This second week of Advent, Paul writes to the church in Rome, “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:5-7)

Paul is encouraging the followers of Jesus to welcome Gentiles or to welcome the people who think, believe, and act differently than they do. So, what does Paul’s instruction mean for you and for your leadership? What difference does welcoming others just as Christ has welcomed you, make in your living and leading? 

We are exploring the distinguishing characteristics of Christ-centered leaders. Along with sharing good news, being mission-focused, developing koinonia, and relating people to their communities, I have added the characteristic of leading with the heart, mind, and work of Christ. 

This week let’s focus on leading with the mind of Jesus. 

Read Philippians 2:5-11 

 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he existed in the form of God,

           did not regard equality with God

           as something to be grasped,

but emptied himself,

           taking the form of a slave,

           assuming human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a human,

he humbled himself

                        and became obedient to the point of death—

                        even death on a cross.

Therefore, God exalted him even more highly

           and gave him the name

           that is above every other name,

so that at the name given to Jesus

           every knee should bend,

           in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess

           that Jesus Christ is Lord,

           to the glory of God the Father.

Reflect

Paul is writing to the followers of Jesus in Philippi. He is instructing them on how to live in the midst of a hostile environment. He begins by focusing on Christian conduct in relation to a hostile, unbelieving community. Then he focuses on the Christian conduct within the believing community. It is this conduct that is important for the Christ-centered leader. 

He writes, “If then, there is any comfort in Christ, any consolation from love, any partnership in the Spirit, any tender affection and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others. 

The joy of Paul and of the church is “in Christ Jesus,” nourished by their relationship with each other. For clarity he says he has four expressions: being of the same mind (which meant having a common attitude or mission), having the same love; being in full accord, and of one mind. He repeats the call for a common attitude or mission. 

In repeating “the same mind,” Paul is preparing the followers of Jesus for his instruction on what the Christian mindset, attitude, or mission is, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” 

Leading with the Mind of Christ

This attitude or mission is so important, those early Jesus followers made it into a hymn or a statement of faith to be repeated when they gathered. This is part of what it meant in The Acts of the Apostles, “They devoted themselves to the teachings of the apostles.” By repeating the hymn or statement of faith, they were learning what it meant to be Christian in the world in which they lived. Liturgy was important in learning the faith. 

So, what does that mean for you as a Christ-centered leader? What does it mean to lead with the mind of Christ? To lead with the mind of Christ means: 

Christ-centered leadership focuses on others. 

It is a choice defined and focused on the life and health of the Christian community. Jesus “did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped but emptied himself.” Often leadership is viewed as a position, a title, or an office. But to lead with the mind of Christ is to choose to lead from who you are as a follower of Jesus. 

Leadership is not as much about authority as it is about vulnerability. Choosing to act on the behalf of others without personal gain is true leadership. Self-denying service for those entrusted to your care with no claim of return, no eye upon a reward is to lead with the mind of Christ. 

Being Right or Being in a Relationship?

Tom Wiles, while university chaplain at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, purchased a new pickup truck. While the truck was parked in his driveway, his neighbor’s basketball post fell against the truck leaving dents and scrapes on the passenger door. The scratches looked like deep white scars on the new truck’s exterior. A friend noticed the scrapes and asked, “What happened here?”  

Tom replied with a downcast voice, “My neighbor’s basketball post fell and left those dents. I asked him about it. He doesn’t feel responsible for the damage.”  

“You’re kidding! How awful! This truck is so new I can smell it.” His friend continued, “Did you contact your insurance company? How are you going to get him to pay for it?” 

Tom replied, “This has been a real spiritual journey for me. After a lot of soul-searching and discussions with my wife about hiring an attorney, it came down to this: I can either be in the right, or I can be in a relationship with my neighbor. Since my neighbor will probably be with me longer than the truck, I decided to focus on our relationship. Besides, trucks are meant to be banged up, so I got mine initiated into the real world a bit earlier than I expected.” ¹ 

Leading with the mind of Christ is to choose to focus on others for the life and health of the Christian community.

Christ-centered leadership is incarnational. 

It is a choice to be present with and for the people entrusted to your care. Jesus “…emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, assuming human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human…” Often leadership is viewed as being set apart from the people you are leading. But Jesus came to be with us. Leadership is most effective when you are related to and present with the people entrusted to your care. 

Max Dupree, in his book Leadership Jazz, tells the story of his granddaughter Zoe. She was born prematurely and weighed one pound and seven ounces. She was so tiny that his wedding ring fit over her arm. Additionally, Zoe’s biological father abandoned Max’s daughter the month before Zoe was born.  

The first time Max suited up in protective gear to visit Zoe in her isolate in the neonatal unit of the hospital she had two IVs in her arms, one in her navel, and a feeding tube plus a breathing tube in her mouth. A wise and caring nurse named Ruth gave Max his instructions.  

“For the next several months, you will be the surrogate father,” she told him. “I want you to come see me every day. While you are here, I would like you to rub her arms and her legs with the tip of your finger. While you are caressing her, you should tell her over and over how much you love her because she needs to connect your voice with your touch.”  

“Ruth was doing exactly the right thing for Zoe and without realizing it, she was giving me the perfect description of the work of a leader. At the core of being a leader is the ability to always connect one’s voice with one’s touch.”  

Leading with the mind of Christ is to be present with and related to the people you are leading. It is to love them so much that you want to be with them and work for their good. You bring a human touch to the work of goals, objectives, and deadlines. 

Christ-centered leadership is about humility. 

Paul’s instruction to the Philippians was to look out for the interests of others. Your call, as a Christ-centered leader, is an ultimate concern for others which is greater than your self-concern. Your call is to have the mind of Christ who emptied himself and became a servant. 

In reality, not many of us see ourselves as humble servants. In fact, we find it offensive. But let’s be honest, there is a difference between the kind of serving most of us do and the willful decision to humbly serve. When you make the decision to lead in self-giving service, you give up the right to be in charge. The amazing thing about that decision is, you become vulnerable and authentic. The joy of leading energizes your life and leading. Rather than the pride of choosing to serve, you give yourself to be available to those God sends your way. 

Humility allows you to lead from the center of who you are as a follower of Jesus. 

There is a story of a man who asked a rabbi, “How come in the olden days God would show God’s self to people, but today nobody ever sees God”

The rabbi replied, “Because nowadays nobody can bow low enough.” 

Let this mind be in you, which was in Christ Jesus, who bowed low, emptied himself, and became a servant. Leading with the mind of Christ is a leadership choice that comes only after spending time with Jesus and the community in which you are leading. 

Respond

O God, help me lead with the mind of Jesus. By your grace, help me to let go of position and prestige and to grasp your love for me. Help me become obedient in my trust in you so all I say and do brings you glory and works for the good of the people you have given me to love and serve. Remind me again that who I am is how I lead. In Jesus name. Amen 

Return

At the end of the day, give God thanks for the people you met today. Where did you experience giving yourself up for the good of another person? In whom did you see Jesus? What opportunities did you have to love as God in Jesus has loved you? Give God thanks for the opportunities to love others as you have been loved.

This first week of Advent, Isaiah announces, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…” (Isaiah 9:2, 6) 

Isaiah announces the coming of the Messiah, the Christ, the one we know as Jesus. As a Christ-centered leader, you are a follower of Jesus, and your leadership is centered upon Jesus. So, what does Isaiah’s announcement mean for you and for your leadership? What difference does Jesus, the Christ, make in your living and leading? 

Over the past several weeks we have explored distinguishing characteristics of Christ-centered leaders. We have focused upon leaders as those who share the good news, are mission-focused, develop koinonia, relate people to their local communities, and have glad and generous hearts. As we journey through this season of Advent, let’s conclude with the characteristic of leading with the heart, mind, and work of Christ. 

Let’s begin by focusing on leading with the heart of Jesus. 

Read Matthew 5:8 

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” 

Reflect

The Hebrews understood the heart to be the center of all reasoning as well as devotion. To hear the word “heart” brought forth an understanding of the inner person. It was the place where choices were made, where thoughts, feelings, and intentions were generated. So, for those early followers of Jesus to hear the words, “Blessed are the pure in heart…,” they understood it to be single-minded, clearly focused, and living life in full devotion to God. 

The good news according to Matthew is God sent Jesus to teach us how to live before God. From this good news, to have a pure heart is more than the avoidance of impure thoughts. It is more than being a nice person who says and does the right things. To have a pure heart is to be so single-minded in your devotion to God that you love others as God in Jesus has loved you. You love with agape, not centered upon emotion, but centered upon choice. 

When Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself,” he is giving a description of the life God intends for you to live. The heart of Jesus is a single-minded devotion of loving God and loving neighbor. It is loving with agape, not because you feel like it, but because you are living life before God. 

Live a Holy Life

So, to lead with the heart of Jesus is to live a holy life. 

To live a holy life is to live a life that is different from the way others are living their lives. Holiness is based upon agape. Instead of being rooted in emotion or feeling, it is rooted in a pure heart, where choices are made, and where thoughts, feelings, and intentions are generated. It is the love that works for the good of all people. From the perspective of a pure heart, it is to choose to love people, all people, especially those who have no one else to love them. 

Chuck Colson, in his book Loving God, writes about the “Everyday Business of Holiness.” Although he does not call it “pure in heart,” he describes a pure heart in loving and obeying God. He writes: 

  • Holiness is obeying God: Loving one another as God has loved you.
  • Holiness is obeying God: Event when it is against your own interest.
  • Holiness is obeying God: Sharing God’s love, even when it is inconvenient.
  • Holiness is obeying God: Finding ways to help those in need.

Lead with the Heart of Jesus

Paul, when writing about holiness, wrote this to the church in Rome: 

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, on the basis of God’s mercy, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable act of worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2). 

Blessed are the pure in heart, the holy, for they will see God. To lead with the heart of Jesus to live a holy life, a life devoted to God. It will be different from the lives of others, but it is the life God has created you to live. 

To lead with the heart of Jesus is to love as you have been loved. 

Remember, the pure heart is shaped by agape. It is to love by choosing to work for the good of others, even when you might not feel like it. 

Love as You Have Been Loved

In a Veteran’s Hospital in Pennsylvania, there was a nurse who worked in the psychiatric ward. One day, during lunchtime, the patients who had the privilege to leave the wards of Building Four had gone to the main dining room. For the sixty patients left in the wards, there was a small dining room with food delivered from the main kitchen. The nurse and two orderlies had the responsibility of getting the patients through their meals. 

A toilet had overflowed, but the nurse could not find anyone to clean it. So, she tried to do it herself. While keeping an eye on four patients in wheelchairs, along with a dozen others walking the hallway, she tried to serve meals and clean the bathroom floor. In the twenty minutes that passed, she had to rush past a patient curled up in a corner before she could stop and gently urge him to his feet. 

A visitor who had been watching the nurse asked, “Doesn’t this ever depress you?” 

The nurse with a smile replied, “Not really. If I ever begin to feel overwhelmed or depressed, I remember that I may be the only person who cares about what happens to these men. And then comes the strength and patience to keep going, to keep loving them.” 

Wow. Just to love as Jesus loves would be enough to transform the world. 

Loving the People Jesus Loves

Blessed are the pure in heart, the loving, for they will see God. To lead with the heart of Jesus to love others as God in Jesus has loved you. 

To lead with the heart of Jesus means loving the people Jesus loves. 

Jesus liked being around the poor, the marginalized, and the forgotten. He made a place for the disabled, the outcasts, and the overlooked. I am reminded of the love Jesus had for people every time I see the painting of Jesus knocking at a door that does not have a knob on the outside. It is the Warner Sallman painting. 

I have heard several explanations of why Jesus is knocking at the door. One is the door represents our hearts and Jesus will not force his way into our lives. You have to open the door from the inside. Another is Jesus is faithful in presenting himself as the solution to our problems but will not interfere unless we open the door and invite him in. 

I have often used the painting as an illustration of Jesus knocking on the door of our lives. Because there is no knob on the outside, you and I have to open the door for him, not to come in but for him to invite us to come out and meet his friends, the poor, the marginalized, and the forgotten. 

I used that illustration once and a woman suggested I was misrepresenting the meaning of the painting. I listened as she explained that the knock on the door is for us to invite Jesus in. I agreed with her and then said, “maybe he is knocking on the door so we will invite him in, and he can bring all his friends in with him. I know that when I invited him into my life, he brought all his friends with him…including you.” 

Lead with the Heart of Christ 

You remember Jesus saying, “just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.” To lead with the heart of Jesus is to identify with the poor and forgotten. Too often we miss seeing God because we are too busy connecting people with the memory of Jesus instead of looking for him in the lives of the people God sends our way. To be a Christ-centered leader is to love the people Jesus loves. 

In other words, blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God in the people God sends to us to love. To lead with the heart of Jesus is to make room for all his friends. 

So, another one of the distinguishing characteristics of Christ-centered leaders is to lead with the heart of Jesus. 

Respond

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 

There is an old story about three African elders visiting the West. The visitors were asked, “How can you tell when night ends and the day begins?” 

The first man responded, “When I can distinguish the olive trees from the fig trees, then I know that night is over, and day has begun.” 

The second answered, “When I can see the forms of the animals across the Serengeti, I know that the darkness is leaving, and the light of day is arriving.” 

The third visitor took an entirely different perspective, “When we can see a black woman and a white woman and call them both ‘sister,’ when we see a poor man and a rich man and call them both ‘brother,’ then the darkness of night has lifted, and the light of day has come.” 

The third visitor understood the deeper meaning of the question. The darkness lifts not according to the time of day, but according to the practice of relationship. 

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has downed…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…” (Isaiah 9:2, 6) 

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God in the people they meet each day. 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. Where did you experience the light of God’s love in the midst of the darkness? In whom did you see Jesus? What opportunities did you have to love as God in Jesus has loved you? Give God thanks for the opportunities to love others as you have been loved.

Pray

O God, help me lead with the heart of Jesus. Create a pure heart in me so I may see you. Open my eyes so I may recognize you in the people you send my way. Remind me again that who I am is how I lead. In Jesus name. Amen

If I could give one quality gift to you as a leader, I would give you the gift of gratitude. If I could have God do anything for you, I would ask that God make you a grateful person. Gratitude is the fundamental value of the Christian faith. It has the potential to change the world, as much as impacts your relationships. 

Over my 48+ years of ministry, I have never known a person who was grateful who was at the same time bitter, hurtful, mean, or vengeful. If you are a grateful person, you will lead with gratitude. Who you are is how you lead.

This week, as you gather with family and friends to celebrate thanksgiving, give thought to the words “glad and generous hearts” recorded in Acts 2:46.

Read Acts 2:46-47

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Reflect

These words in Acts are words of good news. With these words we see people in the community giving thanks, filled with joy, caring for one another, and giving to meet each other’s needs. We see a picture of a church that is inviting and attractive. In the midst of the fighting, division, and pain, there is good news, “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts.”

Depending on your point of view, or may I say your disposition, you might see these words as a dream of what the church could be. A mission to be accomplished. You might dismiss them as impossible, improbable, and uncomfortable. A matter of wishful thinking. Or you might be skeptical. You are asking yourself, “Did that really happen?” or “It might have happened then, but it will never happen now.”

In the day in which we are living, it is difficult to see the church as a place of “koinonia” fellowship where people are together with glad and generous hearts. But before you dismiss these words as wishful thinking, let’s look at their context.

Good News about the Church

Understanding the context of the words will give us insight into the truth of the words. In the New Testament, there are some words that are prescriptive. They tell us or teach us what we should do, how we should live, or who we are to follow. An example of prescriptive words is, “A new command I give to you, love one another as I have loved you.” The words are straightforward and direct.

The New Testament also has words that are descriptive. We call these words narratives or stories. They don’t tell us what to do but tell us what happened. When Jesus goes up on the mountain to pray it describes what he was doing. Those words are not telling you what to do, but they reveal a truth that is both meaningful and purposeful for living and leading today.

Luke’s main goal, in the book of Acts, is to tell the story of the life and growth of the early church through the ministry of the apostles. It is a narrative, a story, which contains truth for you as a Christ-centered leader.

You might think of it this way, Luke is telling us a good news story about the church so you and I can learn from it and find hope in it.

Glad and Generous Hearts

In the story, everyone is in awe. God is moving. The church is filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Its members gather to study the Gospel, eat together, pray, and fellowship with one another. There is generosity overflowing and people are caring for each other’s needs. Some followers go as far as selling assets and giving up material goods to do so. Daily worship, meals in homes, thankful attitudes, “glad and generous hearts,” good relationships with their neighbors, and new people welcomed into the family of Jesus followers. We see the early church being full of life and joy.

So, what truth is found in the story?

