How will you lead this year? As a Christ-centered leader, you have the opportunity and responsibility to recognize potential in people and then assist them in developing that potential for the good of others. Who or what will make the difference in your leadership?   

Too often, we think we can lead through our own power or skill. We have convinced ourselves that if we know just a little more, read the right books, or attend the right seminars we will be equipped to lead. How has that been working for you? 

On the other hand, without thinking about it, we assume we will know what to do when we need to do it.  After all we trust God to give us what we need but being passive and not responding to God’s gifts of time and relationships have not served us well as leaders. 

Think about it for a moment. What one essential relationship or partnership do you have that equips you and empowers you as a leader? 

Use the pattern of Read, Reflect, Respond, Return as a tool to assist you in rediscovering the partnership you most need in being the leader God created you to be. 

Read Matthew 17:14-20 

When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has epilepsy and suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured from that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” 

Reflect

This story follows the glory of Christ on the mountain (story of the transfiguration). The struggle and failure of the followers of Jesus are in direct contrast to the mountaintop experience. 

On the mountain, Jesus’ commission is reconfirmed as he begins to instruct his followers on the meaning and cost of following him. Although they have been given power and authority, they are frustrated by their failure to heal the boy or cast out the demon. The work in the mundane world in the valley is not as glorious as the experience on the mountain. 

Being and Doing

The primary focus of this story is the relationship between the power of Jesus and the experience of his followers. It is seen in their question in verse nineteen, “Why couldn’t we cast it out?” In this story, there is a difference between spiritual exhilaration and the experience of everyday service, but it does not have to be that way. 

The mountaintop experience can and should be seen in every act of love and kindness extended in every situation and circumstance. In other words, there is a partnership between being and doing, between the power of God and our response to God’s grace.

Why Can’t We Stop It?

One of my favorite Martin Luther King, Jr’s sermons is, “The Answer to a Perplexing Question” based on Matthew 17:19, “Why couldn’t we cast him out?” In the sermon, King points out that the problem that has always troubled us as human beings is our inability to conquer evil by our own power.  He points out we ask in pathetic amazement “Why can’t we get rid of evil or remove evil from our lives and the world in which we live?” 

We can ask that question regarding the violence we continue to experience. “Why can’t we stop it?”

We try, in our own ways, to stop it. Why can’t we stop the violence? We can ask that question regarding the injustice and inequality in which we participate. We try, through sermons and studies, to stop it. “Why can’t we stop it?” 

Why Can’t I…?

You know you can ask that question regarding your desire to lead courageously and effectively. “Why can’t I lead the way I want to lead? On your own, often in isolation, you try. Why can’t you lead with courage? 

King says we have usually pursued two paths to eliminate evil and to save the world.  We can say the same for violence, injustice, inequality, and for courageous leadership. 

The first path is to try to do everything on our own power and resourcefulness. It is a strange conviction that by thinking, inventing, and governing, we will conquer the “nagging forces of evil” or become effective Christ-centered leaders. 

The second path is to submissively wait for God to act on our behalf. We trust God to give us what we need, so we wait passively (and irresponsibly) for God to do something. It is another strange conviction to just “let go and let God” when God has equipped us to respond in faith trusting the gifts and talents we have been given.   

Living the Answer

King asks, “What then is the answer to life’s perplexing question? If the world is not to be purified by God alone nor by us alone, who will do it?” If we want to move beyond the rhetoric of simply asking the perplexing question to live the answer perhaps, we need to pursue a third way. 

King answers the question. He says the answer is found in an idea that is distinctly different from the two paths above. Neither God nor humanity will individually bring about the world’s salvation. He says it will take a partnership between God and humanity. 

Leading Through Partnership

Here is the key to leading through partnership. When we and God are one in unity of purpose there is a power to lead with courage. When the overflowing love of God and the perfect trust and obedience of each of us as human beings, there can be and will be a transformation of the old into the new. It is in and through this partnership we can “drive out the deadly cancer of sin.” 

