Tag Archive for: God’s presence

Leadership and power go together. Some leaders use power to project their attitudes and perspectives upon others. They use their position and influence to keep situations and circumstances from changing, which prohibits people from becoming who God has created them to be. 

Other leaders have received the power to change their attitudes and perspectives. As they grow in their leadership, they invite others to explore their own attitudes and they work for the changes needed to bring about the full potential of the people entrusted to their care. The question is, how do you use the power given to you? 

The Power to Reshape Attitudes

As a Christ-centered leader, you have been given the power to challenge and reshape attitudes that are deeply rooted in people. As you work to empower people to become who God created them to be, you help them confront and understand their attitudes. 

Attitude is more than disposition or feeling. One aspect of attitude is understanding where you are and what direction you are going. As you help others discover and develop their potential to lead, you assist them in knowing who they are and why they live, act, and lead the way they do. 

Remember, the key to your power is the source of your power. The source shapes your values, character, faith, and attitudes. It helps you become more aware of the people God gives you to love and to lead. And as you grow closer to the source, you begin to be more aware of the people around you, your attitude toward them, and what God has provided for you to love them as you have been loved. 

So, how does this power work for you as a leader? 

Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return

Let’s use our practice of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to explore how this power helps you discover the attitudes that hinder you from communicating across barriers of prejudice and exclusion. 

Below is a story from the 10th Chapter of Acts. It is a three-part story of Simon Peter and his ministry with the Gentiles. This story will give you insight into understanding leadership and the power of attitude. Please do not skip over the scripture. It is a great story that actually provides insight into your leadership. 

Read Acts 10:1-28 

Cornelius’ Vision

1In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. 2 He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. 3 One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” 4 He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; 6 he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” 7 When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, 8 and after telling them everything he sent them to Joppa. 

Peter’s Vision

9 About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” 15 The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven. 

17 Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. 18 They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. 19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look, three[a] men are searching for you. 20 Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” 21 So Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” 22 They answered, “Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous[b] and God-fearing man who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish people, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So Peter[c] invited them in and gave them lodging.

The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the brothers and sisters from Joppa accompanied him. 

Peter and Cornelius Meet 

24 The following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 On Peter’s arrival, Cornelius met him and, falling at his feet, worshiped him. 26 But Peter made him get up, saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled, 28 and he said to them, “You yourselves know that it is improper for a Jew to associate with or to visit an outsider, but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. 

Then Peter said, 47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days. 

Reflect

This story is traditionally known as the conversion of Cornelius, but it could be called the conversion and attitude change of Peter. Peter has been preaching among the Gentiles, but his attitude has been one of “God loves all people but not all people are acceptable.” As he is reaching out to non-Jewish people, he is not convinced they are to be totally included. 

Cornelius’ Vision

Cornelius was one of the Roman soldiers who was interested in Jesus. He was among the Gentiles who was impressed with Jewish monotheism and ethics, and sometimes attended the synagogue. Yet, he remained a Gentile. He was a good man who prayed and gave to the poor. One day while praying he had a vision of an angel of God. In the vision God spoke to him, affirmed his good works, and told him to send for Peter. At the conclusion of his vision, he sent a delegation of three to ask Peter to come to his house. 

Peter’s Vision

At the same time, Cornelius had his vision, Peter had his own vision. He was at Simon the Tanner’s house. He had gone up on the roof to pray before lunch. While praying and waiting for lunch, he had his vision. Heaven opened and something like a large sheet came down with all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds. At that point, he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 

Peter responded to the voice by saying, “Lord, I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” Then the voice said, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times before the vision concluded. 

It is in the midst of this vision that God was planting a seed for an attitude change. Peter was hesitant to eat because some of the animals were unclean according to Jewish dietary laws. But through this vision, he learned that God’s message was not about specific foods, but about accepting all people, even the Gentiles. His attitude began to change. 

While Peter was trying to understand the vision, the delegation sent by Cornelius arrived. They asked for Peter. While Peter was still reflecting upon the vision, the Spirit told him that three men were searching for him. So, Peter met the delegation, listened to why they had come, and then provided hospitality for them. The next day Peter went with the delegation to Cornelius’ house. 

Peter and Cornelius Meet

When Peter arrived at Cornelius’ house, he realized the significance of his vision. He was being taught that God’s message was not as much about keeping dietary laws as it was about loving and accepting people, all people, including Gentiles. 

This discovery for Peter led to a major attitude change. From “You yourselves know that it is improper for a Jew to associate with or to visit an outsider…” to “but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.” Peter made a huge journey from holding people at arm’s length to sharing the good news of Jesus with outsiders, strangers, and Gentiles. It is while he is in the home of Cornelius that he understands the vision from the day before. 

This event convinced Peter that the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles as well. They were baptized, and Peter acknowledged that Gentiles were also included in God’s plan of salvation. 

The power of the Holy Spirit transforms leaders. In fact, it is the power of the Holy Spirit that makes and shapes Christ-centered leaders. For Luke, this is a pivotal moment in the spread of Christianity, from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and now to the ends of the earth. 

For you and me, this is the heart-opening moment that as followers of Jesus, all people are included in his love and acceptance. It is the presence and power of Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, who gives you the power to lead as you have been created to lead. Just remember, who you are is how you lead. 

Respond 

This story illustrates the breaking of traditional barriers and the widening of God’s grace to all people. Regardless of ethnic or cultural background, God’s love is available to everyone. There are several things to notice in this story. 

God Hears Your Prayer

First, God hears the prayers of non-Christians just as God hears the prayers of Christ-centered leaders. Both Peter and Cornelius pray. The prayers of both are heard, and both have visions in which they receive revelations from God. The answer to their prayers is to bring together those who share the good news of Jesus with those who need to hear the good news of Jesus. The question is, are you open to God leading you to share God’s good news, especially with those persons who are not a part of your group or who you might consider to be sinners or unworthy? 

The Power of the Holy Spirit

Second, the transformative power of the Holy Spirit changes the attitudes of Christ-centered leaders. God has created you to be who God needs you to be. Although you think and feel one way at this moment, God is working to bring about something new and greater for you in the next moment. The question is, are you open to the power of God to change your attitudes, especially toward the people you have always kept at a distance? 

