Tag Archive for: Bible Study

There is a phenomenon that is permeating our culture. It is called “quiet quitting.” In the workplace, it is experienced when employees put in the minimum amount of effort to keep their jobs. There is little meaning or joy in their work, so they quietly do as little as possible before walking away. 

In the church, it is seen when members are unhappy with some aspect of their role in the church and participate marginally before silently walking away. They too find little meaning or joy in their faith, which has been reduced to participating in pseudo-religious activities and programs. 

Uncommitted Church Members or Ineffective Leadership?

Some have raised the question, “Is quiet quitting about uncommitted church members or about ineffective leadership? The research shows that poor leadership leads to more quiet quitters than effective leadership. Although I believe the problem is deeper than leadership, I am trying to help you be the leader God has created you to be in the midst of the cultural changes we are facing today. 

You are leading in a complex time. People have been leaving the church for many years and for many reasons. It is an issue influenced by societal changes, personal beliefs, and experiences. I don’t want to focus on the negative, but let’s look at some common reasons why people leave church. You might have experienced several of these for yourself. 

Why People Leave the Church

People leave church because of: 

Busy Lifestyles 

The demands of life, such as work, family, and other commitments, have made it challenging for some people to maintain active involvement in a church community. Youth and children’s activities which are held on Sunday mornings have been a big reason for the decline in participation. 

Generational Differences

People of all ages, but younger generations in particular, have been less motivated to attend worship or participate in church programs. People have begun to look for more flexible and non-traditional forms of spirituality. The reality is the church has not adapted to some cultural changes and has for years had difficulties in relating to younger generations. 

Negative Church Experiences

Unpleasant experiences within a church, such as conflicts, scandals, or mistreatment, have led people to lose faith in the institution and its leadership. Because the church has become more of a religious club, people are opting out of club conflicts. 

Changing Beliefs

Some people have undergone personal spiritual or religious transformations, leading them to question or abandon the beliefs they learned as a child or were taught in their churches. 

Doctrinal Disagreements

Sometimes differences in interpreting doctrine or differences in understanding the teachings of Jesus have led people to look for alternative denominations or spiritual paths. These differences are usually based upon personal preferences and preconceived unchecked ideas. 

Societal and Cultural Shifts

Changing societal norms and values, particularly in more secular or diverse communities, has led some people to question the role of faith in their lives. They have found the teachings and practices of the church no longer relevant to their lives, so they disconnect from the church as an institution. 

Leading the Church in the Midst of Change

Every reason listed above is true and valid when the church is viewed as one institution among others in competition for the interest and participation of its members. When you start from the perspective that the church exists to serve its members and their preferences then you, as the leader and the church as a whole, are continually jumping from the “pinnacle of the temple” to entertain and keep the interest of the people you want to reach. 

In other words, when the church does not meet the perceived needs of individuals those people seek to have those needs met elsewhere. 

As a Christ-centered leader, how do you lead in the midst of cultural changes? What is your focus during this time of quiet quitting? 

Let’s look at the scripture to bring clarity to your focus. 

Read: John 1:1-14 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being  in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overtake it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,  who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 

Reflect 

As we reflect upon this scripture, let’s start with incarnation. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us…” The word translated “lived among us” is literally “he pitched his tent among us.” When John wrote his gospel, the people were wandering nomads. They didn’t just take their tents on vacation; they lived in their tents. So, John’s good news is, “God became one of us and lived among us. He pitched his tent in our midst.” Today we might translate it “And the Word became flesh and parked his RV next to ours.” Or “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” The point is, God has decided to become a member of the human race. This is called incarnation. 

Incarnation is God’s method of evangelizing love. The method is to become a human being, to live with us, and to love us in our everyday situations. When we search the scriptures, we find that God made other attempts to evangelize his love. 

For example, one method found in the Old Testament was the revelation from Sinai. There God came down to earth in the thunder, the lightning, and the smoke on the mountain. God spoke and Moses presented God’s message on tablets of stone. We know that message to be the covenant of the Ten Commandments. 

The New Testament

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says that God was a little disappointed in that method. The purpose of the covenant was to provide love, life, and vitality to God’s people, but the purpose was lost in the “keeping” of the covenant. So, God discarded the old covenant and wrote a new one. God did not discard the commandments. God used a different method to have the commandments come to life.    

The New Testament method is God revealing his nature of love in the human person of Jesus. This was God’s new approach to evangelism, to model his love in a human being. It is in Jesus that God confronts the world with his visible Word. It is in Jesus that God models his love for us. Jesus is the incarnation of God’s love. 

So, as a Christ-centered leader, your focus is upon the incarnation as the evidence that God has come to be with us. And that we cannot be related to God without being related to the people around us. 

God’s Dwelling Place

That is part of the good news according to Matthew. Jesus said, “… I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked, and you gave me clothing, I was sick, and you took care of me, I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40). 

Jesus was affirming his place in the human family. God has become one of us. The dwelling place of God is with us. In fact, we call him “God is with us.” With God’s new covenant, we can no longer deal with God without dealing with one another. 

Your Focus is Incarnational

So, part of your focus as a Christ-centered leader is incarnational. You become the love of God in human form. One way of being God’s love in human form is to love others as God in Jesus has loved you. 

The Word became flesh leads directly to the body of Christ. The church is the living, breathing body of Christ in the world. We are an extension of his life and ministry, actively participating in his ongoing work. This is the fundamental expression of our faith. This is who we are as grace-filled Jesus followers. 

Love of God in Human Form

Just as you, as a Jesus follower, are the love of God in human form, the body of Christ is the incarnation of God’s love in the world. We are the body of Christ because of the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection is simply God’s way of saying to us, “You might reject my covenant and presence, but I’m going to have the last word. I’m going to put my son right down there in the midst of you and he is going to dwell among you.”  God raised Jesus from the dead and we are the evidence of the resurrection. We are his body, living and breathing in the world today. 

The early followers of Jesus did not say that Jesus is risen because the grave is empty. They said, “He is risen because we are alive with his spirit, and we are doing the same things that he has taught us to do. We are the evidence that he is alive; healing, feeding, caring, serving in the world today.” 

Reshaping Lives

In The Acts of the Apostles, Simon Peter essentially says that the resurrection of Jesus is the reshaping of the lives of the believers to conform to his life, the reshaping of their minds to conform to his mind, the reshaping of their style of life to conform to the love of God. 

As a Christ-centered leader, your focus is on the resurrection and upon the followers of Jesus being the evidence of the resurrection in every situation and circumstance they might find themselves. 

Your work is to equip people to be who they have been created to be. They are part of the body of Christ, the evidence of the resurrection. As the body of Christ, living and breathing in the world, we already know that God has refused to take the world’s no for an answer to his love. So, with courage and boldness, we love one another as we have been loved by God. 

Model God’s Love

The Word became flesh, and the body of Christ leads directly to establishing loving and caring relationships with people. As a Christ-centered leader, your focus is on modeling God’s love so that through healthy relationships people can and will love others as they have been loved. 

Relationships within the body of Christ are fundamental to the spiritual, emotional, and social well-being of all people. It is within the body of Christ where people connect and learn from one another. It is where they build friendships, discuss faith, grow as followers of Jesus, and develop supportive and caring people who then love and care for the community at large.  Relationships within the body of Christ focus upon God’s love which leads to the practice of forgiveness and reconciliation. 

Relationships are Primary

Our reflection upon the incarnation, the body of Christ, and healthy relationships are primary to the life and impact of the church in the world today. I am sure you have noticed we did not focus on the next best program or how to attract people back to the church. We did focus on developing relationships with God, who has taken the initiative to come be with us in Jesus, and who has empowered us to be the evidence of God’s love and care in everyday situations and circumstances. 

As a Christ-centered leader, your focus is not on what next program is available to attract people into your building. Your focus is on modeling God’s love in your life, developing relationships with the people you encounter, and inviting and equipping them to model God’s love in their lives. Your focus is on being the incarnation of God’s love in the midst of the cultural changes of today.   

Respond 

So, as you reflect upon your focus as a leader, you might discover several ways to respond to being the incarnation of God’s love, being the body of Christ, and to developing relationships with the people God sends your way each day. 

Here is a story to assist you in bringing clarity to your focus.  

Two brothers lived on adjacent plots of farmland they had inherited from their father. For years, they had farmed together, played together, shared meals together, and supported each other in good times and bad. 

Then, one day there was a disagreement and they stopped speaking to one another. In fact, there was not a word spoken between them for years. 

One day, the elder brother was at his house when there was a knock at the door. When he answered the knock, he met a carpenter who was looking for work. The carpenter said, “I would like to do some work for you. Do you have any work that I can do?” The older brother thought for a moment and then replied, “Yes. I need you to build a fence on the edge of my property.” He pointed toward the stream that separated the land. “I want you to build it down near the stream that separates my farm from my brother’s farm. 

Puzzled, the carpenter asked him to explain the purpose of the fence. The older brother told him about his brother’s use of the stream. He told the carpenter that neither he nor his brother owned the water and that for years they shared it unselfishly. But then there had been a disagreement about the use of the water and that he and his brother had not spoken in years. ­He concluded by telling the carpenter that he wanted the fence built so he didn’t have to see his brother. 

Once he and the carpenter agreed upon the work to be done, the older brother said, “I’m going into town to run some errands. I’ll settle up with you when I return.”   

When he returned that evening, he was shocked to see that the carpenter had not followed his instructions. Instead of building a fence so he could not see his brother, he had built a bridge over the stream. The older brother walked down to take a look at the bridge. While he was there his younger brother walked toward him from the other side. 

The younger brother said, “After all the terrible things I’ve done to you over the years, I can’t believe that you would build a bridge and welcome me back.” He reached out to his brother and gave him a hug. 

Confused, but pleased, the older brother received the hug with gratitude. Then he walked back up to his farmhouse to settle up with the carpenter. The carpenter was packing his tools in the back of his pickup truck. The older brother said, “I just talked with my brother. He thanked me for building the bridge.” 

Then the older brother said to the carpenter, “Even though you did not build the fence, I am grateful that you built the bridge. Your gift has already helped to heal the wounds of our disagreements. I have more work that needs to be done. Will you stay and work for me?” 

The carpenter replied, “I like your invitation, but I have to go. I have other bridges to build. Besides, you and your brother can work together to finish the work that needs to be done.” 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. What happened to help you gain clarity in your focus?  With whom did you incarnate God’s love? How did you invite others into the body of Christ? How did you equip them to incarnate God’s love? With whom do you need to confess your desire to build fences? With whom do you need to celebrate building bridges of God’s love?  

Prayer

O God, be my guiding light that I may have clear vision for the days in which I am living. You are my wisdom, strength and guide. In you, I find my joy and peace. You are my true goal. Only you can satisfy my soul. Help me be your love in human form. As people are quietly quitting your church, help me develop true relationships of love that bind your people together, so that the people I encounter today and tomorrow will experience your love and grace through me. I am grateful, O God, for your love and presence in Jesus. Amen.


