Tag Archive for: Bible Study

How do you lead through conflict? Do you work primarily to manage it, resolve it, transform it, or avoid it? Part of being a courageous and effective leader is being able to confront conflict and to lead people through it. Leading through conflict is one place that reveals who you are is how you lead. 

Conflict is an inevitable part of life. It occurs naturally on a daily basis in one form or another. There will always be differences of opinion and disagreements. It is a part of the human experience. It influences your actions, your decisions, and your relationships. Although it is often viewed as being negative, conflict can be an opportunity for positive learning and growth. 

Leading Through Conflict

As a leader, you already know that conflict can be a result of attitude, race, gender, looks, education, opinions, feelings, religion, and culture. It can grow out of differences in values, affiliations, roles, positions, and status. And even though you might attempt to find the cause of any particular conflict, the reality of most conflict is complex and is made up of a mixture of sources from emotions to values. 

So, how do you lead through conflict? Matthew, in his good news, gives us direction regarding conflict. Let’s use our practice of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” as a pattern for confronting conflict while caring for relationships. 

Read Matthew 18:15-20 

15 “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If you are listened to, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If that person refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church, and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” 

Reflect 

There are several stories of conflict in the New Testament. A quick read reveals that Jesus was not frightened by it and even invited people into it. One day he asked his disciples, “What were you arguing about along the way?” He knew his question would lead to a messy discussion about who was the greatest. He asked people why they called him “Lord” without doing what he said, and he called religious leaders “white-washed tombs” knowing that things would get messy. 

There was a conflict in the church after Jesus ascended. Hebrew-speaking Christians got tangled up with Greek-speaking Christians about whose poor were getting cared for. Paul went after Peter for giving in to the legalists. The list goes on. 

Relationships and Conflict

John Ortberg, in his book Everybody’s Normal Till You Get To Know Them, writes, “People who love authentic community always prefer the pain of temporary chaos and conflict to the peace of permanent superficiality.” 

Relationships were important to Jesus and to the early church. So, Matthew tells of Jesus teaching how to live a righteous and holy life. For Matthew, the righteous and holy life is lived out in relationships.

So, the righteous and holy life is seen in how you restore and maintain relationships in the midst of conflict. Dealing with conflict always involves a series of choices. To assist us to live in relationship as God’s children, Jesus gives a set of instructions about what to do in case of relational breakdowns. 

How to Navigate Conflict? 

So, when there is conflict: 

Acknowledge it. 

To be alive means to be in conflict. When there is conflict, you have two choices. You either pretend that conflict does not exist and become conflict-avoidant, or you honestly admit there is a challenge, a broken relationship. Matthew is talking directly to Jesus’ followers when he writes, “If your brother or sister sins against you, go…” 

When there is conflict, there has been a breakdown of some kind. Usually, the breakdown is more complex than what appears on the surface. There will be no transformation without a serious commitment to face the breakdown. Acknowledge the conflict. 

Take responsibility for your part in it. 

As a Christ-centered leader, take the responsibility to set things right. Regardless of the cause of the conflict, take the first step toward restoring your relationship. We don’t naturally want to do this. We have thoughts like, “it is not fair that I should have to be the one to take the first step.”

Here is where who you are comes into play. Instead of blaming others and avoiding responsibility, be who God created you to be, take responsibility for your part, and move forward toward reconciliation. 

Take action to confront it. 

Don’t let resentment grow. Often, when you have been wronged, it feels better to be angry and to play the victim. You have been wronged and someone should do something about it. You are correct. It is you who takes the initiative. 

Go and make it right with your neighbor, friend, or colleague. It will not be easy. You will not do it perfectly. Just remember this, avoidance kills community. Here is where your self-awareness is important. 

Approach the people involved with generosity. 

You truly do not know what is going on in the heart and mind of another person. So, be generous in your assumptions and projections. Here is where love comes into play. As a Christ-centered leader, you are always leading with the best interest of others in mind. You are always working for their good as well as the good of the church or your organization. Remember, you are in the people business. Love others as God in Christ has loved you. Be generous in your assumptions and projections. 

Approach others with the same care and sensitivity that you would want to be approached. 

Deal with it privately. Include only those with whom there is conflict. As Jesus has instructed through Matthew, “go…when the two of you are alone. If you are listened to, you have regained that one.” Be aware not to embarrass others by approaching them in front of an audience. Approach the other person in the way you would want to be approached. 

Just a bit of advice on this point. If you are angry, deal with your anger first. It is not healthy to confront conflict with anger. This is not a time to ventilate. It might make you feel better, but it will do nothing about transforming the conflict. Your ventilation shows that you have not taken the other person seriously. So, be clear about your motives, deal with your anger, and approach others the way you want to be approached. 

Be clear in your communication. 

Brene Brown reminds us that Clear is kind. I read recently of a pastor who taught his staff the “Last 10% Rule.” Often, after going through all the challenging work of setting up a difficult conversation, he found people would stop and not discuss the hardest but most important truth. They would fail to say the last 10%. 

So, what happened? They were vague and fuzzy just at the time clarity was most needed. For example, Instead of saying, “You talked too much at the meeting,” people would speak vaguely of not feeling connected to the other person and hope they will fill in the blanks. Here is the reality of that situation or lack of clarity. You are not speaking out of love for the other person. You just don’t want to go through the pain and fear involved in a deeper conflict. Remember, “Clear is kind.” 

Describe clearly what you have observed. 

Explain how you perceived it. Tell me what the consequences have been.  Ask for the change you want.  And then ask, “How can we move forward toward our goal of being in relationship with each other.” 

Aim for reconciliation. 

“If you are listened to, you have regained that one.” The goal of conflict transformation is not to win but to restore broken relationships. Reconciliation is rarely simple and never quick. Again, this is where who you are is how you will lead. Reconciliation takes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It takes loving your neighbor as you have been loved. It takes doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. You get the point.   

Remember you are not alone. 

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” You often hear these words regarding worship. But Matthew did not use the words in relationship to worship. He used them in relationship to conflict.  Remember, when you are confronting conflict, God is with you. You are not alone. When you are confronting conflict, you are being who God created you to be. You are not asked to live a righteous and holy life on your own. God is with you as you build and maintain healthy relationships. It is who you are as a Christ-centered leader. 

Respond

From my perspective, this scripture has often been used more as a weapon than as a tool. It has been used to gain control rather than restoration. It is part of our broken human nature to experience conflict. Whether it be differences of opinions, different world views, or a clash of values, we human beings will always be at odds in one form or another. 

God sent Jesus to teach us how to live before God. I understand that means “be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect.” In other words, to be whole, righteous, and holy. From Matthew’s perspective, as well as the other gospel writers, righteous and holy living is lived out in relationship with other human beings. We love one another as God in Christ has loved us. 

It Starts with Me

The first place I have to start in confronting conflict is with myself. When I am at peace with God, I am at peace with myself, and at peace with others. When I get angry, I first ask myself “Why am I angry?” Even my best self wants to blame others for my misunderstandings. I first must deal with my own hurt, frustration, and fear before I can honestly confront any relational conflict in a healthy way. 

When I finally came to my senses, I asked myself “What do I want?” Too often when people get to a certain level of anger, their only focus is to win the argument or to inflict pain or to get even. They forget about righteous and holy living. They forget, if only for a moment, that righteous and holy living is to be in healthy, loving relationships with the people around them, especially the people they want to hurt or “tell where to go.” I know. I speak from experience. 

Conflict at the Extreme

Just for the fun of it. I want to share with you some information that carries anger and conflict avoidance to the extreme. It illustrates that the problem of conflict usually begins within us. 

There are over 33,000 denominations of Christianity in the world. Every one of them was a split. Almost all of them were born out of anger, hostility, and withdrawal between people who claimed to follow the teachings of Jesus. This is the same Jesus who prayed to his Father that all his followers might “be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me.” 

A man was lost at sea. He found his way to a desert island where he lived for fifteen years. One day, a ship came by, he was found, and was rescued from the island. Before leaving, he gave his rescuers a little tour of the buildings he had constructed over the years. It was a one-man town, but it served his purposes for survival. Pointing in one direction he said, “That is my house.” Then he pointed in another direction and said, “That is my store. I store coconuts, berries, and roots in there.” Then he pointed to the building next to it and said, “That is my cabana. I rest there. I have even taken a few vacations there.” Then he pointed to the next building and said, “And that is where I go to church.”   

The rescuers were amazed. One of them noticed another building next to the church and asked, “What is that building next to it?” 

The man replied, “Oh, that is where I used to go to church.”

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. 

  • Where did you experience conflict? 
  • How did you respond? 
  • How did you interact with others? 
  • What did you learn about yourself? 
  • Who is helping you remember that you are a child of God and that you are not alone when you confront conflict? 
  • What will you do differently tomorrow? 
  • Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be.  