Your Response

Third, no Christ-centered leader is above rejecting a direct command of God. When God tells Peter to eat what has been provided on the sheet, Peter speaks back to God, “Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” Peter is being faithful to the biblical command that is to be obeyed. So, Peter’s refusal is not simply his pettiness or prejudice, although it is obvious that God intends to include all people. Peter is simply too narrow-minded to accept what is clearly God’s will. The question is, are you open to becoming more who God has created you to be and to lead in ways you are being called to lead? 

What God has made clean…

Fourth, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” is a fundamental declaration of the Christian faith. God is the Creator of all people, the one who loves and accepts all people, and the one who wants to create a community within the divided world that will be God’s witnesses to the inclusiveness of God’s love. Peter finally sees this, not as the result of his vision, but on the basis of further experience within the Christian community. The question is, how are you growing in your faith as a Jesus follower and how is the community of faith helping you become the Christ-centered leader needed for this time? 

Christ-centered leaders have been given the power to communicate beyond the limits of nation, race, gender, sexual orientation, social and economic status within the community of faith. After conversations and reflection, Peter changed his attitude. 

This is how God’s revelation works in the community as it continues to face new situations and discover the will and direction of God. You have been given the power to change your own thinking, attitudes, and direction. It is in your faithfulness that you have the power to lead others in the development of their own attitudes as Jesus followers. Who you are is how you lead. 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. 

  • What did you learn about yourself and your attitudes today? 
  • What do you plan to do with what you are learning about yourself and about God’s work in and through you? 
  • How did you interact with the people God sent your way? 
  • Who is helping you remember that you are a child of God and that you have been empowered to love others as God has loved you? 
  • What will you do differently tomorrow?
  • Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be. 

Prayer

O God, today I give you thanks for life and work. I pray for the power to be your witness starting where I am now. Remind me throughout the day of how you love me and how you have empowered me to love the people around me. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus. Amen

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.

As a Christ-centered leader, you have the responsibility of choosing people who have the potential for leadership. You not only have the responsibility for finding the potential in people, but you have the opportunity to develop that potential. You help identify the gifts, strengths, talents, and faith of persons and then assist them in using those gifts, strengths, talents, and faith in ways that reveal the love of God in every situation and circumstance of their lives.   

Too often, either because it is not a priority or it seems unnecessary, leaders don’t always invest the time or energy in identifying and developing the leadership strengths and talents of the people entrusted to their care. Yet, choosing leaders and assisting them in their development is one of the most significant aspects of your work as a leader. 

Your effectiveness as a leader is experienced in the ways you build trust, show compassion, provide stability, and offer hope in developing relationships. Your courage as a leader is seen in the ways you choose and develop leaders. 

Prayer-Shaped Leadership

As a Christ-centered leader, a fundamental element of your effectiveness is prayer. Luke, the gospel writer, tells us that Jesus spent the night in prayer before choosing people to join him in ministry.   

When the time came to choose people to join him, Jesus retreated to the mountain to pray. He prayed to keep focus on the context of his ministry and to keep the continuity between what he is doing and what would be needed in the future. Luke tells us he prayed to God all night long. 

His prayer was not about how he was feeling or what he wanted. Jesus was not making a political decision or choosing people who would see things his way. He was seeking a connection between God’s people of the past and God’s people of the future, by choosing leaders for the present. His all-night prayer vigil was not just for the moment but for each of us who are in the church today. He prayed to keep focus, not only on the history of Israel but on the future of God’s people. 

Read Luke 6:12-16 

During that time, Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night long. At daybreak, he called together his disciples. He chose twelve of them whom he called apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter; his brother Andrew; James; John; Philip; Bartholomew; Matthew; Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus; Simon, who was called a zealot; Judas the son of James; and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. 

Reflect

Jesus prays all night long to choose twelve of his followers, from all the others, to be apostles. My perception is that this was not a casual thing for Luke or for Jesus. I do not believe that God said, “Take this one and this one and this one.” If that were the case, why would Jesus pray all night? 

What I have learned is that the Holy Spirit and faith do not make life simpler or easier, only deeper, more meaningful, and more powerful. Jesus prayed all night to choose from all who followed him. 

Staying Focused Through Prayer

Jesus was praying to keep the focus on the context of his ministry. There is a continuity between what he is doing and with Israel. The twelve disciples are related to the twelve tribes of Israel. Luke understands that in Jesus, God is continuing what God started with the people of Israel. So, his all-night prayer vigil was not just for the moment but for us. He is praying to keep focus, not only on the history of Israel but on the future of God’s people. 

One of the most difficult prayers to pray is the church’s prayer. The prayer is not about what you want. The prayer is focused upon who God needs to be faithful.  You do not pray from your best thinking or best practices. Your prayer is focused upon God and who God needs you to be at this place and time in history and for the future of God’s people. 

Praying All Night

So, Jesus prayed all night. He was conscious of others besides himself. It is a critical moment in the history of Israel, in his own life, and for the future of the church. So, he prayed. You and I can say we began as an all-night prayer vigil in the heart and mind of Jesus. 

It is through prayer that you keep your focus on God’s plan and purpose.  If you don’t keep your focus on God, you will make your decisions based on your preferences. You will choose others who will perpetuate your preferences. You pray to keep your focus on God. It is essential that you keep your community, neighborhood, and city in mind and heart as you choose leaders who can hold the past and future together. Prayer will connect you to God’s great plan. It will help you see the world more as God sees the world. 

Developing a Pattern of Prayer

We are at a critical moment in the life and future of the church. Jesus spent the night praying for you to be the leader needed at this point in time. If Jesus was keeping you, the future church, in heart and mind as he prayed that night, it seems to me that prayer is essential as you shape spiritual leaders for today. Your prayers are essential as you choose leaders who can and will, in the midst of re-formation, connect the past with the future. 

