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This is Part 2 on Hospitality

Read Part 1 Here

My fourth grade Sunday school teacher, Mary, would greet me every Sunday at the classroom door with the words, “Timmy, I knew you were going to be here this morning.” Then with a welcoming hug, she would send me into the classroom to meet other classmates who had gathered.  As I entered the room, I would hear her say, “Nancy, I knew you were going to be here this morning.” When I would look back, she would be hugging Nancy and sending her into the room to meet the rest of us.  Mary greeted us as if she had been waiting all week for us and as if we were the most important people she knew.

Modeling Hospitality

She modeled hospitality.  She acted out what she taught us in class. I remember her lesson on Jesus touching a person with leprosy and the story of Jesus receiving a woman that was sick.  I will always remember her saying that we love like Jesus because that is the way we thank Jesus for loving us.

Several times a year, Mary would bring a meal to our Sunday School class. As we ate, she would tell us how Jesus invited people to eat at his table. Once when we did not have enough room around the table in our classroom, I remember her saying, “There is always enough room at Jesus’ table.” With those words, she added an extension to include all of us.

For Mary, hospitality was more than a gesture of welcoming, it was who she was as a person. Her extension of hospitality was an offering of love.

Several stories in the bible tell us about hospitality, but as you begin to engage in mission, there is one characteristic that is necessary for reaching out, receiving, and welcoming others as God in Jesus has welcomed you and the people of your congregation.

Read Matthew 25:31-46 

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 

34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 

37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 

40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’ 

41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You who are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 

44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not take care of you?’ 

45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment but the righteous into eternal life.”

Reflect on Matthew 25

I know that it seems strange to use a parable referring to judgment as a story of hospitality, but Matthew uses the parable as a tool to instruct what it means to be a follower of Jesus, a “daughter or son” of God. It is in his last formal teaching in Matthew’s good news, that Jesus gives us a clue to the righteousness and the works of mercy that grow out of that righteousness. According to Matthew, the sons and daughters of God live lives of righteousness especially toward the weak and marginalized.

Good News According to Matthew

With that in mind, there are several layers to the understanding of this parable. The first is the good news according to Matthew. “God sent Jesus to teach us how to live before God.” For Matthew, righteousness and holiness are characteristics of the children of God. At this point, keep in mind, hospitality grows out of righteousness and holiness.

Although Matthew says it differently from John, it is the same perspective of “being born from above.” Holiness and righteousness are seen in our relationships with God and with others.  So, for Matthew, you are a child of God and God sent Jesus to teach you how to live as a child of God. Hang on to that because this parable reveals the depth of holiness and righteousness of being God’s son and daughter. 

Understanding a Parable

The second layer is the understanding of a parable. Parables are reflections of reality as opposed to mirrors of morality. Said another way, this parable does not tell us what we should be doing. It reflects back to us what we are doing.

I have often heard this scripture quoted to leverage people to care for others, to raise money, or, at its worst, to shame people into acts of care and compassion. This parable is not a moral teaching. All the acts of care, compassion, and hospitality are good and needed, but the point of the parable is not “you should be doing these things.” The parable actually reflects reality. It reflects back what you are doing.  When you are doing acts of care, compassion, and hospitality for anyone, but especially for “the least of these” you are showing care, compassion, and hospitality to Jesus.

Caring for “the least of these” is who you are as a follower of Jesus, a human being bearing the image of one of God’s children. Caring for “the least of these” is who you are as a child of God. It is not a calculated action of doing what you should be doing.

Who You Are

The difference is subtle but significant. You are either caring for others because that is who you are, or you are caring for others out of calculated action to do good. Do you see the difference?

Maybe you can think of it this way, are you welcoming because that is who you are as a follower of Jesus or are you welcoming because it is what you are supposed to do to get more people into the church?

That brings us to the third layer of the parable, judgment. In light of becoming who God created you to be and in the light of the reality of your living as one of God’s children, your actions reveal who you are.  Judgment is experienced in the reflection of reality. It simply brings out what is already present.

Caring for People Around You

Notice the criterion of judgment is not a confession of faith in Jesus. Nothing is said of grace, justification, or forgiveness of sins. What counts is whether or not you have acted with loving care for people around you, especially those in great need.  

Your care, compassion, and hospitality are not acts of “extra credit” but are the basis of who you are as a follower of Jesus, a child of God, and a person of loving others as God in Jesus has loved you.