Prayer

May this prayer of Jesus become reality in and through you and the people entrusted to your care. 

“I ask not only on behalf of these but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” So let it be!

Each of us has our own sense of what makes a good leader. Our understanding of leadership is informed mostly by what we have seen or experienced. So, there are many ways to define, think about, and approach leadership. 

Some say a leader is one who influences and advances change for a more equitable world. Others say that a leader is anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes and has the courage to develop that potential (Brené Brown). Regardless of your definition, your belief about leadership informs what you think about and practice as a leader. Who you are is how you lead. 

Loving Others

Mother Teresa said, “At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked, and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.’” 

As a Christ-centered leader, regardless of your understanding, at the end of life you will not be judged by the positions you have held or how high you made it in the hierarchy of the church or organization. You will be judged by the love you have expressed, the relationships you have developed, and the community you have nourished. 

Luke, in his good news, gives us a hint of what leading looks like in the community. Let us use our practice of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” as a pattern for examining leadership in the community. This is a story of the Lord’s Supper and feeding 5000 people.     

Read Luke 9:12-17 

12 When the day was almost over, the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so that they can go to the nearby villages and countryside and find lodging and food, because we are in a deserted place.” 13 He replied, “You give them something to eat.” But they said, “We have no more than five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all these people.” 14 (They said this because about five thousand men were present.) Jesus said to his disciples, “Seat them in groups of about fifty.” 15 They did so, and everyone was seated. 16 He took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them, and broke them and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. 17 Everyone ate until they were full, and the disciples filled twelve baskets with the leftovers. 

Reflect 

In the early Church, there was no distinction between the fellowship meal, called the Love feast, and the Lord’s supper. In fact, there was a time when the Lord’s supper was called the Love Feast.  People came and shared their food with the church.  At that time, you couldn’t tell who brought food and who didn’t because all the people gave and ate together. The Love Feast and Lord’s Supper were one and the same. So, from the beginning, eating together and Holy Communion had the same respect. 

In this story, when the people are hungry, Jesus takes bread and fish, blesses them, breaks them, and gives them.  These are the main acts of Holy Communion. Jesus put prayer and action together. 

The crowd has been with Jesus all day.  It is now late, and the people are hungry. The disciples have a humanitarian concern for the hungry and the homeless. They want to do what is humanly possible to assist the people. So, they suggest it is better to dismiss the crowd. “Send the crowd away so that they can go to the nearby villages and countryside and find lodging and food…” 

Abundance or Scarcity? 

They are well-intentioned in their care for the people. When they see people tired and hungry, they are concerned. It is out of their concern that they ask Jesus to send the people home.  But Jesus sees the situation differently. He responds, “You give them something to eat.”  

The disciples reply out of scarcity, “We have no more than five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all these people.” They said this because about five thousand men were present and they are thinking of what they don’t have. 

Jesus responds out of what they do have. He instructs them to seat the people in groups of fifty. When the people are seated, Jesus takes the five loaves of bread and the two fish, looks up to heaven, blesses them, breaks them, and gives them to the disciples to serve to the crowd. 

“You give them something to eat.” 

As Jesus takes, blesses, breaks, and gives, he includes the disciples in the giving. As he prays, he includes his followers in the action. Throughout The Acts of the Apostles, God’s concern for the hungry is implemented by the acts of the followers of Jesus. 

The number “five thousand” shows how great the miracle is. The term “men” represents a picture in which only adult males would leave home without provisions for an extended time in order to hear Jesus.  In Matthew, the words “besides women and children,” states it in an exclusive sense in order to enhance the miracle. 

“In groups of fifty” reflects the organization of Israel during the exodus and wilderness period, the “wandering people of God” on their way to the promised land. Luke portrays the life of both Jesus and the church as a journey and refers to the saving work of Jesus as “exodus.” 

A Lord’s Supper Story

The words “took”, “blessed”, “broke”, and “gave” reflect the liturgical formula used in holy communion. They reflect the language of the liturgy of the Lord’s Table.  The feeding of the 5000 is told as a Lord’s Supper story.                                     

Jesus took and blessed the loaves and fish.  Early in the Christian movement, fish became the symbol of the Christian faith. Fish says who we are and what we believe.  Bread became the symbol of the body of Jesus. So, Jesus takes, blesses, breaks, and gives, he includes the disciples in the giving. Jesus put prayer and action together.                       

The feeding of the 5000 is a Lord’s Supper story.  The prophet Isaiah wrote, “True expression of one’s love for God is the sharing of one’s bread with the poor.”

Feeding is a Sacred Act

Could it be that feeding the hungry in the sight of God is as sacred as Holy Communion?  

Is there a connection between the Lord’s Supper and our engagement in the community? Is there a sacredness in loving, feeding, clothing, and housing people? 

For Luke, the church’s mission of feeding the hungry is a continuation of Jesus’ ministry and an anticipation of the kingdom of God for which we pray, “…Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…” 

Putting prayer and action together is a hint of what it means to be a leader in the community, whether it be the church or geographic location. When you pray and respond in acts of love, you are being who you were created to be. Who you are is how you lead. 

Respond

I find it interesting that the feeding of the 5000 in Luke’s gospel is told as a Lord’s Supper story. Luke is making a connection between Holy Communion and engagement in the community. Just as taking the bread and cup is done in remembrance of Jesus, your ministry in the community is done in remembrance of Jesus. Your ministry in the community is just as sacred as taking the bread and cup. 

Holy Communion represents the greatest expression of God’s love for God’s people. Your leadership in the community is an expression of that same love. 

Community Engagement as Sacred Work

Most people, including church people, do not see community engagement as sacred work. Why? Because their understanding of leadership is informed mostly by what they have seen or experienced. Most people have not experienced engagement in the community as an expression of God’s love. 

Community engagement is seen as active participation in the community and as being invested in what happens in the community. It includes direct service, community organizing, and social responsibility. Too often these actions of engagement are not seen as expressions of God’s love. 

As a Christ-centered leader, you have the opportunity to lead out of the core of who you are, a child of God, loved by God, and sent out to love others as God has loved you. Within the church community, God’s love is expressed in and through the sacrament of Holy Communion. In the larger community, God’s love is expressed in and through acts of love, care, and compassion. Just the bread and fish were woven into the feeding the 5000, God’s expression of love is woven into the fabric of service, organizing, and responsibility through you. 

True Community 

People are important to God and people make up communities. It is in community that people experience love and belonging. It is in participating in a community that attitudes, values, and goals are established to enjoy and fulfilling life. 

A true community does not treat people differently because of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or background. People are cared for and belong because the expression of God’s love is as sacred in the community as Holy Communion. 

What could happen if you held loving your neighbor and caring for your community as sacred as receiving the body and blood of Jesus?  Who you are is how you lead. 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you met today. Where did you experience God’s love? With whom did you share God’s love? How did you experience the sacredness of Holy Communion? How did you interact with others? Did you hold them in the sacredness of 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.

Character is essential in leadership. It shapes how you engage the people around you, who and what you notice, what you reinforce, who you engage in conversation with, what you value, and what you choose to act upon, just to list a few responses and actions.

Even though there is no consensus on a definition of character, there are personality traits, values, and virtues that reflect the character of every leader. 

As we continue our exploration of Leadership and Character, let us again use our practice of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” as a pattern for examining another aspect of character in the scripture.  This scripture comes from the Sermon on the Mount.

Although it is beneficial to read the whole account, our focus will be on the italicized words of the text.

Read Matthew 5:21-48 

21 “You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell. 23 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift. 25 Be sure to make friends quickly with your opponents while you are with them on the way to court. Otherwise, they will haul you before the judge, the judge will turn you over to the officer of the court, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 I say to you in all seriousness that you won’t get out of there until you’ve paid the very last penny.

27 “You have heard that it was said, Don’t commit adultery. 28 But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart. 29 And if your right eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to fall into sin, chop it off and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body go into hell.

31 “It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a divorce certificate.’[c] 32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife except for sexual unfaithfulness forces her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago: Don’t make a false solemn pledge, but you should follow through on what you have pledged to the Lord. 34 But I say to you that you must not pledge at all. You must not pledge by heaven, because it’s God’s throne. 35 You must not pledge by the earth, because it’s God’s footstool. You must not pledge by Jerusalem, because it’s the city of the great king. 36 And you must not pledge by your head, because you can’t turn one hair white or black. 37 Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one.

38 “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. 39 But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. 40 When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. 41 When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you 45 so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.

Reflect

Matthew’s focus is upon Jesus teaching his followers how to live life before God.  He focuses on living a holy life, which for Matthew means, living in a healthy relationship with God and with your neighbor. From the Sermon on the Mount to the Great Commission, Jesus is teaching his followers to be holy and how to live with God and each other.

He essentially lays out the traits, values, and virtues that reflect the character of every leader. 