Faith in Jesus opens the door for God to work through us. The followers of Jesus lacked faith when they desperately tried to remove evil from the body of the sick child (Matthew 17:14-23). Jesus points out what might seem obvious: they had been attempting to do by themselves what could only be done with God. 

When your life is an open receptacle for God’s love and grace to enter, you become the person, the leader, and the change agent you were created to be. It is God’s gift of faith that leads you into a life-changing and leader-empowering partnership with God. The one partnership that is needed for you to become the leader God has created you to be. 

Respond

Think about it for a moment.  How is your relationship, your partnership, with Jesus? You can be the leader God created you to be, but you cannot do it alone. You cannot become the leader needed today by mere resolution or by waiting on God to do it for you. To enter a partnership with Jesus, surrender yourself and become an instrument of God’s love, grace, and peace. 

Think of it this way, your family and friends, your church, and all of creation are waiting on you to open the door and to enter the partnership God is offering through Jesus. Even today, your church and your community are waiting on you to answer the invitation:                                                                                               

“Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come into you and eat with you, and you with me.” Revelation 3:20 

Reflect

Give God thanks for the people you met today. How were you in partnership with Jesus? How were you in partnership with others who connected you to Jesus? Who did you invite to be in partnership with Jesus? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Prayer 

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness. Joy.

O Divine Master,

Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood, as to understand;

To be loved, as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive,

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. 

-Francis of Assisi

How will you lead this year? One way to keep in mind and practice is to lead by reminding people of who they are and what is expected of them. Leadership is recognizing the potential in people and then developing that potential for the good of others. 

Think about it for a moment. As a spiritual leader, at every baptism you are reminding people of who they are, “A beloved child of God.” You are reminding them of their “call” to ministry. As much as we might want to make baptism a personal and individualistic event, it is more of a claim upon your life and a call to be about God’s business in the community and the world. 

What does it mean to “remember your baptism”?   

Use the pattern of Read, Reflect, Respond, Return as a tool to assist you in remembering your baptism and in becoming the leader needed for the time in which we are living. 

Read Matthew 3:13-17 

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him, and he saw God’s Spirit descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from the heavens said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 

Reflect 

There is much to be said about the story of Jesus’s baptism and the meaning of baptism for you and for me. But, for this reflection let’s focus on “And a voice from the heavens said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’” 

At Jesus’s baptism, a voice from heaven said, “This is my son.” Those words are from Psalm 2. They were spoken on the occasion of the crowning of the king of Israel. At Jesus’ baptism, Jesus is claimed by God to be king or ruler. As you know, his kingdom is not a geographic location but the hearts, minds, and actions of people. So, baptism is the acknowledgement of trust and obedience to the “ruler” of your life. 

Then the words, “My Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” comes from Isaiah 42. It is a line from the description of the suffering servant of God, the one who gives his life. It means touching, loving, going, doing, caring for people. In other words, here is my son, the servant. So, baptism is a commissioning to ministry. It is a commissioning to be about God’s business in the community and the world. 

What is God’s Business?

Jesus wet from baptism, left the Jordan River and went about God’s business.  What is God’s business? God’s business is feeding, healing, caring for, and serving people. In each of the four gospels there are stories of Jesus being about God’s business. He even knelt and washed people’s feet. 

As a leader, you remind people they are God’s children, and they are about doing God’s business. Feeding, healing, caring, serving others in the love in which they are loved. When you say the words, “Remember your baptism,” you are reminding followers of Jesus to remember they are beloved children of God, and they are to be about God’s business of loving and serving other people. 

Fred Craddock told a story that is helpful at this point.  He was pastor of a church in Custer City, Oklahoma.  The population was about 450. There were four churches in town: a Methodist church, a Baptist church, a Nazarene church, and a Christin church. Each had its share of the population and attendance rose and fell according to the weather and whether it was harvest time. 

He said that the most consistent attendance in town was at the little café where all the pickup trucks were parked. All the men gathered there while their wives and children attended one of those four churches. The attendance at the churches would fluctuate, but the attendance at the café was consistently good. The men were always there discussing the weather, cattle, wheat bugs, and crops.

