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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.