Responding to Jesus

Let’s look at this in another way. In the parable, when people respond, they are responding to Jesus. Yet both groups are surprised. Those who provide food, drink, clothing, shelter, and hospitality respond entirely based on who they are. It is no big deal. It is part of their living in relationship to God and to others. They are surprised to learn that there was a deeper dimension to their acts of human compassion. Without knowing it, they are responding to Jesus.

Those who plan their response to provide food, drink, clothing, shelter, and hospitality have worked intentionally to respond to human needs. They have done good work. But they are surprised to learn that their good work has not brought them the results they were planning to receive. Their acts of care, compassion, and hospitality are calculated. Even though they have worked to respond to human need, they have missed the point of God’s love thus missing the deeper dimensions of what it means to be a child of God. Because of their focus on themselves, they have missed Jesus.

Being Children of God

Both groups respond to human needs. Both respond out of who they are. The difference is, one group responds out of being children of God, living in holiness and righteousness in relationship to others. The other group responds to their need to care for others. Their need grows out of satisfying themselves as opposed to satisfying God. Because it feels good to help others it must be what God wants them to do.

Both groups are surprised. One group is living life as they have been created to live, in relationship with others whether they need help or not. The other group is living a life of self-satisfaction and does not understand that their hard work and care for others is a sign of their disconnectedness with others.

And there is the reflection of reality, the judgment of the parable. So, to be clear, it is not the doing of good things that brings holiness or righteousness to a person. It is the very nature of the person that reflects God’s holiness and righteousness. 

Who You Are is How You Lead

It is a tough parable.  But it reveals who you are and why you lead the way you do. It is a parable of character. That is why I can say that for my fourth-grade Sunday School teacher, hospitality was more than a gesture of welcoming, it was who she was as a person. Her hospitality was an offering of love. She greeted each 10-year-old in her class as if each one of us was Jesus.

Hospitality is rooted in the character of righteousness, God’s righteousness, which is revealed in the way you live in relationship with the people God sends your way every day.

Respond: Engage the Mission

How will you engage in mission today? The ultimate mark of an authentic follower of Jesus is not a creed, biblical knowledge, or adherence to the rules. The mark of an authentic follower of Jesus is seen and revealed in the nature of the person who responds out of love to human need. The practical demonstration of love is the ultimate proof.

So, be hospitable. Be aware of your responses. Do you feel normal and natural or are you calculated and self-seeking? The choice is not between the obviously bad and the obviously good. The choice is rooted in the love you have experienced in and through Jesus.

How Will You Engage in Mission?

How will you engage in mission today? The follower of Jesus does not have to present his or her case or argue his or her cause. Neither does the follower of Jesus request evidence of faith or goodness. He or she simply extends an invitation of hospitality.

So, be hospitable. As you respond to the emotional, physical, spiritual, and professional needs of the people around you, how will you find joy in being who God has created you to be? It does not have to be anything big or unusual, but it does have to be rooted in God’s love. Are you deep enough in God’s love that you can love others as you have been loved?

Your Character Revealed in Light of God’s Love

How will you engage in mission today? Be prepared to experience the reality of your character. Be quick to listen and slow to speak. Your character will be revealed in how you respond to the people around you. Be mindful of the moments you are measuring your responses. Be aware of the moments you are responding normally.  

So, be hospitable. Your character will be revealed in the light of God’s love. The reality of who you are will come when you least expect it. It comes when you are unaware and catches you off guard. It is in those moments that you truly reveal yourself. The test will come, not in your remembered actions, but in your unconscious reactions, instinctive, and unplanned responses. 

Remember the words of Jesus, “When you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto me.” How will you reach out, receive, and welcome Jesus today? 

Prayer

Lord, send me the people no one else wants and help me receive the people you are sending to me. By your grace, help me welcome others as you have welcomed me. Make me a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. 

Return

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what ways did you invite and welcome people into your life and into the life of your congregation? Did you think of your invitation as an invitation of Jesus? Why? Why not? When did you respond in love for no other reason than to love? When were you confronted and convicted of your behavior? What did you learn about yourself? Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. To whom do you need to respond with words of hope, words of encouragement, or words of forgiveness? What will you do differently tomorrow?


