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?

Have you ever tried to go 24 hours without saying something negative about another person? If you are like most people, you shrug off little “white” lies, slander, and gossip as “only words.” Words that are not meant to hurt or belittle anyone, become hurtful and harmful when not taken seriously.

Your Words Matter

Your words matter. As a leader, people pay attention to what you say and how you say it. Your words can and do shape the reality of the people who hear them. The Bible clearly states the influence of words, teaching that God created the world with words.

In his book, Words That Hurt, Words That Heal, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin writes, “Like God, human beings also create with words. We have all had the experience of reading a novel and being so moved by the fate of one of its characters that we felt love, hate, or anger. Sometimes we cried, even though the individual whose fate so moved us never existed. All that happened was that a writer took a blank piece of paper, and through words alone created a human being so real that he or she was capable of evoking our deepest emotions.”

Words are tangible and powerful 

I think that is one reason Paul wrote to the newly formed church in Ephesus while instructing them on how to live as followers of Jesus, “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.” (Ephesians 4:29 The Good News Bible)

I am writing today to ask you to consider the impact of your words. Are you able to go one day without saying something negative about another person? Let’s try an experiment to discover if you can. Use the pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to discover how you do.

Keep in mind, just as who you are is how you lead, what you say and how you say it reflects who you are as a person and as a leader.

Read John 8:1-11 

And Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he returned to the temple. All the people gathered around him, and he sat down and taught them. The legal experts and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery. Placing her in the center of the group, they said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone women like this. What do you say?” They said this to test him, because they wanted a reason to bring an accusation against him. Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger. 

They continued to question him, so he stood up and replied, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” Bending down again, he wrote on the ground. Those who heard him went away, one by one, beginning with the elders. Finally, only Jesus and the woman were left in the middle of the crowd. 

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Is there no one to condemn you?”

She said, “No one, sir.” 

Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, don’t sin anymore.” 

Reflect

Most people when they read this story get stuck on the woman, adultery, the Law of Moses, or on Jesus’ action of writing in the dirt. Some get stuck on the “Neither do I condemn you,” as a sign of forgiveness. Others get stuck on, “Go, and…don’t sin anymore” as an example of grace and transformation. Regardless of what part of the story speaks to you, there is something to learn here.

Screaming at Trees

Robert Fulghum, in his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, tells a story of the Solomon Islanders. Some of the villagers practice a unique form of logging. If a tree is too large to be felled with an ax, the natives cut it down by yelling at it.

Woodsmen with special powers creep up on a tree just at dawn and suddenly scream at it at the top of their lungs. They continue this for thirty days. The tree dies and falls over. The theory is that the hollering kills the spirit of the tree. According to the villagers, it always works.

Those poor naïve people. Screaming at trees. Too bad they don’t have the advantages of modern technology and science. I don’t yell at trees. I may yell at televisions, cars, drivers of other cars, my wife, and my children.

What Good Does it Do to Yell?

I even shake my fist and yell at God sometimes. I have heard people, educated people yet at umpires, officials, coaches, and players and they are not even at the game. People yell at step ladders, televisions, computers, and machines. Especially machines. Machines and family get most of the yelling.

What good does it do? Machines and things just sit there. Even hitting and kicking them doesn’t help. As for people, the Solomon Islanders might have a point. Yelling at living things does tend to kill the spirit in them. You remember the words, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words – they break my heart.”

Words that Cut to the Soul of People

You don’t even have to yell. All you have to do is speak. In her book, The Cracker Factory, Joyce Rebeta-Buritt, tells of a woman by the name of Cassie. She drinks too much and is hospitalized for emotional distress. She writes a letter to her brother, Bob. This is part of what she writes:

“It’s been one hell of a year. I’ve been running around half crazy, trying to remember whatever it is Alexander (her psychiatrist) said I learned in the hospital the last time. Bob, I don’t even know. I just know that I’m coming unraveled and can’t seem to stop it. It’s been a whole year of Charles’ (her husband) running off and slamming doors when I need him. I tell him I’m sick and he says, “You’re telling me? I’m sick of your sickness.” And…bam…out the door.