The patron saint of the group was a man named Frank. He was a good, strong, rancher, farmer, and cattleman about seventy-seven years old. He was born into poverty but had prospered over the years. He had his credentials, and all the men there at the café considered him to be their leader.  They would laugh and say, “Old Frank will never go to church.” 

Craddock said that he first met Frank on the street. After some small talk, Frank spoke up and said, “I work hard, and I take care of my family, and I mind my own business.” He said that as far as he was concerned, everything else is fluff. Craddock interpreted the words to mean, “Leave me alone; I’m not a prospect.” 

He said that is why he was surprised, the whole town was surprised, and the men at the café were bumfuzzled when Frank, at seventy-seven years old, presented himself one Sunday morning for baptism.  Craddock said he baptized Frank. Some in the community said that Frank must be sick, They said he must be scared to meet his maker. Some said “He’s got heart trouble, going up to be baptized. I never thought old Frank would do that, but I guess when you get scared…” 

There were all kinds of stories. But this is what he said to Craddock while they were talking after the baptism. Craddock asked, “Frank, do you remember that little saying you used to give me so much? ‘I work hard, I take care of my family, and I mind my own business’?” 

Frank said, “Yeah, I remember. I said that a lot.” 

“Do you still say that?” 

He said, “Yes.” 

“Then what is the difference?” 

Frank said, “I didn’t know then what my business was.” 

Frank discovered what his business was. It was to love, care for, and serve people. Craddock baptized Frank. He said, “I raised my hand and said in the presence of those who gathered,” ‘Upon your confession of faith in Jesus Christ and in obedience to the command, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.’” 

So, remember your baptism. You are a beloved Child of God who is about the business of God. And what is that business? To love, care for, and serve the people you encounter each day. 

Respond 

As a leader, part of your work is to remind people of their potential and to help them live it out. As a spiritual leader, one of the ways of reminding people is baptism. At every baptism you are challenged to remember who you are. As personal as baptism might be understood, baptism is a communal event. The community of faith takes a vow to help you and all the baptized community to “Do all in your power to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.” Think about it, part of a pathway to discipleship in which the whole community of faith participates. 

You have been claimed by God for something bigger than yourself, bigger than a denomination, even bigger than your congregation. To remember your baptism is to remember, “The old life is gone; a new life has begun.” It is a reminder to be about God’s business of love, care, and acceptance. 

Baptism is even a reminder of who you are is how you lead. 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you met today. How were you reminded that you are a beloved child of God? Who did you remind that they are a beloved child of God? In what situations were you about God’s business? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Prayer

O God, I am grateful for your reminders that I am your beloved child and that you have something for me to do as one of your children. Help me be aware of your presence in every situation and circumstance and in every relationship and acquaintance of this day. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear you. Give me a heart to discern and a mind to recognize what you are doing. Make me a blessing to someone somewhere today as you embrace me and the people around me with your love that makes me more who you want me to be. I offer my life to be a home for you and for the people you send my way. Amen

How will you lead this year? Keeping in mind that who you are is how you lead, the turn of the calendar year is a good time to assess and make adjustments to how you lead.

Think for a moment. Is there anything you want to redo from this past year? Are there relationships you want to repair and restore? Are there moments of learning you want to incorporate into your life and leading? 

You can make changes and adjustments any time of year, but the beginning of the year is an excellent time to be intentional in your reflection and commitments.

To help with your reflection, I offer the pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, Return” as a tool to assist you in becoming the leader needed for the time in which we are living. 

Read Isaiah 43:14-24 

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: For your sake I will send to Babylon and break down all the bars, and the shouting of the Chaldeans will be turned to lamentation.

I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King. Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army, and warrior; they lie down; they cannot rise; they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:

Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals, and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise. 