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

Distrust’s Impact on Communities and the Church

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

Statistics on Trust: A Troubling Decline

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

Root Causes of Distrust

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

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

Biblical Insights on Distrust: Genesis 3:1-7

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

Read: Genesis 3:1-7

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

Understanding the Origin of Distrust in the Scripture

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

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

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

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

Carelessness Brought Devastating Results

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

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

Culture of Distrust

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

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

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

Reshaping Assumptions and Attitudes through Jesus

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

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

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

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

Respond 

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

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

Cultivating Trust in the Role of a Leader

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

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

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

Return: Giving Thanks

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

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

Prayer

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

Have you ever had a member of your congregation approach you and say something like, “I’m not being fed”? Most of the time it comes out like this, “My family and I are leaving because we just aren’t getting what we need here. We are going to go to a church where we can get what we need.” 

The underlying assumption for such statements is passive consumerism. “I am not being fed” are code words for “I’m not getting what I am paying for.” 

Vicarious Spirituality

We have cultivated a culture of performance where people show up to be entertained, delighted, or made happy. If the entertainment, whether worship style, quality of preaching, or the temperature in the gathering space does not meet their expectation, then there are better places to get what they want. 

We have narrowed our responsibility down to paying the pastor/leader and staff to do ministry for us, which has cultivated a vicarious spirituality. As long as we feel good about what is going on at our church and the pastor/leader is providing leadership and care regarding our preferences for ministry, we feel good and faithful, whether we participate or not. 

Discipleship has been reduced to showing up for worship a couple of times a month, attending a study to gather information about topics of interest, and maybe participating in a fellowship gathering at particular times of the year. 

Caught in Christendom

With all of that being said, the expectation for you, the leader, is to attend all the administrative, social, and spiritual meetings because your presence validates the purpose of the meeting or gathering. And because it is a church, you do all it in the name of Jesus. 

I know it feels like I am being overly negative and that I have overstated the current reality of many of our churches, but what I have stated above fits most of the congregations still working within a Christendom model of ministry. 

In fact, it is not a stretch to say that many leaders, as well as people participating in the life and ministry of the church, feel caught in a system that is burdensome and unproductive…and that is just the local church. 

Enslaved to the Way Things Have Always Been

So, I think it is fair to say that many leaders feel enslaved to the way things have always been done. Whether it is because of dwindling funds or fewer people, you are being told that you are responsible for the decline. The members like you, but you aren’t bringing new people in, and please don’t make any changes, we don’t want to lose the few dollars and people we have left. 

I have just described what I call the enslavement of many of the churches in our culture. We find ourselves in a new missionary age while living in the old Christendom mindset. Although most of us still believe we live in a Christian culture, we can no longer assume the church has the interest or influence it once had. A new way of living out the mission is emerging. 

Let’s use our pattern of READ, REFLECT, RESPOND, and RETURN to discover the hope God is offering us as we shift from the Christendom mindset to a missionary approach.   

Read Isaiah 43:14-24 

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: For your sake I will send to Babylon and break down all the bars, and the shouting of the Chaldeans will be turned to lamentation. I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King. Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army, and warrior; they lie down; they cannot rise; they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:

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

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

Reflect

Isaiah wrote these words to the people who have been enslaved by Egypt. They have been separated from what they held important: family, community, country, religion, etc.  They felt overwhelmed and hopeless, because of their enslavement, lack of trust, and the circumstances beyond their control.  Isaiah reminds them that God created them, that God cares for them, and that God has been with them through the trials of their uncertainty and separation.  

God Makes a Way

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

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

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

God is Offering You Hope

As you reflect upon this story, could it be that Isaiah is offering you hope as well? In the midst of what you have experienced over the past several years, the isolation, disconnectedness, political polarization, being stuck in old ways, etc. it would be natural to feel overwhelmed, hopeless, and even enslaved.

But God is doing a new thing so that you might declare God’s praise. Speaking on behalf of God, Isaiah tells the people that God is not only making a way for them in the wilderness and providing a river in the desert, but God is giving them water to drink because they are his beloved children, created to declare God’s praise.

God is With You

When the going gets tough, remember, you are a beloved child of God, created for the purpose of bringing God praise by living, loving, and leading as God has gifted you.  Even when you feel alone and are thirsting for love and connection, God is with you, providing for you. 

