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

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

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

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

Read Philippians 2:5-11 

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

who, though he existed in the form of God,

           did not regard equality with God

           as something to be grasped,

but emptied himself,

           taking the form of a slave,

           assuming human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a human,

he humbled himself

                        and became obedient to the point of death—

                        even death on a cross.

Therefore, God exalted him even more highly

           and gave him the name

           that is above every other name,

so that at the name given to Jesus

           every knee should bend,

           in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess

           that Jesus Christ is Lord,

           to the glory of God the Father.

Reflect

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

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

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

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

Leading with the Mind of Christ

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

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

Christ-centered leadership focuses on others. 

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

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

Being Right or Being in a Relationship?

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

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

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

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

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

Christ-centered leadership is incarnational. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christ-centered leadership is about humility. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respond

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

Return

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

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

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

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

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

Read Matthew 5:8 

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

Reflect

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

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

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

Live a Holy Life

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

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

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

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

Lead with the Heart of Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

Love as You Have Been Loved

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

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

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

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

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

Loving the People Jesus Loves

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lead with the Heart of Christ 

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

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

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

Respond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Return

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

Pray

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

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

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

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

Read Acts 2:46-47

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

Reflect

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

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

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

Good News about the Church

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

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

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

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

Glad and Generous Hearts

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

So, what truth is found in the story?

Life Together

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

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

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

Relationships – Being Known

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holy Attitudes

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

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

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

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

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

Respond

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

Return

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Acts 2:42, 46 

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

Reflect

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

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

The First Sermon

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

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

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

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

Repent

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

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

The First Community of Faith

That first community of faith was: 

A learning community.

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

A fellowshipping community.

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

A praying community.

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

A worshiping community.

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

A growing community.

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

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

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

Five Ingredients for Developing Koinonia

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

1. Study

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

2. Fellowship

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

3. Accountability

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

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

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

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

4. Worship and Prayer

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

5. Mission and Outreach

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

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

Christ-centered leaders develop community, specifically Christian community. 

Respond 

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

Return

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

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

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

Mission Focused

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

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

The World is My Parish

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

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

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

John Wesley’s Mission Field

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

Wesley fought against it. 

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

The Methodist Movement as Mission

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

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

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

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

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

2.      What is the mission of the church? 

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

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

3.      What is your mission field? 

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

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

4.      What are the assets of the mission field? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christ-Centered Leadership

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

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

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

Experience God’s Presence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Distinct Ideas of Community

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

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

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

Read: Acts 2:42-47 

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

Reflect

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

What is Koinonia?

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

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

John Wesley on Community

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

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

Aldersgate Community

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

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

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

Shaped by Community

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

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

Leading Community

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

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

Questions for Reflection

Reflect on these questions for yourself:

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

Reflect upon these questions for your community:

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

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

Respond

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

Return

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

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

How often have you read or heard me say, “Who you are is how you lead”? This past week I realized I have done a lot of writing about the characteristics of leaders but have not focused on the foundation of Christ-centered leadership. It has been implied, but not specific. Over the next several weeks, I want to be more focused and specific on what it means to be a Christ-centered leader. 

The very foundation of Christ-centered leadership is, of course, Jesus. But what does it mean to be a leader who is a follower of Jesus? Let’s look at some distinguishing characteristics of Christ-centered leaders. 

As much as I want to begin with having the heart, mind, and work of Jesus, I want to save the best to last. So, let’s start with some distinguishing characteristics of the first followers of Jesus as found in The Acts of the Apostles. 

Read Acts 2:42-47 

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

Reflect

Look at the words, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching…” The apostles were the first to teach, preach, and live the good news of Jesus. The question is, “What is the good news?” Part of the answer can be found in the New Testament gospels. For example: 

Good News to Matthew

In the gospel according to Matthew, the good news is “God sent Jesus to teach us how to live a holy life.” The word “holy” in the scripture means to be “different” or “separated” as in being different from others. God is a different God. To be daughters and sons of God, we are to live as God created us to live. God sent Jesus to teach us how to live differently. To live life the way God created us to live life. 