Christ-Centered Character Traits

Traits are patterns of thought, behavior, and emotion that are experienced as consistent actions in your life. They are learned responses that reflect your inner life, thus your inner life as a leader. There are hundreds of personality traits from A (ambition) to Z (zealousness) that have been described in and through research.  Some traits can be inherited. But most traits evolve through life experiences and intentional exercises and practice. 

Here are several traits from Matthew’s perspective. These are traits of Jesus followers, thus traits of Christ-centered leaders. This is an example and not meant to be exhaustive. 

Healthy Relationships

Living in a healthy relationship with family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues: “…if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift” (Verses 23-24).  

For Matthew, your relationship with the people you encounter each day is as important or more important than worship.

Living in a healthy relationship with your enemies: “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you” (Verses 43-44).

Relationships are so important that you intentionally work on healthy relationships with those individuals who are not your favorite people, with whom you disagree, or who you perceive want to hurt you in some way. Your response of love is not based upon how you are treated by others but by the love you have received through Jesus. You love because of who you are, a follower of Jesus, a Christ-centered leader.

:

Living with Integrity

Living with Integrity: “Don’t make a false solemn pledge, but you should follow through on what you have pledged to the Lord” (Verse 33).

In other words, let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.” As a follower of Jesus, you are as good as your word. If you have to “swear on a stack of bibles” everyone knows you are about to lie to them. Maybe it is better said this way, “Walk your talk. Keep your comments. Be who God created you to be.”

Of course, there are other traits, but the main emphasis from Matthew is relationships. Whether it be the broken relationship of divorce or the misplaced relationship of lust, Matthew is teaching his readers that the main trait of the character of leadership is relationship.

Christ-Centered Leadership Values

Values are what you consider to be important or worthwhile. They influence behavior because you seek what you value.  They are guideposts for how you live, thus how you lead. 

Although Matthew does not use the word love like John does, love of God and love of neighbor is the value of Jesus’ followers and the guiding value of Christ-centered leaders. 

43 “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you 45 so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven” (Verses 43-45). 

To love is to reflect the nature of God in and through your leadership. This love is agape. It means you are working for the good of all people. No matter what a person might do to you by way of insult, injury, or humiliation, you never seek anything other than his or her highest good.  It is a feeling of the mind as much as it is of the heart; it concerns the will just as much as it does the emotions.  It describes the effort of seeking the best for all people. It is unconquerable benevolence and generosity.  

Love is the underlying value of Jesus’ teaching on the Sermon on the Mount.  This value of love is the foundation of all relationships.   

Christ-Centered Leadership Virtues

Virtues are behaviors seen as good or productive. They are like behavioral habits, something that is exhibited consistently. Aristotle wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” If that is true, then character in leadership is revealed in who you are, in the way you live your life and interact with the people entrusted to you. 

Paul gave a list of virtues exhibited in the behavior of spirit-filled Jesus followers, “The Fruit of the Spirit.” These virtues are necessary to live the life God has created you to live. 

Paul taught his virtues and Matthew taught his. Although his virtues were not “the fruit of the Spirit,” Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount provides the teaching of virtues of Jesus’ followers. Matthew concludes Jesus’ teaching in that sermon with these words, “And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house and it fell, and great was it fall” (Matthew 7:26-27). 

It is not easy, at all times, to love your neighbor. How much more difficult is it to love your enemy? It is not always easy to be a person of your word. You want to be, but friendships, situations, decisions, and anger sometimes reveal your true character, what is truly deep inside. 

Think of it this way, traits such as openness to experience, self-confidence, and persistence contribute to your behavior of putting yourself on the line and acting courageously. Values such as integrity, treating people with respect, and loving people who no one else loves, reveal courageous behavior. When you lead with integrity you tend to act differently than the person who lacks integrity, even if both of you are in the same situation. 

As a Christ-centered leader, when your virtue is love, you will respond with care and respect to all persons in every situation and circumstance. “Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete” (Verse 48). 

Your character is shaped by your values and is revealed in your traits. Who you are is how you lead. 

Respond

Often, in response to the study of the scripture, I form an image of what I have read or remember a story that illustrates the scripture for me. Below is one story that illustrates character. 

A Jewish couple was arguing over the name to give to their firstborn.  They finally asked the rabbi to come and intercede.

“What’s the problem?”  The rabbi asked.

The wife spoke first.  “My husband wants to name the boy after his father, and I want to name the boy after my father.”

“What is your father’s name?” the rabbi asked the man.

“Joseph,” was his reply.

“And what is your father’s name?” the rabbi asked the woman.

“Joseph,” was her reply.

The rabbi was stunned.  “So, what is the problem?”

It was the wife who spoke again.  “His father was a horse thief, and mine was a righteous man.  How can I know my son is named after my father and not his?”

The rabbi thought and then replied, “Call the boy ‘Joseph.’  Then see if he is a horse thief or a righteous man.  You will know which father’s name he wears by the way he lives his life.”

Are You a Christ-Centered Leader?

To call yourself a leader, a Christ-centered leader is one thing.  To be known as a Christ-centered leader by those who watch your life is another thing altogether.  You are known by your character or the fruit you produce.  Jesus said, “…everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

You are known as a Christ-centered leader by the way you relate to people and work for their good. You will be known as a courageous Christ-centered leader when your character reveals you first live by love and second share that love.

Your inner life will be revealed in and through your relationships, by the way you live with your spouse, children, and family members.  Your character will always show up in your interactions with your neighbors, friends, and colleagues. It is the presence of God’s love that will make a difference with the people who are entrusted to your care. You will be known by your fruit. It will show up in your character of leadership.

Who you are is how you lead.

Return

Prayer

Let this prayer by Howard Thurman guide you:

“Teach us, Our Father, that if we nourish within our minds and spirits those things that work against life, we shall spend our years stumbling in the darkness; that if we nourish within our minds, and spirits those things that make for life, for wholeness, for truth, for love, we shall become like Thee.  To become like Thee, O God, our Father, is the be-all and end-all of our desiring.”

At the end of the day, give God thanks for the people you met today.

  • In what situations did you feel you were making decisions based on character?
  • With whom was your character challenged?
  • How did you respond?
  • How did you assist others in developing the character of their lives?
  • Who is helping you grow in character?
  • What will you do differently tomorrow as a leader?
  • Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be. 

Character is essential in leadership. Your competency determines what you can do. Your commitment determines what you want to do. But your character determines what you will do. It shapes how you engage the world around you, what you notice, what you reinforce, who you engage in conversation, what you value, and what you choose to act on. The list goes on. 

There are more books on leadership that focus on style than on character. It seems that we are more interested in leaders who can get us what we want rather than leaders who model the life we need to live. At times we act as if character is old-fashioned and out of date. At other times we are reluctant to discuss character because we cannot measure it objectively.   

Failure of Character

When mistakes are made in leadership, we usually look first at a leader’s shortcomings in abilities and gifts, when the root cause is a failing of character.  A lack of self-awareness is rooted in character. Not being willing to listen to others because of the perception it will undermine your leadership is a problem of character. The fear of making decisions reflects character. Selective truth-telling is a measure of character. 

On a more positive note, challenging decisions made by others, because they are morally or ethically wrong, requires character. Dealing with prejudiced and unfair behaviors by others requires character. Creating a culture of constructive disagreement so others can challenge your decisions without fear of consequences requires character. Truthtelling requires character. 

Christ-Centered Leadership Necessitates Character

Character is essential to leadership, especially Christ-centered leadership. Let’s look at what the apostle Paul says about character.

Let’s use the pattern of READ, REFLECT, RESPOND, and RETURN as a way of examining one aspect of character in the scripture. 

READ: Galatians 5:16-25  

Focus on the scripture verses in italics.

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Reflect

Paul names nine qualities of character known as the “Fruit of the Spirit.”  These qualities can be divided into three categories: relationship with God, relationship with others, and relationship with yourself.

Without these qualities, you cannot and will not reflect who God has created you to be as a leader. The Fruit of the Spirit reflects the characteristics of God in human form. Ultimately revealed in Jesus, these are the characteristics of Christ-centered leaders. Your character as a leader produces this fruit.

Relationship with God

The first category is love, joy, and peace.

Love:  This is agape. It means unconquerable benevolence.  No matter what a person might do to you by way of insult, injury, or humiliation, you never seek anything other than his or her highest good.  It is a feeling of the mind as much as it is of the heart; it concerns the will just as much as it does the emotions.  It describes the effort of seeking the best for all people, even for those who seek the worst for you.

Joy:  This shows your trust in God. It means to know God as the God of all circumstances.  You are living into who God created you to be regardless of life situation or setting. Being rooted in God, joy is not upon the happenings or consequences in your life. It is seeing the situations of life as opportunities for trusting God

Peace:  This is Shalom. It means everything that makes for a person’s highest good.  It is more than the absence of conflict or trouble.  It is the calmness of heart and mind, which comes from the all-pervading consciousness that your life is in the hands of God. It is being at one with God, yourself, and others. 