Your connection to God is the heart of being a Christ-centered leader. Your work is to help others know of God’s love and presence in the midst of the chaos and disconnection. When people feel hopeless and entangled in behaviors that keep them from moving forward, look for what God is doing in your midst to set you free.

God is Doing a New Thing

God is doing a new thing. You are no longer being sent to other places to be a missionary. God has gifted you to love and serve right where you are. Your mission field is no longer limited to faraway countries. There are people hungering and thirsting for love just outside your door, in your community. God has created and gifted you to be a missionary just by stepping out the door of your home or leaving the church building. 

You are a missionary wherever you encounter people in your everyday life. It is in and through your interaction with people that God is setting you free, releasing you from the burden of doing to and for people. God is making a way in the wilderness for you by sending people to you who need love and care. It is in your response to the people God is sending your way that sets you free to become who God created you to be.

Teach and Model God’s Love

This is your work as a Christ-centered leader, to follow Jesus out the door of your building and into the community. As much as people want you to meet their preferences or demand a better performance, your work is to teach and model God’s love.  You love people by learning and understanding where they live, by meeting their families, and discovering what is important to them. You love people by becoming aware of their traditions, needs, and giftedness. 

As you follow Jesus and learn about your context, you develop relationships, by listening, learning, and responding. You bring praise to God by the way you love people. The larger community will know that you are following Jesus by the way you love and care for the people around you. You will be transformed by God’s love as the community is transformed by God through you.

The Time Has Come 

God is doing a new thing. As much as passive consumerism has enslaved the church, God is making a way for you to lead people into positive actions of love. The day of preferences is ending. The day of insisting on what you like, being the center of your church participation is over. 

The time has come to give yourself in love and service to the people around you. Be open to new ideas and approaches to ministry. There is no longer time or energy to cling to traditional methods that are no longer effective. God is doing a new thing, so let Jesus set your agenda and let his agenda become your new preference for ministry.

What is God Already Doing?

You might think of it this way. God is doing a new thing. The shift is from “How do we get people to come to our church?” to “What are people doing that we need to know about and join in with them?”

As a Christ-centered leader, you are responding to God’s grace. God is setting you free to declare God praise by loving and caring for God’s people in the places you live, work, and play.  

Respond

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

Be The Leader God Has Created You to Be

Become the leader you have been created to be. God has given you strengths and gifts for leading in a challenging time. Are you able to recognize what God is doing in your life and leading? What must you set aside to see and participate in what God is doing?

What I know is this, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” It is difficult to change course when all you know is what you are doing.

But what I believe is this, “the answer to being the leader God has created you to be is already within you.” You have what is needed to be the leader God has created you to be. It is seen and experienced in your faithful response to God’s love where you are living, loving, and leading at this very moment.

Two Questions

So, here is what to do to strengthen your faith and to equip the people entrusted to your care. These two questions, by God’s grace, will assist you in making the shift needed to experience what God is doing. Start today with the leaders of your congregation and ask the following questions for reflection and discussion: (For more details see the blog: Who or What is the Church Today

1.      Where have you seen/experienced God in the past week? 

2.      How are you living out the mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?”

Seriously reflecting upon and answering these two questions will help you strengthen your identity as a follower of Jesus. You will fall in love with Jesus again, love the people around you more deeply, and learn to love your community. In other words, it will help you see and participate in the new thing God is doing in you, your community, and your church. 

So when you are facing difficulty leading in this new age, remember you are a child of God, loved and gifted by God, to lead with love the people of God. Yes, iIt is difficult to be a Christ-centered leader in the midst of chaos and disconnection, but God has put within you the gifts and strengths to lead people into the new thing God is doing.

So remember, who you are is how you lead. God is doing a new thing, Even in the midst of the difficulty, now is the time to participate. 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. 

  • Where did you see God? 
  • What new thing was taking place? 
  • Who from the community did you meet? 
  • What did you learn about them? 
  • How can you best develop a relationship with them? 
  • Through whom did you receive love and care? 
  • What will you do differently tomorrow? 

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

Prayer

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

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

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

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

Prayer-Shaped Leadership

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

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

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

Read Luke 6:12-16 

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

Reflect

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

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

Staying Focused Through Prayer

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

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

Praying All Night

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

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

Developing a Pattern of Prayer

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

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

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

Respond

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

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

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

Who you are is how you lead! 