The way Jesus says it is “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Jesus said these words in the context of developing relationships with people. The word perfect is used as “complete” or “whole.”  You and I are complete and whole, or holy as God is complete, whole, or holy in the way we love others. God sent Jesus to teach us how to live as we have been created to live in relationship with people we encounter each day. 

So, when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24). Holiness is seen in everyday relationships. But not only in your everyday relationships… 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43-44). Holiness is seen in the way you relate to and love your enemies. 

Relationships are so important that you are to be a person of integrity even in your speech. “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you: Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, no;’ anything more than this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:33-36). Holiness is seen in your integrity. 

But that is not all, your holiness is seen in your forgiveness of others. Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if my brother or sister sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22). Holiness is seen in the grace to forgive as many times as it takes. 

God sent Jesus to teach us how to live with one another. 

Good News in Mark

In the gospel according to Mark, the good news is that “God sent Jesus to oppose the evil, pain, and suffering of the world. “Jesus and his followers went into Capernaum. Immediately on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and started teaching. The people were amazed by his teaching, for he was teaching them with authority, not like the legal experts. Suddenly, there in the synagogue, a person with an evil spirit screamed, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are. You are the holy one from God.’”

“Silence!” Jesus said, speaking harshly to the demon. “Come out of him!” The unclean spirit shook him and screamed, then it came out. (Mark 1:21-26)

Through Mark’s story, Jesus faces the suffering and pain people are facing and he restores them to health and wholeness. Whether it be the demons in the synagogue or leprosy. When someone suffered leprosy, the person was separated from family, community, work, worship, everything that was meaningful. When Jesus healed a person with leprosy, he not only restored them to physical health, but he healed relationships broken by isolation, alienation, and separation as well.

God sent Jesus to face what separates us from God and from one another and overcomes it. Jesus gives us hope with new life and direction.

Good News in Luke

In the gospel according to Luke, Jesus is the one who helps us get through the barriers of theology, race, nation, and gender. The angel who came to Mary came with good news saying, “Do not be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). And the angel who came to the shepherds came with good news, “Do not be afraid, for I bring you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior…” (Luke 2:10-11) “And when Jesus started his ministry he said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

Throughout Luke’s story, people are liberated because someone shared God’s love and acceptance with them. Saul of Tarsus, the Ethiopian Eunuch, Cornelius, the Roman centurion, Simon Peter, and others. In each encounter, someone shared the good news of Jesus, the Risen Christ, and shared the love and acceptance of Jesus. 

The good news for Luke is living and loving in such a way that the barriers are overcome, and new relationships are established.

Good News in John

In the gospel according to John, if you have seen Jesus, you have seen God. Jesus says, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” (John 14:19) And says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6). For John, the good news is in Jesus you see the truth of God.

Throughout John’s story, John shows Jesus feeding, healing, caring, serving, and dying. He shows that in Jesus we see who God is. Philip says, “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” Just show us God. And Jesus responds by saying, “Have I been with you all this time and you still do not know me?” 

The good news for John is seeing who God is in Jesus. The work of God’s love is seen in the way Jesus loves. And then Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21). By being followers of Jesus, you love as God has loved you.

The early followers of Jesus “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching…” So, one of the characteristics of Christ-centered leaders is to teach, preach, and live the good news of Jesus.

Respond

O God thank you for the good news of your love and acceptance in Jesus and for the good news I can read and hear in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. By your grace, give me the faith to trust your good news so that I may become the person of love and acceptance you have created me to be. Give me the faith to trust you more. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Return

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. Where did you experience good news? How did you respond? In whom did you meet Jesus? Give God thanks for relationships restored and strengthened. Give God thanks for the grace to face the suffering and pain you experienced. Give God thanks for the presence and power to overcome the barriers that have separated you from others. Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to become more who God has created you to be. 

Next week we will look at the characteristics of community. I’m glad you and I are together on this journey of following Jesus. As you learn and grow keep in mind, who you are is how you lead.