I know that it seems overly dramatic, but at the end of life, you will not be judged by how many diplomas you have received, how much money you have made, or how many great things you have done. You will be judged on how you love the people God sent your way. You will be judged on how you lived your life in relationship to others and on how you assisted people to become who God created them to be.   

Your leadership will be judged by the love you put into others. Jesus prayed all night before choosing the twelve who were close to him.  So, it is essential that you, as a Christ-centered leader, develop a pattern of prayer. Your prayer is necessary in choosing leaders. 

Respond

In choosing leaders for your congregation, keep the context of the congregation in mind. Consider, not only the history of the congregation but, the future of the congregation. Consider, not only the history of the congregation but the overall history of the Christian church and how that history is connected to and informs the present and shapes the future.   

In choosing leaders for your congregation, consider the gifts, talents, strengths, and depth of faith needed to connect the life of the church to the present and future. Look for trustworthy, active, and persuasive persons who live out their faith in everyday and ordinary relationships. 

In choosing leaders for your congregation, pray.  Take as much time to pray as it takes to consider God’s call upon the life of the congregation and upon the lives of the people in the congregation. Pray that the beloved children of God will live as God’s beloved children in the way they love one another. Ultimately, it is better to be a loving body of Jesus followers who love others as they have been loved than to be a religious club built upon personal and theological preferences. 

Who you are is how you lead! 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. For whom did you pray? In what ways did you pray to the leadership of others? How were you exercising leadership when you prayed? In what ways did you assist others to pray and to become who God has gifted them to lead? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Focus is important for leaders. It is the doorway to memory, perception, learning, reasoning, problem-solving, and decision-making. Without good focus, all aspects of your ability to think and make decisions will suffer. If you can’t focus effectively, you can’t think effectively.

Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Donald Goleman, in his article “The Focused Leader” writes, “Leaders need strengths in three areas of focus: self (inner), people (other), and system (outer) awareness. Inner focus attunes us to our emotions and intuitions, guiding values and better decisions. Other focus strengthens our connections to the people in our lives. And outer focus lets us navigate the larger world… Every leader needs to cultivate this triad of awareness, in abundance and in the proper balance, because a failure to focus inward leaves you rudderless, a failure to focus on others renders you clueless, and a failure to focus outward may leave you blindsided.” 

Focus on Prayer

So, focus is important. As a Christ-centered leader, you keep your focus through prayer. Whether lay or clergy, prayer brings clarity, direction, affirmation, and power. So, whatever you are facing in your personal life, professional life, church life, or community life, prayer makes the difference in how you lead. 

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

His pattern was to go to a lonely place to pray and then come back to engage in ministry. His time away to pray was to keep his focus on God’s call and to test his desires in response to God’s call. As a follower of Jesus, called and commissioned as a leader, you pray to keep your focus on God and to keep the desires of your heart in alignment with Jesus. 

Although it was developed for bible study, the pattern of Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return is a proven pattern that can and will assist you in keeping your focus on prayer. 

Read Luke 11:1

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

Reflect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teach Us to Pray

As I reflect upon “teach us to pray,” I think of the tradition in which I grow up. The persons who prayed felt their prayers were more genuine and spirit-led when they prayed extemporaneously. They just let it flow because what just flowed was more genuine. 

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

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

Persisting in Prayer

There is one more thing to consider as a Christ-centered leader focused on prayer. Luke has gathered Jesus’ teaching material on prayer in chapter 11. Immediately following what we know is as the Lord’s Prayer, Luke tells a story on persistence or perseverance in prayer. This teaching is to reassure believers that their prayers are heard and answered. If a grouchy neighbor awakened from sleep will respond to an urgent request for bread, how much more will God respond to our prayers. The story is not about praying harder or longer. Luke is encouraging his community to persist in prayer because to pray is to stay focused upon God and God’s call and commission to ministry. 

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

Ask, Seek, Knock

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

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

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

So, as a Christ-centered leader, the power in prayer is to stay focused upon God and God’s call to ministry. Focused prayer involves preparation. There are times when your mood may not be right; an irritated or anxious temper may get in the way. Or perhaps the preoccupation with work and family may be clouding and crowding your thoughts. A dozen different demands and pressures make special preparation an absolute necessity for real prayer. So, remember this: To pray is to focus on God and God’s call. To pray is to live in God’s presence and to receive God’s power. “Lord, teach us to pray.” 

Respond

To learn to pray and be focused when praying, ask yourself the following:

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

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

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. When and where did you pray? What was your motivation to pray? How were you exercising leadership when you prayed? In what ways were you assisting others to pray? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Prayer

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

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

How will you lead this year? One way to keep in mind and practice is to lead by reminding people of who they are and what is expected of them. Leadership is recognizing the potential in people and then developing that potential for the good of others. 

Think about it for a moment. As a spiritual leader, at every baptism you are reminding people of who they are, “A beloved child of God.” You are reminding them of their “call” to ministry. As much as we might want to make baptism a personal and individualistic event, it is more of a claim upon your life and a call to be about God’s business in the community and the world. 

What does it mean to “remember your baptism”?   

Use the pattern of Read, Reflect, Respond, Return as a tool to assist you in remembering your baptism and in becoming the leader needed for the time in which we are living. 

Read Matthew 3:13-17 

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him, and he saw God’s Spirit descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from the heavens said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 

Reflect 

There is much to be said about the story of Jesus’s baptism and the meaning of baptism for you and for me. But, for this reflection let’s focus on “And a voice from the heavens said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’” 

At Jesus’s baptism, a voice from heaven said, “This is my son.” Those words are from Psalm 2. They were spoken on the occasion of the crowning of the king of Israel. At Jesus’ baptism, Jesus is claimed by God to be king or ruler. As you know, his kingdom is not a geographic location but the hearts, minds, and actions of people. So, baptism is the acknowledgement of trust and obedience to the “ruler” of your life. 

Then the words, “My Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” comes from Isaiah 42. It is a line from the description of the suffering servant of God, the one who gives his life. It means touching, loving, going, doing, caring for people. In other words, here is my son, the servant. So, baptism is a commissioning to ministry. It is a commissioning to be about God’s business in the community and the world. 

What is God’s Business?