Return

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

The work of Jesus is love. To lead with the work of Jesus is to lead with love. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul expresses the work of Jesus as, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable; it keeps no record of wrongs; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

Too often these words are taken as a poem idealizing love. But to do so is to miss the point. Sometimes the words are misunderstood to be a general idea of love. Again, that misses the point. Paul wrote these words to a church in the midst of conflict. He laid out the way of Christian living. In other words, to be a follower of Jesus is to love as God in Jesus has loved you. For Paul, love was the work of Jesus. 

During this third week in Advent, let’s explore the work of Christ as another distinctive characteristic of Christ-centered leadership.

Read Matthew 11:2-6 

“When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 

Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (Matthew 11:2-6). 

Reflect

Matthew is helping us understand that Jesus does not conform to the popular explanations and expectations of the Messiah, the Christ. Because Jesus does not conform, he tells us that even though John is a true prophet with a legitimate message, who recognizes Jesus as the Messiah, is imprisoned for his prophetic preaching, and dies a martyr’s death, his faith wavers. John needs assurance. So, he sends his followers to ask Jesus if he is the one they have been expecting. 

Jesus tells John’s followers to go tell John what they hear and see. Jesus is at work. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. Jesus is at work loving as God has loved, bringing healing and hope to all in need. 

Matthew’s story of John is an object lesson for all followers of Jesus. Your salvation is not a static possession. Being a Christ-centered leader is greater than your spiritual experiences. The story is a reminder that even when your expectations are not met, the work of Jesus continues. You are challenged to listen and to see what Jesus is doing in the lives of the people around you.

Leading with the Work of Christ

So, with that in mind, what does it mean to lead with the work of Jesus?

Again, the work of Jesus is love. So, to answer that question, let’s start with the word “agape.” Although “agape” is not a word we use in our everyday language, it is a concept found in the New Testament. It is used to describe the distinct kind of love embodied in the life and ministry of Jesus. It is the kind of love that focuses on people and develops communities of koinonia. 

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

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

Lead with Agape

This is the one characteristic of leadership that gives meaning and purpose to all other characteristics. 

To lead with the work of Jesus is to lead with agape. To lead with agape means: 

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

It is more than an emotion. It is a matter of will. As much as I like Hallmark Christmas movies, the love that holds each of us is not a Hallmark movie love. As much as we talk about the church being a family, this love is greater than friends and family. In fact, this love is greater than race, color, or belief. It is a love that intentionally works for the good of each individual regardless of who they are or whether you feel anything or not.

To understand the greatest expression of relationship. 

As much as I dislike conflict, this love is not about “getting along” with one another. Sometimes, for the sake of unity, we set this love aside and become nice instead of loving. It is in the midst of our differences and disagreements that love is the source of our relationships. It is working for the good of all people whether we agree or not. The purpose of Christ-centered leadership is not unity but agape, the love of God as experience in Jesus.

To love as Jesus loves. 

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

To express through action. 

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

Lead with Love

A different kind of love. Jesus told his followers to love one another in the same way he loved them. This was a new and different kind of love. You live this love by:  

Listening

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

Being Patient

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

Being Kind

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

Being Generous

You are slow to pass judgment and quick to offer grace. You freely offer space and time for people to be who they have been created to be. So, when people don’t move as fast as you, you are generous with “they are doing the best they can do.” Then you ask, “How can I help you?” or “What do you need from me to do what you need to do?” Being generous means, you are providing what is at the time. 

This love is so important, that the early followers of Jesus showed love in everything they did. For them, to love God and to love the people around them was motivation for everything. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Everything should be done in love” (I Corinthians 16:14 CEB). Agape love is the essence of God. Agape love is the work of Jesus. 

Agape Holds Us Together

Fred Craddock tells a story that illustrates the work of Jesus. He writes: 

 “I was walking one afternoon, and I passed a corner where a man was doing something that fascinated me. I stopped my walk and watched him. He had a pile of bricks, and the thing he was doing was measuring each brick; how long it was, how wide it was, and how deep it was. He threw a bunch of good-looking bricks out. He said, “I have to get them all exactly the same.”

I asked, “Why?”

He said, “I’m building a church and I want it to stand.”

Craddock said, “There are people who think that the way to really have a church is to get people that are from the same economic and social and educational background, then they will all be together.”  He said, “The man started stacking those brinks; they were all just alike. I went by the next afternoon, and they were all just piles of brick. They had fallen down.”

