Well, we have reached the fifth blog in the series, “Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry.” So, enough is enough. I have been at this work long enough to know that you have been gracious with this old guy. As you might guess, I have more to share. It will come later. You’ll find the previous posts linked at the bottom of this page.
This blog will be in two parts. Part One this week and Part Two, which will conclude the series, will be next week. I am grateful for this opportunity to highlight and emphasize what I have learned to be important for Christ-centered leaders. I hope you have found this helpful and fruitful in leading people to become who God has created them to be.
It Matters Where You Start
One of the major learnings of the past 50 years is “It matters where you start.” Early in my ministry, I came across a cartoon of a man who is intoxicated. He’s forgotten where he parked his car. He is leaning against a lamppost on a city street. His only hope is to call his wife and to ask her to come and get him.
When he calls, she is disappointed but sympathetic. She asks, “Where are you? I’ll come and pick you up if you can tell me where you are.”
The man looked to find the street name and replied, “I am at the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk.”
If you don’t know where you are when you start, the chances of giving misinformation or moving in the wrong direction are highly possible. It is difficult to get to where you are going if you don’t know and understand your starting place.
How are you making decisions?
When you, as the leader, make decisions based on reliable information, communication, self-awareness, and examination, you are effective and courageous. When you make decisions based upon incorrect assumptions without research and communication, not understanding why you think and act the way you do, the consequences can be disturbing for you and for the people entrusted to your care.
Where you start makes a difference. All of us have internalized thoughts, behaviors, theologies, and practices that need to be examined and refined, if not transformed. If you start with your assumptions, values, and point of view, you will work to help people see your point and come over to your way of thinking. If you start from a particular political position like progressive or evangelical, conservative or liberal, traditional or postmodern, you will spend your time and energy trying to get people to see things your way.
Faith or Politics?
Please hear me, I am not questioning your values or your point of view. But in a time when people are confusing Christian faith with political positions, our politics is informing our faith more than our faith in Jesus is informing our politics.
It shows up in why people attend worship and participate in the life of the church. When you start with how the church can contribute to your professional life and financial success, you spend your time working on your preferences, trying to get what you want to your advantage.
When you start with your personal preferences, whether theological, political, or social, your preferences are informing your faith more than your faith in Jesus is informing your preferences.
Start with Jesus
It matters where you start. When you start with Jesus, your values, point of view, and preferences are shaped by his influence in your living. When you start with Jesus, your values, point of view, and preferences can be transformed. May I say it this way? Your view is not as important as God’s view. Your preferences are not always God’s preferences. As a Christ-centered leader, as a Jesus follower, you start with Jesus.
To start with Jesus means that Jesus informs who you are, what you say, and how you act. I am sure you are with me at this point. But, over the years I have learned that people misunderstand what it means to believe, to have faith, or to live their lives in response to God’s love and acceptance.
I have learned that people have replaced dynamic faith with a passive belief in beliefs. They have shifted their starting place from faith in Jesus to a list of what they believe about Jesus. Although the shift seems subtle, it reveals itself in the way people relate to one another. In reality, because of that shift, we are experiencing some painful consequences today. It matters where and in whom you place your faith.
As a child, when I did something to hurt one of my brothers, be disrespectful to my parents, or misbehave in some way, it would upset my mother. She would discipline me and tell me how disappointed she was. After a little time passed, I would apologize and say, “I love you, Mom.” And she would say, “I love you too. But, if you really love me, show me in the way you behave.”
Live What You Believe
Here is the key to believing. You show what you believe in the way you live your life. Think of it this way, when you say, “I believe in Jesus,” you are saying that you not only believe in the existence of Jesus, but that you trust and obey Jesus to be the leader of your life and living.
What you believe is important and reciting and remembering what you believe with creeds like the Apostle’s Creed, or the Nicene Creed are helpful in keeping you focused. But believing in Jesus is more than a belief system or adopting a creed. There is a danger of allowing what you believe to become passive. Passiveness creeps in when believing becomes intellectual acceptance. Again, hear me. I am not questioning your intentions, but when you take believing and make it a static list of propositions you are no longer talking about faith in Jesus. Your list of beliefs becomes your object of faith.
In the scripture, the word for believe and the word for faith come from the same word. To believe is to have faith. To believe Jesus, to have faith in Jesus, is to trust and obey Jesus.