Relationship with Others

The second category is patience, kindness, and generosity. 

Patience:  This is an action-focused upon people rather than circumstances. It means to overlook the inconveniences of the world in regard to people.  It is an attitude, which leads us to deal with others with love, forgiveness, and long-suffering, just as God in Jesus has dealt with us.  It also means to be disciplined in regard to wants or desires.

Kindness:  Again, this is an action focused on people. It means to love and care for people with the same love and care God in Christ has loved and cared for you. It reveals your inner life because kindness is the integration of the inner character and the outward expression of your life in relationship to others. You are making the way easier because you are related to the people around you.

Generosity (goodness): It means you see people doing the best they can in every situation and circumstance. Your actions reveal the love of God to the point that those around you who are comfortable in their apathy, unconcern, and insensitivity are afflicted by your very presence, and those who are afflicted by the pains and problems of life will be comforted by your same presence.  It refers to the life of a person who can be caring and strong at the same time.  

Relationship with Yourself

The third category is faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

Faithfulness:  This means you are trustworthy or reliable.  It means keeping your promises and being dependable.

Gentleness:  This is a matter of self-awareness. It means you know yourself to the point that you are pointing others to God as you love and care for them. You are teachable and considerate. And because who you are grows out of your relationship with God, humility is revealed in the way you relate to and treat others.

Self-control:  This means you control desires and wants. You control yourself to the point that you are fit to be the leader of others. As a leader, it is easy to step out of the character of God and into the passions of your own heart. Your passion (fallen nature) is often opposed to the passion of God (your true created nature). 

To be led by the Spirit is to be obedient to God’s plan and purpose for your life. Paul knew within himself the struggle to be who God had created him to be. He knew the distinction between the works of the flesh (his own desires) and the fruit of the Spirit (God’s desires) through his own experience.  His life had been in chaos.  His sinful nature in rebellion against God made him at war even with himself and split his life into fragmentary deeds.  Then came the reconciling love of Christ, integrating his life with God and with others. It is all centered on the unifying love of Christ. 

Evidence of Integrity

The evidence of your integrity (joining of inner life and outer life) is shown in your obedience to the work of the Holy Spirit in your life.  The evidence of the character of God in your life and leadership is called “The Fruit of the Spirit.”  

The fruit of the Spirit is the outward expression of Christ dwelling within you.  Powerfully and surely the Spirit works.  Sometimes dramatically, sometimes slowly, and most times imperceptibly, the Spirit works in your life and is seen in your relationships. 

Character is essential to leadership, especially Christ-centered leadership. There is much more, but this lays a partial foundation for understanding the importance of character in leaders. 

Respond

There once was a woman who had a deep desire for peace in the world as well as in her life. She became frustrated because both seemed out of her reach. The world seemed to be falling apart and her personal life wasn’t that great either. 

One day while shopping, she noticed a new and different store. One she had not seen before. She stepped inside and was surprised to see Jesus behind the counter. She knew it was Jesus because he looked just like the paintings she had seen in museums and in devotional books. After several glances at him, she got the nerve to ask him, “Excuse me, but are you Jesus?” 

“I am,” he replied. 

“Do you work here?” she asked. 

“In a way; I own the store.” 

“Oh, what do you sell here?” 

Jesus replied, “Just about everything.  Feel free to walk up and down the aisles, make a list, see what it is you want, and then come back and I’ll see what I can do for you.” 

Well, she did just that. She walked up and down the aisles, writing furiously. She made her list: Peace on earth, no war, guidelines for guns; Peace in families, harmony, no dissension; Food for the hungry and housing for the homeless; and Resources for those in poverty. She found honesty and hope, as well as care and compassion. She was excited to see many of the things she wanted for her community and for the world.

By the time she got back to the counter, she had an extensive list. She hands her list to Jesus. He looked it over, smiled, and said, “No problem.” 

He bent down behind the counter, picked out several seed packets, stood up, and laid the packets on the counter. 

“Seed packets,” Jesus answered. “This is a catalog store.” 

“You mean I don’t get the finished product?” 

“No, this is a place of vision and dreams. You come and see what it looks like, and I will give you the seeds. You go home and plant the seeds. You care for them and nurture them to help them grow. Someday someone else will reap the benefits of you planting and nurturing the seeds.”  

The woman was disappointed, as well as a little put off. She turned to the person behind her in line and asked, “Do you believe what he just said? Are you going to do that? Are you going to plant the seeds so someone else can reap the benefits? Are you going to do that?”

Character is revealed by your leadership.  

“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…”

 Who you are is how you lead!

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. In what situations did you feel you were making decisions based on character? With whom was your character challenged? How did you respond? How did you assist others in developing the character of their lives? Who is helping you grow in character? What will you do differently tomorrow as a leader? Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be.  

As an effective leader, it is important that you know and understand who you are and what you believe. What are your values? In whom do you place your faith? If you are clear about who you are and who you trust, then you can without fear and with hope, lead with courage. 

Christ-centered leaders possess hope for a better future. They believe that God has created them and gifted them to lead, not for themselves but for others. They possess the ability to recognize and develop the potential of the people entrusted to them. And even when they have seasons of doubt, when they question themselves, their identity, and the people around them, they keep their focus upon the One who has called them to leadership.  

Courageous leaders know when to step out trusting who God created them to be. They are vulnerable and trustworthy, as well as compassionate and dependable. And even when they have their doubts, they keep their focus as a leader.

Let’s look at a story that gives us a clue to the fundamental focus of Christ-centered leaders. 

Read Luke 9:18-20 

Once when Jesus was praying by himself, the disciples joined him, and he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They answered, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others that one of the ancient prophets has come back to life.” He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Christ sent from God.” Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell this to anyone. 

Reflect

In the Gospel according to Luke, we see Jesus praying at particular points in his life and ministry. It was his pattern to engage in ministry and then retreat to a lonely place. It was his way of staying focused on the work God had for him to do. 

In this story, he has been off by himself praying. Then he approaches his followers and asks, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 

This story is found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In Matthew, the confession is “You are the Christ, Son of the living God.” In Mark, it is “You are the Messiah” or “the Christ.” In both Mark and Matthew, Jesus begins to talk of his death and has a conversation with Simon Peter which leads to Jesus rebuking him. 

Luke’s Perspective

The focus is different in Luke. In Luke, Jesus talks of his death, but there is no conversation and no rebuke. Luke is interested in alerting us to the importance of the confession. “Once while Jesus was praying by himself” is a clue to its importance. Neither Mark nor Matthew mentions prayer. 

Jesus has been ministering in Galilee. The crowds have been following him as he has been helping people, teaching lessons, preaching sermons, healing people, and exorcising demons. He reaches the point where he asks, “What is the public opinion?” “What do people say?” Is he asking to discover how effective his ministry has been? What impression has he put across? How is he viewed in public? 

The disciples answer, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others…one of the ancient prophets…” The public opinion is, like John the Baptist, Elijah, an ancient prophet, Jesus is the forerunner of the Messiah, the Christ. The crowds who have followed Jesus, who have been benefactors of his ministry, do not think of him as the Messiah but as one getting everyone ready for the Messiah. 

So, Jesus then asks, “What about you? Who do you say that I am?” And Simon Peter responds, “The Christ sent from God.” 

What does it mean to say, “Jesus is the Christ?” 

We don’t know what Simon Peter was thinking. But we do know this, when Jesus began to talk about his death, Simon Peter and the others did not relate to a suffering and dying Jesus to the Messiah. They took it as being a contradiction of who and what they understood the Messiah to be and do. If he is crucified, hanging on the cross with criminals, can he be the Messiah? 

How is he going to be like Moses and lead us out of the wilderness? How is he going to be like David and be our king? The images of the Messiah were many: a great teacher, a great prophet, a great king, or a leader. We don’t know what Simon Peter meant, but Jesus knows that Simon Peter did not understand. So, Jesus tells Simon Peter and the others to be quiet about it. “He gave them strict orders not to tell this to anyone.” Why? 

Wherever There is Misery…

The popular understanding of the day was that wherever the Messiah was there would be no misery. That is what the Messiah does, gets you out of the troubles you face. So, wherever the Messiah is, there is no misery. The truth is, wherever there is misery, there is the Messiah. See the difference? 

Jesus is not the one who gets you out of difficulty. He is the one who sends you into difficulty. Wherever there is misery, there is the Messiah. Here is a clue to Christ-centered leadership. To be a Christ-centered leader means you follow Jesus into the community and into the problems of the community.   

The question is “Is Jesus the one you expect to get you out of trouble? Or is Jesus the one who sends you into places of trouble? 