He looked at me one night and said, “Cassie, you’re a loser.” Bob, when I stand on Judgment Day to hear myself condemned to hell, it will be no more devastating and irrevocable than Charlie’s “You’re a loser.” Forever defective. Forever doomed. No hope at all.”

Your Words Can Shape the World

Your words matter. As a leader, you shape the world and the reality of the people who hear your words. Just reflect upon it for a moment, God, who has had every right to yell at us, has shaped our reality by sending us an encouraging Word. God, who could yell and say, “I’ll love you when you get your act together,” did not spare his only son, but gave him up for us all. God’s encouraging Word is Jesus.

In the scripture for today, Jesus said to the crowd ready to stone the woman, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” I think these words are the most overlooked and dismissed in the story.  It is easy to miss the point of God’s grace.  I mean, it is just words. “Sticks and stones…but words…do great harm. So, are you ready? Are you able to go one day without saying something negative about another person?

If you are without sin, say your harmful and hurtful words. But, if you know God’s Word made flesh in Jesus, use “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.”

Respond

O God, thank you for your Word made human in Jesus. Forgive me when I forget how powerful your Word is in my life and I use words that hurt and harm. By your grace, give me clear thinking so that what I say will provide what is needed to help others become who you created them to be. Use my words as an instrument of your love and peace in the lives of the people you have given me to love and service. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Return

So, how did you do today? Were you able to go the whole day without saying something negative about another person? Give God thanks for the opportunities you have had today to love others as God has loved you. Where did you use encouraging words today? How were your words received? How were you aware of the words of others? What was said and how could it have been said differently? Think about this, your words reflect who you are and who you are is how you lead.

May I offer you an encouraging word today? You are leading during a very difficult time. There is disagreement and separation at every turn, and you are expected to offer hope in the midst of grief and pain. The reality is that people want leaders who offer hope. It is the kind of hope that brings reassurance and encouragement. 

The Apostle Paul

So, may I offer you encouragement? Although this is a challenging time, there have been challenging times in the past. The apostle Paul faced a difficult leadership challenge in the church at Ephesus. It was a diverse church with a clashing of values much like today. There were Jews who had deep ethical standards. They were people who lived with strong religious and traditional values. There were Gentiles who had a different world view and a different set of strong values, different from the Jews. Paul addressed the challenge by teaching about new life in Christ, a life where Jews and Gentiles could live together in mutual respect and relationship. 

He grounded his teaching in love, agape. It was the kind of love that worked for the good and well-being of all persons, friends, family, strangers, and even enemies. His teaching has become part of the values of the Christian faith today. 

In the midst of the conflict, he wrote the following words:

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)

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. (Good News Version)

Reflect

Let me offer encouragement to you and give you a tool for offering encouragement and hope to the people entrusted to your care.

Take a moment to think about the context in which you are leading. Picture in your mind one or two persons who need encouragement. These persons might be family, friends, church members, or persons who cause you pain and grief. Think of each person as someone who needs to experience God’s grace. Get a face in mind and a name on your lips.

Now, read and reflect on the following story*: 

There was a first-year teacher at Saint Mary’s School in Morris, Minnesota. She said she had thirty-four students who were all dear to her, but one student stood out. His name was Mark Eklund. She said he was one in a million. He was very neat in appearance with a happy-to-be-alive attitude that made even his occasional mischievousness delightful.

There was one thing about Mark: he talked incessantly.

She had to remind him again and again that talking without permission was not acceptable. Every time she corrected him, he responded, “Thank you for correcting me, Teacher.” She said, “I didn’t know what to make of it at first. But before long, I became accustomed to hearing it many times a day.”

One morning she said her patience was growing thin when Mark talked once too often. She said, “I made a first-year teacher mistake. I looked at Mark and said, ‘If you say one more word, I am going to tape your mouth shut!’”