Reflect

Isaiah wrote these words to the people who have been separated from what they held important: family, community, country, religion, etc.  They felt overwhelmed and hopeless, partly because of their lack of trust and partly because of circumstances beyond their control.  Isaiah reminds them who created them, who formed them, and who redeemed them.  He reminds them they have nothing to fear because God has been with them through all the trials of their separation. He reminds them that God will take care of them and their children.  

Isaiah announces to them that God is going to set them free from their enemies. “For your sake 

I will send you to Babylon and break down all the bars, and the shouting of the Chaldeans will be turned to lamentation.”  In the midst of their situations of slavery (hopelessness), God is going to make a way for them. 

For them to be set free, they are challenged to set the past aside, to forget the former things.  God is doing a new thing, a new work in their midst, and they are challenged to see it.  He reassures them that they can trust God because God is able to make a way in the wilderness and a river in the desert. 

What New Thing is God Doing?

Until recently, I read that scripture as something that has happened to someone else. But this past week I began to ask myself, what new thing is God doing in my life? What must I set aside to see what God is doing? 

Could it be that Isaiah was writing to you and me as well? In the midst of all you have experienced over the past several years, feelings of isolation, lack of support, learning new ways of caring for family, navigating a political polarization, etc. it would be natural to feel overwhelmed and even hopeless. What is the use to keep going? 

God is Doing a New Thing in You

Isaiah is reminding you who made you and who loves you. He is reminding you of who has called you and equipped you for this work of leading. You have nothing to fear because God has been with you through the trials and obstacles. God will take care of you. In the midst of all that continues to pull you back, that keeps you from becoming who God created you to be, God is making a way for you. 

Just as the people of Israel were challenged to set the past aside, to forget the former things, you must do the same.  God is doing a new thing, a new work in your midst and you are being challenged to see it. Again, just as Isaiah reassured the people that they could trust God, you are being challenged to trust the One who has created you, who loves you, and who called you to this work. 

Becoming the Leader You Were Created to Be

Just as God can make a way in the wilderness and a river in the desert, God is making a way for you. The question is, “Can you recognize what God is doing in your life and leading?” 

That is the question, isn’t it? What new thing is God doing in my life? The other question is, “What must I set aside to see and participate in what God is doing?”

The answer to those questions become leadership questions when you carry the past along with you, remembering the unkind words, the breaches of trust, the moments of lashing out, being taken for granted, being forgotten, pushed aside, and not included. You carry all these things into your thoughts and style of leadership.  It is true, who you are is how you lead. 

What must you set aside and leave behind for you to be the leader you are created to be? What must be let go for you to be the leader for this time? 

A New Year

One of my favorite columnists was Erma Bombeck. I remember an article she wrote in December of 1992. It was an article that helped me set aside some hurts and grudges that were getting in the way of me being the pastor God needed me to be. The article was titled, “New Year: Leave Baggage Behind.” She wrote:

For years, I’ve studied the symbol of the New Year – a smiling baby wearing a diaper and a top hat. What does it mean? A beginning of life? A time of innocence? A scenario for change? Then it hit me. For years, I’ve been overdressed for the New Year. I enter it with shoulders bent, swathed in all the ills of the previous year, and when I can’t wear them all on my body, I lug them along in heavy boxes and suitcases, kicking them along with my foot to make sure all of them make it into the next year of my life. 

Wrapped around my neck a mantle of guilt, some of it dating back as far as 1940 (Guilt for the time my parents gave me a savings bond for my high school graduation when I wanted a silver charm bracelet, and I threw the savings bond on the floor. An oldie, but goodie.) 

The hair shirt of self-pity is uncomfortable, but for years has provided me with enough ammunition to bring tears to the eyes of my husband and children.  To discard it would be unthinkable. After all, self-pity, if you do it right, takes a long time to amass. 

The belt of prejudice is an old one and encompasses anyone who does not agree with every single word I have ever said. I’d feel naked without it. 

The large footlocker contains anger.  True, a lot of it doesn’t fit anymore, but I hang onto it just in case I’m caught short. 

Adorning all of this are the jewels of frustration over things that I can never do anything about, but which I wear like medals to torture myself. 