Take Up Your Cross Daily

Maybe this will help. Jesus, in his teaching, says, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me.” This teaching is found in Mark and Matthew as well, but Luke adds the word “daily.” He is reinterpreting the teaching for his own context. 

In both Mark and Luke, the cost of discipleship is the same: your whole life. But in Mark, written just after Nero’s persecution of Christians in Rome, where Christians had been killed and Simon Peter himself had been crucified, “taking up one’s cross” was understood literally as the cost of discipleship. 

For Luke, there is no direct persecution. By adding “daily” to “take up your cross,” Luke is saying the cost of discipleship is not seen in one dramatic act. The cost of discipleship is experienced in simple acts of service, care, and compassion as each situation presents itself. Christ-centered leaders are not called to positions of power but to postures of service. 

So, faith in the risen Christ keeps you focused as you lead into and through conflict, misery, and pain.   

Respond

Until you know who you are and who you trust you will not be the leader needed for this time. Your faith in the risen Christ makes a significant difference in your leadership. It is experienced in your relationships and interaction with others. It is experienced in your trustworthiness, compassion, stability, and hope. 

Leadership is About People

Leadership is about people. It is about influencing and impacting lives in a positive way. To be an effective leader, you need to have a genuine desire to serve others, along with the ability to model and prioritize the needs of others before yourself. In whatever leadership capacity you serve, the needs and well-being of the people entrusted to you are your greatest concern. 

Compassionate and responsible leaders put people first above their own selfish ambitions and desires. They love and care for others with the same love and care they have received in and through Jesus. How you treat people is a reflection of your leadership. 

Leadership is Relational

Leadership is about relationships. Take time to know the people entrusted to you. Make time and effort to care for people, to know what matters to them, and be present with them. It is in and through relationships that you discover the potential of others and assist in helping that potential be fully realized.   

The scripture points out that Jesus reverses our expectations of who and what the Messiah should be. Your faith in Jesus reverses the conventional understanding of who you are and who you trust as a leader. Maybe it is time to stop looking for the perfect approach to leadership and begin to develop the relationships that reveal who you trust to direct your living and leadership. 

Your confession is more than words. It is how you live and lead in relationship with the people entrusted to your care. 

Lead with Authenticity

Leadership is about authenticity. Courageous leaders are honest, transparent, and truthful with their people. It does not mean you tell everything you know, but it does mean knowing when to say, “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure. Such action might make you feel vulnerable, but the strength is in your truthfulness. 

Stable and hope-filled leaders live consistent lives. You walk the talk. What you know and believe on the inside is lived out on the outside. It does not take people long to experience the values and convictions of a leader. 

So, live an integrated life. The same one whether you are in a board meeting with church members, or at home with your family. If you are a follower of Jesus, then Jesus directs your leadership regardless of the context. It is your faith in Jesus that keeps you accountable. 

Lead with Purpose

Leadership is about purpose. Effective leaders know they are created to lead within the context they are leading. It is living into who they are that brings peace, joy, and fulfillment. Because you know you are being who God created you to be, you know that everything is not measured through immediate and tangible outcomes. You know that you must work patiently behind the scenes, laying the foundation for people to live to their potential. 

Because your relationship with God is real, you fix your eyes on eternal things that matter, the lives of people. This is the ultimate purpose of your leadership. 

Leaders are Generous

Leadership is about being generous. Everyone is a work in progress. Effective leaders seek support and encouragement along their leadership journey. They recognize that leadership development does not happen at a single training event, or by reading leadership blogs. They understand that it takes a community of faith to assist good leaders in becoming great leaders. For most of us it takes a lifetime. 

Your faith in the risen Christ makes a significant difference in your leadership. Who you are is how you lead. 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. Faith in God through Jesus is important to your leadership. How did you live out your faith? How did you encourage others to live their faith? Who is helping you grow in faith?  Ask God to give you the power to love others as God has loved you. What will you do differently tomorrow as a leader? Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be.  

You have just celebrated Easter, a time of hope and promise, yet there is a lingering feeling of despair. You hear and read about the news reports that suggest the new day you have just announced has not yet dawned. You are surrounded with people with different points of view on just about everything and you wonder if there is anyone who really cares about the truth of God’s love and the power of new life. 

Even with the hope of the resurrection and your faith rooted in God through Jesus, you know that lump-in-the-throat, knot-in-the-stomach feeling of anxiety. At your best, there are times you feel everyone wants something from you. And at your worst, even an act of kindness seems like a veiled attempt to manipulate you. How do you keep yourself healthy? How do you live with and lead through despair? 

Addressing Despair

Despair is not a word we associate with leadership. But you and I both know, all too well, that as a leader you face despair every day in some form. Ari Weinzweig, in his book Dealing With Despair in Day-to-Day Leadership, writes, “Despair comes quietly in our heads, hearts, and bodies, but if we don’t handle it well, it can have negative impacts…”  In other words, if you don’t name, face, and deal with your own despair, you will not be able to care for and lead others in and through despair. 

Everyone has dealt with despair at some time in their lives. It can be caused by deep loss, seemingly impossible financial circumstances, paths forward blocked by systemic unfairness or the unexpected departure of a partner. Sometimes it’s a combination of all of the above. When it hits, even with all the advantages you have going for you, despair is hard to handle. 

So, let’s take a look at one of the resurrection stories to name, face, and deal with despair so you can and will lead with courage and effectiveness. 

Again, let’s use the pattern of read, reflect, respond, and return as a way of examining this story of Mary visiting the tomb of Jesus.   

Read John 20:1-18

Focus on John 20: 11-18 in italics below

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So, she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’s head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed, for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes. 

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb, and she saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not touch me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and she told them that he had said these things to her. 

Reflect

Mary stands weeping at the tomb. The body she was expecting to find is gone. But there are two angels there. Angels are messengers of life and good news. They ask Mary about her tears. In her hopelessness and despair she answers, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 

Then she mistakes Jesus for the gardener. As we have seen in past studies of John’s gospel, John writes on two levels. On one level Mary’s lack of perception might have been that she was overcome by grief or blinded by tears. But on another level, she was facing the wrong direction. She couldn’t take her eyes off the tomb. In her grief and despair, she literally had her back to Jesus. So, she experiences him as a stranger. 

Whom are you seeking?

Jesus asks, “Whom are you seeking?” He does not ask “What are you seeking” but “Whom are you seeking?” Mary, assuming that this stranger might have been involved in moving Jesus’ body, asks if she might have the body to care for it. She loved Jesus. This is her way of showing her love, even after he is gone. She is still acting in grief and despair. 

It is then that Jesus, the risen Christ, speaks her name, “Mary.” It is the shepherd calling one of his sheep, and Mary recognizes the voice of her shepherd. It is at this point that she turns to him. She changes direction. She turns from focused on despair to focusing on hope. And in adoration and wonder, she falls at his feet and utters, “Rabboni.” 

Holding On

She attempts to hold on to him, which for John is an association with holding onto the past. Without recognizing it or naming it, she wants things to go back to normal, the way they were before the crucifixion. But Jesus insists that she cannot continue to hold on to him in that way. 

Mary is the first to see Jesus. She is now a messenger of his resurrection and ascension. Rather than allowing her to cling to him, Jesus sends her on a mission to tell the others what she has seen and heard. 

Like Mary, we are sent forth to announce that the body is not in the tomb. We can face our despair and turn toward hope. The hope found in God’s love we see and experience in Jesus. God’s love has not come to end. 

Name the Despair

So, what can we learn from this story? First, Mary names her despair. It is real. “They have taken away my Lord, and I now know where they have laid him.” 

David Whyte writes: “Despair takes us in when we have nowhere else to go; when we feel the heart cannot break anymore, when our world or our loved ones disappear, when we feel we cannot be loved or do not deserve to be loved, when our God disappoints, or when our body is carrying profound pain in a way that does not seem to go away. We give up hope when certain particular wishes are no longer able to come true and despair is the time in which we both endure and heal, even when we have not yet found the new form of hope.” 

What we know is that denial, pretending to yourself and to others that you don’t feel despair makes your situation worse and your life miserable. Brené Brown reminds us, “Without understanding how our feelings, thoughts and behaviors work together, it’s almost impossible to find our way back to ourselves and each other.” So, Mary names her despair. 

Mary Faces Her Despair

Second, Mary faces her despair. “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?’ Supposing he was the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).” 

Facing despair requires trust. Trust is fundamental to relationships. It requires vulnerability as well as authenticity and integrity. Look at Peter’s vision in Acts 10. To trust means you have to let go of your suspicious feelings and imagine that people around you have your best interest at heart. I know that is not always the reality, but without trust you will never face your despair. 

I also know that it is not easy to trust when your trust has been violated.  But distrust leads to isolation. So, take the risk and start trusting. By modeling trust with the people you are leading, you will actually build a movement of trust. People who encounter a trusting leader want to be trustworthy. Mary trusted the gardener. 