John Hendrick, in his book, Opening The Door Of Faith, defines Christian faith as a personal, relational, centered, response involving trust and obedience.
Christian faith is:
Centered because it has a particular object. According to the scriptures, the object of Christian faith is the living God revealed in Jesus, whom we call the Christ, Messiah, Son of the living God. This means that Christian faith is not faith in general. It is not a philosophy of life about which we speculate. It is not a system of ethical ideals about which we may argue. It is not the object of a set of doctrinal beliefs to which we might agree.
Jesus says, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The implication is, if you have seen Jesus, you have seen God. Jesus is the way to understand the way, the truth, and life of God.
Personal first because it is centered in a person, a living person, Jesus. The resurrection is true. It is not merely an event that happened over two thousand years ago. It means that Jesus is alive right now Second because it requires a personal response. Each person must own faith in Jesus for themselves.
Jesus says, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” The implication is, in Jesus you and I can see who God is and what God is like.
Relational first because it makes possible a right relationship with God. Second, because it properly relates you to your neighbor. You cannot be properly related to God and improperly related to your neighbor. And third because it establishes a right relationship with yourself.
Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” And “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The implication is, you and I love others as God has loved us.
Trust and Obedience
A response involving trust and obedience. Life is transformed by God’s love in and through Jesus. Your response to God’s love is a response of faith seen in your trust of God and in your relationship with the people you encounter each day.
The Foundation of Faith
The foundation of faith is not based upon your feelings toward God or upon what you have done for others as much as it is upon what God feels toward you and what God has done on your behalf. The foundation of faith is not about your promise to God as much as God’s promises to you. Your commitment is a response to God’s commitment. It is a response that involves your whole being: heart, soul, mind, strength, and will.
So, it matters where you start. The question is this: do you start with a list of beliefs of what you are supposed to believe, or do you start with Jesus, the presence of the living God? Let me say it again, starting with Jesus means there is a dynamic transformation that shows up in your relationships in the places you live, work, and play. Starting with Jesus means life changes as you trust and obey.
I want to love Jesus, but…
One of the writers who has influenced my ministry over the years is Henri Nouwen. In his reflection on the story of Nicodemus and the words “you must be born from above” (John 3:7), he wrote,
“I love Jesus but want to hold on to my own friends even when they do not lead me closer to Jesus. I love Jesus but want to hold on to my own independence even when that independence brings me no real freedom. I love Jesus but do not want to lose the respect of my professional colleagues, even though I know that their respect does not make me grow spiritually. I love Jesus but do not want to give up my writing plans, travel plans, and speaking plans, even when these plans are often more to my glory than to the glory of God.”
Nouwen realized that he wasn’t all that different from Nicodemus. He wrote, “So I am like Nicodemus, who came by night, and said safe things about Jesus to his colleagues.”
It matters where you start. And if you start with keeping Jesus at a distance and controlling your beliefs, whether focused upon him or not, there will be little or no transformation and little or no quality leadership.
Sharing the Love of God
It matters where you start. Tom Long, while teaching homiletics at Princeton Theological Seminary, attended a nearby Presbyterian church that prided itself on being an academic, intellectual church. He said early on he went to a family night supper and sat down next to a man, introduced himself, told the man he was new, and asked, “Have you been here long?”
The man replied, “Oh yes. In fact, I was here before this became such a scholarly church. I am probably the only non-intellectual left. I haven’t understood a sermon in over 25 years.”
Tom asked, “Then why do you keep coming?”
“Because every Monday night a group of us get in the church van and drive over to the youth correctional center. Sometimes we play basketball or play other games with the kids. Usually, we share a Bible story. But mostly we just get to know these kids and listen to them.
“I started going because Christians are supposed to do those kinds of things. But now I could never stop. Sharing the love of God at that youth center has changed my life.”
Then the man said, “You cannot prove the promises of God in advance, but if you live them, they’re true, every one of them.”
Over my 50 years of ministry, I have learned that it matters where you start. So, when you say you believe in Jesus is it intellectual acceptance or a response of trust and obedience? Only you know.
Part Two of “It matters where you start” comes next week. Until then, know that I am praying that you always start with Jesus and, as a Christ centered leader, who you are is how you lead.