Jesus wet from baptism, left the Jordan River and went about God’s business.  What is God’s business? God’s business is feeding, healing, caring for, and serving people. In each of the four gospels there are stories of Jesus being about God’s business. He even knelt and washed people’s feet. 

As a leader, you remind people they are God’s children, and they are about doing God’s business. Feeding, healing, caring, serving others in the love in which they are loved. When you say the words, “Remember your baptism,” you are reminding followers of Jesus to remember they are beloved children of God, and they are to be about God’s business of loving and serving other people. 

Fred Craddock told a story that is helpful at this point.  He was pastor of a church in Custer City, Oklahoma.  The population was about 450. There were four churches in town: a Methodist church, a Baptist church, a Nazarene church, and a Christin church. Each had its share of the population and attendance rose and fell according to the weather and whether it was harvest time. 

He said that the most consistent attendance in town was at the little café where all the pickup trucks were parked. All the men gathered there while their wives and children attended one of those four churches. The attendance at the churches would fluctuate, but the attendance at the café was consistently good. The men were always there discussing the weather, cattle, wheat bugs, and crops.

The patron saint of the group was a man named Frank. He was a good, strong, rancher, farmer, and cattleman about seventy-seven years old. He was born into poverty but had prospered over the years. He had his credentials, and all the men there at the café considered him to be their leader.  They would laugh and say, “Old Frank will never go to church.” 

Craddock said that he first met Frank on the street. After some small talk, Frank spoke up and said, “I work hard, and I take care of my family, and I mind my own business.” He said that as far as he was concerned, everything else is fluff. Craddock interpreted the words to mean, “Leave me alone; I’m not a prospect.” 

He said that is why he was surprised, the whole town was surprised, and the men at the café were bumfuzzled when Frank, at seventy-seven years old, presented himself one Sunday morning for baptism.  Craddock said he baptized Frank. Some in the community said that Frank must be sick, They said he must be scared to meet his maker. Some said “He’s got heart trouble, going up to be baptized. I never thought old Frank would do that, but I guess when you get scared…” 

There were all kinds of stories. But this is what he said to Craddock while they were talking after the baptism. Craddock asked, “Frank, do you remember that little saying you used to give me so much? ‘I work hard, I take care of my family, and I mind my own business’?” 

Frank said, “Yeah, I remember. I said that a lot.” 

“Do you still say that?” 

He said, “Yes.” 

“Then what is the difference?” 

Frank said, “I didn’t know then what my business was.” 

Frank discovered what his business was. It was to love, care for, and serve people. Craddock baptized Frank. He said, “I raised my hand and said in the presence of those who gathered,” ‘Upon your confession of faith in Jesus Christ and in obedience to the command, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.’” 

So, remember your baptism. You are a beloved Child of God who is about the business of God. And what is that business? To love, care for, and serve the people you encounter each day. 

Respond 

As a leader, part of your work is to remind people of their potential and to help them live it out. As a spiritual leader, one of the ways of reminding people is baptism. At every baptism you are challenged to remember who you are. As personal as baptism might be understood, baptism is a communal event. The community of faith takes a vow to help you and all the baptized community to “Do all in your power to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.” Think about it, part of a pathway to discipleship in which the whole community of faith participates. 

You have been claimed by God for something bigger than yourself, bigger than a denomination, even bigger than your congregation. To remember your baptism is to remember, “The old life is gone; a new life has begun.” It is a reminder to be about God’s business of love, care, and acceptance. 

Baptism is even a reminder of who you are is how you lead. 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you met today. How were you reminded that you are a beloved child of God? Who did you remind that they are a beloved child of God? In what situations were you about God’s business? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Prayer

O God, I am grateful for your reminders that I am your beloved child and that you have something for me to do as one of your children. Help me be aware of your presence in every situation and circumstance and in every relationship and acquaintance of this day. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear you. Give me a heart to discern and a mind to recognize what you are doing. Make me a blessing to someone somewhere today as you embrace me and the people around me with your love that makes me more who you want me to be. I offer my life to be a home for you and for the people you send my way. Amen

How will you lead this year? Keeping in mind that who you are is how you lead, the turn of the calendar year is a good time to assess and make adjustments to how you lead.

Think for a moment. Is there anything you want to redo from this past year? Are there relationships you want to repair and restore? Are there moments of learning you want to incorporate into your life and leading? 

You can make changes and adjustments any time of year, but the beginning of the year is an excellent time to be intentional in your reflection and commitments.

To help with your reflection, I offer the pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, Return” as a tool to assist you in becoming the leader needed for the time in which we are living. 

Read Isaiah 43:14-24 

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: For your sake I will send to Babylon and break down all the bars, and the shouting of the Chaldeans will be turned to lamentation.

I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King. Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army, and warrior; they lie down; they cannot rise; they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:

Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals, and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise. 

Reflect

Isaiah wrote these words to the people who have been separated from what they held important: family, community, country, religion, etc.  They felt overwhelmed and hopeless, partly because of their lack of trust and partly because of circumstances beyond their control.  Isaiah reminds them who created them, who formed them, and who redeemed them.  He reminds them they have nothing to fear because God has been with them through all the trials of their separation. He reminds them that God will take care of them and their children.  

Isaiah announces to them that God is going to set them free from their enemies. “For your sake 

I will send you to Babylon and break down all the bars, and the shouting of the Chaldeans will be turned to lamentation.”  In the midst of their situations of slavery (hopelessness), God is going to make a way for them. 

For them to be set free, they are challenged to set the past aside, to forget the former things.  God is doing a new thing, a new work in their midst, and they are challenged to see it.  He reassures them that they can trust God because God is able to make a way in the wilderness and a river in the desert. 

What New Thing is God Doing?

Until recently, I read that scripture as something that has happened to someone else. But this past week I began to ask myself, what new thing is God doing in my life? What must I set aside to see what God is doing? 

Could it be that Isaiah was writing to you and me as well? In the midst of all you have experienced over the past several years, feelings of isolation, lack of support, learning new ways of caring for family, navigating a political polarization, etc. it would be natural to feel overwhelmed and even hopeless. What is the use to keep going? 