Distrust has become a serious problem in our culture. Watch any news program, peruse any social media platform, and you will become aware of the distrust that is informing our thinking and behavior. The lack of trust has become so serious that it now shapes the way we interact with one another in our communities and in the church.

Distrust’s Impact on Communities and the Church

Distrust has become such a problem that we treat people outside our circles with so much suspicion that our circles of trust are getting smaller and smaller. It is undermining the very foundations upon which we build relationships. It is destroying friendships and is causing psychological harm.

Statistics on Trust: A Troubling Decline

Kevin Vallier, Trust in a Polarized Age, points out that there has been a 40% decrease in trust in 50 years. In the late 1960s, half of the people in the United States said that most people could be trusted. Today it is less than a third. In the 1960s over 70 percent of Americans said they trusted the government most of the time. That number has collapsed to below 20 percent today. Even politicians don’t trust each other. Whether Republican or Democrat, 70 percent of both groups said they distrusted anyone who voted for the opposing candidate.

Root Causes of Distrust

The major underlying factors seem to be administrative policy, attitude, and control. We have become suspicious of anyone and anything we cannot control. Leaders are looked upon with suspicion, distrust, and fear because of the confusing cries of assumed theological and doctrinal changes.

At the very heart of distrust is the fear that we have placed our faith in the wrong place or person, revealing we are unsure of the grounding of our faith. As a result, our trust in God, God’s truth, and each other has broken down even while we deny it has happened. Distrust is seen in our fear of being hurt, misled, or looking silly.

Biblical Insights on Distrust: Genesis 3:1-7

There is a story in the scripture that gives insight to the distrust so prevalent in our culture today.

Read: Genesis 3:1-7

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden,but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So, when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took off its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Understanding the Origin of Distrust in the Scripture

Having set the experiment of joy into action, God showed the man and woman how things were meant to be in the garden. God said they were free to eat the fruit from all the trees of the garden except one tree. It was the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. God said the fruit of that tree was poisonous to their systems. It was placed there to serve a religious purpose rather than a nutritional purpose. 

God was pleased and saw that it was good. It was at that point the snake entered the picture. The snake addressing the woman asked, “Did God put you in the beautiful place and then prohibit you from eating all this fruit?” Notice the overstatement and false characterization. 

The woman replied, “Oh no. We can eat everything in the garden except this one tree. God said it is poisonous to us.” 

The snake shook his head and said, “That old scoundrel. God is threatened by you. God knows that if you eat that fruit, you will be like God. You know God cannot stand that. You were created to feed God’s ego. Holding you down builds God up. If you know what is good for you, you will call God’s bluff. You will eat the fruit and take over this place.”

Carelessness Brought Devastating Results

That one conversation put creation into a whole different light. There was no indication that such suspicion had ever entered their minds. There was no evidence for such an attitude of mistrust. Nothing up to that point had God done to give the humans reason to believe the snake’s accusations. So, without checking things out or going to the source trying to get the truth of the situation, the first humans bought into that unfounded suspicion. For no good reason, they embraced the rumor and began to act as if it contained the truth about God. Such carelessness brought about devastating results. 

That is the point of this story. Our forebears took the word of a snake over the word of God the creator when it came to interpreting life. Because of their carelessness, the world became a conspiracy rather than a creation of joy. God became a foe rather than a caring parent of love. This is the story that explains why we humans continue to take life apart and try to put it back together in ways that do not work. 

Culture of Distrust

The first humans drank the poison and got sick. That is how God got a bad reputation. It is based upon a flimsy accusation along with some sloppy careless assumption work. We humans, to this day, continue to build our assumptions in the same way. We have created a culture of distrust.

I confess that my earliest impressions of God were negative. I thought if I became a Christian, I would be giving up all the fun things in life. In my earliest impressions of God, I was convinced that if I did not live a certain way, God would send me to hell. The result was that I attempted to change my behavior, but my heart remained unchanged. Deep within, God suffered from bad press. I developed a culture of distrust in my heart.

So, how has God responded to our careless attitudes and distrust? Did God blow up in rage? Did God become defensive or strike back? Was God revengeful? No. The single most creative thing God could have done is heard in the words of Paul to the Romans, “God did not spare his own son but gave him us for us all,” It is while we are yet sinners, missing the point of God’s love and joy for us, that Christ died for us. It is in the midst of distrust that God’s love comes to us with its greatest force.

Reshaping Assumptions and Attitudes through Jesus

My assumptions were reshaped, and my attitude changed when I encountered God in and through Jesus. John Killinger said, “Jesus is God’s way of getting rid of a bad reputation.” In Jesus, I began to see and understand God’s love for us and God’s joy in sharing creation with us. It was over and against this confusion and suspicion, that God sent Jesus so we could see what God looked like in history and understand what God looks like every day. 

Can you trust a God like you see in Jesus? If so, will you let Jesus reshape your assumptions about God and your distrust of the people you encounter each day? To put it another way, are you willing to take the action of God, in Jesus, seriously enough to let it do its work in you? Will you allow the image of Jesus to penetrate your distrust so your attitudes will change? 

When you are shaping your assumptions about God, politics, race, gender, health care, etc., will you do it carefully and realistically? 

Jesus is God’s way of getting rid of a bad reputation. Will you let God do his redemptive work in you?  

Respond 

How do you respond to the distrust permeating our culture and church? Be a healthy, courageous, and competent Christ-centered leader who will encourage and sustain diverse conversations and communities. Be a trustworthy leader who will create environments of trust where promises are kept, and people feel safe to engage in conversation regarding faith, hope, and the future. 

In this time of polarization and distrust, model your commitment to be a follower of Jesus. Sit down across the table with those with whom you disagree. Drink coffee, tea, or Diet Coke with one another. Even though there might be disagreements, help people be encouraged and supported by the love and peace we know in Jesus. Be a model for the community of Jesus followers who are the evidence of God’s love and wisdom. 

Cultivating Trust in the Role of a Leader

So, as a Christ-centered leader, create a space, an attitude, a lifestyle where honest disagreement in love and care can take place. The writer of James said it this way, “First, it is pure, and then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine. Those who make peace sow the seeds of justice by their peaceful acts” (James 3:13-18). 

As a follower of Jesus and a leader, you are called to cultivate trust. Promoting trust and stopping the constant decline into distrust is not easy. It will require critical reasoning and judgment. You are leading with love, just as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). 

Model God’s redemptive work taking place in your life so that those around you will learn to trust God and God’s love for themselves and for others.    

Return: Giving Thanks

Give God thanks for the day and for the people you met and encountered today? In whom did you encounter God? How did you show your trust in them? What were your underlying assumptions? How were they formed? With whom do you need to confess your distrust? With whom do you need to celebrate God’s presence and love?  

It is my prayer that you will allow God’s love in Jesus to replace your attitudes of distrust with trust and compassion. Your trust and attitudes shape your leadership. Who you are is how you lead.

Prayer

O God, I am grateful for your grace when it comes to my careless distrust and attitudes toward you and toward the people you send into my life. In Jesus, I have experienced your extravagant love. Again, by your grace, help me let Jesus do his work in me so that I take more seriously the work of building and shaping trust in my life. By your grace, help me become more the person you have created me to be and become a conduit of your love and joy to be people entrusted to my care. I offer myself to you in Jesus. Amen 

As a Jesus follower, you have been called and gifted to be a Christ-centered leader. You have a responsibility to live and lead as God has created you to live and lead. The question is, “What does it mean to live and lead as a Christ-centered leader?

The Role of a Christ-Centered Leader

Your first and primary task is to be faithful to Jesus. So, your first task is not a political or social one, though you will certainly make an impact politically and socially. Your first task is to be shaped by God’s love so you can be who God created you to be. It is to live and be the truth of God’s love in everyday situations and circumstances.

Your goal is not success in terms of bigger and better or more people means more money. Your goal is to demonstrate that Jesus makes possible a new order based not upon what works or competing self-interest, but upon the truth of God’s love.

Living Out God’s Love in Everyday Situations

This is not a withdrawal from the world. God’s love invites, leads, and drives you into the world to work for justice and peace. You must take seriously the political processes that change systems and structures. You develop relationships with political leaders and assist them in working for the common good.

But you don’t put your hope in the political systems that serve self-interest or in societal norms of personal preference. As you live and lead you offer an invitation to the people entrusted to your care to confront the world. In obedience to Jesus’ invitation, you are first focused upon who you are by responding to, “Come unto me,” and “Do this in remembrance of me,” and then upon living as you have been created to live, “Follow me” and “Go into all the world.”

Balancing Belief and Behavior

As a leader of the people of God, you serve the church and the community. Your service is not in running errands but in providing light. You lead to provide an imaginative alternative to the culture. As you model leadership, you are providing hope for people who are struggling to create the structures and alternatives that the world cannot achieve through governmental power of self-interest.

You might wonder if your leading is worth the hassle. Here is where your courageous leadership comes in. Keep your eyes, heart, and mind on Jesus. When you feel your living and leading are ineffective, remember that Jesus appeared ineffective in the world. Then remember that his power was the truth of the nature of God and not power, strength, and violence within the culture.

Modeling Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Modeling God’s love will always be more radical than the world can provide. Legislation cannot serve the poorest and most powerless. The best policies can do is to give the less powerful a little more power and call it justice. The world cannot give dignity to the young, the old, the sick, the disabled, the marginalized. All it can do is hand out a few meager rights and call it compassion.

For the poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick, there must be hope that is not dependent upon public policy but upon the promise that God’s love is stronger than death, and that nothing can separate them or any of us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. You living into your call and giftedness helps bring that about.

As a Christ-centered leader, your living and loving help develop and provide a radical hope that forms a community of faith around the truth of God’s love as experienced in and through Jesus.

So first be faithful to Jesus.

Putting Faith into Everyday Action

Your second task is to live your faith in everyday relationships, encounters, situations, and circumstances. It is important to put belief and behavior together. As a leader influenced by John Wesley, you balance personal piety and social holiness.

In the scripture, proper behavior is a response to faith in God who is acting on your behalf. God’s requirements are always preceded by God’s actions. In the Old Testament, belief and behavior are brought together, “Hear O Israel: The Lord your God is one Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:4). That is the belief. Then follows the response: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). So, to be faithful to Jesus is to live your faith in everyday relationships, encounters, situations, and circumstances.

The Ten Commandments begin with the words, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). That is faith and belief. The commandments represent appropriate behavior in response to God’s acts of deliverance from slavery in Egypt.