Life Together

First, Following Jesus is meant to be done together. On the day of Pentecost, thousands of people decided to follow Jesus after hearing Peter’s explanation of the life, crucifixion, death, resurrection and living presence of Jesus. The response is not only internal and individual, but external and corporate. The believers don’t separate and try to make it on their own. No, they gather regularly and form a fellowship (koinonia), with glad and generous hearts. Their coming together was an essential part of who they were as followers of Jesus.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that being together as the church is essential to being a Christian. He wrote, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ” In his book Life Together, Bonhoeffer described Christian relationships as a prerequisite for following Jesus. He wrote, “God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother (sister)…Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to (her)… (S)He needs (her) brother (or sister) as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation.”

Following Jesus is not meant to be a solo endeavor. It is a relational response to God’s love experienced and understood through Jesus. Those early Jesus followers were together for the purpose of becoming who God had created them to be.

Relationships – Being Known

Second, Following Jesus involves developing and strengthening relationships with other followers of Jesus. If you ask, “What does a church need to be a church today?” You will hear someone say, “A building” Someone else will say, “A good Sunday morning worship experience.” And another will say, “We need a leaderboard, committees, and infrastructure.” While each of these things are good and helpful in their own way, they are describing parts of an institution. They don’t necessarily give life to a group of Jesus followers.

Luke described the basic practices of the church as the apostles teaching, the good news of Jesus, and regular daily prayer. But he did stop there, he described what I am calling, “friending and eating.” In verse 42 he described koinonia, “they devoted themselves…to fellowship” and in verse 46, “they spent much time together and ate together…with glad and generous hearts.”

Friending is more than Facebook. Friending is more than our understanding of fellowship or participating in potluck dinners. Being a friend is about building genuine relationships of care, support, and accountability.

There are relationships involving worship, scripture, and prayer. But there are also settings outside of what we normally think of as “church.” Following Jesus involves knowing other Christians intimately.

You don’t have to be best friends with everyone, but you do need a core of Jesus followers who help you grow in your faith and live out your faith in a loving relationship with the people with whom you live, work, and play.

Bonhoeffer wrote, “In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.” 

So, the truth of this scripture is, being a follower of Jesus is not just about you. As you follow Jesus, you learn that your faith is lived out in relationships with others, like family, friends, strangers, and enemies. It is in and through your relationships that you develop a glad and generous heart and become more who you are created to be.

Holy Attitudes

Third, following Jesus, in relationship with others, helps you develop holy attitudes about the world around you. It helps you develop holy attitudes about everyday life, such as attitudes of joy, gratitude, and thanksgiving. Being in relationship with others also helps you develop holy attitudes about your neighbors and your material possessions.

The worldview of those early followers changed. They saw the needs of others as their own needs. The burdens of the world were their burdens. They understood loving neighbors as not only loving them emotionally but also as sacrificing to meet their physical and economic needs. These early followers of Jesus did not see their material possessions as solely for their own benefit. They worked together to meet the needs they were discovering. It is interesting that no one forced anyone to participate and not all possessions or goods were sold. But things were sold as the need arose.

According to William Willimon, this community of Jesus followers had “confidence in the ability of the resurrection faith to overturn all material and social arrangements”

Luke is telling the story, not of a specific prescription for the community, but of the truth that the Spirit-filled community cultivated generosity, joy, and material sacrifice for the good of others.

Following Jesus, in relationship with one another, helps us to develop holy attitudes about the world around us, about our daily life, our material possessions, and our neighbors. May we be like the early church and seek to cultivate glad and generous hearts.

Respond

To be a Christ-centered leader in a spirit-filled community is to be focused upon Jesus, helping people to develop healthy relationships, and providing opportunities for people to grow in holy attitudes about everyday life. Your leadership is key to cultivating gratitude. It is gratitude that whether you are gathered in koinonia or scattered into the community, the experience is glad and generous hearts. Gratitude has the potential to impact the world just at the experience of Pentecost.

Return

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul expressed his gratitude, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy” (Philippians 1:3-4).

Who are the people who fill your heart with love, happiness, and gratitude? Take a moment to think of three or four people for whom you are grateful. People through whom you have experienced God’s love. Who brings you joy? Who has been influential? Write their names on a piece of paper. You now have a list of people who are special to you. Give God thanks for them and for how God has provided you with a glad and generous heart because of them.

Have a blessed thanksgiving with family and friends. Remember, who you are is how you lead.

Christ-centered leaders develop community, specifically Christian community. The question is, “What does it mean to develop a community?” 

We have discussed the development of community in the New Testament known as koinonia and we have discussed the discovery of the community in which your congregation is located. Keep in mind that the foundation of Christ-centered leadership is Jesus. As a follower of Jesus and a leader of other followers of Jesus, how do you develop the relationships, deepen the faith, and deploy into mission the people entrusted to your care? 

As we answer that question, remember that John Wesley worked to develop both ideas of community. Through what we identify as personal piety and social holiness, Wesley developed and organized a system to help followers of Jesus grow in their personal faith and to live out their faith in the places they lived, worked, and played. Wesley said it this way, “true Christianity cannot exist without the inward experience and the outward practice of justice, mercy, and truth.” 

With that in mind, let’s look at the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, and focus specifically at the two verses below. 

Read Acts 2:42, 46 

They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts… 

Reflect

On the Day of Pentecost, one hundred and twenty frightened, self-centered, discouraged, and disheartened men and women were transformed into new Christ-centered leaders. They were filled with new life and perspective, intellectually, emotionally, and physically. 

By the power of the Holy Spirit, those newly empowered leaders began to communicate the story of Jesus in ways people understood and responded to positively. The people were amazed and perplexed. They asked, “What does this mean?”  Others mockingly said, “They are full of new wine.” 

The First Sermon

It was a careless, scoffing comment that prompted the first Christian sermon. When the followers of Jesus were accused of being drunk, Simon Peter took responsibility for telling the story of Jesus. He told the people about the life, crucifixion, death, resurrection, and presence of Jesus. He explained God’s offer in Jesus, what people did to refuse it, what God did despite the refusal, and what could happen to each of them. 

When the people heard Peter’s sermon, “…they were cut to the heart…” and they cried out, “What shall we do?”  

Simon Peter was ready with an answer and the first Christian invitation to a congregation was extended: “Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” 

The word repent means “to change one’s mind, to perceive after a mind-changing truth or understanding.”  Peter wanted them to change their thinking about God’s messiah, the Christ, and to see their own need for him as the Lord of their lives. 

Repent

The word repent can also refer to becoming who you were created to be. By God’s love, you begin to live as God intends for you to live. Think of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. You are in the process of repentance as you begin to love more the way God has loved you. One of the things that changed for those at Pentecost was their way of communicating with one another. Instead of insisting that everyone learn to speak and communicate like they spoke and communicated, by the power of God’s love and presence, they learned new ways of communicating and relating to the people around them. 

The scripture says that those who welcomed Simon Peter’s message were baptized, and that day about 3000 persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 

The First Community of Faith

That first community of faith was: 

A learning community.

They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching…  The word for “teaching” is a dynamic word. It means that they persisted in listening to the apostles as they taught. 

A fellowshipping community.

The word “koinonia” means having in common or in fellowship. There is no true fellowship without Christ’s Spirit in us and between us. Jesus Christ is what we have in common. He is our common bond. That bond is greater than anything or anyone else. He draws us into oneness and loves each of us through each other. 

A praying community.

Life together was described as the breaking of bread and prayers. For people to be one with Christ and one with each other, it takes time to be together to listen to each other, to care for and be for each other. Praying together becomes the time of communication with the Lord in which we are replenished in God’s Spirit in order to continue unselfish and non-manipulative concern and caring for each other 

A worshiping community.

They had “gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God.”  Praise became an outward sign of the indwelling of the Spirit. It continued to be an outward sign as Jesus lived in them and in their fellowship. They could not praise God enough for what God had done for them in and through Jesus. 

A growing community.

People were attracted to the joy of the community and wanted to know the source of it. People wanted to be with those contagious, praising followers of Jesus and have what he had given them. 

Because there were no established church buildings, the people met in homes. As they gathered in homes they continued to gather in the temple. When they gathered, they broke bread together and praised God with glad and generous hearts. 

An effective way of developing community in our day is to establish koinonia groups for personal faith development and for developing relationships that impact the community in which your church is located. 

Five Ingredients for Developing Koinonia

Based on our scripture, there are five essential ingredients in developing koinonia: 

1. Study

“They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching…” Wesley called this “searching the scriptures.” One of the distinctive marks of Jesus followers is the understanding and engaging the gospels. Just as the apostles’ teaching was transformational in the lives of the early followers of Jesus, devoting ourselves to living out the good news of Jesus Christ is transformational both personally and socially. 