It wasn’t ten seconds later when one of the students blurted out, “Mark is talking again, Teacher.”  I hadn’t asked any of the students to help me watch Mark, but since I had stated the punishment in front of the class, I had to act on it.

I remember the scene as if it had occurred this morning. At my desk, I very deliberately opened my drawer, and took out a roll of masking tape. Without saying a word, I proceeded to Mark’s desk, tore off two pieces of tape, and made a big X with them over his mouth.

I then returned to the front of the room. As I glanced at Mark to see how he was doing, he winked at me. That did it! I started laughing. The class cheered as I walked back to Mark’s desk, removed the tape, and shrugged my shoulders.

His first words were, “Thank you for correcting me, Teacher.”

At the end of the year, Mark went on to fourth grade and the teacher was asked to teach junior-high math. Several years passed. As Mark entered the ninth grade, Mark and the teacher met again.

She said Mark was more handsome than ever and just as polite. Since he had to listen carefully to the instruction on the “new math,” he did not talk as much. One Friday, things just didn’t feel right. The class had worked hard on a new concept all week, and the teacher sensed that the students were frowning, frustrated with themselves, and edgy with one another.

To stop the crankiness, she asked the students to put their books away and to take out two sheets of notebook paper. She then asked them to list the names of the other students in the room on their paper, leaving a space between each name. Then she asks them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down.

It took the remainder of the class period to finish their assignment. As the students left the room, each one handed her their papers. Charlie smiled. Mark said, “Thank you for teaching me today, Teacher. Have a good weekend.”   That Saturday, she wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper and she listed what everyone else had said about that individual.

On Monday, at the beginning of the class, she gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. She listened as the students’ said things like, “Really? I never knew that meant anything to anyone!”  “I didn’t know others liked me so much.” After a few minutes, the class went back to studying math. No one mentioned those papers in class again.

It was several years later that the teacher learned that Mark had been killed in Vietnam. She had gotten word that Mark’s family wanted her to attend his funeral. At the funeral, she watched and listened. One of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to her and asked, “Were you Mark’s math teacher?” She nodded. He said, “Mark talked a lot about you.”

After the funeral, most of Mark’s former classmates headed to Chuck’s farmhouse for lunch. The teacher was invited to come by. Mark’s mother and father wanted to speak with her. When she arrived, they met her at her car.

“We want to show you something,” his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. “They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.” Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded, and refolded many times. She knew what it was without looking at the paper.

Mark’s mother said, “Thank you so much for doing that. “As you can see, Mark treasured it.” Mark’s classmates started to gather around. Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, “I still have my list. I keep it in the top drawer of my desk at home.”

Chuck’s wife said, “Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album. “I have mine too,” Marilyn said. “It’s in my diary.” Then Vicki reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet, and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. I carry this with me at all times. I take it out and look at it every time I need encouragement. We all saved our lists.” *

Respond

Do you still have the people in mind I asked you about? Sometime today, tomorrow or this week, send a word of encouragement. Send a text or email letting them know how much you love and appreciate them. Make a phone call so they can hear your voice. Better yet, when you are face to face, let them hear and see how much you appreciate them and care about them.

While you are doing that, I want you to know how much I love and appreciate you. I am grateful to be in ministry with you, sharing life with you, and learning and growing in grace with you.

The best encouraging word I can offer to you is Jesus, God’s Word made real in our lives. Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Take a moment to take a walk with Jesus and let his presence be an encouragement to you. Let God’s Word take up residence in your life.

Now, share kind, caring, supportive, and encouraging words today.

Return

At the end of day:

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. Give thanks for them and how they have added to your life. With whom did you offer words of encouragement and care? Give God thanks for those opportunities. How were you encouraged by the persons with whom you offered encouragement?  Remember, who you are is how you lead. Ask God to love and encourage others through your words of encouragement. Be reminded that your leadership is only as good as your word.