And of course, the biggest piece of baggage contains old grudges that I sift through each year like old photographs and pressed flowers…the critic who was unkind, the one mistake from a friend I want to forgive, the trust I gave a child that was abused, the harsh words from a family member that I refuse to forget.  Grudges, many of them antiques, that I plan on handing down to my children. 

Each year of my life, the load gets heavier and heavier to carry into the New Year.  Once, around March, I almost sank, but stubbornly I hung onto every bit of New Years past. 

Frankly, I don’t know if I can face the New Year without my clothes on.  I don’t know if I can check into 1993 without luggage.  Can I look at old friends and see them for the first time? Can I keep my eyes forward and not look back? Do I have the guts to emerge with nothing on but a smile and a top hat? 

I’m gonna try. 

One of the curses of the past is that we cannot go back and change the course leading to the hurts and disappointments, no matter how much we might wish to. The past has its own terrible inevitability. But it is never too late to change the future.

Respond

God is doing new things in your life and leadership. What are some new things God is doing? What are some things you will need to give up to participate in what God is doing? Where is God making a way for you through the tough situations you are facing? Keep these things in mind for when you return later in the day. 

God is calling you to something bigger than yourself, bigger than a denomination, and even bigger than the church universal.  The message of our Christian faith is one of resurrection and renewal. Paul wrote, “The old life is gone; a new life has begun.” It is time to give up some of the “stuff” we have been hanging onto. It is time to move boldly and faithfully into the future, following God’s lead knowing that being focused upon Jesus’ new life is ahead. Remember, who you are is how you lead. 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. 

  • In whom did you experience God doing something new? 
  • How did you participate? 
  • What have you considered leaving behind as you enter this new year? 
  • What new path is God making for you through your difficult situations and relationships? 
  • How could your leadership be more effective by letting go of some old things? 

Now ask God to help you see the new things God is doing in the lives of the people around you and in the situations and circumstances you find yourself in. Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Prayer

O God, I am grateful that you have come to be with me in Jesus. Help me be aware of your presence in every situation and circumstance and in every relationship and acquaintance of this day. Give me eyes to see and ears to see and hear what new thing you are doing, and give me a heart to discern and a mind to recognize it. Make me a blessing to someone somewhere today as you embrace me and the people around me with your love that makes me more who you want me to be. I offer my life to be a home for you and for the people you send my way. Amen

At this time of year, we seem more sensitive to the human needs around us. Whether it be the Salvation Army ringing the bell on the street or the toy drive led by the local fire department, people are more willing to give to address the needs of others.

We are also more aware of the lack of peace in our communities. Even though we sing hymns of peace on earth and goodwill toward all people, our hearts our haunted by gun violence, mass murders, economic injustice, acts of racism, hunger, and homelessness. We yearn for a few days of hope, joy, peace, and love so deeply that we have convinced ourselves that a few days of good feelings will somehow help the world be a better place.

In this time of “peace on earth and goodwill toward all people” we need someone to address our hopes and fears, to fill our lives with the goodness we desire, not only for ourselves but for all people. 

Leading with  Peace, Hope and Love

As a Christ-centered leader, how do you keep yourself focused this time of year and at the same time help address the need for peace, hope, and love with the people entrusted to your care? 

It is my thought and conviction that you and I as leaders hold the key to the hope and love our world desperately yearns to experience and live by. If I may be trite, we know the One in whom the “hopes and fears of all the years” is made real. 

When we read the biblical stories, we find that the birth of Jesus, in a stable to humble parents named Mary and Joseph, is God’s dramatic way of coming into the world in a way that we can understand. It is the story of God taking on the life of a human being and coming into this world to live with us. 

God Comes to Us

God always comes to us in a way that satisfies our needs. Read Matthew’s story. Matthew reminds us that the name Jesus means savior and that the name Emmanuel means God is with us. Matthew is telling us that in Jesus, God’s saving presence is with us. 