God is Doing a New Thing in You

Isaiah is reminding you who made you and who loves you. He is reminding you of who has called you and equipped you for this work of leading. You have nothing to fear because God has been with you through the trials and obstacles. God will take care of you. In the midst of all that continues to pull you back, that keeps you from becoming who God created you to be, God is making a way for you. 

Just as the people of Israel were challenged to set the past aside, to forget the former things, you must do the same.  God is doing a new thing, a new work in your midst and you are being challenged to see it. Again, just as Isaiah reassured the people that they could trust God, you are being challenged to trust the One who has created you, who loves you, and who called you to this work. 

Becoming the Leader You Were Created to Be

Just as God can make a way in the wilderness and a river in the desert, God is making a way for you. The question is, “Can you recognize what God is doing in your life and leading?” 

That is the question, isn’t it? What new thing is God doing in my life? The other question is, “What must I set aside to see and participate in what God is doing?”

The answer to those questions become leadership questions when you carry the past along with you, remembering the unkind words, the breaches of trust, the moments of lashing out, being taken for granted, being forgotten, pushed aside, and not included. You carry all these things into your thoughts and style of leadership.  It is true, who you are is how you lead. 

What must you set aside and leave behind for you to be the leader you are created to be? What must be let go for you to be the leader for this time? 

A New Year

One of my favorite columnists was Erma Bombeck. I remember an article she wrote in December of 1992. It was an article that helped me set aside some hurts and grudges that were getting in the way of me being the pastor God needed me to be. The article was titled, “New Year: Leave Baggage Behind.” She wrote:

For years, I’ve studied the symbol of the New Year – a smiling baby wearing a diaper and a top hat. What does it mean? A beginning of life? A time of innocence? A scenario for change? Then it hit me. For years, I’ve been overdressed for the New Year. I enter it with shoulders bent, swathed in all the ills of the previous year, and when I can’t wear them all on my body, I lug them along in heavy boxes and suitcases, kicking them along with my foot to make sure all of them make it into the next year of my life. 

Wrapped around my neck a mantle of guilt, some of it dating back as far as 1940 (Guilt for the time my parents gave me a savings bond for my high school graduation when I wanted a silver charm bracelet, and I threw the savings bond on the floor. An oldie, but goodie.) 

The hair shirt of self-pity is uncomfortable, but for years has provided me with enough ammunition to bring tears to the eyes of my husband and children.  To discard it would be unthinkable. After all, self-pity, if you do it right, takes a long time to amass. 

The belt of prejudice is an old one and encompasses anyone who does not agree with every single word I have ever said. I’d feel naked without it. 

The large footlocker contains anger.  True, a lot of it doesn’t fit anymore, but I hang onto it just in case I’m caught short. 

Adorning all of this are the jewels of frustration over things that I can never do anything about, but which I wear like medals to torture myself. 

And of course, the biggest piece of baggage contains old grudges that I sift through each year like old photographs and pressed flowers…the critic who was unkind, the one mistake from a friend I want to forgive, the trust I gave a child that was abused, the harsh words from a family member that I refuse to forget.  Grudges, many of them antiques, that I plan on handing down to my children. 

Each year of my life, the load gets heavier and heavier to carry into the New Year.  Once, around March, I almost sank, but stubbornly I hung onto every bit of New Years past. 

Frankly, I don’t know if I can face the New Year without my clothes on.  I don’t know if I can check into 1993 without luggage.  Can I look at old friends and see them for the first time? Can I keep my eyes forward and not look back? Do I have the guts to emerge with nothing on but a smile and a top hat? 

I’m gonna try. 

One of the curses of the past is that we cannot go back and change the course leading to the hurts and disappointments, no matter how much we might wish to. The past has its own terrible inevitability. But it is never too late to change the future.

Respond

God is doing new things in your life and leadership. What are some new things God is doing? What are some things you will need to give up to participate in what God is doing? Where is God making a way for you through the tough situations you are facing? Keep these things in mind for when you return later in the day. 

God is calling you to something bigger than yourself, bigger than a denomination, and even bigger than the church universal.  The message of our Christian faith is one of resurrection and renewal. Paul wrote, “The old life is gone; a new life has begun.” It is time to give up some of the “stuff” we have been hanging onto. It is time to move boldly and faithfully into the future, following God’s lead knowing that being focused upon Jesus’ new life is ahead. Remember, who you are is how you lead. 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. 

  • In whom did you experience God doing something new? 
  • How did you participate? 
  • What have you considered leaving behind as you enter this new year? 
  • What new path is God making for you through your difficult situations and relationships? 
  • How could your leadership be more effective by letting go of some old things? 

Now ask God to help you see the new things God is doing in the lives of the people around you and in the situations and circumstances you find yourself in. Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Prayer

O God, I am grateful that you have come to be with me in Jesus. Help me be aware of your presence in every situation and circumstance and in every relationship and acquaintance of this day. Give me eyes to see and ears to see and hear what new thing you are doing, and give me a heart to discern and a mind to recognize it. Make me a blessing to someone somewhere today as you embrace me and the people around me with your love that makes me more who you want me to be. I offer my life to be a home for you and for the people you send my way. Amen

At this time of year, we seem more sensitive to the human needs around us. Whether it be the Salvation Army ringing the bell on the street or the toy drive led by the local fire department, people are more willing to give to address the needs of others.

We are also more aware of the lack of peace in our communities. Even though we sing hymns of peace on earth and goodwill toward all people, our hearts our haunted by gun violence, mass murders, economic injustice, acts of racism, hunger, and homelessness. We yearn for a few days of hope, joy, peace, and love so deeply that we have convinced ourselves that a few days of good feelings will somehow help the world be a better place.

In this time of “peace on earth and goodwill toward all people” we need someone to address our hopes and fears, to fill our lives with the goodness we desire, not only for ourselves but for all people. 

Leading with  Peace, Hope and Love

As a Christ-centered leader, how do you keep yourself focused this time of year and at the same time help address the need for peace, hope, and love with the people entrusted to your care? 

