How often do you stop and reflect upon what you are learning about yourself, your ministry, and your leadership? What triggers your times of reflection? And what do you do with what you are reflecting upon? Heavy questions for summer reading, but I have a reason for asking.
I am in a period of reflection. I just entered my 50th year under appointment as a United Methodist minister. Yeah, you read it correctly. I have been at this work of loving, learning, and leading for a long time. As part of my reflection, I have decided to share some things I have learned over the last half-century. Wow, now I am making myself feel old.
So, will you give me a few minutes of your time over the next 5 weeks to share some of the things I have learned? (I wrote a blog several years ago “10 Things I’ve Learned in 4.5 Decades of Ministry.”
The focus over the next several weeks is to emphasize what is important for Christ-centered leaders to know and act on. It is my hope that you will find this helpful and fruitful in leading people to become who God has created them to be.
The Most Important Lesson: People are Important
So, here goes. The most important thing I have learned over 50 years of ministry is: People are important. Regardless of who a person is or what that person has done, regardless of whether a person agrees with me or even likes me, regardless of whether the person lives the life I want them to live, each and every person is loved by God.
Over the years, as I have experienced God’s love for me, I have learned to love others the way God has loved me. As I have grown deeper in my relationship with Jesus, I have learned that each and every person is a person God has given to me to love. A lot of words to say, People are important.
When I was 10 years old, the musical “Funny Girl,” was on Broadway. One of the famous songs from that musical has shaped my life for almost 60 years. I first heard it on the radio and television. I sang it in junior high and high school choruses. I have seen the movie several times. Even today, I am taken back to times of my childhood when I hear the song, “People.”
People who need people,
Are the luckiest people in the world.
We’re children, needing other children.
And yet letting a grown-up pride
Hide all the need inside.
Acting more like children than children
A feeling deep in your soul
Says you were half now you’re whole.
No more hunger and thirst.
First be a person who needs people
People who need people
Are the luckiest people in the world.
The musical is about a woman who has discovered that the luckiest people are not those who have enjoyed fame and fortune, but rather those who find special relationships with others. She is disconnected with almost everyone around her, then she sings, “people who need people are the luckiest people.” The song suggests that you only become one of the luckiest people “first” being “a person who needs people.” Another way of saying it is, people are important.
The Importance of Meaningful Connections
As part of my reflection one of the things I have learned over and over is, as followers of Jesus, you and I are in the people business. People thrive and find fulfillment when they have meaningful connections with others. People require companionship, support, and interaction with other people to lead fulfilling lives. Relationships play a significant role in the overall well-being, happiness, and fulfillment of all of us.
I have also learned that you and I are not only in the people business, we are also in the loving people business. As difficult and inconvenient as it can be at times, loving others as God has loved us is who we are. Remember, as a Christ-centered leader, who you are is how you lead.
The Scriptural Foundation: Love One Another
There are more than a few scriptures that undergird the importance of people. Scriptures like “…love your neighbor as yourself;” “welcome one another as God in Christ has welcomed you…” and “faith, hope, and love remain…the greatest of these is love.” I am aware that I shortened my examples by leaving out references to loving God and to the glory of God. I have made an assumption, if you are a Jesus follower, God is in the first place of your loving and leading, which makes loving people extremely important as a response to God’s love for you.
The list goes on, but let us use our pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to focus on the importance of people.
Read: John 13:34-35
34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”
These words of Jesus are part of his farewell teaching to his followers. Before he leaves them, he gives them this commandment to love one another as he has loved them. Why does he give them this commandment? By loving one another they are showing others what it means to be one of his followers.
A New Perspective on Love
In the accounts of the good news according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus teaches that the greatest commandment is to love God, your neighbor, and even your enemies. In John’s account of the good news, Jesus teaches a new perspective to love. Just as in the other accounts, love is inclusive. God’s love is directed to all people.
The difference for John is, the love of God is not an individualistic personal blessing, but a distinctive action of goodwill and care for others. Love received and shared reveals that the followers of Jesus are not merely “nice people” but are agents of God’s love for the world.
Love as a Deliberate Act of Goodwill
I hope it goes without saying that the love used in the above verses is “agape.” The love of God expressed by John is not an abstract quality, attitude, or feeling. It is a deliberate act of goodwill and care for others. God loves us, and we love others in response to God’s deliberate action on our behalf in and through Jesus.
Maybe the best way of saying it is, love acts before it feels. So, what does that mean for you as a Christ centered leader?
When you discover the authentic life of trusting God and living in love, your priorities shift from trying to nail down just the right doctrine to following the living Jesus every moment of every day. Your relationships shift from trying to control those in your life to discovering the potential of others and assisting them in developing and living into their full potential.
Loving Others: Relating Authentically and Caring Deeply
Said another way, when people are important, you learn how to relate to others in authentic and caring ways, you begin to understand the spiritual connection you have with others, and you learn to love those with whom you disagree or who put you off. When people are important, you will appreciate the bigger picture of God’s truth and begin to live your faith as a witness to God’s love for you and others. You will move from the settledness of mere belief and learn to live and lead with unimagined possibilities.