Have you ever been in the middle of a conversation when you thought to yourself, “I need to remember this? Or “I think I misunderstood what was being said?” I had a conversation like that last week. A friend, a former parishioner, called to ask me what I thought about a particular issue. He had attended a meeting where what he thought was going to happen and what had happened did not coincide. So, he was asking me for clarification. As we discussed the issue, he said, “Wow. I have misunderstood what has been said. I think I have missed the point of what is happening.”

Misunderstandings and Missing the Point

At that moment, I thought to myself, “I need to remember this.” I had just read an article that said misunderstanding was the cause of 90% of all conflicts and my friend was in the midst of an inner conflict. He was trying to gain a clear understanding of what he was hearing. Because what he thought he knew and what he was hearing did not line up, he had a false impression on what was going on. By his own admission, he was missing the point.

As a leader, you deal with misunderstandings on a weekly, if not a daily, basis. The misunderstanding usually shows up either as mismatched expectations or unspoken expectations. You hear that someone was in the hospital and that you did not visit them, yet no one had informed you of the hospitalization. Or someone takes something you said in a sermon personally, as if you were talking directly to them. Or you realize that you could have shown more compassion, or you missed the intent of something that was said, or you misinterpreted something that happened.

Leaders Address Misunderstandings.

Misunderstandings happen all the time. Effective leaders have to deal with misunderstandings. How you respond reveals who you are and who you are is how you lead.

As I reflected upon my conversation with my friend, I thought of scripture, which usually comes to mind when I misunderstand or miss the point of something.

Read Romans 5:8

But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us. (CEB)

Reflect

Misunderstandings as Missing the Mark

Misunderstandings happen. One of the greatest misunderstandings is regarding what God has done for you and for me in and through Jesus. How you understand God’s love and God’s grace shapes how you lead. It affects your relationships and how you respond to misunderstandings and to conflict.

You and I are sinners. No news there. But your understanding that you are a sinner and how God responds to your sin is not only news but good news. The word for sin in Greek means “failure” as in “failure to hit a target” when throwing a spear or shooting an arrow. It was used for missing the road or for failing to meet one’s plan or hope or purpose. So, missing the point or misunderstanding the point is closely related. I don’t need to remind you or myself that neither of us have lived up to who God has created us to be. We have missed the target.

The New Testament on Misunderstandings

In the New Testament, the word describes our condition. It means to be “under the control” of missing the point. So, living under your misunderstanding, as if your misunderstanding is the truth, is sin. You are missing the target.

With this in mind, Paul is writing to the followers of Jesus, in Roman, to encourage them. He writes, “God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” In other words, while you have been missing the target, missing the point, and misunderstanding, God has been loving you just the same. In fact, the proof of God’s love is made known in Jesus’ willingness to go to the cross.

By God’s action of love, you and I are reconciled to God. Now, don’t misunderstand this. God was not reconciled to us. Through Jesus, we are reconciled to God. The cross did not overcome God’s hostility to us. God is not hostile toward us. God is not alienated from us. The cross has overcome our hostility toward God, our alienation from God. Most of us never think of themselves as hostile to God. Even though we say we love God, we miss the target and miss the point when you do not show God’s love in our lives by loving one another.

Missing the Point

We miss the target and miss the point when we think we understand that God’s love in Jesus is just for us and not for others. The good news is, even with that misunderstanding, God still loves you, just as you are. God’s love is so great, that it does not leave you the way you are but assists you in becoming who God created you to be.

Paul writes, “You are at peace with God,” which means you are no longer at war with God, no longer alienated and hostile, no longer under the threat of God’s judgment. Because of God’s love for you, as seen and experienced in Jesus, you are the object of God’s well-being; you are becoming who God created you to be.

That action on the part of God makes you an instrument of love and hope for the world. Being a recipient of God’s love frees you from deciding who you will love. Here is one of our great misunderstandings. You and I do not produce love by our own efforts or affections. The truth is God’s love has been poured into us. You and I love because God first loved us.