It is my thought and conviction that you and I as leaders hold the key to the hope and love our world desperately yearns to experience and live by. If I may be trite, we know the One in whom the “hopes and fears of all the years” is made real. 

When we read the biblical stories, we find that the birth of Jesus, in a stable to humble parents named Mary and Joseph, is God’s dramatic way of coming into the world in a way that we can understand. It is the story of God taking on the life of a human being and coming into this world to live with us. 

God Comes to Us

God always comes to us in a way that satisfies our needs. Read Matthew’s story. Matthew reminds us that the name Jesus means savior and that the name Emmanuel means God is with us. Matthew is telling us that in Jesus, God’s saving presence is with us. 

When we read Luke’s story, we are reminded that Jesus came alongside the poor, the marginalized, and the outcasts. The story of being born in a stable points to the fact there was no respectable place for him. His birth is announced to shepherds symbolizes the good news for those considered unclean and unacceptable in good religious circles. Luke is telling us that God’s saving love is for everyone. 

Then John points out that Jesus was present at the beginning with God because Jesus is God. Then God becomes flesh and lives among us in Jesus. I understand the words lived among us to mean “pitched his tent next to ours.” Eugene Peterson in the Message says, “moved into our neighborhood.” John is telling us that God in Jesus has come to live with us. 

And Paul teaches us that God is in Christ “reconciling the world to himself.” It might be helpful to think of the word reconciled as being embraced or hugged. God is in Christ “embracing” the world and “hugging” us, each of us, holding us close in love. 

Love Came Down at Christmas

One of the carols we sing at Christmas helps us remember the story of God coming to be with us in Jesus. It is the carol, “Love Came Down at Christmas.” 

Love came down at Christmas,

love all lovely, Love divine;

Love was born at Christmas;

star and angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,

Love incarnate, Love divine;

worship we our Jesus,

but wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token;

love be yours and love be mine;

love to God and others,

Love for plea and gift and sign.

The implication in each of the scriptural stories and teachings, as well as the carol, is that God has come to be intimately related to us. It is the story of the incarnation. God comes to us on our turf, as opposed to a church building, and works for our well-being, holding us close with a love that never lets us go. Regardless of who we are, where we live, our gender, race, nationality, or belief, God is with us, working for our good. 

Becoming an Incarnational Leader

As a Christ-centered leader, what will your leadership look like when you become an incarnational leader? As you continue to reflect on how you keep yourself focused and address the need for peace, hope, and love with the people entrusted to you, I will share a story that might help clear your thoughts and focus your vision. 

In the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, a British runner, Derek Redmond, entered the 400-meter race. For years he had practiced just for this race. His father, who was also his trainer and coach, had helped him become one of the fastest people in the world. 

As the race began, Redmond took an early lead. When he pulled his hamstring, he was well out in front of the other sprinters. He fell to the track but did not drop out of the race. He struggled to his feet and began hopping on one foot toward the finish line. The crowd stood and cheered him on, but the pain was so great and the wound so serious that he struggled to finish the race. 

Suddenly, a middle-aged man jumped over the guardrail onto the track, caught up with Redmond, put his arms around his waist, and helped him finish the race. The man was Jim Redmond, Derek Redmond’s father. Father and son crossed the finish line together. 

In an interview after the race, Redmond said, “He was the only one who could have helped me because he was the only one who knew what I had been through.” 

Opening the Door

What will your leadership look like when you become an incarnational leader? Coming alongside those who are in need, those who have fallen, and assisting them with love, helping them live with dignity and hope? 

This Christmas when Jesus comes knocking on the front door of your church building, be ready for his invitation. Because when you open the door to invite him in, he is going to invite you out into the neighborhood in which he is living. He will introduce you to his friends, all his friends. All of his poor, forgotten, disabled, overlooked friends. When you follow Jesus into the neighborhood, you will take your first step in becoming the incarnational leader needed to meet the needs of people today. 

I know this was not a “sweet little Jesus” Christmas story, but our good feelings will not make the world a better place. There will be “peace on earth and goodwill toward all people” when you and I become the incarnational leaders who make a difference in the neighborhoods where God’s Word is made flesh in and through us. 

God with Us

Take a few minutes to reflect upon the places you experienced God today. In whom did you meet Jesus? Through whom did you experience God’s love? Who did you assist in reaching the finish line of dignity and hope? 

O God, I am grateful that you have come to be with me in Jesus. Help me be aware of your presence in every situation and circumstance and in every relationship and acquaintance of this day. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear you. Give me a heart to discern and a mind to recognize what you are doing. Make me a blessing to someone somewhere today as you embrace me and the people around me with your love that makes me more who you want me to be. I offer my life to be a home for you and for the people you send my way. Amen 

May the joy of Jesus be yours this Christmas! I look forward to seeing you in the new 2023 year. Until then, remember, who you are is how you lead! 

Merry Christmas!

Christ-centered leaders develop community, specifically Christian community. The question is, “What does it mean to develop a community?” 

We have discussed the development of community in the New Testament known as koinonia and we have discussed the discovery of the community in which your congregation is located. Keep in mind that the foundation of Christ-centered leadership is Jesus. As a follower of Jesus and a leader of other followers of Jesus, how do you develop the relationships, deepen the faith, and deploy into mission the people entrusted to your care? 

As we answer that question, remember that John Wesley worked to develop both ideas of community. Through what we identify as personal piety and social holiness, Wesley developed and organized a system to help followers of Jesus grow in their personal faith and to live out their faith in the places they lived, worked, and played. Wesley said it this way, “true Christianity cannot exist without the inward experience and the outward practice of justice, mercy, and truth.” 

With that in mind, let’s look at the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, and focus specifically at the two verses below. 

Read Acts 2:42, 46 

They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts… 

Reflect

On the Day of Pentecost, one hundred and twenty frightened, self-centered, discouraged, and disheartened men and women were transformed into new Christ-centered leaders. They were filled with new life and perspective, intellectually, emotionally, and physically. 

By the power of the Holy Spirit, those newly empowered leaders began to communicate the story of Jesus in ways people understood and responded to positively. The people were amazed and perplexed. They asked, “What does this mean?”  Others mockingly said, “They are full of new wine.” 