2. Fellowship

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship.” Koinonia Fellowship is both an informal time when people get to know and love one another and a formative time when people grow together in their personal faith and learn to give care and encouragement in their social interactions. 

3. Accountability

“Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple.” Those early Jesus followers spent time together every day. I can imagine they were sharing stories, asking questions, learning, and growing together. 

Although most of us do not feel comfortable being held accountable, especially regarding our faith, koinonia provides a space and safety to develop trust and courage. We grow into our accountability. I can imagine that was what was happening as they spent time together. 

Think of it this way, if you are a member of a koinonia group and you want to develop a pattern for bible study, you might say to the group, “Please hold me accountable to reading the Bible each day this next week.”  The following week your group would ask you, “How did you do with reading your Bible this week?”  You respond by saying, “Well, I read my Bible each day until I got to the weekend. I would like you to keep asking me the question until Bible study becomes a regular daily practice.” 

As your koinonia matures, your group might agree to ask each other questions as you gather. Questions related to personal faith development and to your interaction with Jesus and the people you meet each day. We all need help in developing and maintaining our walk with Jesus. 

4. Worship and Prayer

It is important that each group have a time of worship and prayer. Sometimes singing a hymn or a praise chorus will lead your group into worship. At other times, it will be prayer or sharing experiences of experiencing God’s love, or how Jesus showed up unexpectedly leads to “glad and generous hearts…”   

5. Mission and Outreach

Your journey inward leads to your journey outward. Your koinonia leads you into developing relationships outside your group. Together, you find ways to love others the way God in Jesus has loved you. You might feed people who are hungry or find shelter for those who are homeless. You might provide care for children or jobs for the unemployed. One way to discover where to be in mission is to ask the question, “What can we do that no one else is doing?” God always provides people to love and places to serve. Koinonia helps turn your inner faith into outward expressions of love and care. 

“They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts…” 

Christ-centered leaders develop community, specifically Christian community. 

Respond 

O God I am grateful for your call upon my life and for the opportunity to be a leader centered upon your love in Jesus. By your grace, give me the faith to assist people in growing in their faith. Give me the courage to lead people into the community to love others as you have loved me. Thank you for the ways you have provided to become more who you have created me to be. Thank you for John Wesley and for the way he has modeled personal piety and social holiness. Oh, God, thank you for your love. Give me faith to love and trust you more. Amen.

Return

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. In whom did you meet Jesus? What structures are you developing to assist people in growing in their faith and in giving care, support, encouragement, and hope to others? What do you need to do to lead others into koinonia? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to become more who God has created you to be. Keep in mind, who you are is how you lead.

When most of us hear the word “community” we think of a geographic area in which we live and/or serve. What would it be to think of your community as a mission field? 

Leading people into the mission field is one of the characteristics of a Christ-centered leader. The question is, are you mission-focused? 

Mission Focused

To resource you as a Christ-centered leader, I first focused upon community as “koinonia” found in the New Testament. Today I want to focus on the community in which your congregation is located as your mission field. It is in your engagement with your mission field that helps you and the people you lead into becoming and growing as Jesus followers. 

To focus on the mission field, keep in mind that the foundation of Christ-centered leadership is Jesus. So, through the lens of being a Jesus follower, what does it mean to be in the midst of your mission field? 

The World is My Parish

To get an idea of what it means to be in mission in the community in which you are located, let’s look first at John Wesley and his idea of “The world is my parish.” 

Wesley insisted that “true Christianity cannot exist without the inward experience and the outward practice of justice, mercy, and truth.” The inward experience was supported by koinonia. He established a system of class meetings and bands to assist in keeping the faith vibrant. He called it personal piety. Closely related to this inward experience was the outward practice of social holiness. 

Social holiness is living out of your faith in the larger community or your mission field. This idea of living out your faith in the community is captured in Wesley’s words, “The world is my parish.” It is your koinonia living beyond itself to all people. The greater focus is on the mission of making Jesus followers so that the people in your community and the relationships in the world might become who God created them to be. It is the spending of yourself and your resources so that all the world might know of God’s love in and through Jesus. 

John Wesley’s Mission Field

Now, if you are thinking this is not what you signed up for, remember that Wesley came to this position “kicking and screaming.” The preacher evangelist, George Whitefield, had great success in reaching people for Christ but he had no system for them to stay on their walk with Jesus or to grow in their faith. Knowing the preaching and organizational skill of John Wesley, Whitefield reached out and invited Wesley to join him in preaching to the poor and to the coal miners.

Wesley fought against it. 

Up to this point, Wesley had only preached in regular church services in the city. Should he accept Whitefield’s invitation and help with the open-air meetings in the country? He practiced what he preached. Wesley called on the Christian fellowship for guidance. Finally, he submitted himself to his koinonia fellowship. Through their prayer and support, Wesley decided to go and preach the gospel in the fields of Bristol. 

The Methodist Movement as Mission

He adapted his understanding of ministry to meet the needs of the larger community. He joined with Whitefield and began to organize people into fellowship groups where their faith was kept alive and where they lived out their faith in the communities in which they lived. It was a fellowship where people cared for and looked after each other’s souls and where loving hearts set other hearts on fire. It was also a fellowship where those with a heartfelt faith moved into the community to love and serve in the name of Jesus. 

In Wesley’s day, the Methodist movement addressed areas of poverty, slavery, prisons, liquor, war, and education. United Methodists have always had a “social creed” which speaks to the issues of the day. United Methodists have always worked for the transformation of the communities in which they have lived. 

As a Christ-centered leader, how are you leading your fellowship into the community where your congregation is located? With your mission as your focus, use the questions below to help define your community, identify the needs of your community, and discover the resources needed to meet those needs. 

1.      Where have you witnessed God’s presence in your community? 

Use this question at the beginning of every meeting, with small groups, and at the end of each day. People who follow Jesus should be able to articulate God’s movement in their lives. You can ask the question in different ways and in different contexts. Just be committed to asking the question over and over until people begin to look for God’s presence or God’s love in the community? 

2.      What is the mission of the church? 

This question is about the purpose of your church, your koinonia. People who follow Jesus should know their purpose and be able to measure their lives and ministry by that purpose. Use this question to keep your focus and as a sorting mechanism for the ministry in the community. 

Keep in mind the mission of the church is more than a mission statement. It is a guide to ministry. The question will help you keep focus and not confuse activity for missional impact. 

3.      What is your mission field? 

Your mission field can be described in several ways. Most often, it is a geographic area where people live or at least where your church is located. John Wesley said, “The world is my parish.” As much as you and your church are involved in the world, your mission field is your neighborhood, your town, or your city. It is important to say, “Our neighborhood is our mission field” or “Our town is our mission field.” 

Once you have defined the geographic area, define who lives in the mission field. After you identify who lives there, define their habits and interests. Listen for stories, look for symbols, and identify activities that help you learn more about the people you have identified. 

4.      What are the assets of the mission field? 

Prepare to make a list of the assets. Start with the people who live in your mission field. What relationships, skills, and resources do they have? Move to the property, businesses, and services in your mission field. Identify the community focus, physical attributes such as parks, rivers, etc., and financial assets. 

The best way to identify the assets is to take a walk within your mission field and ask people to respond to the question; “What do you love about our community, neighborhood, or city?”  

5.      What are the hopes and dreams of the people around you?  

Prepare to make another list. What are the hopes and dreams of the people in your mission field? Basic needs like food, water, and shelter could be at the top of the list. What about safety? What about the dream to be loved, to belong, or to be taken seriously? 

Again, the best way to identify the hopes and dreams of the people around you is to take a walk within your mission field. Ask people to respond to two questions: First, what do you love about our community? And second, what are your hopes and dreams? What are your hopes and dreams for this community? An effective way to follow up on your questions is to ask if the person would like to be a part of making the dreams a reality. Make sure you get contact information. 

6.      What relationships exist between you, your church leaders, and with the mission field? 

Identify relationships within the mission field. What relationships do you and the people of your church have regarding businesses, government, education, arts and entertainment, non-profit groups, health care, first responders, etc.? What relationships need to be nurtured, reconciled, and re-established? 

If you are not sure where to start developing relationships beyond the walls of the church building, start with the principal of your local elementary school. Or begin to attend community meetings to get to know the people who participate. With a little effort and interest, you will meet people with whom you can develop relationships and partnerships. 