*Story adapted an article in The Reader’s Digest written by Sister Helen Mrosla, a Franciscan nun, and the teacher in the story. The story first appeared in the Topeka Capital-Journal in 1998.

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

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

Read Ephesians 4:29

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

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

Reflect

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

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

Old Life and New Life

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

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

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

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

The Power of the Spoken Word

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

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

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

Words are Powerful

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

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

Your Words Make a Difference

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

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

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

Speaking to Others

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

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

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

Words in Social Space

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

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

Kind, Caring, Encouraging Words

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

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

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

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

Right or Righteous?

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

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

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

Respond

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

Return

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read  Ephesians 4:25 

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

What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself. (The Message) 

Reflect

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

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

Authentic Faith

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

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

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

The Truth

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

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

Leaders Tell the Truth

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

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

Read “Leadership and Assumptions” 

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

The Reason for Telling the Truth

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

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

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

Respond

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

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. 

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

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

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.

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

What is Essential?

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

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

Relationship with Jesus

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

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

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

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

Christian Faith 

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

Centered

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

Personal

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

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

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

Relational

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

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

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

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

Centered, Personal, Relational Faith

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

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

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

Three practices of Faith Shaped Leadership 

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

1. Spend Time with Jesus

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

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

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

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

2. Learn the Ways of Jesus

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

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

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

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

3. Live the Life of Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

Faith Shaped Leadership

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

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

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

Followers look for different qualities in their leaders. A recent Gallup Poll revealed that one of the top qualities followers look for is hope. Although there are people who perceive hope as passive and as wishful thinking, you instill hope when you understand the reality of the present, can imagine a better future, and live and work to make the future a reality.

When you are hopeless about the future, there is no reason to change your behavior. When you are hopeful about the future, you take the initiative to make a difference, as you shape the future and influence the people you lead. 

Hope is essential to leadership. Dr. Shane Lopez, of Gallup, spent his life studying hope. He wrote, “Hope is the belief that the future will be better than the present, along with the belief that you have the power to make it so.” 

Passive Hope 

When you see hope as wishful thinking, you wait for external forces to shape your future. Even with wishful thinking, you can see a better future, but you don’t believe you have the power to influence situations or people to achieve that future. When hope is passive, people look for “leaders” who will fix their problems. They sometimes complain about their leaders who aren’t delivering on the vision of a better future.

Leadership is about identifying potential in people and actively assisting them to live into their potential. Passive hope blocks that behavior. You aren’t a leader when you are waiting for someone else to show up and make things happen. 

Active Hope 

When you understand hope as active, you become a participant in bringing about that for which you hope. You need active hope to be the leader needed today. Active hope is something you do rather than something you have. 

It is about knowing what you want to happen and working to get there. For example, my wife, Kim, and I grow daylilies in our flower garden. Every spring we anticipate the lilies blooming. We watch as the green leaves begin to form, push their way up out of the ground, and blooms burst open. 

Because lilies and weeds grow together, I weed the garden on a regular basis. Although most of my work depends on how fast the weeds grow, there are times I must remove dead leaves from the plants. In fact, this year, because the lilies were not blooming, I cut them back so they could produce new growth. 

Kim and I are enjoying our lilies in full bloom. For the lilies to grow and bloom, I must be active in caring for them. I must show up throughout the growing months and weed the garden, even though I know more weeds will be there tomorrow. 

My blooming lilies are an example of active hope. 

Active Hope in Action

Think about it this way: 

First, know your current reality. 

Hope is rooted in the reality of your situation. Anchor yourself in that reality. Face it, name it, and acknowledge it. Where you start makes a difference. So, start where you are with what you have, not where you aspire to be or with what you aspire to have. 

Kim and I had an area of our yard, in front of the porch, where we wanted flowers. So, we started with that area. It was bare, covered only with dirt and random weeds. It had not been cultivated to grow flowers. But that was our current reality. We could have done nothing. We could have said, “I hope grass grows there someday.” But we didn’t. Instead, we started where we were with a bare, random weed and dirt-covered area. Honestly, it did not look like much would ever grow there. But that area is where we started. 