The Good News in the New Testament

In good news according to Mark, Jesus walked along the lakeside announcing, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15). That was an invitation to faith. It was an invitation to believe that God was bringing a new world. Then comes the appropriate response, “Repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). All of Jesus’ demands, from “Come follow me” to “Take up your cross,” from “Go sell all you have and give to the poor” to “Turn the other cheek and go the second mile” are rooted in God’s invitation to love.

Paul in his letter to the Galatians writes, “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). That is belief. Jesus has set us free. Then comes the invitation to respond, “Stand firm, therefore and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery…For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters” (Galatians 5:1, 13). Then Paul offers the expected behavior, “Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another” (Galatians 5:13). So, to be faithful to Jesus is to live your faith in everyday situations and circumstances.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (II Corinthians 5:19). God acted in Jesus to reconcile us to God, to our true selves, and to others. In other words, God has acted in Jesus so we can be who God created us to be. The question is, what is the behavior to be balanced with this good news? Paul answers the questions for us, “And entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us” (II Corinthians 5:19-20). Your response to God’s reconciling love is to model through your leading the gifts of forgiveness and reconciliation.

The Leadership Role of Gratitude

At the heart of your faith and action is gratitude for God’s faith in you. Gratitude transforms obedience from a dreaded duty to a joyful expression of love. We simply enjoy doing what we do out of gratitude and love.

I remember a friend of mine telling me about his wife being on a business trip and what his children did to surprise her. On the day she was to return, my friend said he tried to persuade his son and daughter to help him clean the house before she arrived. He said they grumbled and procrastinated because they had other things to do.

As he served them their lunch, he said to them, “You know, Mom has been very good to us. She works hard and long, and she loves us very much. She will come in the door tonight with a hug and a gift for each of us. That is who she is. We are lucky to be loved so much. Why don’t we give her something as a gift? Let’s give her a clean house.” The children agreed. After lunch, they helped clean the house and even had fun making a game out of it.

I remember thinking that a clean house became a grateful response to a loving parent. That is behavior linked to belief. What a beautiful expression of faith in Jesus lived out in everyday situations and circumstances. That is what it means to lead as a Christ-centered leader. First you are faithful to Jesus, and you live your faith in everyday relationships, encounters, situations, and circumstances.

The Impact of Leadership

As a Christ-centered leader, why do you put your faith in Jesus into everyday action?

Several years ago, I read a story of a Canadian photographer by the name of Yousaf Karsh. The only portrait he took of a person’s back was taken of Pablo Casals in a small French Abbey in 1954. Karsh said he was setting up his equipment when Casals began playing Bach on his cello. Karsh was so taken by the music that he said he almost forgot why he was there. He took his portrait of Casals with the musician bent over his cello, frozen in time against the plain stone wall of the chapel. Karsh said that he took it that way to capture the loneliness of the truly great artists and the loneliness of the exile.

You are God’s Masterpiece

Years later, when the portrait was on exhibit in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, another old man came day after day and stood for long periods of time in front of the portrait. The Curator of the Museum noticed him, and when his curiosity got the best of him, he went over, tapped the man on the shoulder, and asked him why he stood so long before the picture. The old man, with obvious irritation, turned toward the curator and said, “Hush, young man. Can’t you see I’m listening to the music!”

Karsh watched Casals play his cello and presented a picture. The old man, looking at that picture, could hear the music.

You have been called and gifted to be a Christ-centered leader. You have a responsibility to live and lead as God has created you to live and lead. As a leader, you are God’s model, God’s picture, God’s music of what God wants your community, your neighborhood, your city to be.

As a Christ-centered leader, when you live and lead with God’s love you provide a radical hope all people need. Your music, your leadership, will permeate the whole of life and people will listen to you and follow you to Jesus.

Remember, who you are is how you lead!

May I state the obvious? We are living in a time of great division in our country, our communities, and even our churches. Whether it be political divisions caused by particular agendas or a cancel culture perpetuated by social media, there is a tension that leads to fear and a lack of trust. 

There are no easy answers on how to lead through divisiveness. One of the first places I go to is to the scripture. But we have just come through a time in the church when scripture has been used to separate people. It has been painful to experience. Something like this has happened: If you and I don’t agree on the interpretation of certain scriptures then there must be something wrong with you or at least one of us. Because of how scripture has been used as a weapon, it is hard to trust the truth that leads us to God’s Word made flesh in Jesus. 

Don’t Confuse Your Understanding of Scripture

At other times people have confused their political views with their understanding of scripture. Because we have made scripture more about morality than we have reality, people use scripture to support their views more than allow scripture to transform their lives. There is a culture of fear growing around the understanding of scripture. I think of it this way. You start talking about God’s love for all people and an old snake will come crawling out from under a rock to scare you away. 

So, let me put it into context and then we will explore a scripture that can be helpful in meeting the challenge of divisiveness. 

The Word Made Flesh

As Christians, we believe in the Word made flesh, not in the Word made words. The scripture points us to Jesus, God’s love in human form. Following Jesus is more than a set of beliefs. It is a way of life. Following Jesus is about loving one another, especially those who are strangers or who are different from us.    

According to the scripture, the world will know that we are followers of Jesus, God’s love in human form, by the way we relate to, interact with, and love one another. When I start with that perspective, I am convinced that Scripture provides a way to lead through divisiveness. 

Read Acts 17:24-25 

For the total story, read Acts 17:16-34

24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.  

Reflect

The apostle Paul found himself in a new world. His old world in which all questions had clear, precise answers had been shattered by his Damascus Road encounter with the Risen Christ. 

He had to sort out that experience and its impact on his perception of himself, his tradition, and what he believed. He needed direction to begin his mission of love and acceptance of the Gentiles. Before his experience with Jesus, he had considered the Gentiles beyond mercy. Now, he was an ambassador of love to the Gentiles. 

New World Required New Tools

He traveled to Athens, a center of Greek culture, where new ideas, competing values, and diverse philosophies were the norm of the city. Sharing the gospel of God’s love in that setting demanded that simplistic answers to difficult questions would not suffice. 

The new world required new tools. So, Paul had to learn new ways, understand his context, and earn respect to deal with the new world that was thrust upon him. He had to take what he knew and what he was learning to meet the demands of faith in the pluralist environment in which he found himself. 

How did he respond to the demands of the new environment? What tools did he use to meet the challenges of the new culture? 

Leading Through The Lens of Scripture

One of his tools was his grounding in the Hebrew scripture. In this story, he is surrounded by a different worldview. He was dealing with people who were more familiar with Zeus than with Yahweh. Their heroes were Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle rather than Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 

Paul saw the situation through the lenses of scripture. The Old Testament’s emphasis on belief in one God and its warning against graven images shaped Paul’s perception of and response to the Greek world. His grounding in scripture shaped him and provided a framework for approaching a different culture. The scripture provided a foundation upon which his new faith in Christ was built. 

The shifting sands of our world today, with its conflicting values and diverse relationships, call us to reexamine the primary tool for discerning God’s presence and purposes. The Bible has always been our primary witness to God’s revelation and loving activity.   

Use the Bible for Illumination

John Wesley dealt with the changing social currents of eighteenth-century England with his faith firmly rooted in scripture. He was so steeped in the biblical story that every personal and societal issue he faced was shaped by the bible. 

The Bible remains the primary tool we use to approach the issues of our time. The question is, how do you use the truth of the scripture to address the challenges of our day? William Sloan Coffin, former chaplain of Yale University and senior minister of Riverside Church in New York City, once wrote, “Too many Christians use the Bible as a drunk does a lamppost, more for support rather than for illumination.”   

Instead of scripture providing a light to help us navigate our way through conflicting values, it is being used to support our political and theological perspectives. Instead of scripture being a framework for approaching cultural change, it is being used to separate and divide people. 

How Do You Read Scripture?

As I have written before, it matters where you start. If you start from the perspective that scripture supports your point of view, you will use scripture as a weapon to get what you want. If you start from the perspective that scripture gives you direction on loving and relating to people, you will be transformed to love others as God in Jesus has loved you.   

Paul used his grounding in scripture to shape his understanding of people and the culture in which they lived. The scripture became his framework for approaching a different culture and a foundation upon which his new faith in Jesus was built. 

The Tool of Tradition

Another one of Paul’s tools was tradition. As a respected Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, Paul was accustomed to interpreting and applying Jewish tradition to new situations. He knew the Torah and rabbinic literature. He drew upon his tradition when confronting the alien gods and philosophies of the Greek world. It is obvious from Paul’s speech to the philosophers that passages from the Wisdom of Solomon, from Isaiah 42, and from Psalm 74 were in his mind and heart. 

He not only drew upon his own tradition, but he took the tradition of the Athenians seriously. He quoted from their philosophers and called attention to their heritage. He saw connecting points between his own tradition and those of the people whom he confronted in Athens. 

Responding to Cultural Change

When confronted by personal tragedies as well as new challenges in the form of cultural change you must not only stay in touch with your values and traditions. You must also learn about and understand the values and traditions of others. 

You need to be clear about who you are in order to stand firm when the ground starts moving. But if you are aware only of your own tradition you will not be able to develop the relationships needed to address the complex challenges when the ground is moving. 

Claiming Tradition and Relating to Others

Please continue to learn about and stand upon the tradition of historic creeds and liturgies, the great stories of faith, the bloodstained examples of the martyrs, and the heartwarming sermons and hymns of our ancestors. They are part of who you are as a follower of Jesus. 

But, at the same time, don’t forget that those to whom you are trying to relate have their own creeds and liturgies, great heroes of faith, and heartwarming stories and songs. Remember, it is God’s love for you in and through Jesus who is at the heart of your tradition. 

The Power of Experience

For Paul confronting the Athenians, scripture and tradition were not enough. He had to call upon another tool in order for the gospel to be relevant in a new setting. Paul met the Athenians at the point of their experience. 

He acknowledged their desire to know the Divine. Rather than put down their experience, he affirmed their genuine search for the ultimate. He accepted the validity of the insights of their traditions and heroes. Rather than introduce them to God, as if they had no experience of the Divine, Paul named that which they had experienced but had labeled unknown. 

The Validity of Experience

Here is a clue to courageous and faithful leadership in a world of conflicting voices and values. If there is validity in your experience, then you will allow others the validity of their own experience. As a follower of Jesus, you know that God is present in and with every person and in all of life. 

In other words, God is not present with some absent from others. All persons experience the reality of God in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). But, not all persons, know that it is God whom they experience.  

In Jesus, God has claimed each and every one of us. You have been claimed as a member of a loving household and called to be a giver of God’s grace. The scriptural story is a story of God’s love for all persons, but not all people know they have been claimed by God. Your experience of God’s love is a tool to connect with the experience of others and to identify the intersections of God’s grace and their experience. 

Love as You Have Been Loved

Just as Paul with the Athenians, it is your task as a Christ-centered leader, to be open to God’s presence in others and to hold the common experience in the light of scripture and tradition. God often comes to us from the experiences of those whom we assume do not know God. 

