Tag Archive for: Jesus

Have you ever tried to go 24 hours without saying something negative about another person? If you are like most people, you shrug off little “white” lies, slander, and gossip as “only words.” Words that are not meant to hurt or belittle anyone, become hurtful and harmful when not taken seriously.

Your Words Matter

Your words matter. As a leader, people pay attention to what you say and how you say it. Your words can and do shape the reality of the people who hear them. The Bible clearly states the influence of words, teaching that God created the world with words.

In his book, Words That Hurt, Words That Heal, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin writes, “Like God, human beings also create with words. We have all had the experience of reading a novel and being so moved by the fate of one of its characters that we felt love, hate, or anger. Sometimes we cried, even though the individual whose fate so moved us never existed. All that happened was that a writer took a blank piece of paper, and through words alone created a human being so real that he or she was capable of evoking our deepest emotions.”

Words are tangible and powerful 

I think that is one reason Paul wrote to the newly formed church in Ephesus while instructing them on how to live as followers of Jesus, “Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.” (Ephesians 4:29 The Good News Bible)

I am writing today to ask you to consider the impact of your words. Are you able to go one day without saying something negative about another person? Let’s try an experiment to discover if you can. Use the pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to discover how you do.

Keep in mind, just as who you are is how you lead, what you say and how you say it reflects who you are as a person and as a leader.

Read John 8:1-11 

And Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he returned to the temple. All the people gathered around him, and he sat down and taught them. The legal experts and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery. Placing her in the center of the group, they said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone women like this. What do you say?” They said this to test him, because they wanted a reason to bring an accusation against him. Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger. 

They continued to question him, so he stood up and replied, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” Bending down again, he wrote on the ground. Those who heard him went away, one by one, beginning with the elders. Finally, only Jesus and the woman were left in the middle of the crowd. 

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Is there no one to condemn you?”

She said, “No one, sir.” 

Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, don’t sin anymore.” 

Reflect

Most people when they read this story get stuck on the woman, adultery, the Law of Moses, or on Jesus’ action of writing in the dirt. Some get stuck on the “Neither do I condemn you,” as a sign of forgiveness. Others get stuck on, “Go, and…don’t sin anymore” as an example of grace and transformation. Regardless of what part of the story speaks to you, there is something to learn here.

Screaming at Trees

Robert Fulghum, in his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, tells a story of the Solomon Islanders. Some of the villagers practice a unique form of logging. If a tree is too large to be felled with an ax, the natives cut it down by yelling at it.

Woodsmen with special powers creep up on a tree just at dawn and suddenly scream at it at the top of their lungs. They continue this for thirty days. The tree dies and falls over. The theory is that the hollering kills the spirit of the tree. According to the villagers, it always works.

Those poor naïve people. Screaming at trees. Too bad they don’t have the advantages of modern technology and science. I don’t yell at trees. I may yell at televisions, cars, drivers of other cars, my wife, and my children.

What Good Does it Do to Yell?

I even shake my fist and yell at God sometimes. I have heard people, educated people yet at umpires, officials, coaches, and players and they are not even at the game. People yell at step ladders, televisions, computers, and machines. Especially machines. Machines and family get most of the yelling.

What good does it do? Machines and things just sit there. Even hitting and kicking them doesn’t help. As for people, the Solomon Islanders might have a point. Yelling at living things does tend to kill the spirit in them. You remember the words, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words – they break my heart.”

Words that Cut to the Soul of People

You don’t even have to yell. All you have to do is speak. In her book, The Cracker Factory, Joyce Rebeta-Buritt, tells of a woman by the name of Cassie. She drinks too much and is hospitalized for emotional distress. She writes a letter to her brother, Bob. This is part of what she writes:

“It’s been one hell of a year. I’ve been running around half crazy, trying to remember whatever it is Alexander (her psychiatrist) said I learned in the hospital the last time. Bob, I don’t even know. I just know that I’m coming unraveled and can’t seem to stop it. It’s been a whole year of Charles’ (her husband) running off and slamming doors when I need him. I tell him I’m sick and he says, “You’re telling me? I’m sick of your sickness.” And…bam…out the door.

He looked at me one night and said, “Cassie, you’re a loser.” Bob, when I stand on Judgment Day to hear myself condemned to hell, it will be no more devastating and irrevocable than Charlie’s “You’re a loser.” Forever defective. Forever doomed. No hope at all.”

Your Words Can Shape the World

Your words matter. As a leader, you shape the world and the reality of the people who hear your words. Just reflect upon it for a moment, God, who has had every right to yell at us, has shaped our reality by sending us an encouraging Word. God, who could yell and say, “I’ll love you when you get your act together,” did not spare his only son, but gave him up for us all. God’s encouraging Word is Jesus.

In the scripture for today, Jesus said to the crowd ready to stone the woman, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” I think these words are the most overlooked and dismissed in the story.  It is easy to miss the point of God’s grace.  I mean, it is just words. “Sticks and stones…but words…do great harm. So, are you ready? Are you able to go one day without saying something negative about another person?

If you are without sin, say your harmful and hurtful words. But, if you know God’s Word made flesh in Jesus, use “helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.”

Respond

O God, thank you for your Word made human in Jesus. Forgive me when I forget how powerful your Word is in my life and I use words that hurt and harm. By your grace, give me clear thinking so that what I say will provide what is needed to help others become who you created them to be. Use my words as an instrument of your love and peace in the lives of the people you have given me to love and service. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Return

So, how did you do today? Were you able to go the whole day without saying something negative about another person? Give God thanks for the opportunities you have had today to love others as God has loved you. Where did you use encouraging words today? How were your words received? How were you aware of the words of others? What was said and how could it have been said differently? Think about this, your words reflect who you are and who you are is how you lead.

May I offer you an encouraging word today? You are leading during a very difficult time. There is disagreement and separation at every turn, and you are expected to offer hope in the midst of grief and pain. The reality is that people want leaders who offer hope. It is the kind of hope that brings reassurance and encouragement. 

The Apostle Paul

So, may I offer you encouragement? Although this is a challenging time, there have been challenging times in the past. The apostle Paul faced a difficult leadership challenge in the church at Ephesus. It was a diverse church with a clashing of values much like today. There were Jews who had deep ethical standards. They were people who lived with strong religious and traditional values. There were Gentiles who had a different world view and a different set of strong values, different from the Jews. Paul addressed the challenge by teaching about new life in Christ, a life where Jews and Gentiles could live together in mutual respect and relationship. 

He grounded his teaching in love, agape. It was the kind of love that worked for the good and well-being of all persons, friends, family, strangers, and even enemies. His teaching has become part of the values of the Christian faith today. 

In the midst of the conflict, he wrote the following words:

Read Ephesians 4:29

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths but only what is good for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. (NRSV)

Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you. (Good News Version)

Reflect

Let me offer encouragement to you and give you a tool for offering encouragement and hope to the people entrusted to your care.

Take a moment to think about the context in which you are leading. Picture in your mind one or two persons who need encouragement. These persons might be family, friends, church members, or persons who cause you pain and grief. Think of each person as someone who needs to experience God’s grace. Get a face in mind and a name on your lips.

Now, read and reflect on the following story*: 

There was a first-year teacher at Saint Mary’s School in Morris, Minnesota. She said she had thirty-four students who were all dear to her, but one student stood out. His name was Mark Eklund. She said he was one in a million. He was very neat in appearance with a happy-to-be-alive attitude that made even his occasional mischievousness delightful.

There was one thing about Mark: he talked incessantly.

She had to remind him again and again that talking without permission was not acceptable. Every time she corrected him, he responded, “Thank you for correcting me, Teacher.” She said, “I didn’t know what to make of it at first. But before long, I became accustomed to hearing it many times a day.”

One morning she said her patience was growing thin when Mark talked once too often. She said, “I made a first-year teacher mistake. I looked at Mark and said, ‘If you say one more word, I am going to tape your mouth shut!’”

It wasn’t ten seconds later when one of the students blurted out, “Mark is talking again, Teacher.”  I hadn’t asked any of the students to help me watch Mark, but since I had stated the punishment in front of the class, I had to act on it.