When we read Luke’s story, we are reminded that Jesus came alongside the poor, the marginalized, and the outcasts. The story of being born in a stable points to the fact there was no respectable place for him. His birth is announced to shepherds symbolizes the good news for those considered unclean and unacceptable in good religious circles. Luke is telling us that God’s saving love is for everyone. 

Then John points out that Jesus was present at the beginning with God because Jesus is God. Then God becomes flesh and lives among us in Jesus. I understand the words lived among us to mean “pitched his tent next to ours.” Eugene Peterson in the Message says, “moved into our neighborhood.” John is telling us that God in Jesus has come to live with us. 

And Paul teaches us that God is in Christ “reconciling the world to himself.” It might be helpful to think of the word reconciled as being embraced or hugged. God is in Christ “embracing” the world and “hugging” us, each of us, holding us close in love. 

Love Came Down at Christmas

One of the carols we sing at Christmas helps us remember the story of God coming to be with us in Jesus. It is the carol, “Love Came Down at Christmas.” 

Love came down at Christmas,

love all lovely, Love divine;

Love was born at Christmas;

star and angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,

Love incarnate, Love divine;

worship we our Jesus,

but wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token;

love be yours and love be mine;

love to God and others,

Love for plea and gift and sign.

The implication in each of the scriptural stories and teachings, as well as the carol, is that God has come to be intimately related to us. It is the story of the incarnation. God comes to us on our turf, as opposed to a church building, and works for our well-being, holding us close with a love that never lets us go. Regardless of who we are, where we live, our gender, race, nationality, or belief, God is with us, working for our good. 

Becoming an Incarnational Leader

As a Christ-centered leader, what will your leadership look like when you become an incarnational leader? As you continue to reflect on how you keep yourself focused and address the need for peace, hope, and love with the people entrusted to you, I will share a story that might help clear your thoughts and focus your vision. 

In the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, a British runner, Derek Redmond, entered the 400-meter race. For years he had practiced just for this race. His father, who was also his trainer and coach, had helped him become one of the fastest people in the world. 

As the race began, Redmond took an early lead. When he pulled his hamstring, he was well out in front of the other sprinters. He fell to the track but did not drop out of the race. He struggled to his feet and began hopping on one foot toward the finish line. The crowd stood and cheered him on, but the pain was so great and the wound so serious that he struggled to finish the race. 

Suddenly, a middle-aged man jumped over the guardrail onto the track, caught up with Redmond, put his arms around his waist, and helped him finish the race. The man was Jim Redmond, Derek Redmond’s father. Father and son crossed the finish line together. 

In an interview after the race, Redmond said, “He was the only one who could have helped me because he was the only one who knew what I had been through.” 

Opening the Door

What will your leadership look like when you become an incarnational leader? Coming alongside those who are in need, those who have fallen, and assisting them with love, helping them live with dignity and hope? 

This Christmas when Jesus comes knocking on the front door of your church building, be ready for his invitation. Because when you open the door to invite him in, he is going to invite you out into the neighborhood in which he is living. He will introduce you to his friends, all his friends. All of his poor, forgotten, disabled, overlooked friends. When you follow Jesus into the neighborhood, you will take your first step in becoming the incarnational leader needed to meet the needs of people today. 

I know this was not a “sweet little Jesus” Christmas story, but our good feelings will not make the world a better place. There will be “peace on earth and goodwill toward all people” when you and I become the incarnational leaders who make a difference in the neighborhoods where God’s Word is made flesh in and through us. 

God with Us

Take a few minutes to reflect upon the places you experienced God today. In whom did you meet Jesus? Through whom did you experience God’s love? Who did you assist in reaching the finish line of dignity and hope? 

O God, I am grateful that you have come to be with me in Jesus. Help me be aware of your presence in every situation and circumstance and in every relationship and acquaintance of this day. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear you. Give me a heart to discern and a mind to recognize what you are doing. Make me a blessing to someone somewhere today as you embrace me and the people around me with your love that makes me more who you want me to be. I offer my life to be a home for you and for the people you send my way. Amen 

May the joy of Jesus be yours this Christmas! I look forward to seeing you in the new 2023 year. Until then, remember, who you are is how you lead! 

