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.

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.  

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

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

Read Ephesians 4:29

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

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

Reflect

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

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

Old Life and New Life

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

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

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

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

The Power of the Spoken Word

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

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

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

Words are Powerful

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

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

Your Words Make a Difference

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

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

Check your references before you speak. Also, check your motive for speaking. If it is anything other than to bring God glory or to introduce people to Jesus, put it away. Your agenda is to be the leader that models the love and care of the living God for all persons. There is no place for anything other than the good news of God’s love experienced in and through Jesus. Your words reveal your agenda. 

Speaking to Others

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

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

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

Words in Social Space

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

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

Kind, Caring, Encouraging Words

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

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

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

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

Right or Righteous?

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

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

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

Respond

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

Return

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

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

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

What comes to mind when you hear or read the word “grace”? Is it approval or acceptance like “he stayed in their good graces”? Or a temporary reprieve like “it was only by the grace of God?” Do you think of ease and coordination like “she moved with grace?” My assumption is the first thing that comes to mind is the “unmerited acceptance of God.” 

Leading with Grace

Whatever comes to mind, the word “grace” is used in multiple ways. It is the same with leading with grace. Some leaders of grace are described as charismatic. A charismatic leader is a person who has been graced with gifts and talents to lead. They are called spirit filled and are experienced as winsome, inviting, and exciting. 

But too often, the focus is upon themselves, not because they are charismatic, but because they become the mission. Unhealthy characteristics are often overlooked or managed to keep the leader in place. 

Misunderstanding Grace

Sometimes leading with grace is described as “people pleasing.” Now that sounds negative, but when a person who has the desire to lead has no healthy understanding of who they are relationally or spiritually, he or she becomes a leader of “anything goes.” They want people to like them, so they say “yes” to everything. There are few boundaries, if any, and mission and direction have little influence. Often the leader is mistakenly identified as leading with grace. 

Sometimes leading with grace is identified as soft or weak because the leader is not seen as strong or decisive. There is indirect communication and passive-aggressive behavior. Collaboration and strategic thinking are sparce. There is poor time management and no conflict transformation skills. The leader is a lone ranger and is often isolated, surrounded by people who like being related to the leader. 

The above scenarios are negative because most of the images of leading with grace are negative. For example, take the time in which you are leading today. There are people, who in the absence of true information, are making up their own stories and communicating false information. They have an agenda, and they are using fear to get what they want. Who they are as Jesus followers and what they are saying do not align, yet they are considered good leaders. Without going to the source to check out what they are being told, they make up what they do not know. It is a matter of self-protection. 

Grace-Shaped Leadership Characteristics 

So, what does this have to do with grace-shaped leadership? Leadership is about taking the responsibility for finding the potential in people and then having the courage to develop that potential. There are many characteristics of good, impactful, and courageous leaders. One characteristic often overlooked and misunderstood is grace. 

Let’s look at some of the characteristics of grace-shaped leaders and why those characteristics make a difference. Grace-shaped leaders are: 

Generous

When you are generous you work with the assumption that people are doing the best they can. You give them the benefit of the doubt, offering support with praise and encouragement. 

Brene Brown, in her book Rising Strong, defines generosity as the ability to “extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others.”  Being generous is not easy and does not come naturally. When faced with a leadership challenge, choose to be generous. 

Start with yourself. Assume the people with whom you work want the best for you. Then, with that assumption, you can respond with grace before jumping to negative conclusions. Regardless of the situation or circumstances, people need kind, caring, and encouraging words and action to become who God created them to be. 

So, as a grace shaped leader, lead by doing unto others as you want them to do unto you. Be generous with your assumptions and offer support with praise and encouragement. 

Relational

You are created for relationships, for up close interaction with people. The way to lead is not by more rules but through right relationships. In a time when people are losing being with one another, you can lead people into the right relationship with each other. 

Mother Teresa once said, “The worst disease I’ve ever seen is loneliness.” As trite as it might seem, it is true, people need people. You and I need each other. The value of relationships is immeasurable. 

The theme in Matthew’s gospel is “God sent Jesus to teach us how to live righteous lives.” Righteousness in Matthew’s gospel is not presented as principles and propositions. It is presented as living in relationship with family, friends, strangers, even enemies. Relationships are foundational to right living. As a Jesus follower, your faithfulness is seen in how well you love others, especially the people entrusted to your care. 