The First Sermon

It was a careless, scoffing comment that prompted the first Christian sermon. When the followers of Jesus were accused of being drunk, Simon Peter took responsibility for telling the story of Jesus. He told the people about the life, crucifixion, death, resurrection, and presence of Jesus. He explained God’s offer in Jesus, what people did to refuse it, what God did despite the refusal, and what could happen to each of them. 

When the people heard Peter’s sermon, “…they were cut to the heart…” and they cried out, “What shall we do?”  

Simon Peter was ready with an answer and the first Christian invitation to a congregation was extended: “Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” 

The word repent means “to change one’s mind, to perceive after a mind-changing truth or understanding.”  Peter wanted them to change their thinking about God’s messiah, the Christ, and to see their own need for him as the Lord of their lives. 

Repent

The word repent can also refer to becoming who you were created to be. By God’s love, you begin to live as God intends for you to live. Think of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. You are in the process of repentance as you begin to love more the way God has loved you. One of the things that changed for those at Pentecost was their way of communicating with one another. Instead of insisting that everyone learn to speak and communicate like they spoke and communicated, by the power of God’s love and presence, they learned new ways of communicating and relating to the people around them. 

The scripture says that those who welcomed Simon Peter’s message were baptized, and that day about 3000 persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 

The First Community of Faith

That first community of faith was: 

A learning community.

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

A fellowshipping community.

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

A praying community.

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

A worshiping community.

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

A growing community.

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

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

An effective way of developing community in our day is to establish koinonia groups for personal faith development and for developing relationships that impact the community in which your church is located. 

Five Ingredients for Developing Koinonia

Based on our scripture, there are five essential ingredients in developing koinonia: 

1. Study

“They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching…” Wesley called this “searching the scriptures.” One of the distinctive marks of Jesus followers is the understanding and engaging the gospels. Just as the apostles’ teaching was transformational in the lives of the early followers of Jesus, devoting ourselves to living out the good news of Jesus Christ is transformational both personally and socially. 

2. Fellowship

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship.” Koinonia Fellowship is both an informal time when people get to know and love one another and a formative time when people grow together in their personal faith and learn to give care and encouragement in their social interactions. 

3. Accountability

“Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple.” Those early Jesus followers spent time together every day. I can imagine they were sharing stories, asking questions, learning, and growing together. 

Although most of us do not feel comfortable being held accountable, especially regarding our faith, koinonia provides a space and safety to develop trust and courage. We grow into our accountability. I can imagine that was what was happening as they spent time together. 

Think of it this way, if you are a member of a koinonia group and you want to develop a pattern for bible study, you might say to the group, “Please hold me accountable to reading the Bible each day this next week.”  The following week your group would ask you, “How did you do with reading your Bible this week?”  You respond by saying, “Well, I read my Bible each day until I got to the weekend. I would like you to keep asking me the question until Bible study becomes a regular daily practice.” 

As your koinonia matures, your group might agree to ask each other questions as you gather. Questions related to personal faith development and to your interaction with Jesus and the people you meet each day. We all need help in developing and maintaining our walk with Jesus. 

4. Worship and Prayer

It is important that each group have a time of worship and prayer. Sometimes singing a hymn or a praise chorus will lead your group into worship. At other times, it will be prayer or sharing experiences of experiencing God’s love, or how Jesus showed up unexpectedly leads to “glad and generous hearts…”   

5. Mission and Outreach

Your journey inward leads to your journey outward. Your koinonia leads you into developing relationships outside your group. Together, you find ways to love others the way God in Jesus has loved you. You might feed people who are hungry or find shelter for those who are homeless. You might provide care for children or jobs for the unemployed. One way to discover where to be in mission is to ask the question, “What can we do that no one else is doing?” God always provides people to love and places to serve. Koinonia helps turn your inner faith into outward expressions of love and care. 

“They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts…” 

Christ-centered leaders develop community, specifically Christian community. 

Respond 

O God I am grateful for your call upon my life and for the opportunity to be a leader centered upon your love in Jesus. By your grace, give me the faith to assist people in growing in their faith. Give me the courage to lead people into the community to love others as you have loved me. Thank you for the ways you have provided to become more who you have created me to be. Thank you for John Wesley and for the way he has modeled personal piety and social holiness. Oh, God, thank you for your love. Give me faith to love and trust you more. Amen.

Return

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. In whom did you meet Jesus? What structures are you developing to assist people in growing in their faith and in giving care, support, encouragement, and hope to others? What do you need to do to lead others into koinonia? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to become more who God has created you to be. Keep in mind, who you are is how you lead.

When most of us hear the word “community” we think of a geographic area in which we live and/or serve. What would it be to think of your community as a mission field? 

Leading people into the mission field is one of the characteristics of a Christ-centered leader. The question is, are you mission-focused? 

Mission Focused

To resource you as a Christ-centered leader, I first focused upon community as “koinonia” found in the New Testament. Today I want to focus on the community in which your congregation is located as your mission field. It is in your engagement with your mission field that helps you and the people you lead into becoming and growing as Jesus followers. 

To focus on the mission field, keep in mind that the foundation of Christ-centered leadership is Jesus. So, through the lens of being a Jesus follower, what does it mean to be in the midst of your mission field? 

The World is My Parish

To get an idea of what it means to be in mission in the community in which you are located, let’s look first at John Wesley and his idea of “The world is my parish.” 

Wesley insisted that “true Christianity cannot exist without the inward experience and the outward practice of justice, mercy, and truth.” The inward experience was supported by koinonia. He established a system of class meetings and bands to assist in keeping the faith vibrant. He called it personal piety. Closely related to this inward experience was the outward practice of social holiness. 

Social holiness is living out of your faith in the larger community or your mission field. This idea of living out your faith in the community is captured in Wesley’s words, “The world is my parish.” It is your koinonia living beyond itself to all people. The greater focus is on the mission of making Jesus followers so that the people in your community and the relationships in the world might become who God created them to be. It is the spending of yourself and your resources so that all the world might know of God’s love in and through Jesus. 