Second, identify what you desire to happen. 

Hold that vision/mission before you and the people whom you are leading. Keep your values in mind and imagine what “being better” would look like for yourself and others. This sets the direction in which you lead. 

Kim and I decided we wanted flowers to grow in the uncultivated area. So, we began to imagine what the area could look like with daylilies. We identified what we wanted to happen, which set the direction we needed to move. Again, we could have done nothing. We could have said, “It would look nice to have daylilies in the area.” But we didn’t. Instead, we began to imagine what that bare random weed area could become. It was that image we set out to make a reality. 

Third, begin to move in that direction. 

In other words, you show up and act in a way that is aligned with the future you want to happen. You navigate the obstacles and barriers that stand in the way of your goal. Active hope does not require your optimism, it requires your resolve. You choose what you want to achieve. Rather than weighing your chances and proceeding only when you feel hopeful, you focus on your goal/mission and let it be your guide. 

Kim and I knew that to make our daylilies a reality, we had to buy daylilies. But before that, we had to cultivate the ground. Even before that, we had to have the tools to cultivate the ground. So, to make our vision a reality, we had to have a shovel, a rake, and other garden tools. We had to break up the ground, remove the rocks, pull the weeds, and make the ground ready for daylilies. As we moved forward, we adjusted our vision. We decided the lilies would do better if surrounded by rock as opposed to mulch. So, we bought our lilies, planted them, surrounded them with rock, and watched as green leaves began to form, push their way up out of the ground, and bloom. 

We made our desire a vision and our vision a reality. That is active hope. It invites you to make something happen, even if it doesn’t exist at the moment. 

Hope Shaped Leadership

Hope-shaped leadership has a realistic understanding of reality and a clear vision of the future. Hope is experienced in your behavior to make the vision a reality. It is about showing up and behaving as if what you do matters, not only to you but also matters to the people entrusted to your care. When you lead through the challenges and obstacles with your future in sight, you not only practice leadership, but you also offer hope…a real and active hope. 

Who You Are is How You Lead

One other thing that is critically important regarding hope-shaped leadership. Who you are is how you lead. Whether you like it or not, people are watching you and they take their cues from you. They are listening to your words, they are watching your behavior, and they are observing your relationships. They follow your lead. As the leader, you paint the picture of the future. If you are negative and manipulative, don’t be surprised when the people around you become negative and do not trust you or others. You might get what you want for the immediate future, but the culture you have created will not be one of hope and productivity.

Who you are is how you lead. So, as a leader, when you are hopeful, you help people see a path that leads to a better future. Even though there are challenges and distractions, your words and actions fill the hearts and minds of the people around you with possibilities of healthiness and wholeness. 

Impact of Hope Shaped Leadership

Finally, hope-shaped leadership makes an impact. Here are five ways hope-shaped leadership makes an impact.

Renews Faith 

Hope allows you to become more of the person you were created to be. As you grow in faith, the people around you renew their faith as well. With renewed faith, hope introduces you to a path of new beginnings and to solutions you never knew existed. 

Builds Confidence

Hope helps you build your self-confidence. As you grow in confidence, you assist others in living into their potential. They begin to achieve things they never knew were possible. With the confidence to face the future, you know you can face your fears and move forward. You have the confidence to know that “perfect love casts out fear.”

Promotes Clarity

Hope broadens your perspective and gives you the vision to see around, beneath, and beyond the goals you seek. It allows you to translate complexity into clarity. When you begin to see through a wider lens, you begin to see the potential of the people around you and it fuels your perspective. Clarity assists you in modeling vulnerability and authenticity.

Gives purpose

Hope helps navigate all obstacles that stand between you and your purpose in life. You find a way to get things done. Living into your purpose gives others the hope to live into their purpose. The truth is hope is an ultimate life changer. It keeps you and the people around you moving toward dreams, goals, and aspirations.