So, as a grace-shaped leader, give your all to relationships. Embrace the fact that you are intimately connected to the people you meet each day. Develop relationships by following and living Jesus. Jesus will put you into right relationship with everyone you encounter along the way. Choose to be honest and open. Be a person of integrity. Love others as God in Christ Jesus as loved you. 

Authentic

When you are authentic you are true to yourself. You are a person of integrity. Regardless of the pressure you are facing, your values, ideals, and actions align. In other words, people experience your authenticity in your vulnerability and honesty. 

As a leader, your authenticity opens a way for compassion. When you give yourself wholeheartedly to living and loving, you reveal who you truly are. Even when it is hard, it is your authenticity that invites grace, joy, and gratitude into your life and in the lives of the people entrusted to your care. 

Brene Brown, in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, writes: “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are. Choosing authenticity means cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable; exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle; and nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we believe that we are enough.”

She continues with, “Authenticity demands Wholehearted living and loving—even when it is hard, even when we’re wrestling with the shame and fear of not being good enough, and especially when the joy is so intense that we’re afraid to let ourselves feel it. Mindfully practicing authenticity during our most soul-searching struggles is how we invite grace, joy, and gratitude into our lives.” 

So, as a grace-shaped leader, lead with courage knowing that you are worthy of love and acceptance just as you are. With that kind of authenticity, you are able to be open and honest as you invite more grace, gratitude, and joy into your leadership. 

Courageous

True courage comes when you decide to take a risk without knowing the outcomes. It means showing up and letting yourself be seen despite the risk. (Bene Brown)

Brene Brown, in her book Rising Strong, writes, “I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage, or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time. Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage. A lot of cheap seats in the arena are filled with people who never venture onto the floor. They just hurl mean-spirited criticisms and put-downs from a safe distance. The problem is, when we stop caring what people think and stop feeling hurt by cruelty, we lose our ability to connect. But when we’re defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable.” 

Too often we think of courage as a valuable strength and vulnerability as a shameful weakness, but you can’t have courage without becoming vulnerable. Courage and vulnerability go hand-in-hand in grace-shaped leadership. As a leader, you show courage when you are curious because you are risking uncertainty. You show courage with compassion because it involves learning to move toward what scares you, learning to care for those with whom you disagree, and becoming vulnerable even when you know there is pain. 

It takes courage to be quick to listen and slow to speak, to be slow to anger, and to use kind, caring, and encouraging words even with those for whom you do not care. It takes courage to be Christian in a non-Christian environment. 

Empathetic

When you are empathetic you are able to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person. Developing empathy is crucial for establishing relationships, behaving compassionately, and leading courageously. It involves experiencing another person’s point of view, rather than just your own. 

There is no right or wrong way to be empathetic. It is simply listening for the sake of connecting and communicating the message, “I’m with you. You are not alone.” Even though there are no right or wrong ways to be empathetic, there are some simple exercises for increasing your empathy:  

Talk to new people. Along with trying to imagine how some people feel, try asking them how they feel. Start a conversation with a stranger or invite a colleague or neighbor you do not know well to lunch. Go beyond small talk and ask them how they are doing. Put away your phone when you are having conversations. Even with the people you see every day. Listen fully and notice facial expressions and gestures.

Walk in someone else’s shoes. Spend time in a new neighborhood. Not only serve a meal with someone who is hungry but sit down and engage in conversation. Make time to attend a church, mosque, or synagogue to experience God from an unfamiliar perspective.

Share an experience with another person. Work on a service project together. Volunteer to serve meals together, to work on community garden, or join others who have experienced something similar.

The World Needs Grace-Shaped Leaders

Grace-shaped leadership is needed today more than any other time in my ministry. We have leaders who are seen as competent and impactful. My question is, are you shaped by grace in who you are as a leader. Grace is not a concept to be studied. It is a dynamic way of making a difference in the lives of the people you lead every day. We need grace-shaped leaders in a time when good, impactful, and courageous leadership is in high demand.

This week, look at who you are as a follower of Jesus and then measure your leadership with grace. How are you being led by grace? How are you leading by grace? Your honest answers to these questions will truly reveal “who you are is how you lead.”

Want to explore the above characteristics in more depth? Reach out and learn more about Dare to Lead.

A quick internet search will reveal that there are many styles of leadership. Whether it be authoritarian, strategic, visionary, coaching, transitional, adaptive, or any number of other styles, each style is a method of providing direction, implementing plans, and motivating people.

Leadership styles are based on a number of factors, including the level of control and power the leader possesses. Different situations call for different approaches. Most leaders use a combination of styles to motivate and equip people to fulfill a purpose or mission. 