I remember the scene as if it had occurred this morning. At my desk, I very deliberately opened my drawer, and took out a roll of masking tape. Without saying a word, I proceeded to Mark’s desk, tore off two pieces of tape, and made a big X with them over his mouth.

I then returned to the front of the room. As I glanced at Mark to see how he was doing, he winked at me. That did it! I started laughing. The class cheered as I walked back to Mark’s desk, removed the tape, and shrugged my shoulders.

His first words were, “Thank you for correcting me, Teacher.”

At the end of the year, Mark went on to fourth grade and the teacher was asked to teach junior-high math. Several years passed. As Mark entered the ninth grade, Mark and the teacher met again.

She said Mark was more handsome than ever and just as polite. Since he had to listen carefully to the instruction on the “new math,” he did not talk as much. One Friday, things just didn’t feel right. The class had worked hard on a new concept all week, and the teacher sensed that the students were frowning, frustrated with themselves, and edgy with one another.

To stop the crankiness, she asked the students to put their books away and to take out two sheets of notebook paper. She then asked them to list the names of the other students in the room on their paper, leaving a space between each name. Then she asks them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down.

It took the remainder of the class period to finish their assignment. As the students left the room, each one handed her their papers. Charlie smiled. Mark said, “Thank you for teaching me today, Teacher. Have a good weekend.”   That Saturday, she wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper and she listed what everyone else had said about that individual.

On Monday, at the beginning of the class, she gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. She listened as the students’ said things like, “Really? I never knew that meant anything to anyone!”  “I didn’t know others liked me so much.” After a few minutes, the class went back to studying math. No one mentioned those papers in class again.

It was several years later that the teacher learned that Mark had been killed in Vietnam. She had gotten word that Mark’s family wanted her to attend his funeral. At the funeral, she watched and listened. One of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to her and asked, “Were you Mark’s math teacher?” She nodded. He said, “Mark talked a lot about you.”

After the funeral, most of Mark’s former classmates headed to Chuck’s farmhouse for lunch. The teacher was invited to come by. Mark’s mother and father wanted to speak with her. When she arrived, they met her at her car.

“We want to show you something,” his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. “They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.” Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded, and refolded many times. She knew what it was without looking at the paper.

Mark’s mother said, “Thank you so much for doing that. “As you can see, Mark treasured it.” Mark’s classmates started to gather around. Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, “I still have my list. I keep it in the top drawer of my desk at home.”

Chuck’s wife said, “Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album. “I have mine too,” Marilyn said. “It’s in my diary.” Then Vicki reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet, and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. I carry this with me at all times. I take it out and look at it every time I need encouragement. We all saved our lists.” *

Respond

Do you still have the people in mind I asked you about? Sometime today, tomorrow or this week, send a word of encouragement. Send a text or email letting them know how much you love and appreciate them. Make a phone call so they can hear your voice. Better yet, when you are face to face, let them hear and see how much you appreciate them and care about them.

While you are doing that, I want you to know how much I love and appreciate you. I am grateful to be in ministry with you, sharing life with you, and learning and growing in grace with you.

The best encouraging word I can offer to you is Jesus, God’s Word made real in our lives. Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Take a moment to take a walk with Jesus and let his presence be an encouragement to you. Let God’s Word take up residence in your life.

Now, share kind, caring, supportive, and encouraging words today.

Return

At the end of day:

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. Give thanks for them and how they have added to your life. With whom did you offer words of encouragement and care? Give God thanks for those opportunities. How were you encouraged by the persons with whom you offered encouragement?  Remember, who you are is how you lead. Ask God to love and encourage others through your words of encouragement. Be reminded that your leadership is only as good as your word.

*Story adapted an article in The Reader’s Digest written by Sister Helen Mrosla, a Franciscan nun, and the teacher in the story. The story first appeared in the Topeka Capital-Journal in 1998.

Are you aware of the words you use in your everyday relationships? In your leadership? In our world today, we do not give much thought or attention to the words we speak, whether in public speaking, in personal relationships, or on social media. Words are powerful. It is important to understand why you use the words you use. 

Words are so important that Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, wrote about the use of words while teaching about new life in Christ. 

Read Ephesians 4:29

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths but only what is good for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear (NRSV)

Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift (The Message).

Reflect

This scripture is part of Paul’s letter to the newly formed Ephesian church. He is writing to a diverse church where there is a clashing of values. There were Jews who had a deep ethical background. They were people who lived with deep religious and traditional values. There were Gentiles who had a different worldview and a different set of values. 

Paul is teaching about the new life in Christ, a life where Jews and Gentiles can live together in mutual respect and relationship. His teaching is grounded in love which goes beyond emotion. It is “agape,” the love that works for the good and well-being of all persons, friends, family, strangers, and even enemies. His teaching will become part of the values of the Christian faith. 

Old Life and New Life

I can imagine when the two sets of values clashed and created tension within the church. So, Paul, using the imagery of old life and new life, is teaching both the Jews and Gentiles what it means to be followers of Jesus. 

After writing in verse 25: “…putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors,” Paul writes, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths but only what is good for building up as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear” (NRSV). The Good News Bible translates it this way, “Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.” (TEV) 

No matter how it is written, Paul is instructing followers of Jesus, in a time of conflict, how to speak to one another. When you open your mouth, do not be nasty or malicious. Don’t belittle or be disrespectful. Don’t vilify those with whom you disagree. Say only what is useful for building up as there is a need so that your words may give grace to those who hear. The teaching is similar to Jesus saying, “it is not what goes in but what comes out that defiles…” 

In other words, your words reflect your relationship with Jesus as well as express who you are as a person and as a leader. Who you are is how you lead. 

The Power of the Spoken Word

Are you familiar with the cartoon B.C.? There are two characters: A woman who carries a big stick and a snake. In one cartoon, no matter what the situation, the woman uses the stick to beat the snake. 

One day, as she is walking up one side of a hill, the snake is coming up the other side of the hill. They meet at the top. At that moment, the woman realizes that she does not have her stick. So, she looks at the snake and says, “Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!” 

In the next frame, the snake is lying on the ground in a hundred pieces. The caption reads, “Oh the power of the spoken word.” 

Words are Powerful

Words are powerful. They create images and assumptions. They shape the way you and I view one another and the world. You can use your words to encourage, build up, discourage, and tear down. Words feed prejudices, cultivate relationships, and set the course for decision-making. 

At this very moment, in the United Methodist Church, there are a plethora of words that have given birth to disillusionment and disappointment. Most of them shape viewpoints, creating fear, anger, and defeat. But there are other words being spoken and written that are offering encouragement and hope. 

Your Words Make a Difference

So, as a leader, your words make a difference. “…no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself. (The Message) 

When you stand to preach or to address a group of people, use words that encourage and support, words that do good to the people who hear them. Put away general characterizations, innuendo, and inference. 

Check your references before you speak. Also, check your motive for speaking. If it is anything other than to bring God glory or to introduce people to Jesus, put it away. Your agenda is to be the leader that models the love and care of the living God for all persons. There is no place for anything other than the good news of God’s love experienced in and through Jesus. Your words reveal your agenda. 

Speaking to Others

When you are speaking of others, use words that encourage and support, words that do good to the people who hear them. Put away gossip. Share only information you have checked out personally, and don’t share harmful or hurtful words. Be aware of your thoughts and feelings. Speak out of your integrity. Your words reflect who you are. 

When you are speaking to others, be generous. Being aware of your own thoughts and feeling will help you speak the words that give care and encouragement to others. Keep in mind that when you are hurting you hurt others. So, care for yourself and be aware of when you are projecting your pain upon others. 

Speak to others the way you want them to speak to you. Offer support and praise even in difficult situations. Keep in mind that people are doing the best they can. Give them the benefit of the doubt and offer words of support, praise, and encouragement. Put your words of care and support into action. 

Words in Social Space

When it comes to social media, keep in mind what has been said above. Your self-awareness is even more critical regarding your words on social media. Treat others with the same respect you want for yourself. Keep in mind that it is easier to put words on a screen than it is to speak them face to face.

Because people do not see your face or hear the inflection of your voice, your words can be misunderstood. So, take advantage of the opportunity to develop and maintain relationships with your words, whether spoken or written. Your social media presence reveals more about you than you might want to reveal. Remember, even on social media, who you are is how you lead. 