John Wesley’s Mission Field

Now, if you are thinking this is not what you signed up for, remember that Wesley came to this position “kicking and screaming.” The preacher evangelist, George Whitefield, had great success in reaching people for Christ but he had no system for them to stay on their walk with Jesus or to grow in their faith. Knowing the preaching and organizational skill of John Wesley, Whitefield reached out and invited Wesley to join him in preaching to the poor and to the coal miners.

Wesley fought against it. 

Up to this point, Wesley had only preached in regular church services in the city. Should he accept Whitefield’s invitation and help with the open-air meetings in the country? He practiced what he preached. Wesley called on the Christian fellowship for guidance. Finally, he submitted himself to his koinonia fellowship. Through their prayer and support, Wesley decided to go and preach the gospel in the fields of Bristol. 

The Methodist Movement as Mission

He adapted his understanding of ministry to meet the needs of the larger community. He joined with Whitefield and began to organize people into fellowship groups where their faith was kept alive and where they lived out their faith in the communities in which they lived. It was a fellowship where people cared for and looked after each other’s souls and where loving hearts set other hearts on fire. It was also a fellowship where those with a heartfelt faith moved into the community to love and serve in the name of Jesus. 

In Wesley’s day, the Methodist movement addressed areas of poverty, slavery, prisons, liquor, war, and education. United Methodists have always had a “social creed” which speaks to the issues of the day. United Methodists have always worked for the transformation of the communities in which they have lived. 

As a Christ-centered leader, how are you leading your fellowship into the community where your congregation is located? With your mission as your focus, use the questions below to help define your community, identify the needs of your community, and discover the resources needed to meet those needs. 

1.      Where have you witnessed God’s presence in your community? 

Use this question at the beginning of every meeting, with small groups, and at the end of each day. People who follow Jesus should be able to articulate God’s movement in their lives. You can ask the question in different ways and in different contexts. Just be committed to asking the question over and over until people begin to look for God’s presence or God’s love in the community? 

2.      What is the mission of the church? 

This question is about the purpose of your church, your koinonia. People who follow Jesus should know their purpose and be able to measure their lives and ministry by that purpose. Use this question to keep your focus and as a sorting mechanism for the ministry in the community. 

Keep in mind the mission of the church is more than a mission statement. It is a guide to ministry. The question will help you keep focus and not confuse activity for missional impact. 

3.      What is your mission field? 

Your mission field can be described in several ways. Most often, it is a geographic area where people live or at least where your church is located. John Wesley said, “The world is my parish.” As much as you and your church are involved in the world, your mission field is your neighborhood, your town, or your city. It is important to say, “Our neighborhood is our mission field” or “Our town is our mission field.” 

Once you have defined the geographic area, define who lives in the mission field. After you identify who lives there, define their habits and interests. Listen for stories, look for symbols, and identify activities that help you learn more about the people you have identified. 

4.      What are the assets of the mission field? 

Prepare to make a list of the assets. Start with the people who live in your mission field. What relationships, skills, and resources do they have? Move to the property, businesses, and services in your mission field. Identify the community focus, physical attributes such as parks, rivers, etc., and financial assets. 

The best way to identify the assets is to take a walk within your mission field and ask people to respond to the question; “What do you love about our community, neighborhood, or city?”  

5.      What are the hopes and dreams of the people around you?  

Prepare to make another list. What are the hopes and dreams of the people in your mission field? Basic needs like food, water, and shelter could be at the top of the list. What about safety? What about the dream to be loved, to belong, or to be taken seriously? 

Again, the best way to identify the hopes and dreams of the people around you is to take a walk within your mission field. Ask people to respond to two questions: First, what do you love about our community? And second, what are your hopes and dreams? What are your hopes and dreams for this community? An effective way to follow up on your questions is to ask if the person would like to be a part of making the dreams a reality. Make sure you get contact information. 

6.      What relationships exist between you, your church leaders, and with the mission field? 

Identify relationships within the mission field. What relationships do you and the people of your church have regarding businesses, government, education, arts and entertainment, non-profit groups, health care, first responders, etc.? What relationships need to be nurtured, reconciled, and re-established? 

If you are not sure where to start developing relationships beyond the walls of the church building, start with the principal of your local elementary school. Or begin to attend community meetings to get to know the people who participate. With a little effort and interest, you will meet people with whom you can develop relationships and partnerships. 

7.      What is one way you can collaborate with another church in the mission field? 

Every church, at its best, is focused on Jesus. Practices and theology might differ, but we are in this work together. Put aside all thoughts and feelings of being in competition. Model for others what collaboration might look like, even in the face of differences. Take time to meet other Christ-centered leaders. Learn their stories, how they express their mission, and what disciple-making looks like in their faith community.

Christ-Centered Leadership

Let me come back to something I said earlier, if you are thinking this is not what you signed up for, remember that Wesley came to the position of “The world is my parish” position both “kicking and screaming.” But modeled true Christ-centered leadership. He called on the Christian fellowship for guidance. Wesley submitted himself to his koinonia fellowship. Through their prayer and support he decided to go and preach the gospel in the fields of Bristol. 

You are a leader today because Wesley adapted his understanding of ministry and moved into the mission field located outside the church building.

So, just like Wesley, your mission is not based upon whether you like it or not, or whether you agree with it or not. God has given you the mission. The community is your mission field. Learn about the people God has given to you to love and serve. Develop the relationships needed to make a transformational difference in their lives and in the neighborhood, town, or city in which they live. Be who God has created you to be. 

Experience God’s Presence

It is time to get started. At the end of this day, ask yourself this question: “Where did I experience God’s presence today? Give God thanks for the people through whom God was present. 

Now, make a commitment to yourself and to the leaders of your congregation, to ask that question at the beginning of every meeting, gathering, rehearsal, etc. in your church. Listen closely because people will begin to see Jesus in places he has not been seen before. 

Lead the people entrusted to your care to pray that they might recognize God at work in your mission field. When you discover where God is working, join God in that work. 

Christ-centered leaders are mission-focused. Who you are is how you lead.