What’s Your Story?

Regardless of the style, your inner story will subconsciously guide the way you lead. You do not leave who you are, how you think, or what you feel, at home. Your needs, emotions, and dreams come with you. As much as you want the people with whom you work to trust and respect you, the people who look to you as their leader are looking for the same. 

Over my years I have learned there are two underlying influences in the style of every leader. There are those who lead with fear and there are those who lead with love.

The question is, which is the underlying influence in your leadership?

Fear-based Leadership

Fear-based leadership usually shows up in two ways. You either make decisions based upon what you want, or you are paralyzed because you want people to like you. 

Either you react to challenges based upon assumption and hearsay or you deny and dismiss challenges because of the fear of offending someone. You either make unilateral decisions or make no decisions which lead to “anything goes.” Your cynical attitudes permeate your style, and you pass your pessimism on to others. 

Even when it is not your intention, you create an “us and them” culture based upon mistrust. You either micro-manage out of fear things will not be done the way you want them done or your desire to be liked creates a culture of mistrust where everyone is doing his or her own thing. Lots of activity but little production. Both types of fear-based leadership become the center of all the work.

Fear-based leadership cultivates fear rather than trust and stability. It always seeks an enemy. Its focus is usually on something the leader is against rather than on people and their potential.

There are good people who are motivated by fear. Just remember, who you are is how you lead.

Love-based Leadership

The opposite of leading with fear is leading with love. Loved-based leadership is relational. You are vulnerable and genuine with the people with whom you work. Love-based leaders look for their potential and equip them to live up to their potential. You are generous in your assessments, giving the benefit of the doubt. You are courageous in your decision-making, creating a space for trust and collaboration.

Love-based leaders cultivate trust and compassion. They take pride in the work of the people entrusted to their care. Love-based leaders focus on the well-being of the people entrusted to them. They are grateful for the work of their colleagues and give credit to whom credit is due.

Lead with Love

Love-based leadership is rooted in unconditional love. It is selfless and works for the well-being, not only of the people entrusted to your care but of all people, especially strangers. Love-based leadership is Christian leadership. It is greater than your likes and dislikes. It is greater than your fears. John in his first letter wrote, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love” (1 John 4:18).

There is one characteristic of love-shaped leadership that sets the foundation for everything else: self-care and self-compassion. Stephen R. Covey, in his writing and speaking, emphasized the significance of love in leadership. According to Covey, love, trust, and managing people with a dedication to helping them reach their full potential were key responsibilities of leaders.

He said having a love for yourself was critical to your performance as a leader. If you want to care for others, you must look after yourself. Love-shaped leadership is built upon a solid basis of self-care and compassion. It is the first step toward leading with love.

You can lead with love once you have established care and compassion for yourself.

Three Characteristics of Love-Shaped Leaders

There are many characteristics of love, but here are three to help you lead with love. 

Vulnerability

One of the most essential characteristics of an effective leader is vulnerability. It is one of the qualities we look for in others but is the last quality we want to show of ourselves. To lead with love means you nurture a culture where people feel safe and where you, when struggling, find support and care. 

It takes courage to be vulnerable. Instead of hiding your failures and covering up your weaknesses, you own them. You ask for feedback and learn from others. Your authenticity helps build trust and your capacity to care. Your experience of trust creates compassion for and acceptance of those around you. 

Although vulnerability is difficult work, it helps you become the leader you are created to be. 

Explore more about the intersection of vulnerability and leadership here.

Listening

One of the most desired characteristics of an effective leader is the ability to listen. It is another quality we look for in others but find it difficult for ourselves. But love-shaped leadership is focused on the well-being of others. Listening builds trust and shows your capacity to care. It means you create a culture where people feel safe to speak up and where you are slow to shut people down. 

It takes courage to listen. You know where you are going. As a leader, you know the path that needs to be taken. You know what needs to be done to navigate the barriers. But unless you give people the opportunity to be heard, they do not feel they are a valuable part of what you are doing. 

A reminder is, God has given you two ears but one mouth. It is difficult to be quick to listen and slow to speak, but it helps you become the leader you are created to be. 

What stops people from listening to you? Explore more here.

Generosity

One of the most needed characteristics of an effective leader is generosity. It means that you make a genuine effort to understand others. You only have to look at your relationships with family and friends to experience how difficult it is to truly understand one another. Being generous means that you assume that your colleagues have good intentions and that they are doing the best they can under the circumstances. 