Merry Christmas!

The work of Jesus is love. To lead with the work of Jesus is to lead with love. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul expresses the work of Jesus as, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable; it keeps no record of wrongs; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

Too often these words are taken as a poem idealizing love. But to do so is to miss the point. Sometimes the words are misunderstood to be a general idea of love. Again, that misses the point. Paul wrote these words to a church in the midst of conflict. He laid out the way of Christian living. In other words, to be a follower of Jesus is to love as God in Jesus has loved you. For Paul, love was the work of Jesus. 

During this third week in Advent, let’s explore the work of Christ as another distinctive characteristic of Christ-centered leadership.

Read Matthew 11:2-6 

“When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 

Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (Matthew 11:2-6). 

Reflect

Matthew is helping us understand that Jesus does not conform to the popular explanations and expectations of the Messiah, the Christ. Because Jesus does not conform, he tells us that even though John is a true prophet with a legitimate message, who recognizes Jesus as the Messiah, is imprisoned for his prophetic preaching, and dies a martyr’s death, his faith wavers. John needs assurance. So, he sends his followers to ask Jesus if he is the one they have been expecting. 

Jesus tells John’s followers to go tell John what they hear and see. Jesus is at work. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. Jesus is at work loving as God has loved, bringing healing and hope to all in need. 

Matthew’s story of John is an object lesson for all followers of Jesus. Your salvation is not a static possession. Being a Christ-centered leader is greater than your spiritual experiences. The story is a reminder that even when your expectations are not met, the work of Jesus continues. You are challenged to listen and to see what Jesus is doing in the lives of the people around you.

Leading with the Work of Christ

So, with that in mind, what does it mean to lead with the work of Jesus?

Again, the work of Jesus is love. So, to answer that question, let’s start with the word “agape.” Although “agape” is not a word we use in our everyday language, it is a concept found in the New Testament. It is used to describe the distinct kind of love embodied in the life and ministry of Jesus. It is the kind of love that focuses on people and develops communities of koinonia. 

Agape defines God’s immeasurable, incomparable love for us, all of us. It is God’s ongoing, outgoing, self-sacrificing interest and concern for creation. God loves you, me, humanity, and all creation without condition. Agape is the work of Jesus. 

To put it another way, this love is not dependent upon the worth of the people being loved. It does not count the cost based on the return. It is spontaneous and does not consider beforehand whether it will be effective or proper. It is the extension of God’s love lived out in and through our relationships with each other. 

Lead with Agape

This is the one characteristic of leadership that gives meaning and purpose to all other characteristics. 

To lead with the work of Jesus is to lead with agape. To lead with agape means: 

To lead with the highest form of love described and experienced in the Bible.

It is more than an emotion. It is a matter of will. As much as I like Hallmark Christmas movies, the love that holds each of us is not a Hallmark movie love. As much as we talk about the church being a family, this love is greater than friends and family. In fact, this love is greater than race, color, or belief. It is a love that intentionally works for the good of each individual regardless of who they are or whether you feel anything or not.

To understand the greatest expression of relationship. 

As much as I dislike conflict, this love is not about “getting along” with one another. Sometimes, for the sake of unity, we set this love aside and become nice instead of loving. It is in the midst of our differences and disagreements that love is the source of our relationships. It is working for the good of all people whether we agree or not. The purpose of Christ-centered leadership is not unity but agape, the love of God as experience in Jesus.

To love as Jesus loves. 

It is to be focused on the good of others before it is focused on our own goodness, desires, expectations, or results. Too many times we talk of loving others so we can get something from them, get them into the church, or meet our budgets. This love is greater than our institutional concerns. We love because God in Christ first loved us. Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” This love is about being who God created us to be for no other reason than being who God created us to be.

To express through action. 

Too often we talk about love and loving others but are slow to live the love we talk about. John, in his first letter wrote, “Those who say, ‘I love God’ and hate their brothers or sisters are liars. After all, those who don’t love their brothers or sisters whom they have seen can hardly love God whom they have not seen! This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also” (I John 4:19-21). 