Mary Offers Hope

And third, Mary offers hope. “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and she told them that he had said these things to her.” Despair comes when hope goes dark. But when you decide to turn from the darkness and step into the light, despair begins to grow into hope. 

Although it’s difficult to remember when you are in the middle of it, despair when acknowledged and faced, can lead to positive and creative outcomes. Psychologist Mary Pipher says: “What despair often does is crack open your heart. When your heart cracks open, it begins to feel joy again. You wake up. You start feeling pain first. You feel the pain first, but then you feel the joy.” 

Trust Your Relationships

After you have acknowledged your despair and faced it, then trust the relationships you have developed. Mary went back to her community, the disciples, to tell them what she had experienced. 

Community emerges from those with whom you associate. It is built upon the relationships you develop at home, work, or play. Wherever it does, it is critical to find hope in the midst of despair. Just as isolation is a breeding ground for despair, healthy relationships are the protection against despair. When you have people close to you, you have a connection to something more important than yourself. You can be yourself as well as share yourself. It is in giving to and sharing with others that you will find the greatest joy. 

Mary’s despair was transformed when she began to share her hope with those closest to her. 

Respond

It is not easy to acknowledge and face your despair. But there is evidence that understanding hope and making it a daily practice makes a difference in overcoming despair. If you practice hope in good times, you are more able to see possible solutions and new ideas in challenging times. There are several ways to practice hope in leadership. 

Look for Hope

Focus on the positive and not the negative. Just as Mary in the story, when she focused on the tomb and what she did not have, she had her back to Jesus, the one whom she was seeking.  Practice looking for Jesus in everyday situations and relationships. You will experience him in unexpected places at unexpected times.

Make Hope Happen

Become familiar with the Hope Cycle and promote hope and a hopeful view.

  • Know your context. Where you are.
  • Know your goal. Where you are going.
  • Navigate the barriers. The path to get you to where you are going.
  • Claim the agency to move forward. Know what you can do. And ask for help along the way. 

Be Grateful. 

Pay attention to the positives when the problems feel overwhelming. Sam Keen writes, “Make a ritual of pausing to appreciate and be thankful. The more you become a connoisseur of gratitude, the less you are the victim of resentment, depression, and despair. Gratitude will gradually dissolve the hard shell of your need to possess and control and transform you into a generous being. The sense of gratitude produces true spiritual transformation. And for no particular reason, despair is replaced with an undefinable sense of hope, and enthusiasm returns.” 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. Regardless of how small, what hope did you experience?

  • How did you offer hope to others? 
  • Who is helping you name, face, and transform despair?
  • Ask God to give you the power to love others as God has loved you. What will you do differently tomorrow as a leader? 
  • Ask God to give you the power to turn despair into hope.

Trust is one of the most important qualities of a Christ-centered leader. When you are trusted, you are able to develop healthy relationships, which help you collaborate, communicate, and innovate.  It starts with who you are. If you don’t trust others, you are not going to build trust with others.  

Trust means that you are authentic, transparent, and reliable. The question is, who is the source of your trust? Trust means you establish clear expectations, and you follow through on your commitments. It means that you are who you say you are by how you live your life and interact with those entrusted to your care.

With that in mind, who do you trust?

The Source of Trust

A quick look at Jesus on the cross reveals the source of his trust. In Luke’s story, while Jesus is on the cross, he does not pray for clarity, he prays a prayer for trust.    

The death of Jesus occupies six verses in one small paragraph. In the middle of that paragraph, Jesus prays, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” It is a prayer of trust. It is not a story that evokes an emotional response like, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is not a story where you feel bad for Jesus like, “I thirst”.  It is a story of Jesus trusting his life to God.   

In Luke, there are two prayers. We have examined one of those prayers, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” Let’s use the pattern of Read, Reflect, Respond, Return to explore what we might learn about trust.  

Read Luke 23:44-49 

“It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed, and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’ And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts.   But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.”  

“Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” Luke 23:46 

Reflect

While on the cross, Jesus prays a prayer of trust. Jesus knew the comfort and affirmation of the scripture. He is praying a Psalm, “Into your hands I commit my Spirit” (Psalm 31:5). His prayer shows no distance or pain in relationship to God. It is not a prayer of resignation or defeat. It reveals to us who Jesus is and who he trusts. 

Jesus and Prayer

Luke has Jesus praying from the time he is baptized to the time he ascends to heaven. Jesus is not surprised by life but is prepared for life. In Luke’s story, Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit. After he is baptized, while he is praying, the Holy Spirit descends upon him. The Holy Spirit leads him into the wilderness to pray. It is in these moments of prayer Jesus is checking his trust of God’s direction for his life. 

In his sermon in Nazareth, Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, he has anointed me…” In Luke, Jesus not only possesses the Holy Spirit but promises the Holy Spirit to his followers. So, in The Acts of the Apostles, we witness how the Holy Spirit at work in Jesus lives and works in and through the church. 

Jesus and the Holy Spirit

Spirit is important to Luke. So, in this prayer, “spirit” simply means “breath,” or “life.” “Father, into your hands I commit my life.” Luke replaces the despairing cry of Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” with quiet confidence and trust. Just as Jesus’ prayer of forgiveness, “Father forgive them…” becomes a model for his followers, so his dying prayer of trust in God becomes a model. The same prayer is prayed by Stephen at his death (Acts 7:59). 

According to Luke, not only the way Jesus lived but the way he died brought glory to God. The soldier at the cross says, “Certainly, this man was innocent.” With those words, Luke is saying that even Rome recognizes that Jesus’ death was a great injustice, that in executing Jesus they killed an innocent man. This is a theme Luke carries throughout his gospel as well as The Acts of the Apostles. 

Stand at the Cross to Understand Easter

I find it interesting that Luke does not rush to the joy of Easter morning. For Luke, Easter can only be grasped by those who have stood at the cross and reflected upon their own involvement in the sins of humanity that have led to the rejection of God’s revelation in Jesus. 

Just as the tax collector, who lamented and beat his chest in repentance, did not presume that he would go home justified, neither did the mourners at the crucifixion anticipate the resurrection. As you read Luke’s good news, over and over again, grace can only be amazing grace. 

Quiet Trust

In quiet trust and confidence, Jesus commits his life into the hands of God. From his baptism to his decision to go to the cross, from his teaching about his death to the misunderstanding of who he was as the Christ, from teaching his followers to pray to forgive those who intentionally turned their backs on God’s love, in quiet trust and confidence Jesus prays. 

As he commits his life into God’s hands, his witness continues, “Certainly this man was innocent.” So, Jesus prays, “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.” 

Respond

Brennan Manning, in his book, Ruthless Trust tells the following: When ethicist John Kavanaugh went to work for three months at “the house of the dying” in Calcutta, he was seeking a clear answer as to how best to spend the rest of his life.  On the first morning there he met Mother Teresa.  She asked, “And what can I do for you?” Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him. 

“What do you want me to pray for?” she asked.   

He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles from the United States: “Pray that I have clarity.” 

She said firmly, “No, I will not do that.” 

When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.”  

Praying for Trust

When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust.  So, I will pray that you trust God.” 

Jesus prayed to keep his focus on God. After ministering to the crowds, he would go into the wilderness, a lonely place, to pray. His prayer life was not only to keep him focused on God but to keep his trust in God. 

As a Christ-centered leader, it is important that you not only develop trust but that you learn to trust. Trust, defined as a belief in the abilities, integrity, and character of another person, is thought of as something that personal relationships are built on. And even more than that, according to recent research in Harvard Business Review, trust is the foundation of most successful organizations.

As the leader, you set the tone for trust. By recognizing the potential in others and helping develop that potential, you are developing trust in others as they learn to trust you.

The fundamental question regarding leadership and trust is, as a leader “who do you trust?’ Remember, who you are is how you lead. 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you met today. How does Jesus’ prayer model trust for you?

  • In what areas of your life do you trust God?
  • In what areas are you having difficulty trusting God?
  • How are you assisting others in trusting God’s direction for their lives?
  • What will you do differently tomorrow as a leader who trusts God’s direction for your life?

Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved. Ask God to give you the faith to live and lead with quiet trust and confidence. 

Prayer

O God, into your hands I offer my life.  By your grace, give me the trust I need to become the leader you need for this time and place. Amen 

Effective leadership requires compassion. When you are seeking to build healthy relationships, move toward your mission, and hold people accountable for their contributions to the mission, you are often forced to look at the people in a critical light. 

When making your judgments and decisions, it is important to remember that the people entrusted to your care are human beings, beloved children of God. They are going to make mistakes. They are going to disappoint you, let you down, and say things out of line.  They will even at times act like they are sabotaging the mission.