It is closely related to listening. Generosity requires patience and humility. It requires a sense of wonder and curiosity and a genuine interest in the people you are leading. You listen to what is being said, ask questions for clarity, and explore their perspectives. It is easy to judge and blame when things do not work the way they should but staying open and curious in conversations creates an environment where people feel heard, seen, and truly cared for. 

The best way to think of it is, you are loving others as God in Christ has loved you. It is difficult to be generous when you are depending upon others to do quality work, but your practice of generosity will help you become the leader you are created to be.

Perfect love casts out fear

You know better than anyone what motivates you and your leadership. This week, examine your leadership style. Are you leading with fear? Afraid to be vulnerable? Does fear emerge when you seek to listen and develop relationships? Are you afraid to be generous with colleagues?

As you reflect this week, keep in mind that you were created to lead at this time and place. Accepting God’s love for you is as important as you sharing God’s love for others. In fact, there is no love-shaped leadership, your acceptance of God’s love for you and for the people entrusted to you care.

Who you are is how you lead. I pray that your relationships are shaped by love this week.

The accelerating rate of change means a vision is only helpful for 2-3 years. That means, organizations, including the church, need to be reinventing themselves every 2-3 years to continue to thrive. While those statistics may give us reason to pause, a vision serves an important role. A vision can give us a lens to make decisions, guide our activities, and encourage us to live in new ways.

Our mission, on the other hand, defines who we are and guides us toward living our purpose. It’s not merely the footer on our websites or a poster on our entrance walls. It’s our central guiding purpose.

But there is another organizational lens that I believe sets the church apart from other organizations. Today, I want to invite you to consider what the church values. 

What Makes You Weird?

During a recent continuing education event related to coaching, the presenter asked a simple question that may have caught me off guard. Instead, it intrigued me because it was the title of the session. The question is: What makes you weird? 

Specifically, I’d ask, “What makes the church weird?” As much as it pains me to say, speaking words of hope is weird right now. Unconditional love is weird right now. Loving God and loving our neighbors is weird right now. Degrading others in words and actions has somehow been normalized. It’s not weird. It also doesn’t reflect the greatest commandment.

If you’re saying, “I don’t want to be weird.” I’ll go out on a limb and say, “It’s going to be difficult to be a Jesus follower.” 

What do you worship?

Allow me to ask the above question in a slightly different way, “What makes the local church you lead and/or participate in different from other organizations?”

You might say it’s worshiping Jesus. That certainly should set us apart. But as soon as I made that note on my paper, the presenter asked this question: What do you worship? 

I confess, I laughed, and then my heart sank to my toes for a moment. I recognized how quickly Jesus can be removed from our worship focus. In subtle and overt ways, we worship:

  • money
  • traditions
  • egos
  • church buildings

…just to name a few.

Think about this question in a nuanced way.

What gets all the attention? Again, yes, Jesus should be the focus. But, I’ve experienced far too many congregations where issues, personalities, the building, or money get the focus.  

What is unique about the church? 

As the conversation about values unfolded, I began to consider the most unique and weird thing about the local church. Why? It’s what gives us a unique perspective for advancing our purpose. It is what shapes the church culture and in turn, it shapes us as followers of Jesus.

Our values are codified in the way we do things. When we really probe the question of uniqueness, we’re considering the values we embody. 

Values point to what we believe and how we work together. When we can articulate our values, we know what makes us unique. When we know what makes us unique, we know how we’re animating our mission in specific ways. Those ways may be perplexing to some. But they make the church you lead and call home unique. 

I’ll ask again, what is unique about the church? Compared to other organizations, the church is:

  • Primarily volunteer driven
  • Focus on Jesus
  • Sunday worship (prayer, scripture, message)
  • Bible – ancient text is our guide
  • There are others, but I’ll stop there.

Your Unique Difference

What makes you weird? Or if you prefer, what makes you unique?

Whatever it is, it’s one way people connect with you. For example, I’ve known and been a part of congregations with a deep focus on children. 

What made them unique wasn’t the focus on children, but that everyone invested in children. The women’s groups made their mission focus on kids; the small groups served as Sunday School teachers and Vacation Bible School volunteers. The students had ministries that served children. The adults without kids often were active the entire Sunday morning participating in worship, attending a class, and finally serving in Children’s Church. It was weird because this multi-generational church not only loved kids, but loved families and lived in ways that embodied that value. 

I will always maintain that there is more that unites us as followers of Jesus than divides us. However, our values can differentiate us. Our values are a way people relate to us. Our values help us identify our unique contribution to a community and the kingdom of God. 

What does your unique difference say about what you value?