I went on around the corner, and I saw a man with a pile of rocks. You have never seen such a mess in your life. No two of them are alike, round ones, dark ones, small ones, big ones, and little ones. I said, “What in the world are you doing?”

He said, “I’m building a church.”

I said, “You are nuts! The fellow around the corner had them all alike, and he couldn’t make it stand.”

He said, “This will stand.”

“No, it won’t. It won’t stand.”

“Yes, it will.”

Craddock said, “You can’t get it to stand. The fellow around the corner…

The man said, “It will stand.”

The man went over to a wood tray, took something like a hoe, and began to stir something back and forth. It looked a lot like cement to me, but that’s not what he called it. He put healthy doses of that between the stones. I went back thirty-four years later, and it was still there. It was that stuff in between that looked a lot like cement that made the difference. That’s not what he called it. But you know what it’s called…agape. It is the work of Jesus.

Respond

John had his disciples ask, “Are you the one or should we expect someone else?” Loving others as God in Jesus has loved you is not easy. It will cost you your life. But, if you are a Christ-centered leader, leading with the work of Jesus is the most life-giving work you will ever do.

Who you are is how you lead.

Pray

O God, I want to lead with the work of Jesus. Fill me with the love that is patient and kind. A love that is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude and does not insist on its own way. Keep me from being irritable. Help me tear up my list of wrongs I have kept regarding the actions of others and help me rejoice in the truth of others. Keep working with me so that I become more of the leader you need me to be. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus who love gives me meaning and purpose. Amen.

Return

At the end of the day, give God thanks for the people you met today. Where did you experience God’s love? Through whom did you experience it? With whom did you share God’s love today? Give God thanks for the opportunities to love others as you have been loved. Reflect upon “Who I am is how I lead.”

Have you heard the word discernment lately? I ask you with a smile because in every direction I turn I meet a leader or a congregation in the process of discernment. As I have reflected upon what I have heard and experienced, I think it is time that leaders take a good look at the intrinsic value of discernment in their leadership style and decision-making. 

What is Discernment?

Discernment is a unique discipline that takes practice and insight. It is wisdom based upon facts as well as context, options, implications, and motivation. It is a learned skill that focuses on the process of reflection based upon the values, principles, and integrity of the leader and others engaged in the process.  

Too often a leader will discern a direction for an organization or make a decision involving the people entrusted to his or her care and then ask those followers to trust their discernment and decision-making.

What would happen if you, as the leader, would become vulnerable enough to depend on the discernment of a larger body of followers who might be as focused on God’s direction as you are as the leader?

Let’s take a moment to read the scripture, reflect upon it, respond to it, and at the end of the day return to assess what has been learned through implementation and experience.

Read Philippians 1:9-10 

This is my prayer: that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight. I pray this so that you will be able to decide what really matters and so you will be sincere and blameless on the day of Christ. (CEB) 

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, (NIV) 

Reflect

The apostle Paul prayed for Jesus’ followers in Philippi to have discernment so they could judge the right way to go in life. He prayed that they would be able to decide what really matters and to make their judgments accordingly. 

What does it mean to discern something? Discernment, at its best, is the ability to recognize small details, accurately tell the difference between things that are similar, and make intelligent judgments by using such observations. This ability was important to Paul. He writes to the Jesus followers in Rome to be transformed by the renewing of their minds so that they could discern the will of God, that which was good, acceptable, and perfect (Romans 12:2). 

Paul’s prayer is not just for individuals but for the entire church body. We usually think of discernment as an exercise of the mind and heart of the leader, but discernment is also of the mind and heart of the body of people who are making decisions. Your commitment to leading people in discerning and doing the will of God is what distinguishes you as a spiritual leader. You help people to think for themselves and to discern who to follow and to whom they should listen. 

A Model of Discernment

Let me offer one model which will assist you as a leader, especially during these days in which we are living. This process is known as “The Fenhagan Model For Corporate Discernment.” It was developed by James C. Fenhagen and can be found in his book, Ministry and Solitude.   

It is designed to assist in making decisions regarding ministry opportunities or projects. It is to be used when groups are making major decisions and are looking for the best direction for the church or organization. It is a process of prayer, meditation, and openness to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It engages participation in searching the scripture, prayer, and listening to God and one another. 