Kind, Caring, Encouraging Words

Paul, writing to a church under stress and in the midst of conflict, says to use kind, caring, encouraging words of truth. So, be a courageous leader. Step up and speak words of truth with care and understanding. Be the leader who uses helpful words to build up those who hear them. 

Although she is writing about more than words, Brene Brown writes, “In times of uncertainty, it is common for leaders to leverage fear and weaponize it to their advantage…If you can keep people afraid and give them an enemy who is responsible for their fear, you can get people to do just about anything.”

Consider for a moment: How have your words created fear? How are you creating time and space for safe conversations? 

Brown also says, “…when we are managing during times of scarcity or deep uncertainty, it is imperative that we embrace the uncertainty…We need to be available to fact-check the stories that team members may be making up, because in scarcity we invent worse case scenarios.” Consider for a moment: Are you making up what you don’t know? How are you helping lower the levels of anxiety with your words? 

Right or Righteous?

In times like these, you do not have to be right, but you do need to be righteous. Not self-righteous but holy as God is holy. If you are unsure about God’s holiness, look at Jesus. In Jesus, you will find God’s encouraging Word made flesh. You will find the embodiment of God’s holiness and love. 

Remember, it is Jesus who said, “it is not what goes in but what comes out that defiles…” As a leader, take the time to allow God’s Word, Jesus, to take up residence in your life. When you do, it will be Jesus, God’s love, and care, that comes out. 

“Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that builds up and provides what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.” (Ephesians 4:29 TEV) 

Respond

O God, I am grateful for your Word, both written in the scripture and made flesh in Jesus. Put your Word so deep in my heart that I am shaped into the person and leader you created and need me to be. May Jesus be so real in my life that all I say and do brings you glory and encourages and supports the people around me. May the words of my mouth and meditations of my heart be pleasing to you. I offer myself to you in the name of Your Word, Jesus. Amen 

Return

At the end of the day, give God thanks for the people you encountered today. Then, turn to these questions:

  • In and through whom did you encounter God? 
  • In what situations did you find yourself using hurtful or harmful words? 
  • In what situations did you find yourself using helpful words of encouragement and care? 

Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to learn more about yourself and the words you use. Now ask God to empower you to love others through the words you speak in every situation and circumstance of your life. And be reminded that your leadership is only as good as your word. 

It goes without saying that you are leading through some difficult times. There are conflicting voices competing for your attention. These opposing opinions are seeking to influence your decisions and your direction in life. It is in times like these that your faith is essential in determining how you will lead. 

What is Essential?

Part of the challenge of leading during this time is keeping yourself focused on what is essential. It is sometimes expressed as “keeping your eyes on Jesus.” Ultimately it is to keep your faith deeply rooted in the God who has created you and who loves you. 

Even though we profess to follow Jesus, we have subtly shifted toward a life and message of being good, doing good, and becoming better people. Being good and doing good is needed, but what we have done is become a primary school for morality. We have helped the church to become shallow and impotent. 

Relationship with Jesus

Christian faith is not about trying harder to be better. Frankly, that is not the message of the scripture. Christian faith is about an intimate relationship with Jesus and making that relationship the center of everything you do. 

Eugene Peterson, author of Working the Angles and the translator of The Message, in an interview said that there is a strong fundamentalist attitude that has penetrated all parts of faith. It is an attitude of telling people what to believe and how to act. It is this attitude that has gotten in the way of the intimacy of relationship and of paying attention to Jesus. 

In Working the Angles, he wrote, “The pastor’s primary responsibility is to help people maintain their attentiveness to Jesus.” Paying attention to Jesus is countercultural in today’s environment. But that is faith shaped leadership. 

To get to the heart of faith shaped leadership, let’s first define what we mean by faith and particularly Christian faith. 

Christian Faith 

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

Centered

First, the Christian faith is centered. According to the scriptures, the object of Christin faith is the living God revealed in the person Jesus of Nazareth whom we call the Christ. It is not a generic faith or faith in general. The object is not a philosophy of life or a system of ethical ideals or a set of beliefs to which we give intellectual acceptance. The object of Christian faith is the living God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. 

Personal

Second, Christian faith is personal. It is personal because it is centered in a person. A living person, Jesus whom we know as the Christ. According to the scriptures, Jesus is the One who was dead, is alive, and is alive forevermore. Christian faith takes the resurrection of Jesus seriously. It is not a historical event that happened over two thousand years ago. It is not “what would Jesus do?” It is that Jesus Christ is alive right now, today. It is the dynamic action of, “what is Jesus doing” in this situation and in the lives of these people? By its very nature, Christian faith is personal because its object is a living person. 

It is also personal because it requires a personal response from each human being. Because you are a love shaped leader, you respect the decisions of each person entrusted to your care. Some people will accept this personal response and others will reject it. As a faith shaped leader, you can pray for another person, you can do your best to create an environment in which faith is taught and received. But you cannot have faith for another person. You can love them and lead them, but each person must own that faith for herself or himself. 

So, Christian faith is personal not only because its object is a living person but also because it requires a personal response. 

Relational

Third, Christian faith is relational. It is relational first because it makes possible a right relationship with God. Scripture says, “For it is by God’s grace you are saved, through trust in God” (Ephesians 2:8). It is the grace of God that provides the basis for a relationship with God. 

Faith not only properly relates you to God; it also properly relates you people, all people, The bible calls them your neighbor. You cannot be properly related to God and improperly related neighbor. Your relationship with God is bound up in your relationship with the people around you, and your relationship with others is bound up with your relationship to God. You cannot claim to love God while you hate your brother or sister. 

Faith not only establishes a relationship with God and neighbor, but it also helps you become an integrated person. It helps connect your head with your heart, your intentions with your behavior, and your talk with your walk. When you are in relationship with God and with your neighbor, you are one with yourself. 

Christian faith is so dynamic that you have a new respect for and stewardship of God’s creation. While you are related to God, your neighbor, and yourself, you can no longer be content to treat God’s creation selfishly and thoughtlessly. 

Centered, Personal, Relational Faith

Christian faith is a centered, personal, relational response of trust and obedience. This faith is not based upon feeling or your goodness. The foundation of faith is based upon what God feels toward you and what God has done on your behalf. The foundation is not so much your commitment to God but God’s commitment to you. Your commitment is a response to God’s commitment. Your response is not a mental acceptance but a full, all in, involvement of your whole being…body, mind, soul, spirit, senses, and will. Your whole self. 

So, your response is one of trust. This is the personal and relational dimension of faith. You commit your total self to God. You rely on and are shaped by the God you experience in and through Jesus. It is not dependent upon where you live, your church membership, or your denomination. It is dependent upon who you trust. 

Your response is also one of obedience or responsibility. This is the ethical dimension of faith. To trust God is to submit yourself to the guidance and teaching of Jesus. As a faith shaped leader, your allegiance is first to God. All lesser trusts fall in line. 

Three practices of Faith Shaped Leadership 

Here are three practices to develop faith shaped leadership.  There is nothing magical here. Just three ways that help you focus upon Jesus and reveal who you are in your leadership. 

1. Spend Time with Jesus

Spend time with Jesus. Read John 4:5-9. In the scripture, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also… Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” 

The theme in John’s gospel is “If you have seen Jesus, you have seen God.” The implication is that the work of God is seen in the work of Jesus. The work of God’s love is seen in the way Jesus loves. 

Then, Jesus turns things around and says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” In other words, to trust and obey Jesus is to live the life of Jesus, loving people the way Jesus has loved you. 

Spend time with Jesus to experience who God is and what God expects of you as a leader. Your time with Jesus is an active response of trust and obedience. Your time with Jesus will be seen in the way you love others. 

2. Learn the Ways of Jesus

Learn the ways of Jesus. Read Matthew 28:18-20. In the scripture, Jesus says, “…teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” 

The theme in Matthew is “God sent Jesus to teach us how to live a righteous life.” So, to believe in Jesus, to trust and obey Jesus, is to live a life of righteousness. When you read Matthew’s story of Jesus, righteousness is not the purity of living as much as living in the right relationship with God, “Love the Lord your God…” and the right relationship with others, “love your neighbor as yourself.” The implication is that you must learn and obey the ways of Jesus to teach others the way of Jesus. 