Questions to Consider

I encourage you to have a conversation with leaders in the church about the following questions:

  1. What makes you weird or unique?
  2. What do you worship? 
  3. What do you have zero tolerance for around here?
  4. When do you risk it all?
  5. What phrases or slogans do you always hear?
  6. What stories get told again and again?

Then, test these values against the life and ministry of Jesus.

Allow me to briefly explore questions 3-6. 

What do we have zero tolerance for around here?

I really want to say we have zero tolerance for injustice in any form. But, it is aspirational, not actual. If it were true, we would not simply be talking about injustices or even advocating for justice, the church would incorporate it in everything we say and do. We do have zero tolerance for child abuse and financial impropriety. Perhaps there are others.

Consider what you have zero tolerance for? What does it say about what you value? Does Jesus embody this value?

When do we risk it all?

Do you risk it all for the love of God we know in Jesus? If that’s too much of a stretch, do you risk sharing the love of Jesus with the people in your community? 

Here’s the reality. Most of us are risk-averse. We play it safe. The challenge is that risk-taking is where we step out in faith and demonstrate our values. It’s also where our values are most visible.

I can think of amazing leaders who put everything on the line seeking to live into God’s vision. When the church culture is aligned with a vision and leadership empowers others to do the work of ministry, they risk it all. 

  • When the vision is compelling, people risk it all.
  • When we know our contributions matter, we risk it all.
  • When movement and momentum are felt, experienced, and employed, we risk it all.

Do we risk it all to glorify Jesus?

You may be one of the leaders who put everything on the line at some point in the last two years. Some of those risks were fruitful, others were not. 

I can think of amazing leaders who put everything on the line amidst tremendous pressure and with deep vision. There are saints who gave their life savings to make a ministry possible. The reality is this: I could probably share at least one story every week about people who are risking everything…as well as those who are risk-averse. 

Consider when you risk it all. What does it say about what you value?

What are the phrases, slogans, or sayings we always hear?

A couple I hear often include: It matters where you start (thanks, Tim) and Love Jesus…and do something about it.

When I worked at Miami University, the motto was on the bottom of the letterhead (Yes, I’m dating myself with letterhead. This was in the late 1990s.) The motto of Miami University is: Excellence is our Tradition. But, the phrase we heard all the time and said all the time was: Tradition is our Excellence. The grounding force of the University’s traditions was evident everywhere. 

Consider how these phrases, slogans, and sayings connect with or animate what you value.

Which story gets told again and again?

Is it the story of moving from one location to the current location? Is it a crisis that happened? A funny story that no one can forget? Is it a story of a merger? Life after a tragedy? You know as well as I do, that most of these stories have an element of truth but can often take on a life of their own throughout the years. Consider how these stories are shaping what you value.

Together, these questions can help us identify and articulate our unique difference. The weird thing about our organization gives us a unique perspective for advancing the purpose. 

One Final Caution

Each of these questions points to what the church values. Our values can either be productive or unproductive. For example, the value of collaboration can generate innovation or the meetings to collaborate can distract from doing the work that needs to be done. Being a high-performance team can mean you have a motivated team or an overworked team. 

In other words, you can do great things and terrible things with what sets you apart. Don’t miss that as you consider your values. Sometimes what makes organizations weird can do harm. There is nothing Christ-centered about that. 

Our differences are an opportunity to bring a unique perspective to our purpose.

Our differences allow us to make a unique contribution to our purpose that no one else could make in the same way. Consider the above questions to help you clarify who you are. And, if you need a way to explore your values with the congregation and your leadership, reach out.

Do you remember a time when you pronounced a blessing upon an individual or upon the people around you? As a leader, who is a follower of Jesus, you pronounce a blessing in every worship experience. Whether it be a baptism, holy communion, or a benediction, blessings are common in worship. But have you ever had the opportunity to bless someone outside of worship? 

Have you ever considered offering a blessing in a greeting, or words of encouragement, or an offer of peace? I know you bless people when they sneeze and I know you have heard people (even those who have no interest in God) use the words, “God Bless You” in their daily lives. Sometimes, even when you get a diet drink at the drive-thru, you hear the words, “Have a blessed day.” 

Most blessings are simple sayings that communicate kindness and goodwill. In the Bible, however, we learn that God’s blessings carry far more significance than just a casual greeting or obligatory saying. 

Let’s look at one of my favorite blessings. I memorized it as a teenager. It was used every Sunday evening at the end of Youth Fellowship. I confess that I was an adult before I realized that I had been quoting scripture every Sunday with the UMYF benediction. 