7.      What is one way you can collaborate with another church in the mission field? 

Every church, at its best, is focused on Jesus. Practices and theology might differ, but we are in this work together. Put aside all thoughts and feelings of being in competition. Model for others what collaboration might look like, even in the face of differences. Take time to meet other Christ-centered leaders. Learn their stories, how they express their mission, and what disciple-making looks like in their faith community.

Christ-Centered Leadership

Let me come back to something I said earlier, if you are thinking this is not what you signed up for, remember that Wesley came to the position of “The world is my parish” position both “kicking and screaming.” But modeled true Christ-centered leadership. He called on the Christian fellowship for guidance. Wesley submitted himself to his koinonia fellowship. Through their prayer and support he decided to go and preach the gospel in the fields of Bristol. 

You are a leader today because Wesley adapted his understanding of ministry and moved into the mission field located outside the church building.

So, just like Wesley, your mission is not based upon whether you like it or not, or whether you agree with it or not. God has given you the mission. The community is your mission field. Learn about the people God has given to you to love and serve. Develop the relationships needed to make a transformational difference in their lives and in the neighborhood, town, or city in which they live. Be who God has created you to be. 

Experience God’s Presence

It is time to get started. At the end of this day, ask yourself this question: “Where did I experience God’s presence today? Give God thanks for the people through whom God was present. 

Now, make a commitment to yourself and to the leaders of your congregation, to ask that question at the beginning of every meeting, gathering, rehearsal, etc. in your church. Listen closely because people will begin to see Jesus in places he has not been seen before. 

Lead the people entrusted to your care to pray that they might recognize God at work in your mission field. When you discover where God is working, join God in that work. 

Christ-centered leaders are mission-focused. Who you are is how you lead.  

What comes to mind when you hear or read the word “community”? A group of people united by geographies like a neighborhood, town, or city? Or perhaps a group of people who share the same interests or activities like civic clubs or service organizations? Maybe a group of people who focus on Christian faith and following Jesus? What comes to mind? 

Developing community is one of the characteristics of a Christ-centered leader. The question is what kind of community are you developing? 

Two Distinct Ideas of Community

To resource you as a Christ-centered leader, I want to focus on two distinct ideas of community. The first is koinonia found in the New Testament. The second is the community in which your congregation is located. In both communities, you have opportunities to share the gospel and to grow in relationship with Jesus and the people entrusted to your care. 

To focus on these two concepts, keep in mind that the foundation of Christ-centered leadership is Jesus. So, through the lens of being a Jesus follower, what does it mean to live in community with other Jesus followers and what does it mean to be a Jesus follower in the midst of a diversity of people and beliefs? 

To get an idea of what it means to develop community, let’s look at koinonia, the New Testament understanding of fellowship. 

Read: Acts 2:42-47 

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone because many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. 

Reflect

The first followers of Jesus, “…devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship…” Gathering in community was important. It is mentioned three times: They devoted themselves to “fellowship” (verse 42), “All who believed were together” (verse 44), and “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple…” (verse 46). Being together was an important characteristic of their faith development. 

What is Koinonia?

This fellowship was known as “koinonia.” Before describing what it is, let’s identify what it is not. It is not formal gatherings for potluck dinners or informal gatherings with family and friends like us. It is neither being a part of a country or civic club nor is it like being a part of a service organization. Koinonia is even more than participating in worship. All of these are good and needed, but they do not describe what those early followers of Jesus experienced as koinonia. 

Koinonia for them was gathering to listen and learn of the gospel (apostles’ teaching). They were trying to make sense of what they had experienced at Pentecost. Gathering was to eat together, (breaking of bread). It was an expression of God’s love, agape, working for the good of others, especially those who had little to eat. Gathering to pray (prayers). They gathered with glad and generous hearts in gratitude to God, seeking direction on how to live their lives as followers of Jesus. 

John Wesley on Community

It is this same koinonia that John Wesley experienced when he expressed that “I felt my heart strangely warmed, I felt I did trust Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and save me from the law of sin and death.” 

Wesley was motivated to establish a koinonia system to help others, whose hearts were also “strangely warmed.” He was surrounded by people who not only wanted to hear the gospel but wanted to experience it. They lived in a time of spiritual apathy in which there was a disconnect between themselves and their faith. There was also an institutional disconnect that created disillusionment and distrust of the church. 

Aldersgate Community

Wesley’s Aldersgate experience became a model for heartfelt faith. For the people whose hearts were warmed by God’s love, Wesley developed a system to help keep the heartfelt faith alive with experiences of care, support, encouragement, and correction. 

He developed community by using class meetings and bands in which followers of Jesus were nurtured in faith and held accountable with compassion. People cared for and looked after each other’s souls. It was in the fellowship where loving hearts set other hearts on fire. 

Koinonia was woven into the DNA of those early Christians called Methodists. Whether you are United Methodist or not, the koinonia has shaped your faith as a Jesus follower. It is an essential experience in assisting you in becoming who you are created to be. 

Shaped by Community

Although I did not know it at the time, my earliest memories of faith are of people teaching, caring, supporting, and encouraging me in the faith community. Whether it was a fourth-grade Sunday school teacher telling me I would go somewhere else in the world to tell others of Jesus, a junior high school teacher who taught me to pray and to listen for God to speak, a high school teacher who cried with the class the day after a major disaster, or the Jesus followers who nurtured me in faith with compassion from a child to an adult, koinonia was part of my experience in becoming who I am today. 

Over the years I have attempted to develop koinonia through small groups or other fellowship experiences, but where I have experienced it most was when it was part of who we were as a community of faith. It was when other Jesus followers, whose hearts were warmed with God’s love, shared their faith and love with one another, the larger community, and the world. 

Leading Community

You are a leader of a heartfelt faith. There are two aspects of this heartfelt faith: the experience of God’s love in the life of each individual; and the gathering of followers of Jesus who have experienced God’s love. Think clearly about how to provide opportunities for the “warm heart” and the structures of care that will be a setting for the transformation of individual lives, communities, and the world. 

When Wesley insisted that “true Christianity cannot exist without the inward experience and the outward practice of justice, mercy, and truth,” he gave us our focus on koinonia. 

Questions for Reflection

Reflect on these questions for yourself:

  • How is my relationship with Jesus?
  • Has my heart been warmed by God’s love?
  • How do I grow in faith and live out my faith in meaningful ways? 

Reflect upon these questions for your community:

Am I developing the structures of care where people can grow in grace and discipleship, where the fruits of the spirit are being cultivated, and where loving hearts are setting others’ hearts on fire? 

The early followers of Jesus “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship…” So, one of the characteristics of Christ-centered leaders is to develop koinonia, Christian community.

Respond

O God thank you for a heartfelt faith and for the fellowship you have provided for me to grow in my faith. By your grace, continue to introduce me to people who can provide care, support, instruction, and correction to my faith. Thank you for the ways you have provided for me to become more of the person you have created me to be. Give me the faith to trust you more. In Jesus’ name,. Amen.

Return

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. In whom did you meet Jesus? How was your heart strangely warmed? What structures did you put in place to give others care, support, encouragement, and hope? What do you need to do to lead others into koinonia? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to become more who God has created you to be. 

Next week we will look at the characteristics of the community as your mission field. As you learn and grow keep in mind, who you are is how you lead.

Have you heard the word discernment lately? I ask you with a smile because in every direction I turn I meet a leader or a congregation in the process of discernment. As I have reflected upon what I have heard and experienced, I think it is time that leaders take a good look at the intrinsic value of discernment in their leadership style and decision-making. 

What is Discernment?

Discernment is a unique discipline that takes practice and insight. It is wisdom based upon facts as well as context, options, implications, and motivation. It is a learned skill that focuses on the process of reflection based upon the values, principles, and integrity of the leader and others engaged in the process.  

Too often a leader will discern a direction for an organization or make a decision involving the people entrusted to his or her care and then ask those followers to trust their discernment and decision-making.

What would happen if you, as the leader, would become vulnerable enough to depend on the discernment of a larger body of followers who might be as focused on God’s direction as you are as the leader?

Let’s take a moment to read the scripture, reflect upon it, respond to it, and at the end of the day return to assess what has been learned through implementation and experience.

Read Philippians 1:9-10 

This is my prayer: that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight. I pray this so that you will be able to decide what really matters and so you will be sincere and blameless on the day of Christ. (CEB) 

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, (NIV) 

Reflect

The apostle Paul prayed for Jesus’ followers in Philippi to have discernment so they could judge the right way to go in life. He prayed that they would be able to decide what really matters and to make their judgments accordingly. 