God’s Love for Us

I spent most of my first 24 years of life trying to prove to my dad that I was worthy of his love. He was my hero. I wanted him to be proud of me. And I wanted to be like him. Although I do not remember a time when he put pressure on me to perform, I worked at pleasing him. He was a better-than-average athlete. He played football and basketball in high school and basketball in college. Because I wanted to be like him, I played football and basketball in high school. Always seeking his affirmation at the end of each game. He was a contractor. He built houses, churches, hotels, and libraries. As a teenager, I took friends around the community to show them the buildings my dad built. I was proud of him, and I wanted him to be proud of me. The only thing he said to me was, “You need to learn to lay brick. Because if what you choose to do in life doesn’t work out, you can always lay brick.”

At age 24, I was a student in seminary and a pastor of two small congregations. One day, unexpectedly, my mother called me and asked me to come to the house. She had something to discuss with me. When I arrived, she explained that the man who I called Dad, and who I had worked all my life to prove to him that he could be proud of me, had adopted me when I was 9 months old. At that moment, the reality of God’s grace came rushing into my life. My dad had chosen me to be his son, had given me his name and loved me from the beginning. He didn’t care whether I played football, basketball, or ever laid a brick. He already loved me and accepted me. All I could do was accept his love for me. My relationship with him grew deeper and more meaningful after that experience. I began to understand his love for me.

I had missed the point of his love. But I learned that his love for me was just like God’s love for each of us. God shows his love for us, because while we are still sinners, while we are misunderstanding his love and missing the point of loving others, Christ died for us. God has chosen you to be his beloved daughter and son. God has claimed you and given you a name. God already loves you and accepts you.

Loving and Leading in the Midst of Misunderstandings

As a leader, you have been set free to love others in the midst of misunderstandings and conflict. Because of God’s love for you, even while you have missed the point, you can show love and compassion for the people around you. You have been set free to love the people entrusted to you just as God in Jesus loves you.

That is what Paul wants his readers to know. That is, his message is to each of us. You are free to live in God’s love just as God has created you to live. You are free to love others as you have been loved. Remember, you are God’s beloved, chosen to love and lead in the time in which you are living. Accept who you are because who you are is how you lead.

Respond

O God, thank you for your love that is greater than my understanding. Fill me to overflowing so that every person I meet will experience your love and acceptance through me. In the midst of misunderstandings and conflict, let me be an instrument of your love and peace. By your grace, I offer myself to you in the love of Jesus. Amen

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. Where did you experience misunderstandings today? How did you respond? Who helped you with your misunderstandings? How did you experience God’s love and grace in the midst of misunderstandings? Give God thanks for the wisdom you received to discern and understand. Give God thanks for the opportunity to become more who God has created you to be. 

Being a courageous leader is not always about doing something. Sometimes it is about slowing down and reflecting before acting. Steven Covey, in his book The Eighth Habit, says you have the freedom to choose how you act or react in every situation and circumstance in which you find yourself. You might not be able to control what happens to you, but you can decide how you will react to it. If someone treats you badly, regardless of who it is, you have the choice in how you will respond. In other words, who you are is how you lead.

Patience as a Leadership Skill

The eighth habit allows you to create the space needed to reflect before you respond. With that in mind, have you ever thought of patience as being a quality of a courageous leader? The list of qualities usually includes honesty, fairness, motivation, trustworthiness, and good communication. Seldom does patience make the list. 

Too often patience is thought of as a weakness when it comes to leadership skills. You are expected to make a split-second decision and move on to the next thing. And if you take time to consider your options or to think strategically, you are viewed as slow or incompetent.

Patience and Emotional Intelligence

So, let’s consider Webster’s definition of patience, “the quality of being capable of bearing affliction calmly.” From that perspective, patience is part of your emotional intelligence. When you understand patience as having the ability to stay calm in the face of disappointment, adversity, or distress, then being patient allows you to better process challenging situations. 

Patience helps you sort out your thoughts and to bring your feelings under control. It reduces the risk of angry outbursts. It helps you improve the quality of your decisions. Patience is key to developing relationships, establishing trust, and instilling hope. Patience is a cornerstone of true and courageous leadership.