On your best days, it is difficult not to take such actions personally. But, at the end of the day, if you remember that the people with whom you work are human beings with their own pasts, their own personal issues, frailties, and struggles, you will remember that each of them are in need of grace.

Forgiveness is Key

That is why forgiveness is one of the key components of effective and courageous leadership. When you are able to forgive mistakes and be generous with the people you are leading, you will encourage and empower people to be more who they are created and gifted to be.

Your effectiveness as a leader requires your acts of compassion. People are going to speak back to you and have their own ideas. Their personal lives are going to impact their work, their past experiences will affect their relationships. More often than not, they are not even aware of their words or actions. 

As a Christ-centered leader, a fundamental element of your effectiveness is forgiveness. 

Remember that in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus prays at particularly important points in his ministry. His pattern has been to go to a desert place or a lonely place to pray. He prays to keep his focus on what God has called and commissioned him to do. 

He prays seeking direction when he is tempted to follow the crowd, “Do I go with the crowd or do I go to the cross?” He prays when 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. And, he prays when his identity and purpose as suffering Messiah did not match the images of the people who loved him and who followed him. 

Let’s use the pattern of Read, Reflect, Respond, Return to explore what Luke says about Jesus and forgiveness. 

Read Luke 24:23 

Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing. 

Reflect

This prayer is in keeping with the character and life of Jesus. He is praying for forgiveness for those who are violating him because they did not know what they are doing. In Luke, the primary problem is ignorance. They killed the Lord of glory in ignorance. 

For the Romans, Caesar was Lord. The government was central. To speak or act against Rome was considered heresy. Crucifixion was used to warn citizens what would happen to them if they were disloyal to Rome. People were sacrificed on crosses to warn others what would happen to them when they committed heresy. 

Now Jesus is on the cross and he prays, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” 

Forgiven for Ignorance

I know it seems strange that anyone would have to be forgiven for ignorance. We usually don’t put forgiveness and ignorance together. But when you think of the different kinds of ignorance that move and motivate people, the ignorance that closes their eyes when they have every opportunity to see the truth, our only hope is “Father, forgive them…” 

When I think about it, evil could be called intentional ignorance. When we refuse to listen or to understand. When we remain silent and do nothing. When we turn our backs and say, “Well, it is terrible, but it is not my problem.” That is intentional ignorance. 

The crowds walked by Jesus on the cross, and their only words were insults, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us.” Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” It sounds like Jesus forgave them for their ignorance. 

It took courage, as well as love, for Jesus to forgive the people hurling insults, who at one time confessed their allegiance and are now calling for his life. 

It Takes Courage

As a Christ-centered leader, it will take love as well as courage to lead with forgiveness. Think about it:   

When your lead team decides that making grace-filled Jesus followers is your mission and someone in the congregation disagrees and works against the direction you are leading, it will take love and courage to lead with forgiveness. 

When people say with their lips that “everyone is welcome” but their actions show otherwise, it will take love and courage to lead with forgiveness. 

When people say “we want to be followers of Jesus” but they don’t want to connect with their neighborhood and to be involved in their community, it will take courage to lead with forgiveness. 

When you offer bible studies and classes on becoming Christian disciples that will help church members grow in their faith and the assumption is that bible study and classes are for the people who are not present or actively supporting the church, it will take love and courage to lead with forgiveness. 

When you stand to preach and name issues of injustice and you get emails and texts that you should not be political in the pulpit, it will take love and courage to lead with forgiveness. 

When you respond to gun violence and the killing of children in classrooms and the killing of adults in night clubs and someone says, “It is my right to own a gun”, it will take love and courage to lead with forgiveness. 

When you name the evils of racism and say that it is Christian to love persons of different ethnic backgrounds, it will take love and courage to lead with forgiveness. 

When someone says that because you are a woman you should not be preaching or teaching, it will take love and courage to lead with forgiveness. 

You can add your own situations to my list. You know where you are challenged to lead with forgiveness. But as a follower of Jesus, with people entrusted to your care, you lead with forgiveness. 

The Love of God

The words, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing,” were spoken by a person whose only weapon was the love of God. Whose only crime was being different. Who raised suspicion because he challenged the systems of hatred, prejudice, and bigotry. Yet, in the midst of being put to death for extending love, even to his enemies, he called upon God to forgive the ignorance of his abusers and accusers.

Think of it this way. What defines any of us looking for growth and personal development is not a spotless life of constant kindness and an even temperament, but a willingness to learn from mistakes, and to make the choice to come to terms with whatever has happened to us. As a leader, when you act with compassion and offer forgiveness, you are more able to shape the lives of people and assist them in becoming who God has created them to be.

Forgiveness is the Attribute of the Strong

Mahatma Gandhi warned that “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” And according to Indira Gandhi, “Forgiveness is a virtue of the brave.” Forgiveness is a powerful concept for leaders and for a Christ-centered leader, it is a necessity.

Leading with forgiveness can change how the people entrusted to you live and interact with one another, connect with their community, and view the world. Leading with forgiveness creates internal harmony and a sense of care and compassion. Leading with compassion turns failures and unwanted situations into a culture of understanding and generosity. It creates places where people feel safe to express themselves and function at their best.

Forgiveness may be the most important gift you can give to the people entrusted to you. As you model forgiveness you are offering others the chance to take risks, learn and grow in their own leadership.  Without forgiveness, there cannot be true leadership.

Respond

As a leader, you have an important influence on the lives of people. Where there is a lack of forgiveness there is a climate of anger, bitterness, and animosity. To lead with forgiveness changes the atmosphere and culture in which people live, work, and play. But as you know, forgiveness is not easy.

So, here are several ways to lead with forgiveness:

Be generous in your assumptions.

Intentionally work to understand the true intentions of others. Have a sincere conversation and ask questions for your clarity and understanding.

Be compassionate in your actions.

Relationships are important. Treat and care for others the way you want to be treated and cared for. You are a person in need of love and encouragement just as the people entrusted to your care.

Be generous with yourself.

While you are leading others and often seeing them in a critical light, you are placing yourself under a critical eye as well. You know the areas where you need forgiveness and compassion. When you can approach your own difficulties with gentleness, it’ll be easier for you to forgive others as well.

Let go of resentments.

As you allow yourself to be forgiven, you create a space for others to forgive. I am sure you can think of other ways to lead with forgiveness. As you put each one into practice you become more of the leader needed for this time.

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. How did you lead with forgiveness? With whom and in what areas did you need help in practicing forgiveness? Name those persons and situations before God. Ask God to give you the power to love others as God has loved you. What will you do differently tomorrow as a leader of forgiveness? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved. Ask God to give you the power to forgive others even if they do not understand.

Prayer

O God, forgive me when I do not understand, and do not get it right. By your grace, forgive me when I don’t want to understand and I don’t want to live and lead the way you created me to live and lead. Put within me the desire to learn and grow, so that as I lead with forgiveness others will see you in me and my actions and be drawn to you. Use me as an instrument of your love and peace. In Jesus’ name. Amen

When considering the most fundamental traits of leaders, we usually talk about vision, relationships, communication, character, and even charisma. We seldom consider prayer as a key characteristic, yet prayer is a primary trait of Christ-centered leaders.

When we look at Jesus, one of the defining qualities of his leadership was prayer. Whether he was withdrawing to a lonely place (Luke 5:16), making critical decisions (Luke 6:12-13), or navigating a crisis (Luke 22:40-42), Jesus looked upward for wisdom and strength in every situation and circumstance he faced.

Prayer-Centered Leadership

Prayer is the focus of your work as a Christ-centered leader. Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest wrote, “Prayer does not fit us for the greater works; prayer is the greater work.” Leading with prayer is who you are as a leader. It is part of your call to leadership ministry. 

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. 

When prayer is as natural as breathing, you will not only strengthen your life but you will strengthen your leadership. As you model prayer in your leadership you assist others in experiencing compassion and hope.    

Teach us to Pray

In Luke’s Gospel, when the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray (Chapter 11), Jesus has been in prayer from the time of his baptism. It is interesting that Matthew and Mark do not mention prayer at his baptism, but Luke has Jesus praying. Why? What does prayer have to do with leading? 

Read Luke 3:21-22

Now when all the people were baptized and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22

Reflect

From Luke’s perspective, this is the first reference to prayer in the life of Jesus. It comes in relation to his baptism. The image is that Jesus is in line waiting for his turn to be baptized. “When everyone was being baptized, Jesus also was baptized.”

Unlike Matthew and Mark, who give a description of Jesus’ baptism, Luke does not give us a description. The baptism itself is an “also” event. The focus for Luke is upon Jesus praying. “While he was praying, heaven was opened.” 