So, keep in your heart and mind the command to love as you have been loved. It remains at the center of what it means to be faithful to God. In the world in which we live, many complex realities are before us. The fundamental question remains the same, “Where have you experienced the presence and reality of God? 

The Tool of Reason

Notice that Paul did not stop with the Athenians’ unnamed experience. He connected their experience to the Risen Christ, who is the shape and source of authentic love. Scripture, tradition, and experience were resources used by Paul as he stood in the Areopagus. But he had one more vital tool, reason. 

The Athenian philosophers worshiped at the altar of reason, so Paul met them there. Drawing upon the insights of their philosophers, Paul attempted to connect the Greek culture to the God made known in Jesus. Paul told the Athenians, “From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth” (Acts 17:26). He then quoted their own thinkers and poets: “In him we live and move and have our being…For we too are his offspring” (Acts 17:28). 

Reason, motivated by love, under the banner of faith, can be fertile ground for eternal truth to grow and mature. In 1768, John Wesley wrote a reply to a theologian at Cambridge University, “To renounce reason is to renounce religion…for all irrational religion is false religion.” 

Reason as a Path of God’s Presence

When I was in Peoria, there was a young man, a physicist, who had difficulty believing God’s love for him, especially in and through Jesus. He spent hours reading, researching, and asking questions. Eventually, he took a step toward God. 

He found the universe to be full of mystery and wonder. He made his way to worship. In the liturgy, he found a way to express his sense of praise and adoration toward a reality he called God. Through many conversations and reading the writings of theologians, he was challenged to read the scripture with a fresh openness and to recite the creeds with integrity. Reason was a path of God’s presence for him. 

Ask Your Questions

I know a pastor who tells the story of receiving a letter from an eleven-year-old member of his congregation. Here is part of the letter: 

In the Bible, it says that several days after making the earth God made Adam and Eve. But in science, it says that no one lived before the dinosaurs or while they were living. How could dinosaurs have lived for millions of years before people if God made Adam and Eve seven days after the earth was made? …I hope you won’t be mad at me, but sometimes I have trouble believing…but I still believe in God. 

The pastor encouraged him to ask his questions. Somewhere this bright and articulate eleven-year-old got the notion that to use his mind was outside of having faith. Because he asked questions it meant he did not or could not believe. On the contrary, through reason, he and many others have come to glorify the God who is the source of all truth. 

Scripture, Tradition, Experience & Reason

Paul used the tools of scripture, tradition, experience, and reason to relate to the Athenians and to introduce them to the God who they had labeled unknown. These same tools are instruments by which God comes to us from that world out there beyond our church walls. They are the means by which God transforms the world through us. 

Respond

As a Christ-centered leader, how will you lead through the divisiveness of our culture? Here is something to keep in your heart and mind as you navigate the separation and pain of our day. 

  • It is not scripture, tradition, experience, or reason that creates the hostility we experience today. It is fear. So, as you lead with courage keep this in your heart. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). 
  • It is love that banishes fear and prejudice, which allows us to grow in understanding, freedom, and compassion. It was love that made Jesus draw to himself those who the world abandoned. It is love that will assist us to do the same. 
  • In the midst of the divisiveness, be who you are supposed to be. Love as you have been loved. Learn from Paul’s response to the challenges he faced in Athens and lead as you were created to lead. Be who you are because who you are is how you lead. 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. Where did you see God? What new thing was taking place? Who from the community did you meet? What did you learn about them? How can you best develop a relationship with them? Through whom did you receive love and care? What will you do differently tomorrow? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Prayer

O God, give me eyes to see and ears to hear you in the lives of the people entrusted to my care. Create a pure heart in me, because I have learned that the pure in heart can see you. With my pure heart, and open eyes and ears, help me experience you in the people I meet tomorrow and every day. In the name of Jesus. Amen

As a Christ-centered leader, you have the awesome responsibility of holding and leading the mission of the church. There is no greater work than equipping people to follow Jesus and to lead them into the community to love others. There is no greater work than to love others as God in Christ has loved you. 

I know I am not telling you anything new, but over the past several years, it has been difficult to stay focused on the mission. Because of several cultural shifts, the church is shifting as well. Without your courageous leadership, the church will lose focus on the mission and drift astray. 

As a Christ-centered leader your work is always to assist people to follow Jesus, but how you assist them is shifting. Your work is shifting from developing programs of preference to engaging people in loving others as God is Jesus has loved them. The shift is from a full calendar of activities to equipping them to pray, study scripture, and share life together. The shift is from bigger and better to “what do we need to do that no one else is doing?” 

Equipping People to Follow Jesus

Over my years of ministry, the shift has been from providing programs that would bring people into the church building to equipping people to follow Jesus into the community to love others as Jesus has loved them. 

To lead through these shifts is not easy. It means having a clear understanding of identity. “Who are we as followers of Jesus” and “What does being a follower of Jesus have to do with the church?” 

A Fable

There is a Hindu fable about a tiger cub who was separated from his mother and fellow tigers. He was adopted by goats who raised him as if he were a goat. So, instead of roaring with a voice that shook the forest, the tiger bleated softly in sounds heard only by his adopted family.

Instead of eating red meat, the tiger grazed on the soft grass and ate bark from tender saplings, which caused him to lack the robust strength characteristic of well-fed tigers. Instead of roaming the lofty peaks and leaping the treacherous mountain crevices, the tiger, who thought he was a goat, roamed the paths of the lowlands. 

He didn’t know who he was. His only image of himself was taken from the world around him, a world of goats rather than of tigers. He was less than a tiger because he had no understanding of what it meant to be a tiger. He had been cut off from his true identity.

An Uncertain Identity

The church suffers from a similar situation. We are unsure of our identity because of our broken connection with our biblical and theological roots. Our failure to stay in daily contact with the images of the church found in the scripture has blurred our identity. Because we are unclear about who we are, we have turned to images of the world around us to provide models of being and doing. 

The business world, civic clubs, and social and political organizations have become our patterns. Because of our lack of clarity, the church is treated as an institution among institutions. The church has become an organization among many organizations to which we belong, in which we find fellowship, and in which we engage in endless activities. 

The Result of Lack of Identity

The result is that we wander around on the smooth, well-worn lowland paths, grazing on tasty but unnourishing pious junk food. No one trembles at our blah messages or pays much attention to our bleating pronouncements. We hear the echo of a distant roar which temporarily strikes a responsive curiosity, and we have a vague hunger that is not satisfied by pious platitudes.

Occasionally we catch a glimpse of a Christlike image that gives a nudge to being more than we are as a church. We go through the motions, but our hearts are elsewhere. We know deep down in our souls that there is more to church than going to meetings and promoting an institution. 

Effectiveness of the Church

In every age, the church has wrestled with its identity. John Wesley, in his sermon titled “Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity,” raised the concern that Christianity, and particularly the Methodists, has not been more effective in transforming the world. One reason he gave is that so few understand the basic doctrines and beliefs of the faith. 

According to Wesley, before the church can be effective, it must know the doctrines, practice the disciplines, and give itself sacrificially in obedience to Jesus Christ. In other words, the church’s effectiveness requires that we know our true identity and live out that identity in the world. (The Works of John Wesley, Albert Outler). 

Our Identity is Rooted in Jesus

Let me be clear, our basic identity is rooted in Jesus. However the prevailing understanding of the church today is rooted in sociology. Rather than images like “people of God,” “Body of Christ,” or “community of faith” being the images for our life and work together, we have given into images like buildings, budgets, conferences, meetings, boards, committees, agencies, and programs.  Instead of prayer, searching the scripture, and life together being our main focus for carrying out our mission, we have adopted management by objectives, strategic planning, marketing techniques, organizational structures, and institutional maintenance, as our mode of operation. Please hear me, I am not saying any of those things are wrong, but they are not the root identity of the church. 

Prayer has been reduced to a functional way to open meetings. Bible study often is nothing more than an attempt to find biblical quotations to support our self-absorbed and programmatic preferences. Worship has degenerated into an ecclesiastical performance of a variety show. 

Transforming the World

When the world gives us our identity, the mission is defined in terms of strengthening the institution rather than transforming the world. Evangelism is equated with church membership rather than loving others in word and action. Ministry becomes a profession, a career to be cultivated and promoted, rather than a calling to be fulfilled. And pastors function more as institutional CEOs rather than as spiritual leaders or as visionaries of a new heaven and a new earth. Church leaders look for the next best program for renewal rather than look to the theology of personal and social transformation. 

Being Faithful Followers of Jesus

Since I am on a roll, while Jesus dies on the cross for a broken world, his new body, the church, is preoccupied with its attractiveness to the world. While Jesus lives and serves among the poor, the addicted, the imprisoned, the wounded, and the sick in the community, the church is at the beauty shop trying to become more appealing to the masses. It is at the public relations firm working on a new slogan, brand, and marketing technique. It is in a boardroom developing a strategy to stop the downward slide of its membership. 

Again, let me be clear, it is not about the survival of an institution. It is about being faithful grace-filled Jesus followers who put faith into action. It is not our identity as a social institution that transforms the world. The world needs us to fulfill our identity as a community of God’s faithful people who are motivated by God’s love to move into the hurting places of the world. 

The New Testament is full of images that define who we are. 

Read Matthew 5:13-14 

13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything but is thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.” 

Reflect

The good news according to Matthew was written a generation after Jesus’ death. Members of the new community of Christ were in danger of losing their identity. Matthew sought to keep the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus before the community.  He knew that only in doing so would the community remember and fulfill its true identity. 

So, he chose two images from Jesus as reminders. “You are the light of the world,” and “You are the salt of the earth.” 

“You are the light of the world; a city set on a hill cannot be hid.” So, we, as the church, are a light to the community. We live God’s vision for the world. In our personal lives and our life together, we are to model for the world God’s presence and purposes. 

Our Guiding Light

Bishop Kenneth L. Carder tells the story of serving a church that was in the flight pattern of a regional airport. The spire of the church was lit at night. It could be seen by the pilots as they made their approaches to landing or as they took off. He said that one Sunday morning a pilot attended worship. After the service, he told a few worshippers, “For years I have been using the lights from this church to get my bearings in the night. I’m sure glad you keep your light beaming.” 

As a Christ-centered leader, you are to be and hold the light by which others can keep their bearings. As a Christ-centered leader, you are to equip Jesus followers to be and hold the light in the places they live, work, and play. 

Our True Identity

Do you remember the story of the tiger cub who thought he was a goat? One day the king tiger approached the herd of goats that had adopted the tiger cub. The goats scattered, leaving the tiger alone with the king tiger. The king tiger confronted the cub who thought he was a goat with his true identity, but he didn’t understand. 

So, the king tiger took the cub to a stream. There he saw his likeness to the king tiger, but he still did not feel or act like a tiger. Then the king tiger gave him some red meat. At first, it tasted bitter, but soon it satisfied his deep hunger. It was then that the tiger roared his first roar, a roar that shook the whole forest. 