When Jesus says, in what we know as the great commission, “teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you,” he is referring to living in a loving relationship, working for the well-being of neighbor, stranger, and enemy. He is referring to the way you make promises and commitments to the people around you. He is referring to forgiving others as you have been forgiven. 

Learning and obeying the way of Jesus is what God expects of you as a leader. What you learn and what you share is an active response of trust and obedience. What you learn and obey will be seen in your relationships. It will be seen in how you work for the good of others with integrity and trust.  

3. Live the Life of Jesus

Live the life of Jesus.  Read Mark 1:21-27. In the scripture, there is a shouting match in the sanctuary. Jesus confronts an unclean spirit. In doing so, he sets a person free to be who God created him to be. 

The theme in Mark’s Gospel is “God sent Jesus to oppose all the evil, suffering, and pain in the world. The implication is, to spend time with Jesus, to learn and obey the ways of Jesus, will lead you to oppose the evil, suffering, and pain in your communities, neighborhoods, and the world at large. 

Even the unclean spirits know who Jesus is (intellectual acceptance). “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” There is no change of behavior. No love of neighbor or enemy. Just a disruption of the life of a man, who knows who Jesus is, but who does not live in trust and obedience. 

When you read Mark’s story of Jesus, Jesus is restoring relationships. When he heals the man with leprosy, he is restoring the man to his family, to his community, to his synagogue, to his job. When Jesus encounters the man with demons in the cemetery, he frees the man from the pigs, from living life as if he were dead, trapped in the evil of his living. 

Over and over in Mark’s story, Jesus is facing the evil of unclean spirits that lead to the suffering and pain of the people he encounters. To live the life of Jesus is an active response of trust and obedience. Your life and leadership will reveal how you face the challenges and difficulties of this time. 

Faith Shaped Leadership

These three practices can and will assist you in deepening your faith and developing faith shaped leadership. 

So, as a faith shaped leader, what are you doing to pay attention to Jesus and to develop your trust and obedience? Let’s not make it an intellectual exercise, but with trust and obedience let’s actively commit ourselves to God and to one another for the transformation of our lives, our families, our communities, our church, and the world. 

The question is “Who do you trust?”  Remember, who you are is how you lead. 

Two brothers, John and George, once lived on adjoining farms.  Over the years they worked together to produce food for the surrounding community and other parts of the world. One day while John and George were planning for the future, they had a disagreement. They had worked through disagreements in the past, but this one was significant. It began as a small misunderstanding, grew into a major difference of opinion, and finally exploded into an exchange of bitter words. The two brothers, who had worked together for over 40 years, no longer spoke to one another.

One morning, there was a knock on John’s door. When he opened the door, there was a man looking for work. The man said, “Good morning. I don’t intend to intrude; I’m looking for a few days’ work. I have done work as a carpenter. Do you have a few small jobs here and there that I could help with?”

John replied, “Well, yes I do have a job for you.” John led the carpenter to the backyard of the house. He pointed across a creek to a house on the other side of the field, and said, “Look across the creek at that farm. It belongs to my younger brother. Last week, there was a meadow between us. But look at what he has done. He took his bulldozer and widened the creek. It looks like a small river is now dividing us.” Pointing to a pile of lumber, John said, “I want you to take that lumber and build an 8-foot-high fence. I don’t want to see the river, I don’t want to see his place, I don’t want to see his face anymore.”

The carpenter said, “Show me the nails and the tools, and I’ll do a good job for you.”

John got the man started on his project. Then, John had to go to town to take care of some other business. He was gone for most of the day. When he returned, his eyes opened wide, and his jaw dropped. John, expecting to see a fence, saw a bridge. The carpenter had built a bridge.

The bridge, with handrails, stretched from one side of the river to the other. John was angry with the man and was about to fire him when he saw his brother walking across the bridge. As George reached his brother, he stretched out his hand and said, “You are quite the guy. After all, I have said and done, you still are reaching out to me.”

The two brothers shook hands and turned to the carpenter, who was leaving. John said, “No, wait! Stay a few days. I have a lot of other projects for you.” The carpenter replied, “I’d love to, but I have more bridges to build.”

Courageous Bridge Builders

I know the story is simple, but it reveals the truth for today. We need courageous bridge builders. Whether it be in the life of our country, community, or church, it is time for Jesus followers to become bridge builders.

So, what does that mean? In my 48 years as a pastor and leader, I have learned that churches follow their leaders. Churches might shape the quality of leadership, but people follow the leaders they trust. In the midst of disagreements and divisions, the opportunity is now for leaders to navigate the divisions being created in our culture and in our churches.

It Matters Where You Start    

Disagreements are unavoidable, but division is a choice.

This is a good example of “it matters where you start.” We live in a politically polarized environment. When you start from a political position, you are always working to get people to come over to your way of thinking. When you carry that out to an extreme, you begin to use hurtful and untruthful language.

I hear name-calling language like “racist Republicans” and “godless Democrats” in conversations among church members. I read words like “unscriptural progressives” and “closed-minded, inflexible conservatives” in letters to congregations. Why do you feel you must vilify someone to get people to follow your thinking? Why do we have to make someone your enemy to get what we want?

Instead of doing the courageous work of bridge building, we have reverted to the political ways of our culture that have moved our disagreements to division.

Bridge-building leaders do not need an enemy.

What if you started with the love of God seen and experienced in Jesus? Imagine what might happen if you start with “Do No Harm” from John Wesley? What if you quit pointing fingers and telling those with whom you disagree, “You’re wrong” and began to live like Jesus by turning the other cheek, listening, and engaging in holy conversation? Bridge building does not divide us into separate groups just because we don’t agree.

The apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians wrote, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths but only what is good for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29 NRSV). Paul wrote those words to a church in the midst of conflict. They are recorded in the part of his letter where he is instructing followers of Jesus on how to live the life of Jesus in relationship with others. Just in case the New Revised Standard Version is too difficult to understand, read them from the Good News Translation, “Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.”

From my perspective, those are bridge-building words. It matters where you start.

The Truth Will Set You Free

Disagreements are unavoidable, but division is a choice. This is a good example of “the truth will set you free.” We live within a theological polarizing environment. When you think and act as if you are the holder of the truth, instead of speaking the truth from your perspective, you tend to point out where others are not living out the truth.

When you carry that out to an extreme, there is a tendency to demean those who disagree with you and over-characterize the differences. You create a fear of “the other side.” This fear begins to dehumanize the people with whom you disagree and creates a division to show that you hold the truth that the others don’t hold.  

This form of truth and fear has been in action throughout history, especially where there is a desire to control the situation. It creates a division between “us and them” and becomes a tool to persuade others to accept the truth you hold.

Instead of doing the courageous work of bridge building, we have reverted to who is right and who is wrong, and we have moved our disagreements to divisions of theology and polity. 

The Love of God

Bridge-building leaders do not need an enemy, but when they are characterized as unfaithful and Godless, they love those who call them names and persecute them with their words. What if you started with the love of God seen and experienced in Jesus?

John wrote in his gospel, “Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?” (John 8:31-33

Bridge-building leaders live out the truth found in Jesus – a truth of love and relationship. Sometimes leaders replace the ultimate truth of love and relationship with personal, political, and institutional truth. All three have their place, but the truth that will set you free is the truth of God’s love embodied in Jesus. 

From my perspective, bridge-building leaders not only talk about knowing the truth, but they also live the truth. For bridge-building leaders, “the truth” always leads to the freedom to love and develop healthy relationships, even with those who disagree with them. 

Who You Are Is How You Lead 

The apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace: there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6).

I am sure you and I would disagree on the characteristics of courageous bridge-building leaders. But, from my perspective, Paul gives us a good list with which to start.

Characteristics of Bridge Builders

Live up to their call

You are a beloved child of God, gifted for leading at this time in history. Be who God created you to be. As a follower of Jesus, love the people around you, even if you consider them to be your enemies. As a child of God, you love, even your enemies.

Live lives of humility

You might be right about most things, but you don’t have to put others in their place or demean them, or call them names, or characterize their differences. Love others and accept others as God in Christ has loved and accepted you. Does that mean you have to agree? No. Does it mean you reach out in care and compassion, listening with understanding? Yes.