What does it mean to discern something? Discernment, at its best, is the ability to recognize small details, accurately tell the difference between things that are similar, and make intelligent judgments by using such observations. This ability was important to Paul. He writes to the Jesus followers in Rome to be transformed by the renewing of their minds so that they could discern the will of God, that which was good, acceptable, and perfect (Romans 12:2). 

Paul’s prayer is not just for individuals but for the entire church body. We usually think of discernment as an exercise of the mind and heart of the leader, but discernment is also of the mind and heart of the body of people who are making decisions. Your commitment to leading people in discerning and doing the will of God is what distinguishes you as a spiritual leader. You help people to think for themselves and to discern who to follow and to whom they should listen. 

A Model of Discernment

Let me offer one model which will assist you as a leader, especially during these days in which we are living. This process is known as “The Fenhagan Model For Corporate Discernment.” It was developed by James C. Fenhagen and can be found in his book, Ministry and Solitude.   

It is designed to assist in making decisions regarding ministry opportunities or projects. It is to be used when groups are making major decisions and are looking for the best direction for the church or organization. It is a process of prayer, meditation, and openness to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It engages participation in searching the scripture, prayer, and listening to God and one another. 

Starting the Discernment Process

The process begins when all possible information is gathered, clearly identified, plainly described, and made available to those who will be engaged in the deliberation.  

Discernment Steps

First, start with scripture. Below are examples to use for setting the context. You might have other scriptures to help frame and focus your discernment. 

  • Psalm 119:125: I’m your servant! Help me understand so I can know your laws. (CEB) Or, I am your servant, give me discernment that I may understand your statutes (NIV) 
  • James 1:5: But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask. (CEB) 
  • Gaining discernment or sound judgment involves trusting God and one another. King Soloman  advised his son to hang on to discernment so that he would stay safe and secure on life’s course:
  • Proverbs 3:5–6: Trust in the Lord with all your heart; don’t rely on your own intelligence. Know him in all your paths, and he will keep your ways straight. (CEB) 
  • Proverbs 3:21–23: My son, don’t let them (common sense and discernment) slip from your eyes; hold on to sound judgment and discretion. They will be life for your whole being, and an ornament for your neck. Then you will walk safely on your path, and your foot won’t stumble. 
  • And as we mentioned before, the apostle Paul prayed for the believers in Philippi to have discernment so they could judge the right way to go in life:
  • Philippians 1:9–10: And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ. (NIV) 

Second, provide a time to ask and answer questions regarding the information provided. Too often in this process, we use only the information that helps move toward the decision we want. Making all information available allows persons the freedom needed to hear God’s direction in their discernment. God will speak through the persons who are gathered. 

Third, is a time of sharing. Each person has the opportunity to share the reasons he or she discerns against moving in a particular direction.  It is important that all people participate. If a person does not have a reason or wishes not to give a reason, he or she can pass. It is important that they have the opportunity to participate. When the decision has been made, it is important that all persons have participated.  

Fourth is a period of prayer and meditation. After each person has reported, take the time to pray and reflect upon the seriousness of what has been reported. Ask the group to set aside emotions and preferences and to listen closely to what God is saying.   

Fifth, is another time of sharing. Each person has the opportunity to share his or her own personal discernment regarding moving forward. Again, it is important that all persons participate. If a person does not have a reason or wishes not to give a reason, he or she can pass. It is important that they have the opportunity to participate. When the decision has been made, all persons should have participated.   

Sixth is a period of prayer and meditation. After each person has reported, take the time to pray and reflect upon the seriousness of what has been reported. Ask the group to set aside emotions and preferences and to listen closely to what God is saying. 

Continue Until Consensus Is Reached in Discernment

If no clear consensus emerges, the process continues. Take the time to sort out and weigh the reasons behind the pros and cons, recording those reasons so that they are available to all, and to discern communally, in the light of what has been listed, the direction to which the community is called by God.  

In commenting on this aspect of the process, John Futrell, in his book, Communal Discernment: Reflection on Experience, writes, “…if the conditions of authentic communal discernment have been fulfilled (i.e., if there is genuine openness to the Spirit), the decision should be made clear, and confirmation should be experienced unanimously through shared deep peace…finding God together.”  

Final Steps for Discernment to Reach a Decision

Through scripture, prayer, reflection, and conversation, your church or organization can reach a decision.  Even though you might want total agreement, the reality is there will be some who disagree with the decision being made. So, here is the final part of the process.

Ask each participant the following questions:

  • Do you agree with the decision? If the answer is yes, you have affirmation of the decision. If the answer is no, ask the following question:
  • If you don’t fully agree, can you live with the decision? If the answer is yes, you have affirmation of the decision. If the answer is no, ask the following question:
  • If you don’t agree, can you live with the decision? If the answer is yes, you have affirmation of the decision. Seldom is there a totally negative response. But if the participant says I don’t agree with the decision and I can’t live it, then say, “God must be saying something different to you. We are ready to listen and to learn what God is saying. What is God saying? How do we move forward?

Reaching a Decision

You will either get an affirmation of the decision or a new direction will surface. If it is a viable alternative, lead the process of discernment again. When you are vulnerable and listening to God and to the people, the right decision will be made. 

Finally, when the decision has been made and everyone can live with it, give God thanks and affirm the corporate commitment to carry out the decision.

Paul’s prayer was for the entire church body to grow in love and to gain more knowledge and depth of insight so that the body might be able to discern what is best. 

Your commitment to lead people in discerning and doing the will of God is what distinguishes you as a spiritual leader. Who you are is how you lead.  

Respond

O God, thank you for your call upon my life. Give me the wisdom and insight to trust you in and through the people you have given me to love and serve. In all I say and do, may I be a reflection of your love and care, even in the decisions I make and help others to make. By your grace, let me and the people entrusted to my care, be a part of what you are blessing in the name of Jesus.  Amen

Return

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. What decisions did you make? How were you able to cut through the confusion and ambiguity? Give God thanks for the wisdom you received to discern and understand? Are you able to be vulnerable enough to trust the people you lead to make decisions? What do you need to trust others as they trust you?

Are you aware of the words you use in your everyday relationships? In your leadership? In our world today, we do not give much thought or attention to the words we speak, whether in public speaking, in personal relationships, or on social media. Words are powerful. It is important to understand why you use the words you use. 

Words are so important that Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, wrote about the use of words while teaching about new life in Christ. 

Read Ephesians 4:29

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths but only what is good for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear (NRSV)

Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift (The Message).

Reflect

This scripture is part of Paul’s letter to the newly formed Ephesian church. He is writing to a diverse church where there is a clashing of values. There were Jews who had a deep ethical background. They were people who lived with deep religious and traditional values. There were Gentiles who had a different worldview and a different set of values. 

Paul is teaching about the new life in Christ, a life where Jews and Gentiles can live together in mutual respect and relationship. His teaching is grounded in love which goes beyond emotion. It is “agape,” the love that works for the good and well-being of all persons, friends, family, strangers, and even enemies. His teaching will become part of the values of the Christian faith. 

Old Life and New Life

I can imagine when the two sets of values clashed and created tension within the church. So, Paul, using the imagery of old life and new life, is teaching both the Jews and Gentiles what it means to be followers of Jesus. 

After writing in verse 25: “…putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors,” Paul writes, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths but only what is good for building up as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear” (NRSV). The Good News Bible translates it this way, “Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.” (TEV) 

No matter how it is written, Paul is instructing followers of Jesus, in a time of conflict, how to speak to one another. When you open your mouth, do not be nasty or malicious. Don’t belittle or be disrespectful. Don’t vilify those with whom you disagree. Say only what is useful for building up as there is a need so that your words may give grace to those who hear. The teaching is similar to Jesus saying, “it is not what goes in but what comes out that defiles…” 

In other words, your words reflect your relationship with Jesus as well as express who you are as a person and as a leader. Who you are is how you lead. 

The Power of the Spoken Word

Are you familiar with the cartoon B.C.? There are two characters: A woman who carries a big stick and a snake. In one cartoon, no matter what the situation, the woman uses the stick to beat the snake. 

One day, as she is walking up one side of a hill, the snake is coming up the other side of the hill. They meet at the top. At that moment, the woman realizes that she does not have her stick. So, she looks at the snake and says, “Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!” 