Jesus Shows Us Our Identity

Jesus has come to show us our true identity. In him, we see that we are beloved children of God. He feeds us the often-bitter meat of divine truth, but our hunger is satisfied with nothing less. We are to be the body of Christ in the world, by which bruised and alienated people are led to the living water where they see themselves as made in the divine image.  Through our relationships in the community, the people around us can taste the bread that satisfies the hungry heart. 

God’s light, in and through us, exposes the evils and heals brokenness. It nurtures us and invites us toward new horizons. It pushes back the darkness of despair and opens the curtain of a new day. That’s who we are. We are a sign of God’s reign breaking out in the world. We are a community in which God’s future invades the present. 

The Church is a Preserving, Nurturing Community

“You are the salt of the earth.” Salt preserves and gives taste. The church is a light, a mission, but it is also a preserving and nurturing community. 

As the salt of the earth, our identity is known through love. We are not a cozy fellowship of nice people trying to be nicer. We are a community of compassion loving one another, friend and stranger alike, with the love of Jesus. As the church, we are the conscience of the community, where love, just like salt or red meat, can have a bitter edge to it. We come together because Jesus, who died for us, has invited us to gather and to serve in his name.

Because we are followers of Jesus, who love like he loves, the barriers of gender, race, and class are not present in the community. Everybody is somebody. Our worth depends upon to whom we belong. All are treated with respect and dignity, like daughters and sons of God, like sisters and brothers of Jesus. 

As a Christ-centered leader, you help equip the followers of Jesus to model God’s love in the places they live, work, and play. 

Respond

What would happen if everyone who entered the church building was treated with dignity and value? And that every time they entered the sanctuary they felt as though they were being hugged by God? 

What would happen if every time the followers of Jesus left their homes, church buildings, schools, and places of work, the people they met were treated with love and dignity? What would happen if everyone you met felt as though they were being hugged by God through you? 

Our Identity from Acts

Jesus is the identity of the church. Here are the characteristics that help shape identity from the Acts of the Apostles: 

Devoted to Apostles Teaching

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

Related to One Another

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

Praying Together

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

Worshiping Together

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

Attracted by Joy of Community

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

Gathered in Homes

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

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything but is thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.” 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. Where did you see God? What new thing was taking place? Who from the community did you meet? What did you learn about them? How can you best develop a relationship with them? Through whom did you receive love and care? What will you do differently tomorrow? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Prayer

O God, give me eyes to see and ears to hear you in the lives of the people entrusted to my care. Create a pure heart in me, because I have learned that the pure in heart can see you. With my pure heart, and open eyes and ears, help me experience you in the people I meet tomorrow and every day. In the name of Jesus. Amen 

In a world that is changing as quickly as you are reading these words, may I state the obvious? The foundation of Christ-centered leadership is Jesus.

When the earth is moving under your feet, the one person you can depend upon to remain the same today and tomorrow is Jesus. As you attempt to lead in the midst of the changes, developing the characteristics of trust, authenticity, vulnerability, and courage, keep your heart, mind, and work-focused upon Jesus. It is your focus on Jesus that makes you a Christ-centered leader. So, that brings me to my question, “What does it mean to be a Christ-centered leader?” 

Lead With Love

May I, again, state the obvious? The greatest distinguishing characteristic of Christ-centered leaders is love. To lead with love involves genuinely caring for the well-being and growth of those you are entrusted to your care. It means developing a sense of belonging, empathy, and positive relationships. Love-centered leadership focuses on building strong connections, showing appreciation, and supporting the development of individuals. It creates a nurturing environment where people feel valued, understood, and motivated to contribute their best selves in loving as they have been and are being loved. It encourages collaboration and helps cultivate a culture of love and compassion.    

There are many places in the scriptures we can go to reflect upon love, but let’s start with a well-known scripture, even to those who are not religious or part of the church as we know it. 

Read 1 Corinthians 13 

13 If I speak in the tongues of humans and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions and if I hand over my body so that I may boast[a] but do not have love, I gain nothing. 

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable; it keeps no record of wrongs; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 

8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part, 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see only a reflection, as in a mirror, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love remain, these three, and the greatest of these is love.

Reflect

Paul describes the heart of a Christ-centered leader. He is describing the love lived out in everyday relationships. Too often, today, his words to the church in Corinth are taken as poetry idealizing love. It is part of the Christendom culture, but to idealize love is to miss the point.

Again, from a cultural perspective, his words are used to give a general description of love. To generalize love is to miss the point. Paul wrote his words to a church in the midst of painful conflict and unwelcome change. He lays out the way of Christian living. So, from the perspective of a Christ-centered leader, he is teaching you to love as God in Jesus has loved you.  

Lead in Relationship with Others

His teaching is strong and to the point. We may say it this way, “You might have and exceptional gift for preaching, or have great prophetic powers, or even the strength to make noticeable sacrifices, but without loving others as God in Jesus has loved you, your gifts, strengths, and powers are useless.” Those are strong words. Paul was not giving a general description of love and was giving poetry for a wedding ceremony; he was instructing followers of Jesus on what it meant to live in relationship with one another.

So, what does it mean to lead with love? Let’s start with the word “agape.” Although “agape” is not a word we use in our everyday language, it is a concept found in the New Testament. It is used to describe the distinct kind of love embodied in the life and ministry of Jesus. It is the kind of love that focuses on people and develops communities of care and compassion.

Leading with Love

Agape defines God’s immeasurable, incomparable love for us, all of us. It is God’s ongoing, outgoing, self-sacrificing interest and concern for creation. God loves you, me, humanity, and all creation without condition. Agape is the work of the Christ-centered leader.  

To put it another way, this love is not dependent upon the worth of the people being loved. It does not count the cost based on the return. It is spontaneous and does not consider beforehand whether it will be effective or proper. It is the extension of God’s love lived out in and through our relationships with each other. 

Leading with love gives meaning and purpose to all other leadership characteristics. To lead with love means:

To lead with the highest form of love described and experienced in the Bible.

It is more than an emotion. It is a matter of will. As much as we talk about the church being a family, this love is greater than friends and family. In fact, this love is greater than race, color, or belief. It is a love that intentionally works for the good of each individual regardless of who they are or whether you feel anything or not. This love is greater than politics, nationality, gender, and race. To be a Christ-centered leader means you lead with love.

To understand the greatest expression of a relationship.

As much as I dislike conflict, this love is not about “getting along” with one another or “being nice” to one another. Sometimes, for the sake of unity, we set this love aside and become nice instead of loving. It is in the midst of our differences and disagreements that love is the source of our relationships. It is working for the good of all people whether we agree or not. To be a Christ-centered leader means to love courageously as God has loved you in and through Jesus.

To love as Jesus loves.

It is to be focused on the good of others before it is focused on our own goodness, desires, expectations, or results. Too many times we talk of loving others so we can get something from them, get them into the church, or meet our budgets. To lead with love is greater than our institutional concerns. We love because God in Christ first loved us. Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” This love is about being who God created you to be for no other reason than being who God created you to be. 

To express through action.

Too often we talk about love and loving others but are slow to live the love we talk about. John, in his first letter wrote, “Those who say, ‘I love God’ and hate their brothers or sisters are liars. After all, those who don’t love their brothers or sisters whom they have seen can hardly love God whom they have not seen! This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also” (I John 4:19-21). 

To lead with love is to lead as a follower of Jesus. He said, “Love one another. By this people will know that you are my disciples.” Who you are is how you lead.

Respond

As a Christ-centered leader, to lead by this love, you must focus on people. People first. There is always a place for policy and procedure, but they come in relationship to putting people first and by loving others, people, the way God in Jesus has loved you.  With that said, this is a different kind of love.

Focused upon people, you lead with this love by:   

Listening

You are quick to listen and slow to speak. It is important for people to know that you care enough to listen to them. You elevate the importance of a person when you take them seriously by listening. Too often, in conversations, we form our responses and interrupt before the other person finishes speaking. As important as your position and opinion might be, it is more important to listen, especially to those with whom you disagree. Love people by listening first. 

Being Patient

You are slow to anger. You are patient with people more than patient with circumstances. Regardless of how unkind and hurtful people might be, you show the same patience with others as God has shown you. The patience of love always wins.  

Being Kind

On one hand, you are quick to compliment and affirm, and on the other hand, you are clear with feedback. Being clear is kind. You build meaningful relationships with kindness. Being kind helps with connection and cooperation, as well as trust and well-being. To lead with love is to be kind. 

Being Generous

You are slow to pass judgment and quick to offer grace. You freely offer space and time for people to be who they have been created to be. So, when people don’t move as fast as you, you are generous with “they are doing the best they can do.” Then you ask, “How can I help you?” or “What do you need from me to do what you need to do?” You are being who God created you to be by being who God needs you to be for people entrusted to your care. Being generous is a major act of leading with love.   

The early followers of Jesus showed love in everything they did. For them, to love God and to love the people around them was motivation for everything. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Everything should be done in love” (I Corinthians 16:14 CEB). Leading with love is the main work of the Christ-centered leader.  Who you are is how you lead.

Return

At the end of the day, give God thanks for the people you met today. Where did you experience God’s love? Through whom did you experience it? With whom did you share God’s love? Who are one or two people who have helped you love others as you have been loved? Give God thanks for them. What will you do differently tomorrow? Reflect upon “Who I am is how I lead.”

Pray

O God, I want to be the leader you have created me to be. As I learn to love more like Jesus, fill me with the love that is patient and kind and a love that is not envious, boastful, arrogant, or rude. Forgive me when I insist on my own way and for being irritable when things don’t go my way. Help me tear up the list of wrongs I have kept regarding the actions of others and help me be more generous and rejoice in the truth of others. Keep working with me so that I become more of the leader you need me to be. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus whose love gives me meaning and purpose. Amen.

This blog is Part Two of It Matters Where You Start and the conclusion of the series, “Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry.” Although Part Two can stand on its own, it might be helpful to read Part One for greater context.

Read Part 1 here

Thanks for joining me on this journey of reflections on ministry. I hope you discover them to be effective and fruitful in your ministry as a Christ-centered leader. 

Another important thing I have learned over my years of ministry is people tend to put more faith in the Bible, the written word of God, than they do in Jesus, the living Word of God. Both are important, but one is a written document and the other is a living person. 

The Word of God

It matters where you start. It is one thing to say, “The bible is the word of God” and go no farther, and it is another thing to say, “The Bible is the written word of God that shows us the living Word of God, the Word made flesh, Jesus.” 

The distinction is subtle, but the difference is a matter of who or what you trust. As a Christ-centered leader, your life is transformed by God’s love in and through Jesus. Your response to God’s love is a response of faith. Where you place your faith impacts who you are as a leader.  Who you are is how you lead. 