Read Number 6:22-27 

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying: Thus, you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them: 

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. 

“So, they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” 

Reflect 

This blessing comes at a low and chaotic time for the people. They are in the wilderness, suffering for their separation from what has made them God’s people. Even though they blame others, their suffering has come from their own distrust, disobedience, and disloyalty. 

It is at this low point in their lives that God instructs Moses to speak to Aaron and his family (the priests). God wants to bless the Israelites. In the midst of their disobedience and unfaithfulness, God wants the Israelites to know his heart. Aaron and his family are to be the instruments of the blessing. 

So, what is the meaning of this blessing for you and your leadership? 

The Lord bless you…

You are a beloved child of God. God never abandons you nor breaks covenant with you even when you have turned away and broken covenant with God. God’s blessing is a reminder that you are in a right and loving relationship with God and the people God places in your life. 

And keep you…

God protects you and provides for you. As a leader, God protects you by sending people into your life to love and care for you. God also provides the grace you need to extend the same love to the people entrusted to your care. Just as God kept Israel, Jesus keeps you. 

The Lord make his face shine upon you…

When God turns his face upon you, you are in God’s favor. God’s face represents God’s presence. Because God’s face is shining upon you, you are assured that you are never alone. Being in God’s favor allows you the freedom to love as you have been loved. 

And be gracious unto you…

God never deals with you according to your misunderstanding or you missing the point. God always deals with you according to God’s goodness. God always sees the best of you and the potential in you. It is by God’s grace that you can lead at this time in history. 

The Lord lift up his countenance upon you…

When God looks upon you there is acceptance and reconciliation. What has been in the way is taken away and what has been broken has been healed. When God looks upon you, God is hugging you, drawing you close, and letting you know how special you are. 

And give you peace.

The word for peace is shalom. It means wholeness, completeness, and well-being. God’s peace makes you whole and complete. When you are at peace with God, you are who God created you to be, a beloved child of God in the right relationship with God and with the people entrusted to your care. 

It is important to remember that the priests, led by Aaron and the rest of the Levites, were set apart to lead the people in worship and spiritual teaching. The priests were God’s chosen intercessors and a direct mouthpiece to the people. They were trusted by the people and looked to for guidance and instruction. 

God’s Blessing

So, just like the priests, you are the trusted leader for today. You are being called upon to bless God’s people, the people entrusted to you. One thing to always remember, the blessing is not your blessing. The blessing is God’s blessing upon the people. “So, they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” 

You have the distinct responsibility to bless the people of God with God’s blessing. You not only remind them of God’s blessing but name them and claim them for God. What a grand and glorious opportunity. 

May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. 

Respond

O God, make me a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. Whether family, colleagues, friends, or foes, use me as an instrument of your love and peace, so that each person I meet receives a blessing through me and then becomes a blessing to others. I offer myself to you in the name of the greatest blessing of all, Jesus. Amen. 

Return

From whom did you receive a blessing today? Where were you when you received the blessing? Who did you bless? What opportunities did you have that you missed either receiving or extending God’s blessing? How might you offer a blessing to the people you encounter tomorrow? 

To be a blessing you must acknowledge and receive a blessing. So, read and listen closely: 

May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; may the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. 

May you be as blessed as you are a blessing. Remember, who you are is how you lead!

We do a lot of talking about mission, especially the mission of the church, “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” My perception is that you, as a leader, keep that mission in mind in most of what you do. My question is, do you feel connected to the mission? Do you feel what you are doing really makes much of a difference? 

You might be doing all the right things. You love the people entrusted to your care. But you just don’t feel the spark any longer. What’s happening? What’s going on? 

Bring Meaning to the Mission

What I am learning is a sense of fulfillment is needed to bring meaning to the mission. The question is, what brings that sense of fulfillment? 

You might think of it this way: goals are good and necessary. You can define and track your goals and you can show how you have reached your goals. Yet, you can feel disconnected from a larger sense of purpose. Chasing goals day after day, week after week does not bring the engagement needed to bring a sense of fulfillment. 

Interrelated Leadership Models

Over the years, I have identified and defined at least three models of leadership. Each model is needed to be an effective and courageous leader, but it is only when the models are intertwined and focused upon the mission that they are effective. Refining your leadership skills in each area will help you become the missional leader needed today. 