The baptism is over. The attention is not on the baptism but on Jesus praying. “While he was praying, heaven was opened… “And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 

The words, “…heaven was opened…” come from Isaiah 64. The splitting of the heavens was a prophetic sign of the beginning of a new age. The Holy Spirit descends like a dove upon Jesus. The words, “voice from heaven: You are my Son…” come from Psalm 27. The words are used in relation to the coronation of a king. And the words, “with whom I am pleased” come from Isaiah 42. The words refer to the suffering servant of God. 

While Jesus Prays

While Jesus was praying there was a moment of clarification and affirmation of his identity in relationship to God. It was while he was praying that God laid claim to his life. After he was baptized, while he was praying, Jesus received confirmation of his call and direction for his ministry. 

In Luke’s gospel, the Holy Spirit brings power. For Luke, there is a connection between prayer and power. There is a connection between Jesus praying and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. “Now when all the people were baptized and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.” 

Prayer Brings Clarity

This is the moment Jesus receives clarification of who he is and his role. He is crowned king, recognized as a suffering servant, and anointed for God’s work. This is the coming of the power of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus. This also points ahead to Jesus’ ministry, which will be characterized by prayer at significant junctures in his life and in the life of the church. 

Prayer brings confirmation and clarification of who you are. Prayer forms your identity as a follower of Jesus. It shapes who you are as a leader. Whether lay or clergy, the confirmation, and power for living out God’s plan and purpose do not come through position or office, the confirmation and power come through prayer. 

Respond

Prayer is the foundation for Christ-centered leadership. It is a regular practice for those who want to lead well. It is essential for developing healthy relationships and growing communities. It is vital in developing decision-making skills.

Through prayer, you cultivate the leadership needed to navigate moments of crisis. Character is not built in crisis; it is revealed in crisis. Develop a pattern of prayer so that you can and will respond with love, grace, and peace in moments of conflict. You will know what to do even before you think about doing it.

You are a beloved child of God. You have not only been affirmed but you have been called. Stay is a connection with God through prayer. Model humility, vulnerability, and authenticity and become more empathetic and generous in your relationships.

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. How was your call to leadership affirmed today? In what ways did you help someone know he or she was a “beloved child of God”? How did prayer shape your thoughts and actions? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Prayer

O God, I give you thanks for the assurance that I am your child. By your grace, continue to use me as 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 at such a time as this. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus. Amen

As Jesus followers, we talk a lot about love. We talk about loving our neighbors, as well as our enemies. We talk about including strangers, as well as listening to people with whom we disagree. We do a lot of talking, but when do we put love into action?

Jesus says that the people in our neighborhoods and cities will know that we belong to him when we put love into action by loving one another the way he has loved us. Part of your responsibility as a Christ-centered leader is to help people love others as Jesus has loved them. To take your responsibility seriously, you have to model the love of Jesus by loving the way Jesus loved. You love the people who God has entrusted to your care.

Leading with Love 

Loving like Jesus is not easy. You are leading some people who put a lot of emphases on the social aspects of the gospel and at the same time you are leading others who put a lot of emphasis on the personal aspects of the gospel. How do you model for each group the love of Jesus? To add to the difficulty, you meet people with different experiences from your own. How do you love them?

Keep this in mind. In every human heart is the need to be loved and the need to be challenged to love. Everyone entrusted to your care is seeking to experience, understand, and express love in ways that make a difference in their lives and in the world in which they live. How will you model the love of Jesus for them? 

Again, this week,  use the pattern of Read, Reflect, Respond, Return as a tool to learn more of who you are as a Christ-centered leader.   

Read John 13:34-35 

Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

Reflect

Some think the biggest challenge facing the church today is human sexuality. But there is a greater challenge. It is the challenge of loving others just as Jesus has loved us. Is it possible to love as Jesus loved in the world in which we live? 

Learning to love and modeling love is the challenge of every Christ-centered leader. But it is not only your challenge, learning to love is the challenge of the church, our nation, and the world. When our focus is on differences and disagreements, how do we walk together as sisters and brothers, united by the love of God? 

Love One Another

In the midst of cultural wars, we have made enemies out of the people who disagree with us. We have used the words of Jesus as instruments of pain and separation instead of instruments of agape and reconciliation. Jesus says that the mark of true discipleship is seen in how we love one another. 

Am I missing something when I think that Jesus meant for us to work on bringing people together instead of separating people? Instead of using words that vilify and demean aren’t we to use words of hope and encouragement? 

Only Love Can Do That

Martin Luther King, Jr., in his book, A Testament of Hope, wrote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that… I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.” 

In his sermon titled, “Love Your Enemies,” King gives several reasons why Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” One reason he gave was this: 

“Jesus says to love your enemies because love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love, they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So, love your enemies.” 

Learn to Love as Jesus Loved

The question is, how do we learn to love as Jesus has loved? Where do we find the desire and the courage to love one another as we have been loved? 

The answer to that question starts with focusing on Jesus. In our culture, you are pressured to declare your allegiance with one side or another. You are either evangelical or progressive, or you are either traditional or liberal. You could likely add others. You are challenged to place your focus on one side or the other. 

Where You Start Matters

Again, the answer to the question starts with focusing on Jesus. Where you start makes all the difference. If you start with the values of either side, you miss the value of loving like Jesus. If you start with Jesus, you begin to love like Jesus. 

T. M. Anderson provides an answer. He writes, “The goal of spending time with Christ in prayer is to have His character become our character.  For our life to be hidden in His life, his nature to become our nature, and His habits our habits.  It is possible to become so intimately acquainted with a practice, a way of doing something that you can do it without thinking.  It becomes second nature, natural.  When we find the secret place of abiding in Christ, our ordinary, daily interactions with people will become much more than mundane.  They will be majestic opportunities to fulfill God’s purpose.  We will become fruitful Christians.  All fruitfulness of this kind flows out of intimacy with Him.” 

To Love Like Jesus Is a Decision

To love like Jesus is not a feeling. It is a decision. You don’t love because you feel like it or because someone agrees with you or because it benefits you.  You love because you are a follower of Jesus and that is what followers of Jesus do. 

As a teenager, our youth group would sing “I Have Decided To Follow Jesus.” The words were this: 

I have decided to follow Jesus.  

I have decided to follow Jesus. 

I have decided to follow Jesus. 

No turning back. No turning back.

Following Jesus

When you are being wooed by God’s grace to follow Jesus and when you have been loved by God through Jesus, you make a conscious decision to follow Jesus. Your decision to follow seals the deal on who you love and how you love them. When you decide to follow Jesus, to love like Jesus, there is no turning back. No turning back. 

It is by loving one another that we show the world that we belong to Jesus. Our courage to love comes from our willingness to engage in a life-changing relationship with Jesus and with the people with whom we interact each day. It goes without saying that the love we are talking about is based upon God’s love for us.  Our love for those around us grows out of the love we experience and know through Jesus Christ.

The good news is Jesus gives us the ability to love each other. The world will know the depth of your relationship with Jesus by the way you love others, especially strangers and enemies. 

May your thoughts, words, and actions, your loving others, bear the mark of true discipleship. Because who you are is how you lead. 

Check out LeaderCast Episode 252 – Words that Matter – Love

Or explore  “Love Shaped Leadership” , “Leading With the Heart of Jesus”,

“Being A Leader Who Loves” or “Leadership and Love.”

Respond

The good news in John’s gospel is “if you have seen Jesus you have seen God.” When Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you” he is saying, “Love one another as God loves.” 

We don’t love one another because it is practical or because it works. We love because we are the sons and daughters of God. We love because it is who we are. It is not easy. People who love unconditionally usually wind up on a cross. Remember that crucifixions have a way of being followed by resurrections. The end of love is its beginning. Only those who are foolish enough to lose their lives will find them. It is the grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies that lives. 

Jesus did not tell his followers to love because it would work. It never occurred to him whether it was practical or not. As followers of Jesus, we love because that is who we are. 

Of course, you don’t have to be a follower of Jesus. But if you are, one of the conditions is that you love outsiders, people who are different, whether they be your friends or not, and that you pray for people you consider to be enemies, those who hurt you and take advantage of you. Because it is God’s nature to love, you love who God loves. 

It is by the way you love others that the community and the world know you are a follower of Jesus. The single most important factor of a Christ-centered leader is love. Who you are is how you lead. 

Prayer

O God, show the world your love through me today.

Stir up within me the desire to serve you in trust and obedience;

the desire to not only do good but to be good;

the desire to live peaceably with family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, strangers, enemies;

and the desire to surrender this day and every part of my life: family, friends; fears, failures; finances, fantasies; focus and future to your love in Jesus Christ.

Make me aware of the people around me today so that I might be a blessing to someone somewhere today. I offer myself to you in and through the love I know in Jesus. Amen 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. In what situations did you find yourself loving like Jesus? Upon what criteria did you base your decision to put love into action? In what situations did you help others put love into action? What difference did loving like Jesus make in your life and the lives of the people around you today? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.