As far back as I can remember, the Bible has been important to me. I learned a lot about the Bible and its importance through my formative years. From the influence of my grandmothers to the lessons of my fourth grade Sunday School teacher, to the devotions I led or experienced in youth fellowship, the bible became an anchor in my faith.   

Faith in the Bible or Faith in Jesus?

I was in my first year in college when I experienced my initial crisis with the bible. Up to that point, my faith was anchored in the bible. In my freshman year, I had an “Introduction to the Bible” course. Without going into all the details, my faith was tested. Because I had put my faith in the bible, and not in Jesus, any questions of faith related to the bible, challenged my faith. With the assistance of a trusted friend and mentor, I came through my initial faith crisis. What I learned was, I had put more faith in the bible than I did in Jesus. 

Let me say that in another way. Faith in Jesus and faith in the bible are not the same thing.  The written word of God points us to the living word of God. Over my nearly 50 years of ministry, I have learned that most people conflate the two, the written word is not the living word. Jesus is the living word in the flesh. The Bible is the written word that points us to Jesus.

Living Word and Written Word

I am sure I have said more than enough to create some anxiety, so let’s move to our pattern of READ, REFLECT, REPOND, and RETURN to focus on the living Word as he is talked about in the written word. 

Before we move to scripture, there are two things to keep in mind with each scripture reference and reflection. The first is context. Each gospel writer is addressing people in a specific context. So, we want to look at the scripture from the point of view of their context. The second is the understanding of “to believe.” The word believe in the scripture means to trust and obey. It is an action of trust and obedience as opposed to a passive acceptance of a list of beliefs. 

All of that is to say, it matters where you start. 

Read Matthew 28:18-20 

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him, but they doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

Reflect

The good news in Matthew is “God sent Jesus to teach us how to live before God.” 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 right relationship with God, “Love the Lord your God…” and right relationship with others, “love your neighbor as yourself.” 

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. Jesus is referring to the way you make promises and commitments to the people around you. Jesus is referring to forgiving others as you have been forgiven. 

Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel

Matthew writes for a Hebrew Christian community. The people in his community know the Laws of God, but there has been a shift in their faith. They have placed their faith more in the Law than in the God who gave them the Law. So, you have Jesus teaching them, “You have heard that it was said…but I tell you…” 

It matters where you start. When you start with Jesus, people and relationships are a priority. To believe is an active response of trust and obedience in developing healthy relationships, working for the good of others, and living with integrity. 

Read Mark 1:21-27 

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “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.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He[a] commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 

Reflect

The good news in Mark’s Gospel is “God sent Jesus to oppose all the evil, suffering, and pain in the world.” So, to believe in Jesus, to trust and obey Jesus, is to oppose the evil, suffering, and pain in your communities, neighborhoods, and the world at large. A close read of that scripture implies that there are opposing forces and views at work. 

Mark is writing to a community whose life has been disrupted by persecution. He is offering hope in the midst of suffering and pain by telling stories of Jesus restoring relationships. When Jesus heals a man with leprosy, he is restoring the man to his family, to his community, to his synagogue, to his job. When Jesus encounters a man with demons in the cemetery, he frees the man from living life as if he were dead, trapped in the evil of his living. 

Jesus in Mark’s Gospel

Over and over in Mark’s story, Jesus is facing and overcoming evil, suffering, and pain. Half of his story is about Jesus’ own suffering and death. The question is, “Did Jesus overcome the conflicting forces in the sanctuary?” Did he overcome evil, suffering, and pain? 

It matters where you start. In the story, the unclean spirits know who Jesus is, “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. 

Yet, over my years of ministry, I have experienced hundreds of people who have given hours upon hours of their lives to relieve pain and suffering, to work for mercy and justice. Again, with his response to the evil, suffering, and pain did Jesus win in the sanctuary that day? 

The answer to the question is found in your own living, in your own heart. When you start with Jesus, people and relationships are a priority. Your response of trust and obedience makes a difference in opposing the forces that separate people from God and one another. To believe is an active response of trust and obedience in developing healthy relationships, working to address evil, pain, and suffering in whatever form they present themselves. 

Read Luke 4:14-21 

14 Then Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding region. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 

Reflect

The good news in Luke is “Jesus not only possessed the Holy Spirit but offers the Holy Spirit to his followers.” So, to believe in Jesus, to trust and obey Jesus, to have the power to communicate across the barriers of race, nation, gender, and culture. When you read Lukes’s story of Jesus, you read stories of the Holy Spirit moving the church past theological, cultural, and marginal differences. 

When Jesus says, “let the children come to me. Do not hinder them…” he is addressing the need in the church to accept persons who have little to offer, and who are not candidates for ministry. When he says, “If they are not against us, they are for us,” he is addressing the concern that there are persons outside of the group of disciples who are working for the good of others. 

Jesus in Luke’s Gospel

Luke tells stories of Saul of Tarsus, who we might say was theological and religiously misaligned with the new community of Jesus followers, he is telling his community that Jesus is greater than the barriers of theology and religion.  When he tells the story of the Ethiopian eunuch, he is telling his community that Jesus cares for those who have been pushed to the edges of society, cut off from the community of faith, and who are not taken seriously. When he tells the story of Simon Peter visiting Cornelius and his family, he is telling us that Jesus is greater than cultural norms and religious laws. 

Luke helps his community understand that even Peter, the leader of the whole movement, had to learn that God does not create anyone to be profane. The power to overcome the barriers comes from the Spirit who is in Jesus, who is in the church, and in you as the followers of Jesus. 

It matters where you start. When you start with Jesus, people and relationships are a priority. God provides the power and insight to navigate the barriers that separate people from God and one another. To believe is an active response of trust and obedience in developing healthy relationships, working to overcome the barriers that separate us from one another, and living with integrity. 

Read John 4:5-9 

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”  Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. 

Reflect

The good news in John is “If you have seen Jesus, you have seen God.” So, to believe in Jesus, to trust and obey Jesus, is to trust and obey God. When Philip says, “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied,” he is speaking on behalf of all of us. humanity. Just show us God, that is all we need to trust and obey. Jesus responds by saying, “Have I been with you all this time and you still do not know me?” 

John tells his followers that they see God at work in and through Jesus when he feeds 5000 people with loaves and fish, when he heals a woman pushing her way through the crowd, when he relieves a boy of seizures, when a man returns to his family after being healed of leprosy, when he washes their feet, and when he dies upon a cross. John’s good news is experienced in Jesus saying, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” 

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. If you have seen Jesus, you have seen God. 

Then, as if to turn things around, Jesus 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. 

It matters where you start. When you start with Jesus, people and relationships are a priority. To believe means you will be loving others through your feeding, healing, loving, and serving. To say you believe in Jesus is to love others the way God in Jesus has loved you by developing healthy relationships and living with integrity. 

Respond

Over my years in ministry, I have learned that making assumptions is an essential part of leadership. But, when you fill in the gaps in your understanding with unchecked and unexamined assumptions, you set in motion a set of chain reactions of bad decisions and miscommunication. 

Your unchecked assumptions pertain to the scriptures as well. I have experienced gifted leaders who have been fairly accurate in their assumptions. I have also experienced gifted leaders who have alienated themselves from the people they are serving because their assumptions were not accurate. 

The tricky thing about assumptions, especially regarding the scripture, is that you don’t always know when you are relying on them. You are designed, as a human being, to develop shortcuts and to eliminate excess mental processing. The problem is that once your assumptions have been established in your mind, they tend to be enshrined in your heart, never to be questioned again. 

When it comes to the interpretation and understanding of scripture, inaccurate assumptions are blind spots that lead to misconceptions and misunderstandings. When you place your faith in misconceptions and misunderstandings, you cause unnecessary pain and anxiety. The pain and anxiety can be cured through healthy self-awareness and a clearer focus on the living word, Jesus. 

It matters where you start. As a Christ-centered leader, you start with Jesus. It is Jesus who makes you who you are, and who you are is how you lead.   

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. How did you experience placing your faith in Jesus? How did the scripture point to Jesus? 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. 

A

A Final Note

Again, thanks for the opportunity to share a few reflections on my years of ministry. As you already know, a few weeks of blogs does not reflect a lifetime of ministry, so watch for more reflections on ministry. 

Other Posts in the Series, Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry:

It Matters Where You Start, part 1

The Difficulty of Prayer

The Grace in Gratitude

Words are Powerful

The Importance of People

Well, we have reached the fifth blog in the series, “Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry.” So, enough is enough. I have been at this work long enough to know that you have been gracious with this old guy. As you might guess, I have more to share. It will come later. You’ll find the previous posts linked at the bottom of this page.

This blog will be in two parts. Part One this week and Part Two, which will conclude the series, will be next week. I am grateful for this opportunity to highlight and emphasize what I have learned to be important for Christ-centered leaders. I hope you have found this helpful and fruitful in leading people to become who God has created them to be.

It Matters Where You Start

One of the major learnings of the past 50 years is “It matters where you start.”  Early in my ministry, I came across a cartoon of a man who is intoxicated. He’s forgotten where he parked his car. He is leaning against a lamppost on a city street. His only hope is to call his wife and to ask her to come and get him.

When he calls, she is disappointed but sympathetic. She asks, “Where are you? I’ll come and pick you up if you can tell me where you are.”

The man looked to find the street name and replied, “I am at the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk.”

If you don’t know where you are when you start, the chances of giving misinformation or moving in the wrong direction are highly possible. It is difficult to get to where you are going if you don’t know and understand your starting place.      

How are you making decisions?

When you, as the leader, make decisions based on reliable information, communication, self-awareness, and examination, you are effective and courageous. When you make decisions based upon incorrect assumptions without research and communication, not understanding why you think and act the way you do, the consequences can be disturbing for you and for the people entrusted to your care.

Where you start makes a difference. All of us have internalized thoughts, behaviors, theologies, and practices that need to be examined and refined, if not transformed. If you start with your assumptions, values, and point of view, you will work to help people see your point and come over to your way of thinking.  If you start from a particular political position like progressive or evangelical, conservative or liberal, traditional or postmodern, you will spend your time and energy trying to get people to see things your way.

Faith or Politics?

Please hear me, I am not questioning your values or your point of view. But in a time when people are confusing Christian faith with political positions, our politics is informing our faith more than our faith in Jesus is informing our politics.   

It shows up in why people attend worship and participate in the life of the church. When you start with how the church can contribute to your professional life and financial success, you spend your time working on your preferences, trying to get what you want to your advantage. 

When you start with your personal preferences, whether theological, political, or social, your preferences are informing your faith more than your faith in Jesus is informing your preferences. 

Start with Jesus 

It matters where you start. When you start with Jesus, your values, point of view, and preferences are shaped by his influence in your living. When you start with Jesus, your values, point of view, and preferences can be transformed. May I say it this way? Your view is not as important as God’s view. Your preferences are not always God’s preferences. As a Christ-centered leader, as a Jesus follower, you start with Jesus. 