Strengthens relationships

Hope is a force that brings people together. It instills a sense of unity, pride, and optimism. It builds trust. When people can trust you as their leader and you can trust them as your partners, relationships are strengthened, and everyone becomes more who God created them to be.

Hope-shaped leadership is about making a difference in the lives of the people entrusted to your care. “If, as a leader, you are not creating hope and helping people see the way forward, chances are, no one else is either.” (From Strengths Based Leadership) As a hope-shaped leader, you must keep your eyes, and the eyes of the people entrusted to you, on a hopeful future. 

Hope is “the belief that the future will be better than the present, along with the belief that you have the power to make it so.” 

Who you are is how you lead.

There is something comforting about traveling throughout Ohio. There are familiar signs that remind me I’m never too far away from Jesus. Sometimes it’s a simple church sign. Most of the time, it’s the people I meet who remind me, show me, and embody the love of God I know in Jesus.

Collaboration & Community

But there’s also something that causes me to scratch my head and wonder out loud.

For over two decades of ministry, I have led, participated in, witnessed, and watched local churches in the same community behave in different ways. At times, I’ve stood in awe of how people shared Christ’s love, welcomed neighbors, and celebrated our common humanity. At other times, I’ve scratched my head and wondered, “How can your church building be within walking distance and you don’t even talk to each other?”

What I’ve come to realize, is collaboration expands our capacity to solve difficult, complex problems. Collaboration celebrates and utilizes the gifts of everyone, builds and fosters trust, opens communication channels, and ultimately creates a greater sense of belonging for everyone. 

It’s All Good

I’ve been known to say, “It’s all good!” I confess, sometimes I utter that phrase and mean something other than what the words alone say. But when it comes to collaboration, it IS all good. Collaboration is good for leaders, the church, the community, and it’s how God created us to live. 

Look at the creation account. God didn’t want us to be alone, so co-laborers were created. When Jesus sent out the 72, they didn’t go alone, wherever they wanted to go. They were sent out in pairs to all the places Jesus was about to go. And, as if those partnerships weren’t enough, Jesus didn’t do ministry alone. The 12 disciples were with him at every turn. Sure, Jesus went off to pray by himself and came back into the community to teach, preach, and lead people. Everywhere he went, he made sure in that community there were examples of love. 

Common Ground

Before I start preaching, let me ask you, “What do these examples have in common?” 

It’s the simple, yet profound, work of collaboration.

When I look at the word collaboration, do you know what I see? Co-laborers. We are co-laborers.

In my role as Regional Missional Specialist, I have the opportunity to come alongside leaders, local churches, and interact with different communities. Do you know the people and places that break my heart the most? The ones who are living isolated & inwardly focused. Whatever the reason, whatever the source, we are people created for community.

Collaboration Examples

Allow me to lift up two examples of collaboration. Over the coming months, Karen or I will likely share other examples with you. My hope is that God helps you to begin to explore what collaboration might mean in your local community. 

  • During a six-week sermon series, two churches came together to prepare, share, and meet together around Bible Study. The Bible Studies coincided with the Sunday sermon. The pastors swapped pulpits every other week. Throughout the study, they identified one way to be a blessing to the people in their local community.
  • When returning citizens and individuals and families experiencing homelessness seek to establish stable housing one of the barriers is furnishing their new apartment. Several churches collaborate with a non-profit organization and county social services to identify ways to pick up, store, and deliver gently used furniture to people establishing housing. Whether it’s donating furniture, picking up furniture, coordinating delivery, or volunteering to deliver furniture, together the church and community organizations are collaborating to remove a barrier to establishing stable housing.

Will You Be a Co-Laborer?

We have examples of churches that are already collaborating in their settings that we can connect you to.

What might God make possible if our local churches began collaborating within our local communities? If you’re ready to explore collaboration with other local churches, reach out to the District Office or Karen Cook or Sara Thomas.

Who you are is how you lead. Will you be a co-laborer with Christ in your local community?

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.