Patience is Difficult to Practice

In his book, If You Will Lead: Enduring Wisdom for the 21st-Century, Doug Moran writes, “Patience is an easy thing to talk about, but it is extremely difficult to practice.” Then he uses Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” to describe patience:

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,”

Moran writes, “Most of us think of patience as a construct of time, but Kipling was addressing the broader definition – enduring difficulty and hardship while awaiting the appropriate opportunity to act.” He is also referring to the patience required to bear the nagging and sniping that often accompanies a decision to wait. 

Patience is Courageous

As a courageous leader, you use patience when you focus on your mission, name the current reality, and wait with understanding and compassion as you help others take the appropriate and effective action needed to live into the mission. Again, patience requires composure and character. By modeling patience, you reinforce the importance of focusing on the mission and long-term goals. 

Keep in mind that the bigger the goal, the more patience is required to remain committed. It will require patience with strategic planning, negotiation, people development, vision casting, etc. Moving from where you are to where you want to usually means you must face issues, barriers, and obstacles along the way. It is easy to see what you want to accomplish and jump ahead without exercising the patience needed to get there. Being a courageous leader means understanding that patience might require sacrificing short-term glory for long-term results. 

Learning Patience

So, why am I writing about leadership and patience? I am learning more about patience each day, with each and every new interaction with you, our colleagues, and others who I am meeting along the way.

I have often heard that patience is a virtue, but it is also one of the “fruits of the spirit” listed by Paul in Galatians 5:22-24: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the self with its passions and its desires.” 

As a fruit of the Spirit, or as a characteristic of a follower of Jesus, patience is “the ability to hold one’s temper for a long time.” The word is translated as “longsuffering” in the King James Version. It comes from a position of power or authority. You might have the ability to take revenge or cause trouble or react with just cause, but patience brings self-restraint and careful thinking. 

As a follower of Jesus, you chose to love when love is not present. You model compassion and grace as you lead through trying situations. Because God is patient or longsuffering with you, you are to suffer long with others. You not only become a better person and leader, but you also reveal who you are as a daughter or son of God. Who you are is how you lead. 

Reminders About Patience

So, as you lead through turbulence and chaos, be patient with those entrusted to your care. When you are faced with complex decisions in demanding situations with people who are insisting on their own way, keep the following in mind: 

Take time to pause and breathe before responding. Patience allows you to slow down and maximize your time and decision-making. Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I would spend the first four hours sharpening the ax. 

Keep the end in mind. Stay focused on your mission. There will be distractions, barriers, and detours along the way. Patience allows you to face each challenge as you move toward your goal. 

Keep in mind the people with whom you are interacting. Don’t take your personal frustration out on them. Be generous. Patience allows you to be generous with them, giving them the benefit of the doubt. 

Keep in mind what you need to communicate along the way. When is the best time to communicate? How will you share information? Patience allows you to slow down and think things through. Understand that the way you express yourself can motivate and uplift others. 

As you model the power of patience, others will follow your lead. Be prepared to respond to the unexpected. The best plans usually have to be modified along the way. The sign of a good plan and effective leader is the ability to respond effectively when things go awry. Unforeseen events are always a test of patience. Patience allows you to respond in a healthy and effective way. 

Be a Patient, Courageous Leader

There are those who say, “Patience is a virtue.” They are correct. But as a leader, patience is a characteristic of courage and effectiveness. You are facing challenges for which you are unprepared. Take the time to pause and reflect. Courageously endure the pressure to react before responding.The words of Kipling, “wait and not be tired by waiting,” will reveal who you are as a leader. Because who you are is how you lead. 

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

What is Discernment?

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

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

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

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

Read Philippians 1:9-10 

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

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

Reflect

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

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

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

A Model of Discernment

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

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

Starting the Discernment Process

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

Discernment Steps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Until Consensus Is Reached in Discernment

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

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

Final Steps for Discernment to Reach a Decision

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

Ask each participant the following questions:

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

Reaching a Decision

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

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

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

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

Respond

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

Return

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