To start with Jesus means that Jesus informs who you are, what you say, and how you act. I am sure you are with me at this point.  But, over the years I have learned that people misunderstand what it means to believe, to have faith, or to live their lives in response to God’s love and acceptance.

Dynamic Faith

I have learned that people have replaced dynamic faith with a passive belief in beliefs. They have shifted their starting place from faith in Jesus to a list of what they believe about Jesus. Although the shift seems subtle, it reveals itself in the way people relate to one another. In reality, because of that shift, we are experiencing some painful consequences today. It matters where and in whom you place your faith.

As a child, when I did something to hurt one of my brothers, be disrespectful to my parents, or misbehave in some way, it would upset my mother. She would discipline me and tell me how disappointed she was. After a little time passed, I would apologize and say, “I love you, Mom.” And she would say, “I love you too. But, if you really love me, show me in the way you behave.”

Live What You Believe

Here is the key to believing. You show what you believe in the way you live your life. Think of it this way, when you say, “I believe in Jesus,” you are saying that you not only believe in the existence of Jesus, but that you trust and obey Jesus to be the leader of your life and living.

What you believe is important and reciting and remembering what you believe with creeds like the Apostle’s Creed, or the Nicene Creed are helpful in keeping you focused. But believing in Jesus is more than a belief system or adopting a creed. There is a danger of allowing what you believe to become passive. Passiveness creeps in when believing becomes intellectual acceptance. Again, hear me. I am not questioning your intentions, but when you take believing and make it a static list of propositions you are no longer talking about faith in Jesus. Your list of beliefs becomes your object of faith.

In the scripture, the word for believe and the word for faith come from the same word. To believe is to have faith. To believe Jesus, to have faith in Jesus, is to trust and obey Jesus. 

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

Christian faith is: 

Centered

Centered because it has a particular object. According to the scriptures, the object of Christian faith is the living God revealed in Jesus, whom we call the Christ, Messiah, Son of the living God.  This means that Christian faith is not faith in general. It is not a philosophy of life about which we speculate. It is not a system of ethical ideals about which we may argue. It is not the object of a set of doctrinal beliefs to which we might agree.   

Jesus says, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The implication is, if you have seen Jesus, you have seen God. Jesus is the way to understand the way, the truth, and life of God. 

Personal

Personal first because it is centered in a person, a living person, Jesus. The resurrection is true. It is not merely an event that happened over two thousand years ago. It means that Jesus is alive right now Second because it requires a personal response. Each person must own faith in Jesus for themselves. 

Jesus says, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” The implication is, in Jesus you and I can see who God is and what God is like. 

Relational

Relational first because it makes possible a right relationship with God. Second, because it properly relates you to your neighbor. You cannot be properly related to God and improperly related to your neighbor. And third because it establishes a right relationship with yourself.    

Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” And “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The implication is, you and I love others as God has loved us.

Trust and Obedience

A response involving trust and obedience.  Life is transformed by God’s love in and through Jesus. Your response to God’s love is a response of faith seen in your trust of God and in your relationship with the people you encounter each day.

The Foundation of Faith   

The foundation of faith is not based upon your feelings toward God or upon what you have done for others as much as it is upon what God feels toward you and what God has done on your behalf.  The foundation of faith is not about your promise to God as much as God’s promises to you. Your commitment is a response to God’s commitment. It is a response that involves your whole being: heart, soul, mind, strength, and will.   

So, it matters where you start. The question is this: do you start with a list of beliefs of what you are supposed to believe, or do you start with Jesus, the presence of the living God? Let me say it again, starting with Jesus means there is a dynamic transformation that shows up in your relationships in the places you live, work, and play. Starting with Jesus means life changes as you trust and obey.

I want to love Jesus, but…

One of the writers who has influenced my ministry over the years is Henri Nouwen. In his reflection on the story of Nicodemus and the words “you must be born from above” (John 3:7), he wrote,

“I love Jesus but want to hold on to my own friends even when they do not lead me closer to Jesus. I love Jesus but want to hold on to my own independence even when that independence brings me no real freedom. I love Jesus but do not want to lose the respect of my professional colleagues, even though I know that their respect does not make me grow spiritually. I love Jesus but do not want to give up my writing plans, travel plans, and speaking plans, even when these plans are often more to my glory than to the glory of God.”

Nouwen realized that he wasn’t all that different from Nicodemus. He wrote, “So I am like Nicodemus, who came by night, and said safe things about Jesus to his colleagues.”

It matters where you start. And if you start with keeping Jesus at a distance and controlling your beliefs, whether focused upon him or not, there will be little or no transformation and little or no quality leadership.

Sharing the Love of God

It matters where you start. Tom Long, while teaching homiletics at Princeton Theological Seminary, attended a nearby Presbyterian church that prided itself on being an academic, intellectual church. He said early on he went to a family night supper and sat down next to a man, introduced himself, told the man he was new, and asked, “Have you been here long?”

The man replied, “Oh yes. In fact, I was here before this became such a scholarly church. I am probably the only non-intellectual left. I haven’t understood a sermon in over 25 years.”

Tom asked, “Then why do you keep coming?”

“Because every Monday night a group of us get in the church van and drive over to the youth correctional center. Sometimes we play basketball or play other games with the kids. Usually, we share a Bible story. But mostly we just get to know these kids and listen to them.

“I started going because Christians are supposed to do those kinds of things. But now I could never stop. Sharing the love of God at that youth center has changed my life.”

Then the man said, “You cannot prove the promises of God in advance, but if you live them, they’re true, every one of them.”

Over my 50 years of ministry, I have learned that it matters where you start. So, when you say you believe in Jesus is it intellectual acceptance or a response of trust and obedience?  Only you know. 

Part Two of “It matters where you start” comes next week. Until then, know that I am praying that you always start with Jesus and, as a Christ centered leader, who you are is how you lead.

Other Posts in the Series, Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry:

This is the fourth blog in the series, “Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry.” You can find the previous three blogs linked at the bottom of this page.

How often do you pray? Do you have a particular posture? Do you say particular words? What is your focus when you pray? Who taught you to pray? What is prayer anyway?

Over my years in ministry, I have discovered that one big assumption is people know how to pray.  The reality is we have difficulty praying. We have learned to pray short prayers publicly for dinners or special occasions, but few of us have a pattern for prayer.  Our difficulty in praying is not that we don’t have time, or that we lack discipline. Our difficulty in praying reveals that we do not know how to pray, what to pray, or even why to pray.

Heartfelt Prayer

In the tradition in which I grew up, I experienced prayer as heartfelt, genuine, and spirit-led. People prayed extemporaneously from the heart. They just let prayer flow because what just flowed was more genuine. They didn’t think about what to pray. 

What I remember is, what flowed naturally was what was on their minds and in their hearts at the moment. Too often they were not thinking of the conditions of the world or of the people beyond their own families or community. Their prayers were genuine, but the brokenness of the world and the pain of others beyond themselves did not automatically flow. 

As a teenager, I attempted to follow what I had experienced by watching and listening to others.I even went through a time of thinking that real prayers were unrehearsed prayers. In other words, the written prayers, whether in liturgies or offered by worship leaders, were not “real prayers.”

Understanding of Prayer

I certainly am not saying I know how to pray today, but as I reflect back upon my years of ministry, I have matured not only in my understanding of prayer but in my practice of prayer. Prayer is no longer something I do. Prayer is interwoven into who I am.

My prayer life has matured and deepened through several seasons of life. During each season there have been certain individuals, resources, and experiences to help me grow in faith and practice.  I am grateful for each person, resource, and experience, but early in my ministry, I was introduced to E. Stanley Jones through his book How To Pray.

Much of what is recorded in that book is true today. He wrote, “If I were to put my finger on the greatest lack on American Christianity, I would unhesitatingly point to the need for an effective prayer life among laity and clergy.”

“If I had one gift, and only one gift to make to the Christian Church, I would offer the gift of prayer, for everything follows from prayer. Prayer tones up the total life.” 

“Prayer, in the curriculum of living, is the required subject. We do not graduate into adequate human living without it…the difficulty comes in the how of prayer.” *

Prayer is Bigger than Anyone of Us

One of the difficulties of prayer is that it is bigger than anyone of us. To not give thought to what to pray makes prayer small. To not give time to prayer makes prayer insignificant. Not to pray keeps you from becoming all who God has created you to be.  

I think the disciples had not given much thought to prayer until they experienced Jesus praying. Other than observing Jesus, their only experience of prayer was with John’s disciples. They had seen the power of prayer and they wanted their prayers to make a difference. They knew that John had taught his disciples to pray and now they wanted to pray.

I find it interesting that the disciples did not ask Jesus to teach them how to tell a parable, multiply the loaves, or heal the sick. They asked him to teach them how to pray. And when asked, Jesus taught them a pattern of prayer. 

Let’s use our pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to focus on prayer.   

Read Luke 11:1-13

Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”  

 So, he said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, may your name be revered as holy. May your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything out of friendship, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

“So, I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asked for a fish, would give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asked for an egg, would give a scorpion? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

Reflect

Luke has Jesus praying at important points in his ministry. His pattern is to go off to a desert place or a lonely place to pray. It was in those times of prayer that Jesus kept his focus on the ministry God called and commissioned him to do. 

Through prayer, Jesus not only received his call and commission for ministry, but he also sought direction for his ministry. When he experienced success in his ministry, he prayed. He prayed to check the desires of his heart, “Do I go with the crowd, or do I go to the cross?”

It was through prayer he chose twelve apostles out of all the disciples who followed him. He was seeking those who, in the present, could hold together Israel and the emerging Christian community. 

In the feeding of the 5000, Jesus was feeding those who are hungry as the sacrament of Holy Communion. In relation to Simon Peter’s confession, Jesus prayed because Simon Peter and the other disciples misunderstood his suffering and dying as a contradiction of who and what they understood the Messiah to be and do. 

In the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus prayed because his identity and purpose as a suffering Messiah did not match the images of the people who loved him and who followed him. In the mission of the 70, it is in prayer that Jesus gives thanks to God for the faith given to his followers. 

Teach us to Pray

Now, when he returns from his time of prayer, his disciples are asking him to teach them to pray. They knew that John the Baptist had taught his disciples to pray, so when Jesus returned from prayer, they took advantage of the opportunity, “Lord, teach us to pray.” 

They have been present with him through each of these experiences of prayer and they have not prayed. Jesus has been praying to keep his focus on God and what God has called and commissioned him to do. Are the disciples now asking for the same focus? 

Persistence in Prayer

Luke gathers Jesus’ teaching material on prayer in chapter 11. Immediately following what we know as the Lord’s Prayer, Luke tells a story of persistence or perseverance in prayer. This teaching is to reassure believers that their prayers are heard and answered. 