In the next frame, the snake is lying on the ground in a hundred pieces. The caption reads, “Oh the power of the spoken word.” 

Words are Powerful

Words are powerful. They create images and assumptions. They shape the way you and I view one another and the world. You can use your words to encourage, build up, discourage, and tear down. Words feed prejudices, cultivate relationships, and set the course for decision-making. 

At this very moment, in the United Methodist Church, there are a plethora of words that have given birth to disillusionment and disappointment. Most of them shape viewpoints, creating fear, anger, and defeat. But there are other words being spoken and written that are offering encouragement and hope. 

Your Words Make a Difference

So, as a leader, your words make a difference. “…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. (The Message) 

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

Check your references before you speak. Also, check your motive for speaking. 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 that 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. 

Speaking to Others

When you are speaking of others, use words that encourage and support, 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 feeling will help you speak the 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. 

Words in Social Space

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 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 words, whether spoken or written. 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. 

Kind, Caring, Encouraging Words

Paul, writing to a church under stress and in the midst of conflict, says to use kind, caring, encouraging words of truth. So, be a courageous leader. Step up and speak words of truth with care and understanding. Be the leader who uses helpful words to build up those who hear them. 

Although she is writing about more than words, Brene Brown writes, “In times of uncertainty, it is common for leaders to leverage fear and weaponize it to their advantage…If you can keep people afraid and give them an enemy who is responsible for their fear, you can get people to do just about anything.”

Consider for a moment: How have your words created fear? How are you creating time and space for safe conversations? 

Brown also says, “…when we are managing during times of scarcity or deep uncertainty, it is imperative that we embrace the uncertainty…We need to be available to fact-check the stories that team members may be making up, because in scarcity we invent worse case scenarios.” Consider for a moment: Are you making up what you don’t know? How are you helping lower the levels of anxiety with your words? 

Right or Righteous?

In times like these, you do not have to be right, but you do need to be righteous. Not self-righteous but holy as God is holy. If you are unsure about God’s holiness, look at Jesus. In Jesus, you will find God’s encouraging Word made flesh. You will find the embodiment of God’s holiness and love. 

Remember, it is Jesus who said, “it is not what goes in but what comes out that defiles…” As a leader, take the time to allow God’s Word, Jesus, to take up residence in your life. When you do, it will be Jesus, God’s love, and care, that comes out. 

“Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that builds up and provides what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.” (Ephesians 4:29 TEV) 

Respond

O God, I am grateful for your Word, both written in the scripture and made flesh in Jesus. Put your Word so deep in my heart that I am shaped into the person and leader you created and need me to be. May Jesus be so real in my life that all I say and do brings you glory and encourages and supports the people around me. May the words of my mouth and meditations of my heart be pleasing to you. I offer myself to you in the name of Your Word, Jesus. Amen 

Return

At the end of the day, give God thanks for the people you encountered today. Then, turn to these questions:

  • In and through whom did you encounter God? 
  • In what situations did you find yourself using hurtful or harmful words? 
  • In what situations did you find yourself using helpful words of encouragement and care? 

Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to learn more about yourself and the words you use. Now ask God to empower you to love others through the words you speak in every situation and circumstance of your life. And be reminded that your leadership is only as good as your word. 

Do you always tell the truth? I am smiling as I ask that question. We don’t often talk about truth-telling, but you and I know that effective leadership requires telling the truth. Truth-telling shows up in your leadership as courage and respect. The courage to see the truth and to respect people enough to share the truth with them. 

As a leader, your responsibility is to discover the potential of the people you serve and to develop that potential so they can become who God created them to be. Sometimes that requires the courage to share what people might not want to hear but what they need to hear. 

I am the way, the truth, and the life…

As a Christ-centered leader, your faith is rooted in the truth, the truth we know in Jesus. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” and “…you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” When you are truthful with your words and actions, you are revealing the very nature of your faith rooted in God, seen, and experienced in Jesus. To do otherwise is to be unfaithful. 

So, what does truth-telling mean? Let’s look at one verse of scripture, Ephesians 4:25, and discover what it means to be a leader who tells the truth. 

Read  Ephesians 4:25 

So then, putting away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with your neighbor, for we are members of one another. (NRSV) 

What this adds up to, then, is this: 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. (The Message) 

Reflect

This scripture is part of Paul’s letter to the newly formed Ephesian church. He is teaching the Gentiles and the Jews what it means to be followers of Jesus. The scripture is part of the teaching regarding the old life and the new life. 

For Paul, and those in the early church, the faith was transmitted by teaching. Those reading his letter had entered a new life by “learning.” As you know, Paul was writing and teaching before the culture had been “Christianized,” so the church could not expect the culture to transmit the faith. People did not learn what it meant to be Christian simply by absorbing the attitudes of the culture. 

Authentic Faith

With that in mind, the church in the twenty-first century finds itself in the same situation as the readers of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. As the world becomes more and more secularized, the Christian community must develop its teaching and learning strategies to pass on the authentic Christian faith. Faith is rooted in the truth of God as seen and experienced in Jesus. 

Paul uses the imagery of changing clothes. Put away your old self and clothe yourselves with the new self. He is addressing the people on the inside. He is saying that conversion to Christ is not a one-time check off the list and left behind event. There is a growing into this new life in Christ. 

That brings us to our scripture. The Common English Bible says, “Therefore, after you have gotten rid of lying, each of you must tell the truth to your neighbor because we are parts of each other in the same body. 

The Truth

The Christian life is not only a matter of theological truth, but of truth in everyday personal relationships. In our fallen human nature, we project a desirable self-image by speaking our version of the truth to our advantage. We shape the truth to look better or to achieve what we want. But when we become followers of Jesus, the way of the new life frees us from the concern of self-protection or self-promotion. 

Isn’t it interesting that Paul is instructing the followers of Jesus, the church, not to lie to one another, but to tell the truth. We all like to consider ourselves honest yet we tend to shape the truth to our advantage. Lies over time, pollute relationships and create false world views. 

Leaders Tell the Truth

At time, it is more about being careless with the truth than deliberately lying. As a leader, what you say matters. People look to you for directions. What you say, and often how you say it, has consequences. Just an inference to an untruth can be taken as truth when said with sincerity and conviction. 

There are other times, without checking out sources or having conversations with others, you can repeat an untruth as truth. You can carelessly create negative thoughts and images of others based on your assumptions.

Read “Leadership and Assumptions” 

We live in a world where we expect politicians, social media, and news agencies to spin and distort the truth. But we do not expect our spiritual leaders, our Christ-centered leaders, to distort the truth in any way. Lies at any level are hurtful, but public lies, especially about other persons or institutions, do the most damage. 

The Reason for Telling the Truth

Paul also gives the reason for telling the truth. It is because we are all members of the same body. In this scripture, Paul is teaching followers of Jesus not to lie to one another because both Gentiles and Jews belong to the same body, the body of Christ. We belong to each other. A body can only function accurately when each part of it passes true messages to the brain and to other parts. Being a part of the body of Christ means that we can only function when we speak the truth to one another. We are related to one another, dependent upon one another. That is why Paul wrote, “putting away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with your neighbor.” 

Regarding your Christian witness as a leader, “neighbors” are not just your fellow Christians, but are all people in general. Neighbors include the people you encounter each day, family, friends, strangers, and even enemies. Christian talk is dedicated to truth rather than self-protection. The way we talk to one another, talk about one another, and support or vilify one another reflects who we are as leaders. Your talking reflects your witness to Jesus. 

We live in a time when truth has become a welcomed commodity. And who best to speak the truth to others than you as a Christ-centered leader? Put your faith into action and lead the way through telling the truth about God’s love, about Jesus who shows us God’s love, and about yourself, a sinner saved by God’s grace (love). As a follower of Jesus, the time has come, to tell the truth.

Respond

O God, it is hard for me to be truthful with you when I have trouble being truthful with myself. When I am at my best, I am grateful for the truth of your love that holds me and will not let me go. I know you take me just as I am, and you are loving me into who you created me to be. I confess there are times I do not trust your acceptance and I try to shape myself without your truth and love. By your grace, put the truth of your love deep into my life so that I know and live being truthful is part of loving others as you have loved me. Remind me of each time I shape the truth to my advantage and help me become a living model of your truth in all I say and do. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus. Amen

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. 

  • In and through whom did you encounter God? 
  • What situations did you find yourself telling the truth today? In what situations were you reminded that you were shaping the truth to your advantage? 
  • Now ask God to empower you to love others by simply telling the truth in your speech and action. Be reminded that your leadership is only as good as your word. 