From John’s perspective, Jesus loved his followers selflessly. He was not concerned, as often you and I are, of what he might receive in return for his love. He did not think of what he might feel if his love failed or was not returned. His one desire was to give himself to those he loved. Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Sacrificial Love: No Limits, No Cross
Jesus loved his followers sacrificially. There was no limit to what his love would give, and to where his love would go. If love meant the Cross, he was prepared to go to that Cross. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that love is meant to bring us happiness. Ultimately it does, but love will first bring pain and sacrifice. Hear the words of Jesus, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Understanding Love: Knowing and Accepting
Jesus loved his followers understandingly. He knew his followers. He knew their strengths as well as their weaknesses. The people who really love you are the people who know you at your worst as well as your best. The great thing about love is, you are loved for who you are. The love of God, we know in and through Jesus, is real love and total love. It loves not just part of a person but loves the whole person, the better and the worse. The heart of Jesus is big enough to love you as you are. Hear the words of Jesus, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Leading with Love: The Call of a Christ-Centered Leader
People are important. As a Christ-centered leader, you are called to lead the way in loving and accepting others. By the way you love and care for the weak as well as the strong, the strugglers as well as the achievers, will show, not only who you are as a follower of Jesus but, will show the world what it means to be a Jesus follower.
Loving others as you have been loved reveals who you are, and who you are is how you lead.
For you, as a Christ-centered leader, people are important. So…
Take People Seriously
Take people seriously. Many people have no one to love them. Whether it is by their own behavior or belief, people have separated themselves from others. Regardless of their reasons for separation or disconnection, each person is a person who God loves. You, being a receiver of God’s love, are also a conduit and giver of God’s love. God wants to love people through you. Be who God has created you to be, take people seriously so that God can love them through you.
Listen to People
Listen, listen, listen to people. One of the most important ways to take people seriously is to listen to them. One thing I have learned is many people just want to know that they have been heard. As time-consuming as it might seem, give time to listening to others. Whether you are interested or not, whether it makes sense or not, whether it is part of your agenda, loving others as you have been loved is not about you. Be who God created you to be, listen to people so that God can love them through you.
Be Generous with People
Be generous with people. I have learned that most of us think the worst of people. Regardless of the situation or circumstance, think the best of others. Please give them the benefit of your doubt until you learn differently. Too often you react to people based on your assumptions or perceptions. Learn to respond out of the love you have experienced in and through Jesus. God did not create you to be the judge. God created you to be the witness. Be who God created you to be. Be generous with people so that God can love them through you.
Be Kind, Patient, and Honest
Be kind, patient, and honest with people. Encourage them, support them, and assist them in becoming who God has created them to be. Model God’s love in the way you interact with others and work for their well-being. By the way you love and care for them, you will be a witness to who you are as a follower of Jesus, and you will be a conduit of God’s love.
People are More Important Than Policies, Positions & Politics
Remember that people are more important than policies, positions, and politics. We all work within organizations and institutions that seek to love and serve people. But too often, we emphasize the things put in place to help us love and serve more than the people we are given to love and serve. To love others as you have been loved will mean you will learn to navigate the systems and policies that too often separate people, create anxiety, and cause harm. Keep in mind, what separates and causes harm often was created to bring people together and to work for their good. People are important. Learn to use the policies, positions, and politics as instruments of God’s love, to work for the ultimate good of others. Be who God created you to be, so God can love others through you.
People are Important
One of my favorite stories is about Tom Wiles. While he was the university chaplain at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, he purchased a new pickup truck. While the truck was parked in his driveway, his neighbor’s basketball post fell against the truck, leaving dents and scrapes on the passenger door. The scratches looked like deep white scars on the exterior of the new truck.
A friend happened to notice the scrapes and asked, “What happened here?”
Tom, with a downcast voice, said, “My neighbor’s basketball post fell and left those dents. I asked him about it. He doesn’t feel responsible for the damage.”
“You’re kidding! How awful! This truck is so new I can smell it.” His friend continued, “Did you contact your insurance company? How are you going to get him to pay for it?”
Tom replied, “This has been a real spiritual journey for me. After a lot of soul-searching and discussions with my wife about hiring an attorney, it came down to this: I can either be in the right or in a relationship with my neighbor. Since my neighbor will probably be with me longer than the truck, I decided to focus on our relationship. Besides, trucks are meant to be banged up, so I got mine initiated into the real world a bit earlier than I expected.”
Wow! What a model of people are important. How many times have we sacrificed being “in a relationship” for the personal satisfaction of being “in the right?” How many times have we won an argument but lost a friend or damaged a heart?
Jesus Came to Redeem our Relationships
Did Jesus come to teach us “right” theology? Or did he come to redeem our relationships with God and with one another? He saved the world by teaching twelve individuals how to get along and to belong to one another. In other words, Jesus saved the world by teaching them that people are important. He taught them how to be in a relationship with one another.
Relationships are central to who we are as followers of Jesus. God is love, and love is impossible outside of relationships. One of the most important things I have learned over 50 years of ministry is that people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.
Love one another as you have been loved. It is who you are as a follower of Jesus. And who you are is how you lead.
Give God thanks for the people you met today.
- How did you experience taking people seriously, listening, being generous, and placing people before policy, position, or politics?
- In what other ways did you put people first?
- In whom did you experience God’s love?
- With whom did you share God’s love?
- Who is helping you grow as a leader?
- What will you do differently tomorrow?
Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be.