Starting the Discernment Process

The process begins when all possible information is gathered, clearly identified, plainly described, and made available to those who will be engaged in the deliberation.  

Discernment Steps

First, start with scripture. Below are examples to use for setting the context. You might have other scriptures to help frame and focus your discernment. 

  • Psalm 119:125: I’m your servant! Help me understand so I can know your laws. (CEB) Or, I am your servant, give me discernment that I may understand your statutes (NIV) 
  • James 1:5: But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask. (CEB) 
  • Gaining discernment or sound judgment involves trusting God and one another. King Soloman  advised his son to hang on to discernment so that he would stay safe and secure on life’s course:
  • Proverbs 3:5–6: Trust in the Lord with all your heart; don’t rely on your own intelligence. Know him in all your paths, and he will keep your ways straight. (CEB) 
  • Proverbs 3:21–23: My son, don’t let them (common sense and discernment) slip from your eyes; hold on to sound judgment and discretion. They will be life for your whole being, and an ornament for your neck. Then you will walk safely on your path, and your foot won’t stumble. 
  • And as we mentioned before, the apostle Paul prayed for the believers in Philippi to have discernment so they could judge the right way to go in life:
  • Philippians 1:9–10: And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ. (NIV) 

Second, provide a time to ask and answer questions regarding the information provided. Too often in this process, we use only the information that helps move toward the decision we want. Making all information available allows persons the freedom needed to hear God’s direction in their discernment. God will speak through the persons who are gathered. 

Third, is a time of sharing. Each person has the opportunity to share the reasons he or she discerns against moving in a particular direction.  It is important that all people participate. If a person does not have a reason or wishes not to give a reason, he or she can pass. It is important that they have the opportunity to participate. When the decision has been made, it is important that all persons have participated.  

Fourth is a period of prayer and meditation. After each person has reported, take the time to pray and reflect upon the seriousness of what has been reported. Ask the group to set aside emotions and preferences and to listen closely to what God is saying.   

Fifth, is another time of sharing. Each person has the opportunity to share his or her own personal discernment regarding moving forward. Again, it is important that all persons participate. If a person does not have a reason or wishes not to give a reason, he or she can pass. It is important that they have the opportunity to participate. When the decision has been made, all persons should have participated.   

Sixth is a period of prayer and meditation. After each person has reported, take the time to pray and reflect upon the seriousness of what has been reported. Ask the group to set aside emotions and preferences and to listen closely to what God is saying. 

Continue Until Consensus Is Reached in Discernment

If no clear consensus emerges, the process continues. Take the time to sort out and weigh the reasons behind the pros and cons, recording those reasons so that they are available to all, and to discern communally, in the light of what has been listed, the direction to which the community is called by God.  

In commenting on this aspect of the process, John Futrell, in his book, Communal Discernment: Reflection on Experience, writes, “…if the conditions of authentic communal discernment have been fulfilled (i.e., if there is genuine openness to the Spirit), the decision should be made clear, and confirmation should be experienced unanimously through shared deep peace…finding God together.”  

Final Steps for Discernment to Reach a Decision

Through scripture, prayer, reflection, and conversation, your church or organization can reach a decision.  Even though you might want total agreement, the reality is there will be some who disagree with the decision being made. So, here is the final part of the process.

Ask each participant the following questions:

  • Do you agree with the decision? If the answer is yes, you have affirmation of the decision. If the answer is no, ask the following question:
  • If you don’t fully agree, can you live with the decision? If the answer is yes, you have affirmation of the decision. If the answer is no, ask the following question:
  • If you don’t agree, can you live with the decision? If the answer is yes, you have affirmation of the decision. Seldom is there a totally negative response. But if the participant says I don’t agree with the decision and I can’t live it, then say, “God must be saying something different to you. We are ready to listen and to learn what God is saying. What is God saying? How do we move forward?

Reaching a Decision

You will either get an affirmation of the decision or a new direction will surface. If it is a viable alternative, lead the process of discernment again. When you are vulnerable and listening to God and to the people, the right decision will be made. 

Finally, when the decision has been made and everyone can live with it, give God thanks and affirm the corporate commitment to carry out the decision.

Paul’s prayer was for the entire church body to grow in love and to gain more knowledge and depth of insight so that the body might be able to discern what is best. 

Your commitment to lead people in discerning and doing the will of God is what distinguishes you as a spiritual leader. Who you are is how you lead.  