Qualities of the Leader

One model of leadership is defined by the qualities of the leader. Are you a person of integrity, transparency, and empathy? Do you inspire loyalty, communicate clearly, and develop relationships? These qualities are necessary and vital to effective leadership. But you can learn all the right qualities and do all the right things and still feel disconnected and unfulfilled. 

Servant Leadership

A second model of leadership is servant leadership. It is best seen in how you care for the needs and interests of those entrusted to your care. Have you developed an environment of support in which people can flourish? Are you providing what followers want from their leader: trust, compassion, stability, and hope? These qualities of servant leadership are necessary and vital to effective leadership. But you can care for the needs and interests of people and still feel less than fulfilled as a leader. 

Missional Leadership

A third model of leadership is missional leadership. When grounded in a mission, people become both leaders and followers. They lead by living into their strengths and by offering their expertise. People follow by learning how to work in partnership with others. They share the values of the group and share a mutual sense of purpose. Missional leadership is an integration of servant leadership and the qualities of the leader. The three together provide what is needed for leading in the times in which we live. 

Many of us do well in leading by the criteria of models one and two. We offer clear direction and guidance, stay connected with people, and care for their needs. Yet, in midst of all the good work, we do not feel fulfilled. We can articulate the mission with little connection to it. 

More to Explore

You will find these blogs to be helpful in becoming a missional leader.

 Leadership Challenges for the Missional Church

Leadership Challenges for the Missional Church-Part 3

Mobilize for Ministry

So, what do we do? Below are seven questions that will assist you and the leaders of your church to brainstorm, reflect, and mobilize for ministry. They will require prayerful reflection, dialogue, and discernment. Some of the questions will require you to move beyond the walls of the church building and to talk with people in the community. Others will require you to explore the areas of overlap between the mission and the responses to the questions. 

These questions are simple and challenging. I can promise that, when you take these questions seriously, you will find meaning and purpose in your leadership. For a more detailed explanation and direction click here.

The 7 Missional Questions 

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

This is a good question to ask at the beginning of every meeting, with small groups, and at the end of each day. It is one of two foundational questions that contribute to congregational health. People who follow Jesus should be able to articulate God’s movement in their lives and identify God’s presence in their communities. 

2.      The Church’s Mission: What is the mission of the church? 

This question is not about mission projects or service opportunities. The question is about purpose. What is the purpose of the church? Does everyone know the mission? Do they not only repeat it but embody it? 

This is the partner question to naming God’s presence. Recognizing God’s presence and embodying the mission of the church are essential for healthy disciple-making movements. 

3.      The Mission Field: What is your mission field? 

Your mission field is the geographic region in which your church is located. Once you have decided your geographic region, define who lives within the mission field. After you know who lives there, define their habits and interests. Listen to their stories. Pay attention to their symbols. What do you need to learn about the people in your mission field, the people entrusted to your care? 

4.      Assets: What are the assets of your community? 

Make a list of the assets of the people who live in your mission field You are identifying skills, resources, and relationships. Other assets to explore include property, service, businesses, a community focus or physical attributes like a beach, a park, etc., and financial assets. 

To identify assets, take a walk through our community and meet the people in your mission field. Ask people this question: “What do you love about our community?” Neighborhood? City? 

5.      Needs: What are the needs in your community? Neighborhood? 

Make a list of the needs of people in your community. Remember that food, water, and shelter are the most basic needs. These are followed by safety, love, belonging, self-esteem, and respect. Recognizing and realizing your potential, learning, faith, and service round out your list.

To identify needs, when you take your walk through your community and meet the people in your mission field, ask this question, “What do you love about your community?” This question follows the question you asked in #4. 

6.      Relationships: What relationships exist with leaders in your community? 

Who are you and other church leaders in relationship within the following areas of your community: education, business, government, social agencies, first responders, faith/religion, arts and entertainment, health (hospitals, doctors, nurses, clinics)? What relationships need to be nurtured, reconciled, and re-established? 

A good place to start building relationships beyond the walls of the church building is with the principal of your local elementary school. 

7.      Collaboration: What is one way you can collaborate with another church? 

Develop relationships with other church leaders. Listen to their stories and how they express their mission, and what disciple-making loos like in their faith communities. Even though theology and practices might differ, you are on the same team. How do you join together to cover the community with God’s love? 

What Overlap Exists?

Now, here is where your missional leadership is most needed. What is the overlap between the mission and the responses to the other six questions? 

Your overlap might be where you see God at work in the lives of children, or in community leaders of in service organizations. Begin to tell the stories of God being at work in your community and invite people to participate in what God is doing. 