Lead with Love

A different kind of love. Jesus told his followers to love one another in the same way he loved them. This was a new and different kind of love. You live this love by:  

Listening

You are quick to listen and slow to speak. You elevate the importance of a person when you take them seriously by listening. It is important for people to know that you care enough to listen to them. Too often, in conversations, we are forming our responses and interrupting before the other person finishes speaking. As important as your position and opinion might be, it is more important to listen, especially to those with whom you disagree. 

Being Patient

You are slow to anger. You are patient with people more than patient with circumstances. Regardless of how unkind and hurtful people might be, you show the same patience with others as God has shown you. The patience of love always wins. 

Being Kind

On one hand, you are quick to compliment and affirm, and on the other hand, you are clear with feedback. Being clear is kind. You build meaningful relationships with kindness. Being kind helps with connection and cooperation, as well as trust and well-being. 

Being Generous

You are slow to pass judgment and quick to offer grace. You freely offer space and time for people to be who they have been created to be. So, when people don’t move as fast as you, you are generous with “they are doing the best they can do.” Then you ask, “How can I help you?” or “What do you need from me to do what you need to do?” Being generous means, you are providing what is at the time. 

This love is so important, that the early followers of Jesus showed love in everything they did. For them, to love God and to love the people around them was motivation for everything. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Everything should be done in love” (I Corinthians 16:14 CEB). Agape love is the essence of God. Agape love is the work of Jesus. 

Agape Holds Us Together

Fred Craddock tells a story that illustrates the work of Jesus. He writes: 

 “I was walking one afternoon, and I passed a corner where a man was doing something that fascinated me. I stopped my walk and watched him. He had a pile of bricks, and the thing he was doing was measuring each brick; how long it was, how wide it was, and how deep it was. He threw a bunch of good-looking bricks out. He said, “I have to get them all exactly the same.”

I asked, “Why?”

He said, “I’m building a church and I want it to stand.”

Craddock said, “There are people who think that the way to really have a church is to get people that are from the same economic and social and educational background, then they will all be together.”  He said, “The man started stacking those brinks; they were all just alike. I went by the next afternoon, and they were all just piles of brick. They had fallen down.”

I went on around the corner, and I saw a man with a pile of rocks. You have never seen such a mess in your life. No two of them are alike, round ones, dark ones, small ones, big ones, and little ones. I said, “What in the world are you doing?”

He said, “I’m building a church.”

I said, “You are nuts! The fellow around the corner had them all alike, and he couldn’t make it stand.”

He said, “This will stand.”

“No, it won’t. It won’t stand.”

“Yes, it will.”

Craddock said, “You can’t get it to stand. The fellow around the corner…

The man said, “It will stand.”

The man went over to a wood tray, took something like a hoe, and began to stir something back and forth. It looked a lot like cement to me, but that’s not what he called it. He put healthy doses of that between the stones. I went back thirty-four years later, and it was still there. It was that stuff in between that looked a lot like cement that made the difference. That’s not what he called it. But you know what it’s called…agape. It is the work of Jesus.

Respond

John had his disciples ask, “Are you the one or should we expect someone else?” Loving others as God in Jesus has loved you is not easy. It will cost you your life. But, if you are a Christ-centered leader, leading with the work of Jesus is the most life-giving work you will ever do.

Who you are is how you lead.

Pray

O God, I want to lead with the work of Jesus. Fill me with the love that is patient and kind. A love that is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude and does not insist on its own way. Keep me from being irritable. Help me tear up my list of wrongs I have kept regarding the actions of others and help me rejoice in the truth of others. Keep working with me so that I become more of the leader you need me to be. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus who love gives me meaning and purpose. Amen.

Return

At the end of the day, give God thanks for the people you met today. Where did you experience God’s love? Through whom did you experience it? With whom did you share God’s love today? Give God thanks for the opportunities to love others as you have been loved. Reflect upon “Who I am is how I lead.”

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.