation. 

Relationships are Primary

Our reflection upon the incarnation, the body of Christ, and healthy relationships are primary to the life and impact of the church in the world today. I am sure you have noticed we did not focus on the next best program or how to attract people back to the church. We did focus on developing relationships with God, who has taken the initiative to come be with us in Jesus, and who has empowered us to be the evidence of God’s love and care in everyday situations and circumstances. 

As a Christ-centered leader, your focus is not on what next program is available to attract people into your building. Your focus is on modeling God’s love in your life, developing relationships with the people you encounter, and inviting and equipping them to model God’s love in their lives. Your focus is on being the incarnation of God’s love in the midst of the cultural changes of today.   

Respond 

So, as you reflect upon your focus as a leader, you might discover several ways to respond to being the incarnation of God’s love, being the body of Christ, and to developing relationships with the people God sends your way each day. 

Here is a story to assist you in bringing clarity to your focus.  

Two brothers lived on adjacent plots of farmland they had inherited from their father. For years, they had farmed together, played together, shared meals together, and supported each other in good times and bad. 

Then, one day there was a disagreement and they stopped speaking to one another. In fact, there was not a word spoken between them for years. 

One day, the elder brother was at his house when there was a knock at the door. When he answered the knock, he met a carpenter who was looking for work. The carpenter said, “I would like to do some work for you. Do you have any work that I can do?” The older brother thought for a moment and then replied, “Yes. I need you to build a fence on the edge of my property.” He pointed toward the stream that separated the land. “I want you to build it down near the stream that separates my farm from my brother’s farm. 

Puzzled, the carpenter asked him to explain the purpose of the fence. The older brother told him about his brother’s use of the stream. He told the carpenter that neither he nor his brother owned the water and that for years they shared it unselfishly. But then there had been a disagreement about the use of the water and that he and his brother had not spoken in years. ­He concluded by telling the carpenter that he wanted the fence built so he didn’t have to see his brother. 

Once he and the carpenter agreed upon the work to be done, the older brother said, “I’m going into town to run some errands. I’ll settle up with you when I return.”   

When he returned that evening, he was shocked to see that the carpenter had not followed his instructions. Instead of building a fence so he could not see his brother, he had built a bridge over the stream. The older brother walked down to take a look at the bridge. While he was there his younger brother walked toward him from the other side. 

The younger brother said, “After all the terrible things I’ve done to you over the years, I can’t believe that you would build a bridge and welcome me back.” He reached out to his brother and gave him a hug. 

Confused, but pleased, the older brother received the hug with gratitude. Then he walked back up to his farmhouse to settle up with the carpenter. The carpenter was packing his tools in the back of his pickup truck. The older brother said, “I just talked with my brother. He thanked me for building the bridge.” 

Then the older brother said to the carpenter, “Even though you did not build the fence, I am grateful that you built the bridge. Your gift has already helped to heal the wounds of our disagreements. I have more work that needs to be done. Will you stay and work for me?” 

The carpenter replied, “I like your invitation, but I have to go. I have other bridges to build. Besides, you and your brother can work together to finish the work that needs to be done.” 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. What happened to help you gain clarity in your focus?  With whom did you incarnate God’s love? How did you invite others into the body of Christ? How did you equip them to incarnate God’s love? With whom do you need to confess your desire to build fences? With whom do you need to celebrate building bridges of God’s love?  

Prayer

O God, be my guiding light that I may have clear vision for the days in which I am living. You are my wisdom, strength and guide. In you, I find my joy and peace. You are my true goal. Only you can satisfy my soul. Help me be your love in human form. As people are quietly quitting your church, help me develop true relationships of love that bind your people together, so that the people I encounter today and tomorrow will experience your love and grace through me. I am grateful, O God, for your love and presence in Jesus. Amen.