You can also go to the LeaderCast podcast for helpful information. Here are episodes that will help in becoming a missional leader. Purpose and Presence  Set the foundation for missional leadership with these two questions. Needs and Assets Bridge the needs and assets of your community with these questions. Relationships and Partnerships Leverage the people and connections of your community for kingdom impact.

It is time to move from talking about the mission to becoming the missional leader needed to have influence in the world today. I can promise you and the people entrusted to your care that once you are focused on the mission of the church, you will find the meaning and purpose that has been missing in your life and in your church. 

It is my hope that you can and will begin to build a file of resources that assists you in becoming the leader that makes a difference. 

Remember, who is are is how you lead.

We want leaders whom we can trust. In a recent Gallup survey of 10,000 followers, what surfaced as the top characteristics people needed from their leaders were honesty, integrity, and respect.  These words describe the outcomes of strong relationships built on trust. 

We look for role models whose behavior we feel is worth emulating. Whether it is coaches, professors, co-workers, bosses, or pastors, we look for people we can trust to lead us through ordinary situations as well as times of learning, adventure, and uncertainty. We want leaders who take us seriously and who can adapt when everything is not ideal.

As a leader, you earn trust when you follow through on commitments. Then as trust grows, people feel more at ease in trusting you with bigger commitments and other areas of leadership. As you live out your trustworthiness, people learn to trust you.

Five Ways to Build Trust

Here are five ways you can build the trust people need from you as a leader.

1. Be dependable

Say what you mean and mean what you say. To increase trust within your relationships, it is absolutely necessary to follow through on what you say you can and will do.  Even with what seems small and simple, if people experience a lack of follow through, you are revealing that what you say cannot be trusted. So, follow through with what you say you will do. The truth is you are only as good as your word. 

You already know whether you follow through on your commitments like showing up on time or embellishing the truth. People will have difficulty trusting you if you can’t trust yourself. Trust gives birth to trust.

2. Be vulnerable

Vulnerability is an integral part of the trust-building process. Brené Brown writes, “vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity.  It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.” Vulnerability is the path to greater clarity in purpose and more meaningful relationships.

To be vulnerable, you need a healthy self-awareness in sharing your feelings and your experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them.  It will be in risking vulnerability that you model for those who follow.

3. Be respectful

A basic level of respect is the common denominator in every trust relationship. The deeper and more intimate the relationship the more important your respect. If those who follow you feel you are condescending and not taking them seriously, you are undermining the trust you need to be a good leader.  

You must remember that every time you treat someone in a way that demeans them or violates that basic dignity, you harm your connection and make it more difficult for them to trust you.

4. Be generous

Extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others. Assume the best of others. Give them the benefit of the doubt. When you are generous with others, they will be generous with you. When in doubt, seek to understand and be slow to judge.

Remember, people can only act upon what they know. Don’t hold them responsible for what they don’t know. Brene Brown writes, “Our relationship is only trusting if you can assume the most generous thing about my words, intentions, and behaviors and then check in with me.” Be generous. Assume people are doing the best they can with what they know. 

5. Be receptive

Relationships flourish when people feel relatively equal. Most people understand that relationships involve a balance between giving and taking. They also understand that most of us give more than we take. Trust grows out of the balance of give and take. When you don’t let others give, even with your best intentions, you deny them part of this balance. Be willing to give others the opportunity to live into their strengths and to share their gifts.  

When you develop this balance of giving and receiving, trusting what people have to offer, then you are creating an environment of trust where people feel safe, valued, and appreciated.

Take Action

Do you want to be a leader that people can trust? Do you want to be an honest, dependable, integrated, and respectful leader? Of course, you do. So, below is one way you can check yourself regarding being a trusted leader.

Just know up front, this will not be easy.

  1. Choose five people with whom you live, work, or play. These five people need to be people who will give you honest feedback.
  2. Have them answer these questions for you:
    • Can you depend upon what I say to be true?
    • Do I follow through with what I say I will do?
    • Do I treat people with respect?
    • Do I honor and value the strengths and gifts of others?
    • Knowing what you know about me, are you able to be honest with me?
  1. Make time to have a conversation with each of the five persons using the questions in #2 as your subject.
  2. After your initial feedback conversation, ask each person to give you feedback over the next 6 weeks as you focus upon becoming the leader people can trust.

Because trust is one characteristic followers look for in their leaders and because our world, our communities, and our churches are looking for leaders who can be trusted, now is the time to earn the trust people want from you as their leader. 

You were created for such a time as this. Become the leader people want to follow.  Become the leader you were created to be.