If a grouchy neighbor awakened from sleep will respond to an urgent request for bread, how much more will God respond to our prayers? The story is not about praying harder or longer. Luke is encouraging his community to persist in prayer because to pray is to stay focused upon God and God’s call and commission to ministry. 

Jesus’ pattern was to go to a lonely place to pray and then come back to engage in ministry. His time away to pray was to keep his focus on God’s call and to test his desires in response to God’s call. Luke’s encouragement to persevere in prayer is to keep your focus on God. 

Perseverance in Prayer

Next to persistence in prayer, Luke places the “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” sayings. “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” He teaches perseverance in prayer.

In Chapter 10, Luke tells of Jesus sending the disciples out, his instructions on what to take with them, and how to respond to those who accept them and reject them. The “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” material was adopted by the early Christian missionaries as an encouragement to live out their mission, depending only on friendly supporters along the way. Luke uses the sayings in relation to prayer. Since God is eager to hear and respond to the believer’s prayer, we may confidently ask, seek, and knock, no longer on human doors, but on the gates of heaven. 

Luke concludes the teaching material with, “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

The Focus of Prayer

So, the difficulty of prayer is seen in the persistence and perseverance of staying focused upon God and God’s call to ministry. Focused prayer involves preparation. There are times when your mood may not be right; an irritated or anxious temper may get in the way. Or perhaps the preoccupation with work and family may be clouding and crowding your thoughts. 

A dozen different demands and pressures make special preparation an absolute necessity for real prayer. So, remember this: To pray is to focus on God and God’s call. To pray is to live in God’s presence and to receive God’s power.

Prayer is who you are as a Christ-centered leader, and who you are is how you lead.

Respond

We are not sure what brought the disciples to the point of asking Jesus to teach them to pray. But as I think about it, motivation is not as important as participation. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus was ready to provide them with direction. He did not ask them about their motivation; he provided them with a pattern for participation. 

His pattern was to pray, so he could engage in ministry. His time away to pray was to keep his focus on God’s call and to test his desires in response to that call.

Pray to Stay Focused on God

As a follower of Jesus, called and commissioned as a leader, you pray to keep your focus on God and to keep the desires of your heart in alignment with God, as you have experienced in and through Jesus. 

To learn to pray, practice focusing your prayers. Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • What would happen if I walked through the neighborhood focusing upon my neighbors as I prayed? 
  • What would happen if I educated myself to think naturally of children, poverty, gun violence, prejudice, hunger, or homelessness in my neighborhood, community, or city? 
  • What would happen if I listened to the news or read news stories in preparation for prayer? 
  • What would happen if I became more aware of the politicians, the first responders, the teachers, the medical personnel in my neighborhood, community, or city?  

Asking Jesus to teach you to pray means that you prepare yourself to focus upon more than your thoughts and feelings. As a Christ-centered leader, focus your prayers to become more than “just how I feel” prayers. Praying extemporaneously is important, focused prayer is what makes the difference. 

The difficulty of prayer is experienced in actually praying. When prayer becomes a part of who you are, you begin to participate in your prayer. So, I offer this caution with prayer, when you pray be ready to act, because God will empower you to be the answer to your prayers.

Prayer helps make you who you are, and who is are is how you lead. 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you met today.

  • When and where did you pray?
  • In what ways were you assisting others to pray?
  • How were you exercising leadership when you prayed?
  • What did you learn about yourself and about your feelings and actions toward prayer?
  • How 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?

Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Prayer 

O God, as I open myself to you, I am asking you to teach me to pray. Keep me focused on you and your direction for my life. Keep me mindful of the world around me so that I may pray for the well-being of the people around me and the community. By your grace, continue to make me an instrument of your love and peace so others might know of your love and acceptance. Thank you for the opportunity to be one of your leaders at this point and time. I do believe you created me and gifted me to lead for such a time as this. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus. Amen*

*How to Pray, by E. Stanley Jones, first published in 1943. Reprinted by the E. Stanley Jones Foundation 2015.

Other Blogs in this Series

This is the third in a series of Reflections on 50 years of ministry. As I reflect back upon the years, I have decided to share some things I have learned. So, over the next several weeks, I want to emphasize what I have found important for Christ-centered leaders to know and act upon. 

The first blog in this series focused on people. You will find that blog at Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry: The Importance of People.  The second blog in the series focused on the power of words. You will find that blog at Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry: Words Are Powerful  – Transforming Mission.  Here is the third in the series: Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry: The Grace in Gratitude.

So here it goes. 

The Gift of Gratitude

If I could give one quality gift to you as a leader, I would give you the gift of gratitude. I have found gratitude to be the fundamental value of the Christian faith. It has the potential to transform your life, impact your relationships, and to change the world. If I could have God do anything for you, I would ask that God make you a grateful person. 

Here’s why.  The words “grace” and “gratitude” have the same root in Greek. In other words, if there is no awareness of the grace of God, there is no gratitude. And there is no gratitude without an awareness of the grace of God. Over my years of ministry, I have never known a person who was grateful, who was at the same time bitter, hurtful, mean, or vengeful.   

Words of Gratitude

As I began my first appointment, I was introduced to the song “My Tribute.” Andre Crouch, who wrote and recorded the song, put words to what I understood to be my call to ministry.   

How can I say thanks for the things You have done for me?

Things so undeserved yet You gave to prove Your love for me.

The voices of a million angels could not express my gratitude.

All that I am and ever hope to be, I owe it all to Thee.

To God be the glory. To God be the glory. To God be the glory.

For the things He has done. 

Gratitude in Everyday Life

As I have matured in my faith, I have grown to understand that gratitude is more than something I simply express with words. Gratitude is woven into the fabric of everyday living, relationships, perspectives and assumptions, and the way I see the world. 

As I have searched the scriptures, I have found that the Bible emphasizes the importance of gratitude from “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus…” (I Thessalonians 5:18) to “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1). 

In the scripture and in the Christian community, gratitude is seen as a virtue that fosters a positive and humble attitude, acknowledging the blessing of God in people and all of creation. 

Let’s use our pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to focus on the grace in gratitude. 

Read Luke 17:11-19 

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus[a] was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten men with a skin disease approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’s[b] feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? So where are the other nine? 18 Did none of them return to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” 

Reflect

Leprosy was a physical condition that had broad implications. It was an incurable disease that separated people from one another. It was a living death. Individuals with leprosy were required, by their religion, to stay outside the boundaries of the community.  

If you had leprosy, you were physically, as well as socially, isolated from family, friends, synagogue, and all that gave meaning and purpose to your life. To have leprosy meant that you had no quality relationships outside of the diseased community. Your only means of living was to beg for handouts. And not only were you isolated, but you had the responsibility of announcing your condition to everyone who came close. In other words, because of your condition, you were marginalized, ostracized, and humiliated.  

In the story, as Jesus walks by, it is not clear whether they were begging or if they had confidence in Jesus’ power to cleanse them. But as Jesus passed, they cried out, “Jesus, master, have mercy on us.” Although they did nothing to get leprosy, they have no rights to which they can appeal. Healing is not owed to them.  

Jesus directed them to “Go show yourselves to the priest.” The priest was one who could announce that each of them was cleansed of the disease. What is interesting here is Jesus gave each of them what was needed for healing and wholeness. His direction was an act of grace. 

They followed his direction. Their action of going to show themselves to the priest was their response. On their way, they were healed of their leprosy. They did not first simply believe and then go to the priest. They followed the direction of Jesus. As they followed his direction, they discovered they had been restored to health. Each of them received the same direction, the same grace, and were given hope of a new life. 

No Gratitude Without an Awareness of Grace

There is no gratitude without an awareness of grace. In the story, ten individuals experienced God’s grace. Each of them returned from the world in which they had been isolated. Each of them experienced a new life. Even though they each received grace and did what Jesus told them to do, there was no requirement to return. Yet, in a completely spontaneous expression of gratitude, one returned giving thanks and praise to God.  

Gratitude is a response to experience grace. It is the fundamental value of following Jesus. 

Respond

Effective leadership starts with gratitude. Who you are is how you lead. So, how will you express your gratitude this week? Below are several things you might do to cultivate gratitude in your life. 

Saying Grace 

First, may I suggest that you start today by saying grace over your possessions? Bow your head and say a word of thanks over the things you possess. By giving thanks, you live more by the God who holds you than by the things you are trying to hand onto. 

Saying grace over your possessions is the final test. Because gratitude is the central virtue of the Christian life. There is no other virtue like it. Let me say it (write it again). I have never known a person who was grateful who was at the same time, mean or small or bitter or hurtful. 

Make gratitude a Way of Life

Secondly, when you express gratitude, you weave gratitude into the fabric of your life. When you are a person of gratitude you lead with gratitude. Who you are is how you lead. 

You can explore more on gratitude being a way of life through the resources below: 

Make Time to Be Grateful

Third, if you are ready to become a more effective leader, another way to express your gratitude is:  

Over the next 5 days, make time each day to think about being grateful. Notice the people who inspire you. What do you see that makes you smile or to notice their actions? Keep in mind that no person or experience is insignificant. From the person who started a friendly conversation to the laughter of children, they are all part of what makes you who you are. The small joys are just as valuable as all the others. Give God thanks for the people you encounter each day.

Think about what makes your life easier. Is it the alarm that reminds you to get up each morning? The water in the shower? Your car, umbrella, cellphone? The list goes on. For what are you grateful at this moment? Give God thanks for what makes life easier.

Consider past relationships. Upon whose shoulders are you standing? What did the person do to make life better for you? Why are you better off for having known that person? Give thanks for the toughest relationship of the day. On my best days, I have come to experience sincere gratitude, even for difficult people, by looking for the good in my encounters with them. Give God thanks for the people who have gone before you, who are mentoring you, and who are helping you grow more in grace and generosity.

Add yourself to your gratitude list. You might feel uncomfortable. Most of the time you quickly focus upon things you do not like about yourself. But, when you practice gratitude, you can alter that negative cycle. What would happen if you, instead of focusing on your flaws, paid attention to what makes you most proud of yourself? Make a list of the talents and strengths God has given you. Now, give God thanks for those gifts and how God is using you to make a difference in the lives of the people entrusted to your care.

Finally, remember, who you are is how you lead. Effective leadership starts with gratitude.  

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you met today. 

  • Did you say grace over your possessions? Why? Why not? 
  • How did you notice that gratitude is woven into the fabric of your life? If it is not, what will do to cultivate gratitude in your living and leading? 
  • What did you learn about yourself and about your feelings and actions of gratitude? 
  • How 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. 

Prayer

O God, I give you thanks for the people and things in my life that make life meaningful and easy. Help me remember that I can let go of the things that hold me captive and trust you for meaning and purpose.  I give you thanks for my friends and colleagues who, through their gratitude, are helping me become more who you created me to be. I am grateful. Amen.