Exemplify Gentleness

You have given yourself to Jesus, are open to learning his ways, and are considerate of others who are learning as they live each day. Bridge builders are generous with the people around you, knowing that not all persons are in the same place regarding God’s love as you are. You create a space for them to learn and to grow in grace as you are learning and growing in grace

Have patience

You develop an attitude of grace. It is seen in your loving, forgiving, and merciful attitude toward the people around you. It is the same attitude that God has toward you.

Bear one another in love

Your care for others is expressed in the concrete act of unselfishness. Your love for your neighbor, and especially for those with whom you disagree, is the first and most important activity as a Jesus follower who is a leader.

Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace – The word peace has its roots in the concept of shalom. Shalom means “wholeness” and “completeness.” You work to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of wholeness and completeness. In other words, you are a shalom maker or a peacemaker. Peacemakers are children of God, which means you bear the image of God in your relationships and interactions with the people entrusted to your care. Your work is the work of God. You work for wholeness and completeness. It reveals who you are as a daughter or son of God.  

Bridge Builders are Needed

We need bridge builders in our churches and in our communities today. Just as building walls of division is a choice, giving your life to building bridges is a choice. It is not easy being a leader these days. But even when you are being asked and tempted to build walls of differences, be a courageous leader and build a bridge.

Your decision to be a bridge builder will fulfill the truth of Jesus’ words in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus was talking about his followers loving one another. People will follow your lead. In the midst of the disagreements and divisions, the opportunity is now for you to step up and navigate the divisions being created among your sisters and brothers in Christ.

May I put it another way? Through your bridge building, everyone will know that love is the priority of being a follower of Jesus. That love is lived out in your relationships with the people around you. It is time for you to be the leader God created you to be…a courageous bridge builder.

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

As a leader, who is a follower of Jesus, how do you make decisions? Upon what do you base your decision-making? In today’s world, when you are constantly bombarded by messages designed to persuade you, are you able to think for yourself, stay true to your values, and reach your own conclusions?

What is Your Decision Making Process?

Whether it be materials used by colleagues to gain your support for their proposals, leaders who want to influence your thinking, arguments to shape your beliefs, or advertisements to buy certain products, you are constantly put in the position of making decisions that affect you and the people entrusted to your care. Often, without realizing it, you are at risk of being manipulated, deceived, and mindlessly led to conclusions that others want you to have. What is your process for decision-making?

Critical Thinking

Courageous and effective leaders, in their decision-making, have developed the skill of critical thinking. They can see the big picture, draw reasonable conclusions from the appropriate data provided, and make reasonable judgments to solve problems and make decisions.

For example, theories must be backed up with truth and knowledge. For a society to function effectively, its citizens need to establish opinions about what is right and wrong and be consistent in living out those opinions. It is the process of critical thinking that assists in maintaining consistency and order.

Another example is, to have a thriving congregation, developing Jesus followers who impact the world, you need critical thinking in the church. Theology must be backed up in practice. For a church to function effectively, Jesus followers need to establish what it means to live like Jesus in the community and the world. Critical thinking is needed to help develop relationships, assess assets, and respond to needs.

The leaders who can see the big picture, use relevant information to understand the situation, and make reasonable judgments are the leaders needed to navigate the changing landscape in today’s world.

Complex Problem Solving

A survey of human resource professionals, The Future of Jobs, revealed that critical thinking is the second most important skill in the workforce. Complex problem solving is the number one skill. Courageous and effective leaders possess and develop both skills.

So, what does that mean for you as a leader? Take a moment to look over some of the characteristics of critical thinkers. Judge for yourself what characteristics shape your leadership.

Critical thinkers are:

Objective

Critical thinkers can recognize and challenge their own assumptions and look at the immediate situation from a neutral perspective. They understand that leaving their assumptions unchecked can lead to poor thinking and bad decision-making. So, they know how to test and validate their own thoughts and feelings. When critical thinkers are emotionally attached to a thought or decision, they can articulate their feelings while holding their objectivity.

Discerning

Critical thinkers can separate fact from inference. Once information is collected, it is important to understand the difference between facts and inferences. Too often leaders assume what is true based upon hearsay and treat it as a fact. This creates a shaky foundation for any future thinking and decision-making.

A fact is objectively observable by other people. An inference is something that includes an assumption or an opinion that may or may not be true. I can drive from my house to my office in 28 minutes. I do it almost on a daily basis. That is a fact. If I use my GPS to calculate the distance and average speed to get to 28 minutes, that is an inference.

The same is true about information shared regarding decisions made by congregational leaders as well as business leaders. Critical thinkers don’t infer truth, they search out the factual truth.

Collaborative

Critical thinkers can listen and receive input from multiple sources. Critical thinkers are not only willing to consider but incorporate other people’s ideas. In their collaboration, they help separate fact from fiction. They listen for what is not said as well as what is said. Because they are good collaborators, they model collaboration for the people around them.

Open-minded

Critical thinkers know they need to think through situations and draw on past experiences. But they do not let past experiences be the sole viewpoint from which decisions are made. Courageous leaders know that the past is the past for a reason. They look at data and observations from the past and discover why something worked or did not work. In other words, they are open to discovering new ways and are not stuck in nostalgia.

Curious

Critical thinkers ask questions. They know where things are working and who is bringing new ideas, and diverse experiences, as well as who has what strengths, talents, skills, and abilities. They gather information and test their ideas and decisions on the people around them. 

Strategic

Critical thinkers know the current reality of their context. They set their sights on what is to be accomplished. Then starting where they are, critical thinkers use the facts of their situation and the human resources available to navigate the barriers and obstacles to get to their goal. They are able to put together a plan, set boundaries, develop assessments, and a step-by-step approach to living into their mission.

Relational

Many people think that thinking critically causes problems in relationships. The truth is, being a critical thinker allows the leader to better understand the perspective of others and helps the leader become more open-minded toward different views.

No Shortage of Information

There is no shortage of information coming at you today. That is why you need to use your critical thinking skills to decide for yourself what you believe and upon what you are making your decisions. Critical thinking helps you sort through all the extra voices and allows you the opportunity to develop your thoughts and opinions based on the facts.

So, over the next several weeks, try one of the following to improve your critical thinking skills: 

Keep your mission in mind

When it comes to critical thinking, it’s important to always keep your goal in mind. Know what you are trying to achieve, and then figure out how you best get there. 

Gather reliable information

Make sure that you are using trusted resources. Test your assumptions and the statements of others. Look for the facts and have the courage to follow the factual and reliable information. 

Ask questions

When something is not clear or does not make sense, ask questions. Remember, critical thinkers are curious.

Think long term as you live into the short term.

When coming up with solutions, keep in mind where you are going as you are navigating your next step. What are the consequences of not caring for the immediate? What are the consequences of forgetting your goal? Both are significant in the equation.

Explore all sides

There is not just one simple answer. It is not as easy as what is right and what is wrong. To make your decision, explore all options and think outside of the box before you come to any conclusions.

The Truth Will Make You Free

I am convinced you are the leader needed for this time. To be effective you will need to think critically. When Jesus said, “The truth will make you free,” he was referring to the truth found in himself. 

There is a truth about medicine that sets people free from superstitious understandings of disease and makes health possible. In meteorology, there is a truth that sets people free from the fear of storms. There is a truth about doctrine and theology that sets people free to think for themselves and make decisions for themselves. Along with general truth, Jesus is talking about a personal truth embodied in him – a truth of love and relationship.

Sometimes leaders misplace the ultimate truth of love and relationship with personal, political, and institutional truth. All three have their place, but the truth that will ultimately set you free is the truth of God’s love embodied in Jesus.

The question is, upon what truth do you make your decisions? In today’s world, it is easy to get sidetracked by the messages designed to persuade you. Are you able to think for yourself and reach your own conclusions? Are you able to let the truth of God’s love guide you in your critical thinking?

At the risk of being one of those many voices trying to persuade you, I pray that the truth of God’s love guides you today and every day in your relationships and decision-making. 

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

The accelerating rate of change means a vision is only helpful for 2-3 years. That means, organizations, including the church, need to be reinventing themselves every 2-3 years to continue to thrive. While those statistics may give us reason to pause, a vision serves an important role. A vision can give us a lens to make decisions, guide our activities, and encourage us to live in new ways.

