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