It is my prayer that you will take God’s love so seriously in your life that all you say and do will bring God glory and work for the good of the people entrusted to your care. In the situations and circumstances you find yourself, be a leader and tell the truth. Remember, who you are is how you lead.

It goes without saying that you are leading through some difficult times. There are conflicting voices competing for your attention. These opposing opinions are seeking to influence your decisions and your direction in life. It is in times like these that your faith is essential in determining how you will lead. 

What is Essential?

Part of the challenge of leading during this time is keeping yourself focused on what is essential. It is sometimes expressed as “keeping your eyes on Jesus.” Ultimately it is to keep your faith deeply rooted in the God who has created you and who loves you. 

Even though we profess to follow Jesus, we have subtly shifted toward a life and message of being good, doing good, and becoming better people. Being good and doing good is needed, but what we have done is become a primary school for morality. We have helped the church to become shallow and impotent. 

Relationship with Jesus

Christian faith is not about trying harder to be better. Frankly, that is not the message of the scripture. Christian faith is about an intimate relationship with Jesus and making that relationship the center of everything you do. 

Eugene Peterson, author of Working the Angles and the translator of The Message, in an interview said that there is a strong fundamentalist attitude that has penetrated all parts of faith. It is an attitude of telling people what to believe and how to act. It is this attitude that has gotten in the way of the intimacy of relationship and of paying attention to Jesus. 

In Working the Angles, he wrote, “The pastor’s primary responsibility is to help people maintain their attentiveness to Jesus.” Paying attention to Jesus is countercultural in today’s environment. But that is faith shaped leadership. 

To get to the heart of faith shaped leadership, let’s first define what we mean by faith and particularly Christian faith. 

Christian Faith 

John R. Hendrick, in his book Opening the Door of Faith, defines Christian faith as a centered, personal, relational response involving trust and obedience. 

Centered

First, the Christian faith is centered. According to the scriptures, the object of Christin faith is the living God revealed in the person Jesus of Nazareth whom we call the Christ. It is not a generic faith or faith in general. The object is not a philosophy of life or a system of ethical ideals or a set of beliefs to which we give intellectual acceptance. The object of Christian faith is the living God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. 

Personal

Second, Christian faith is personal. It is personal because it is centered in a person. A living person, Jesus whom we know as the Christ. According to the scriptures, Jesus is the One who was dead, is alive, and is alive forevermore. Christian faith takes the resurrection of Jesus seriously. It is not a historical event that happened over two thousand years ago. It is not “what would Jesus do?” It is that Jesus Christ is alive right now, today. It is the dynamic action of, “what is Jesus doing” in this situation and in the lives of these people? By its very nature, Christian faith is personal because its object is a living person. 

It is also personal because it requires a personal response from each human being. Because you are a love shaped leader, you respect the decisions of each person entrusted to your care. Some people will accept this personal response and others will reject it. As a faith shaped leader, you can pray for another person, you can do your best to create an environment in which faith is taught and received. But you cannot have faith for another person. You can love them and lead them, but each person must own that faith for herself or himself. 

So, Christian faith is personal not only because its object is a living person but also because it requires a personal response. 

Relational

Third, Christian faith is relational. It is relational first because it makes possible a right relationship with God. Scripture says, “For it is by God’s grace you are saved, through trust in God” (Ephesians 2:8). It is the grace of God that provides the basis for a relationship with God. 

Faith not only properly relates you to God; it also properly relates you people, all people, The bible calls them your neighbor. You cannot be properly related to God and improperly related neighbor. Your relationship with God is bound up in your relationship with the people around you, and your relationship with others is bound up with your relationship to God. You cannot claim to love God while you hate your brother or sister. 

Faith not only establishes a relationship with God and neighbor, but it also helps you become an integrated person. It helps connect your head with your heart, your intentions with your behavior, and your talk with your walk. When you are in relationship with God and with your neighbor, you are one with yourself. 

Christian faith is so dynamic that you have a new respect for and stewardship of God’s creation. While you are related to God, your neighbor, and yourself, you can no longer be content to treat God’s creation selfishly and thoughtlessly. 

Centered, Personal, Relational Faith

Christian faith is a centered, personal, relational response of trust and obedience. This faith is not based upon feeling or your goodness. The foundation of faith is based upon what God feels toward you and what God has done on your behalf. The foundation is not so much your commitment to God but God’s commitment to you. Your commitment is a response to God’s commitment. Your response is not a mental acceptance but a full, all in, involvement of your whole being…body, mind, soul, spirit, senses, and will. Your whole self. 

So, your response is one of trust. This is the personal and relational dimension of faith. You commit your total self to God. You rely on and are shaped by the God you experience in and through Jesus. It is not dependent upon where you live, your church membership, or your denomination. It is dependent upon who you trust. 

Your response is also one of obedience or responsibility. This is the ethical dimension of faith. To trust God is to submit yourself to the guidance and teaching of Jesus. As a faith shaped leader, your allegiance is first to God. All lesser trusts fall in line. 

Three practices of Faith Shaped Leadership 

Here are three practices to develop faith shaped leadership.  There is nothing magical here. Just three ways that help you focus upon Jesus and reveal who you are in your leadership. 

1. Spend Time with Jesus

Spend time with Jesus. Read John 4:5-9. In the scripture, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also… Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” 

The theme in John’s gospel is “If you have seen Jesus, you have seen God.” The implication is that the work of God is seen in the work of Jesus. The work of God’s love is seen in the way Jesus loves. 

Then, Jesus turns things around and says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” In other words, to trust and obey Jesus is to live the life of Jesus, loving people the way Jesus has loved you. 

Spend time with Jesus to experience who God is and what God expects of you as a leader. Your time with Jesus is an active response of trust and obedience. Your time with Jesus will be seen in the way you love others. 

2. Learn the Ways of Jesus

Learn the ways of Jesus. Read Matthew 28:18-20. In the scripture, Jesus says, “…teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” 

The theme in Matthew is “God sent Jesus to teach us how to live a righteous life.” So, to believe in Jesus, to trust and obey Jesus, is to live a life of righteousness. When you read Matthew’s story of Jesus, righteousness is not the purity of living as much as living in the right relationship with God, “Love the Lord your God…” and the right relationship with others, “love your neighbor as yourself.” The implication is that you must learn and obey the ways of Jesus to teach others the way of Jesus. 

When Jesus says, in what we know as the great commission, “teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you,” he is referring to living in a loving relationship, working for the well-being of neighbor, stranger, and enemy. He is referring to the way you make promises and commitments to the people around you. He is referring to forgiving others as you have been forgiven. 

Learning and obeying the way of Jesus is what God expects of you as a leader. What you learn and what you share is an active response of trust and obedience. What you learn and obey will be seen in your relationships. It will be seen in how you work for the good of others with integrity and trust.  

3. Live the Life of Jesus

Live the life of Jesus.  Read Mark 1:21-27. In the scripture, there is a shouting match in the sanctuary. Jesus confronts an unclean spirit. In doing so, he sets a person free to be who God created him to be. 

The theme in Mark’s Gospel is “God sent Jesus to oppose all the evil, suffering, and pain in the world. The implication is, to spend time with Jesus, to learn and obey the ways of Jesus, will lead you to oppose the evil, suffering, and pain in your communities, neighborhoods, and the world at large. 

Even the unclean spirits know who Jesus is (intellectual acceptance). “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” There is no change of behavior. No love of neighbor or enemy. Just a disruption of the life of a man, who knows who Jesus is, but who does not live in trust and obedience. 

When you read Mark’s story of Jesus, Jesus is restoring relationships. When he heals the man with leprosy, he is restoring the man to his family, to his community, to his synagogue, to his job. When Jesus encounters the man with demons in the cemetery, he frees the man from the pigs, from living life as if he were dead, trapped in the evil of his living. 

Over and over in Mark’s story, Jesus is facing the evil of unclean spirits that lead to the suffering and pain of the people he encounters. To live the life of Jesus is an active response of trust and obedience. Your life and leadership will reveal how you face the challenges and difficulties of this time. 

Faith Shaped Leadership

These three practices can and will assist you in deepening your faith and developing faith shaped leadership. 

So, as a faith shaped leader, what are you doing to pay attention to Jesus and to develop your trust and obedience? Let’s not make it an intellectual exercise, but with trust and obedience let’s actively commit ourselves to God and to one another for the transformation of our lives, our families, our communities, our church, and the world. 

The question is “Who do you trust?”  Remember, who you are is how you lead.