Our mission, on the other hand, defines who we are and guides us toward living our purpose. It’s not merely the footer on our websites or a poster on our entrance walls. It’s our central guiding purpose.

But there is another organizational lens that I believe sets the church apart from other organizations. Today, I want to invite you to consider what the church values. 

What Makes You Weird?

During a recent continuing education event related to coaching, the presenter asked a simple question that may have caught me off guard. Instead, it intrigued me because it was the title of the session. The question is: What makes you weird? 

Specifically, I’d ask, “What makes the church weird?” As much as it pains me to say, speaking words of hope is weird right now. Unconditional love is weird right now. Loving God and loving our neighbors is weird right now. Degrading others in words and actions has somehow been normalized. It’s not weird. It also doesn’t reflect the greatest commandment.

If you’re saying, “I don’t want to be weird.” I’ll go out on a limb and say, “It’s going to be difficult to be a Jesus follower.” 

What do you worship?

Allow me to ask the above question in a slightly different way, “What makes the local church you lead and/or participate in different from other organizations?”

You might say it’s worshiping Jesus. That certainly should set us apart. But as soon as I made that note on my paper, the presenter asked this question: What do you worship? 

I confess, I laughed, and then my heart sank to my toes for a moment. I recognized how quickly Jesus can be removed from our worship focus. In subtle and overt ways, we worship:

  • money
  • traditions
  • egos
  • church buildings

…just to name a few.

Think about this question in a nuanced way.

What gets all the attention? Again, yes, Jesus should be the focus. But, I’ve experienced far too many congregations where issues, personalities, the building, or money get the focus.  

What is unique about the church? 

As the conversation about values unfolded, I began to consider the most unique and weird thing about the local church. Why? It’s what gives us a unique perspective for advancing our purpose. It is what shapes the church culture and in turn, it shapes us as followers of Jesus.

Our values are codified in the way we do things. When we really probe the question of uniqueness, we’re considering the values we embody. 

Values point to what we believe and how we work together. When we can articulate our values, we know what makes us unique. When we know what makes us unique, we know how we’re animating our mission in specific ways. Those ways may be perplexing to some. But they make the church you lead and call home unique. 

I’ll ask again, what is unique about the church? Compared to other organizations, the church is:

  • Primarily volunteer driven
  • Focus on Jesus
  • Sunday worship (prayer, scripture, message)
  • Bible – ancient text is our guide
  • There are others, but I’ll stop there.

Your Unique Difference

What makes you weird? Or if you prefer, what makes you unique?

Whatever it is, it’s one way people connect with you. For example, I’ve known and been a part of congregations with a deep focus on children. 

What made them unique wasn’t the focus on children, but that everyone invested in children. The women’s groups made their mission focus on kids; the small groups served as Sunday School teachers and Vacation Bible School volunteers. The students had ministries that served children. The adults without kids often were active the entire Sunday morning participating in worship, attending a class, and finally serving in Children’s Church. It was weird because this multi-generational church not only loved kids, but loved families and lived in ways that embodied that value. 

I will always maintain that there is more that unites us as followers of Jesus than divides us. However, our values can differentiate us. Our values are a way people relate to us. Our values help us identify our unique contribution to a community and the kingdom of God. 

What does your unique difference say about what you value?

Questions to Consider

I encourage you to have a conversation with leaders in the church about the following questions:

  1. What makes you weird or unique?
  2. What do you worship? 
  3. What do you have zero tolerance for around here?
  4. When do you risk it all?
  5. What phrases or slogans do you always hear?
  6. What stories get told again and again?

Then, test these values against the life and ministry of Jesus.

Allow me to briefly explore questions 3-6. 

What do we have zero tolerance for around here?

I really want to say we have zero tolerance for injustice in any form. But, it is aspirational, not actual. If it were true, we would not simply be talking about injustices or even advocating for justice, the church would incorporate it in everything we say and do. We do have zero tolerance for child abuse and financial impropriety. Perhaps there are others.

Consider what you have zero tolerance for? What does it say about what you value? Does Jesus embody this value?

When do we risk it all?

Do you risk it all for the love of God we know in Jesus? If that’s too much of a stretch, do you risk sharing the love of Jesus with the people in your community? 

Here’s the reality. Most of us are risk-averse. We play it safe. The challenge is that risk-taking is where we step out in faith and demonstrate our values. It’s also where our values are most visible.

I can think of amazing leaders who put everything on the line seeking to live into God’s vision. When the church culture is aligned with a vision and leadership empowers others to do the work of ministry, they risk it all. 

  • When the vision is compelling, people risk it all.
  • When we know our contributions matter, we risk it all.
  • When movement and momentum are felt, experienced, and employed, we risk it all.

Do we risk it all to glorify Jesus?

You may be one of the leaders who put everything on the line at some point in the last two years. Some of those risks were fruitful, others were not. 

I can think of amazing leaders who put everything on the line amidst tremendous pressure and with deep vision. There are saints who gave their life savings to make a ministry possible. The reality is this: I could probably share at least one story every week about people who are risking everything…as well as those who are risk-averse. 

Consider when you risk it all. What does it say about what you value?

What are the phrases, slogans, or sayings we always hear?

A couple I hear often include: It matters where you start (thanks, Tim) and Love Jesus…and do something about it.

When I worked at Miami University, the motto was on the bottom of the letterhead (Yes, I’m dating myself with letterhead. This was in the late 1990s.) The motto of Miami University is: Excellence is our Tradition. But, the phrase we heard all the time and said all the time was: Tradition is our Excellence. The grounding force of the University’s traditions was evident everywhere. 

Consider how these phrases, slogans, and sayings connect with or animate what you value.

Which story gets told again and again?

Is it the story of moving from one location to the current location? Is it a crisis that happened? A funny story that no one can forget? Is it a story of a merger? Life after a tragedy? You know as well as I do, that most of these stories have an element of truth but can often take on a life of their own throughout the years. Consider how these stories are shaping what you value.

Together, these questions can help us identify and articulate our unique difference. The weird thing about our organization gives us a unique perspective for advancing the purpose. 

One Final Caution

Each of these questions points to what the church values. Our values can either be productive or unproductive. For example, the value of collaboration can generate innovation or the meetings to collaborate can distract from doing the work that needs to be done. Being a high-performance team can mean you have a motivated team or an overworked team. 

In other words, you can do great things and terrible things with what sets you apart. Don’t miss that as you consider your values. Sometimes what makes organizations weird can do harm. There is nothing Christ-centered about that. 

Our differences are an opportunity to bring a unique perspective to our purpose.

Our differences allow us to make a unique contribution to our purpose that no one else could make in the same way. Consider the above questions to help you clarify who you are. And, if you need a way to explore your values with the congregation and your leadership, reach out.

Being a leader is a great and honorable responsibility. It demands a certain character and behavior which requires your full attention. Although there is personal and professional satisfaction, being a leader is never easy. 

Even when things are going well, you still need to keep yourself, and the people entrusted to your care, focused on the mission and moving toward the goal. In the midst of political and social divisions, economic insecurity, inflation, and growing theological and religious bickering, leading people to focus on the mission is as difficult as it has ever been in recent history. 

So, how are you coping as a leader? 

What Do They Think?

Do you think that you have to act a certain way around the people with whom you work? Do you feel you have to say certain things to your colleagues, so you will be accepted? Instead of being yourself, are you playing a role to fit in, or to impress others?

Most of us have gone through times like this. Instead of behaving in a genuine way, we tell people what we think they want to hear and act in ways that go against our true nature. Living and working this way is confining, tiring, and depressing. It holds you back from reaching your true potential. 

Lead Realistically

On the other hand, to be a courageous and effective leader is to live and work realistically. Knowing and understanding your context, developing healthy relationships, and giving yourself permission to be yourself, provide you the freedom to choose your path for living and leading. 

Three Shifts for Leaders

Below are three shifts in becoming the leader needed for the time in which we are living. 

1. From Charisma to Character

The first shift is from charisma (personality) to character. 

Leaders want people to like them. Often, leaders think if they are liked they are trusted. With that perception, they depend heavily on their personalities. It is a fact that people are drawn to charismatic personalities, but likable personalities do not translate to trust. 

Leaders with charisma have a charming and magnetic quality about them. Whether it’s personality or appearance, they have powerful communication and persuasiveness skills. In other words, charismatic leaders have the ability to charm or influence people. 

Charisma is a great quality to have as a leader. People are drawn to charismatic personalities, but people and systems thrive where they are led by character and integrity.

The word character comes from the Greek word “charassein,” which means to “to sharpen, cut in furrows, or engrave.” The literal sense of the word is to engrave or to imprint a mark. 

Followers look for trust, compassion, stability, and hope from their leaders. I’m not saying that leaders with charismatic personalities cannot be trusted. But I am saying that if trust is not engraved or imprinted on the heart of the leader, personality does not carry the leadership needed.

To be the leader needed today, have the image of Christ imprinted on your heart so that your personality reflects the depth of character needed to navigate the complexities of the day. 

Who you are is how you lead.

2. From Aspiration to Authenticity

The second shift is from aspiration to authenticity. 

Good leaders aspire to be good leaders. They have ambition and dreams for the future as well as a strong desire to achieve something high and great. Good leaders find fulfillment in making their aspirations reality. They know how to cast a vision for the future and how to engage the people around them to live into that future. Because they are so focused on their aspirations, they sometimes depend more upon wishful thinking than upon the strengths and skills needed to lead effectively. 

Aspiration is a great quality to have as a leader. People are drawn to leaders who can cast a vision. But people and systems thrive when the leader is a person of authenticity. 

To be a person of authenticity means you are true to yourself. You might hold a position of authority, but your identity is not rooted in the power of authority. Regardless of the pressure that you are under to please others, comply with expectations, and to conform to social norms, you know who you are and hold to your values. When you are honest with yourself you can be and will be generous with others. When you are vulnerable in your relationships, you come across as being a leader people can trust. 

To be the leader needed today takes courage and demands mental, emotional, and spiritual energy. It requires stepping away from being who you think people want you to be and being who God created you to be. Your authenticity will inspire others to make the hope of the future a reality. 

Who you are is how you lead. 

3. From Arbitrary to Adaptable

The third shift is from being arbitrary to being adaptable. 

Every leader has to make decisions that affect not only themselves but the people entrusted to their care. Leaders who are trusted have developed relationships that give them the responsibility to make the decisions that work for the good of others. With the image of Christ imprinted on your heart and being the person God has gifted you to be, you are engaging the people around you to live into their potential as leaders. 

Often, leaders think that they make decisions based on what they believe or upon what they have always known. They become arbitrary in their decision-making because they feel they know what is best. Without identifying the current reality or contexts, and without checking out why they make the decisions they make, they insist on their way of moving forward. When leaders are not aware of who they are or why they think and feel the way they do, they begin to micromanage others and manipulate people and situations to get the result they want. They might know what to do, but they alienate people by demanding their own way. 

Decision-making is an important work of leaders. People are drawn to leaders who are decisive. But people and systems thrive when leaders can adapt to changing situations and cultures. 

Adaptive Leaders

Even though they might know a way to achieve a certain goal, adaptive leaders are flexible and have the ability to adjust to different situations and circumstances. They are curious. Adaptive leaders are not afraid to ask questions and are eager to explore solutions. They see every obstacle as an opportunity of hope. 

Being team players, adaptive leaders do not insist on their own way, but find ways to engage the gifts and strengths of others. And being proactive, they are creative, imaginative, and find alternative ways to make things happen. They have a capacity to care, and a tenacity for tolerance. They are encouraging, empathic, and respectful. Adaptive leaders are mission-focused, are generous with the people who think and feel differently than they think and feel. They are grateful for the opportunity to lead. 

To be the leader needed today, you must learn to adapt to changing situations and cultures. And in every situation and circumstance, you will have the opportunity to reflect upon the depth of character needed to navigate the changes, and at the same time, inspire others to make the hope of the future a reality. 

Being a leader is a great and honorable responsibility. It demands a certain character and behavior which requires your full attention. This week, take a moment to reflect upon these questions:

What am I doing to develop the character of Christ in my life?

How am I becoming more the person and leader God created me to be?

How am I working to adapt to the changes in my life, my church, and my community? 

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

The single most important factor that distinguishes a good leader from a great leader is love. I am not talking about warm and fuzzy feelings that lead to being nice and not wanting to offend others. I am talking about the kind of love that comes from a conscious decision to work for the good of others. It is the kind of love that allows people to be imperfectly human and at the same time inspires them and empowers them to become who God created them to be. 

Who You Are

Sometimes leaders seek out “what feels good” or “what feels right.” I don’t want to discount feelings. There is a place for feelings. But as a leader, who is a follower of Jesus, you lead by who you are and not by the way others make you feel. 

Other times leaders fall back upon what they think they know. Without asking why they think or feel the way they do; leaders often default to what they have always done in their decision-making and how they relate to people. Again, I don’t want to discount the experience. There is a place to honor and build upon experience. But as a leader, who is a follower of Jesus, you lead by who you are and not by what you think you know or what has worked in the past. 

When Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ he was helping people to look beyond their feelings, and what they had experienced, to a new way (which was the old way) to relating to people.

What does that mean for you as a leader?

Read Matthew 5:38-39, 5:43-44

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you: Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also, (Matthew 5:38-39)

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5:43-44)

Reflect

Jesus’ understanding of the love of God was the fulfillment of the Law of Moses. Just as the fruit of a tree fulfills the blossom, his teaching brought the Law to its highest conclusion. In his sermon on the mount, he points out the expectation of the fulfillment of God’s love. 

It is important to understand what is meant by the love of God and how that love is lived out in your leadership. Based upon the context of the scripture, there is a distinct progression. Let us take a little journey to understand the progression. 

Unlimited Retaliation

The first way of relating to people was the way of Unlimited Retaliation. According to this principle, if someone knocked out one of your eyes, you were justified in knocking out both of their eyes. If someone knocked out one of your teeth, you could knock out their complete set of teeth. There was no limit placed on revenge. It was the law of every person for him or herself. 

A recent example of unlimited retaliation can be seen when a patient did not like the outcome of his surgery. In the midst of his pain, he bought a handgun and an AK-15, went back to the hospital, and killed the doctor as well as several people who got in his way. His actions are an example of unlimited retaliation. 

Limited Retaliation

A second way of relating to people was Limited Retaliation. It became evident that the result of unlimited retaliation would be mutual self-destruction. A better way was sought, so the law of limited retaliation arose. This principle declared that if anyone harmed you, “then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Exodus 21:23-25). 

It is the law of getting even. Someone knocks out one of your eyes, you must not knock out both of his, just one. Or if someone knocks out one of your teeth, you must not retaliate by knocking out all his teeth, just one. In other words, limit your retaliation to the exact amount of the injury. Get even. But no more. It is a twist on the “golden rule.” Do unto others as they do unto you. The books must balance. 

It is easy to see that limited retaliation is a little better than unlimited retaliation. But Jesus taught us we should go further. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you: Do not resist an evildoer,” or never respond with evil.

An example of limited retaliation is capital punishment. Some people have limited retaliation in mind when they speak of “justice,” citing that it is biblical. True, it is found in the bible. But it is only biblical in the sense that it is found within the pages of the bible. Out of context, limited retaliation is not biblical. 

Limited Love

A third way of relating to people was Limited Love. This method is found in Leviticus. It is the law Jesus referred to when he said, “All of you have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” (Leviticus 19:18). Some deeply religious people, devout people, agreed with loving your neighbor if their neighbor was a person of their ethnicity. If your neighbor, one of your people, knocked out your eye or your tooth, you might forgive them, but if the person was not part of your group, then you could get your revenge. 

Limited love is certainly better than limited retaliation. But it is interesting that there had to be some limit to love and goodwill. So, the proper place to draw the line was with your own race or nationality. In this way, a person could have two standards of righteousness: one in dealing with relatives and another in dealing with strangers. 

I know my examples might be offensive. My intent is to provide context. An example of limited love is nationalism. It is a form of prejudice and is heard in slogans like “American is for Americans,” which, of course, does not refer to true original Americans. Another example is the backlash to “Black Lives Matter.”  It is another form of prejudice and is heard in slogans like “Make America Great Again” which has come to mean, not a presidential campaign slogan but, a slogan for “white supremacy.” Even though loving your neighbor is in the bible, taken out of context, limited love is not biblical. 

Unlimited Love

A fourth way of relating to people was Unlimited Love. Love, even when limited to one’s own group, was far superior to retaliation, whether it be limited or unlimited. But Jesus didn’t feel that even this brought the law to its final goal or fulfillment. God’s love is not complete until it becomes unlimited love. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” 

I have always asked “why” at this point. Why love outsiders, strangers, people who are different, people from Central America, people from Africa, Asia, or even Russia? Especially Russia. Aren’t the Russians our enemies? Aren’t they trying to overtake us and defeat us? Why love people who don’t like me or try to hurt me? Why? 

Jesus’ Answer to Why

In his sermon on the mount, Jesus answered my question “why?” He said so you and I could become daughters and sons of God. To love unconditionally is to be who God created us to be. Now, what I understand that to mean is what I understand Jesus saying when he says that God lets the sun rise and the rain fall on both good and bad people, both saints and sinners. Which I understand as God does not give anyone an advantage based upon our goodness. 

I understand that my life does not change if I only interact with my friends or love only the people who love me. As I think about it, I would be no different than non-Christians, even if they do that. Then I understand Jesus telling me to grow up. He doesn’t say it that way. He says, “Be mature…be holy.” “Love one another as I have loved you.” 

Unlimited Love is  Lived Out In Relationship

If I take what I understand to be the way of unlimited love, Jesus followers apply God’s love to all relationships. Whether it be to my race and to the United States of America or to another race or people from another country. In God’s way of loving, there is no double-dealing, no two-facedness, no partiality. Unlimited love, God’s love, does not stop at artificial borders and is not affected by differences. 

Reasons Unlimited Love is Practical and Impractical

Allow me to continue to provide context for reasons we do not engage in unlimited love. Some people say that unlimited love is not practical. The idea of turning the other check is good, but it just won’t work in the real world. Sometimes they go on to say, force is the only language some people can understand so we have to be realistic. 

There are other people who say that unlimited love is very practical and will work if given a chance. They believe that even the cruelest person has a tender spot that will respond to a continuous barrage of love and goodwill. They can cite examples from history and present a strong case for the effectiveness of non-retaliation and active love. Many of them are willing to back up their belief in this idea with their lives, which within itself is a compelling argument. 

We Love Because We are Loved

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

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

God does not limit God’s love to those who love him or obey him. As daughters and sons of God, the same love flows naturally from us. Being who God is, God cannot help but love all people. Being children of God, you and I have the same nature. Our nature is not determined by the action or reaction of the people around us, whether friends or foes. Our nature is determined by our relationship to God in and through Jesus. 

Of course, you don’t have to be a follower of Jesus. But if you are, one of the conditions is that you love outsiders, people who are different, whether they be your friends or not, and that you pray for people you consider to be enemies, those who hurt you and take advantage of you. Because it is God’s nature to love, you love who God loves. There are no limits to God’s love. 

The single most important factor that distinguishes a good leader from a great leader is love. Who you are is how you lead. 

Respond

God, I confess that I find it difficult to love others as you have loved me. I know that it is only by your grace that I will ever be able to love. So, I ask, by your grace, fill me with your love so that I may become more who you have created me to be by loving the people you have given me to love. By your grace, help me see you in the people I meet today. I offer myself to you in Jesus’ name. Amen 

Return

At the end of the day, return to these questions: In whom did I experience God’s love today? To whom did I extend God’s love today? With whom did I need God’s grace to love? Give God thanks for the people you experienced today. 

Loss is built into the fabric of our culture. Every one of us knows what it is like to lose something precious to us. Whether it be the loss of opportunities, loss of possibilities, or feelings we can never get back again, it is part of what it means to be alive.

Over the past several weeks, months, and years, people have been suffering from some form of loss. Whether it be the loss of a loved one, a job, or the simple pleasure of dining out with family and friends. Add to the individual loss the deep grief of war, mass shootings, and violence, it is almost overwhelming. 

Leading Through Grief and Loss

It is unbelievable how quickly and suddenly grief and loss affect people through television, social media, and internet outlets. Even though it might be tempting to ignore grief and keep a semblance of normalcy, it is up to you to set the stage for how grief is accepted, managed, and transformed.  As a leader, you play a critical role in modeling care and compassion for the people entrusted to you and for your community. As you listen to the needs and seek to understand the emotions, you identify and develop a way forward into and through the grief. 

Keep in mind that grief, while painful, ultimately leads to a deeper appreciation for life and relationships. This strengthens you as a leader. We only grieve the people or things we deeply love. Whether it be a beloved family member, a significant relationship, or a special and meaningful time in our lives, deep grief comes from the experience of deep love. 

3 Reminders for Leading Through Grief

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind as you enter into and lead through periods of grief and loss. 

1. Be yourself and lead with authenticity. 

Courageous leaders lead with compassion. Vulnerability is at the core of their leadership. Too often we feel we need to hide our grief, pain, or sadness. The reality is grief, and the feelings of grief are opportunities to be authentic and vulnerable as you respond with compassion.  

Being a vulnerable leader means asking for help with your own grief. It means showing up and saying, “I’m going to do my best, but I need to lean on you for support.” 

When you are less than authentic, you risk detachment. At that point, you take away your ability to experience love and happiness. Be yourself, experience love, acknowledge the loss, and lead with compassion. 

2. Mourn and create a culture of hope. 

Courageous leaders model hope. This is more than wishful thinking. This is living into the grief and coming through it with a new love and appreciation of life. Too often grief becomes indulgent. Even though it is painful, we want to stay in it because it requires nothing of us. But remember that Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn…” He did not say, “…those who grieve.” Grief is passive. Those who mourn are those who are moved to the point of action. 

3. Transform Grief Into Action

A hope-filled leader not only acknowledges the grief but discovers ways to transform the grief into meaningful action. Grief sometimes is like a specific location, a place on a map of time. When you are there, you can’t imagine getting to a better place. But when someone assures you that they have stood in that same place and have moved one, it brings hope for the future. Draw upon the loss and develop a pathway for moving forward. Your action creates and models the hope needed to get through the difficult times and into a new day of love and appreciation. 

Saying Goodbye

Charles Dickens, in his classic novel Great Expectations, used the kind and simple blacksmith, Joe, to deliver his message regarding loss. As he parts ways with Pip, Joe remarks that it is merely the nature of life to have to say goodbye to the people, places, and experiences we have loved. It is never easy. But we find comfort knowing that in the end of each parting is a brand-new beginning. 

When you, as the leader, acknowledge your grief, you create a sense of vulnerability for others. You create a space for people to support and care for others who are grieving. You model community and begin to develop and deepen relationships. You are a catalyst to a new beginning. 

While the loss is painful, you use it for good. You share your story to inspire others to not give up, to connect with one another and the community, and you move forward with the hope of loving and appreciating the people you encounter each day. 

Outlets

Over the years I have heard a sermon illustration comparing the Dead Sea to the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee is a freshwater lake, full of fish, and a source of food. The Dead Sea is a salty lake in which nothing can live. The usual point is that the Jordan River flows into and through the Sea of Galilee, but it only flows into the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea has no outlet. 

But I heard a different observation by Dr. George Buttrick regarding the Dead Sea. He said the Dead Sea has an outlet. An upward outlet. An outlet toward the sky. Across the centuries as it has surrendered itself to the sun, a residue of potash has built up and remains along its shores. Potash, a different form of life than water. It is a main ingredient of fertilizer. Engineers have estimated that if the potash around the Dead Sea could be mixed and distributed, there would be enough fertilizer for the whole surface of the earth for at least five years. 

Surrender to the Son

Life never comes to a complete dead end. Even when the only outlet is to surrender to the sky in helplessness, there is positive residue. 

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote, “You will heal, and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.” 

Out of the helplessness of grief and loss comes the miracle of new love and appreciation for life. So, let’s try it. Let us surrender ourselves, as leaders, to the Son. As sure as you are reading this blog, there will be something good to show for it. 

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

Before You Go…

Take a simple (and dare we say, fun) five question quiz to help you identify your season of following Jesus and what steps to take next.