Respond

O God, thank you for your call upon my life. Give me the wisdom and insight to trust you in and through the people you have given me to love and serve. In all I say and do, may I be a reflection of your love and care, even in the decisions I make and help others to make. By your grace, let me and the people entrusted to my care, be a part of what you are blessing in the name of Jesus.  Amen

Return

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. What decisions did you make? How were you able to cut through the confusion and ambiguity? Give God thanks for the wisdom you received to discern and understand? Are you able to be vulnerable enough to trust the people you lead to make decisions? What do you need to trust others as they trust you?

Do you always tell the truth? I am smiling as I ask that question. We don’t often talk about truth-telling, but you and I know that effective leadership requires telling the truth. Truth-telling shows up in your leadership as courage and respect. The courage to see the truth and to respect people enough to share the truth with them. 

As a leader, your responsibility is to discover the potential of the people you serve and to develop that potential so they can become who God created them to be. Sometimes that requires the courage to share what people might not want to hear but what they need to hear. 

I am the way, the truth, and the life…

As a Christ-centered leader, your faith is rooted in the truth, the truth we know in Jesus. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” and “…you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” When you are truthful with your words and actions, you are revealing the very nature of your faith rooted in God, seen, and experienced in Jesus. To do otherwise is to be unfaithful. 

So, what does truth-telling mean? Let’s look at one verse of scripture, Ephesians 4:25, and discover what it means to be a leader who tells the truth. 

Read  Ephesians 4:25 

So then, putting away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with your neighbor, for we are members of one another. (NRSV) 

What this adds up to, then, is this: 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) 

Reflect

This scripture is part of Paul’s letter to the newly formed Ephesian church. He is teaching the Gentiles and the Jews what it means to be followers of Jesus. The scripture is part of the teaching regarding the old life and the new life. 

For Paul, and those in the early church, the faith was transmitted by teaching. Those reading his letter had entered a new life by “learning.” As you know, Paul was writing and teaching before the culture had been “Christianized,” so the church could not expect the culture to transmit the faith. People did not learn what it meant to be Christian simply by absorbing the attitudes of the culture. 

Authentic Faith

With that in mind, the church in the twenty-first century finds itself in the same situation as the readers of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. As the world becomes more and more secularized, the Christian community must develop its teaching and learning strategies to pass on the authentic Christian faith. Faith is rooted in the truth of God as seen and experienced in Jesus. 

Paul uses the imagery of changing clothes. Put away your old self and clothe yourselves with the new self. He is addressing the people on the inside. He is saying that conversion to Christ is not a one-time check off the list and left behind event. There is a growing into this new life in Christ. 

That brings us to our scripture. The Common English Bible says, “Therefore, after you have gotten rid of lying, each of you must tell the truth to your neighbor because we are parts of each other in the same body. 

The Truth

The Christian life is not only a matter of theological truth, but of truth in everyday personal relationships. In our fallen human nature, we project a desirable self-image by speaking our version of the truth to our advantage. We shape the truth to look better or to achieve what we want. But when we become followers of Jesus, the way of the new life frees us from the concern of self-protection or self-promotion. 

Isn’t it interesting that Paul is instructing the followers of Jesus, the church, not to lie to one another, but to tell the truth. We all like to consider ourselves honest yet we tend to shape the truth to our advantage. Lies over time, pollute relationships and create false world views. 

Leaders Tell the Truth

At time, it is more about being careless with the truth than deliberately lying. As a leader, what you say matters. People look to you for directions. What you say, and often how you say it, has consequences. Just an inference to an untruth can be taken as truth when said with sincerity and conviction. 

There are other times, without checking out sources or having conversations with others, you can repeat an untruth as truth. You can carelessly create negative thoughts and images of others based on your assumptions.

Read “Leadership and Assumptions” 

We live in a world where we expect politicians, social media, and news agencies to spin and distort the truth. But we do not expect our spiritual leaders, our Christ-centered leaders, to distort the truth in any way. Lies at any level are hurtful, but public lies, especially about other persons or institutions, do the most damage. 

The Reason for Telling the Truth

Paul also gives the reason for telling the truth. It is because we are all members of the same body. In this scripture, Paul is teaching followers of Jesus not to lie to one another because both Gentiles and Jews belong to the same body, the body of Christ. We belong to each other. A body can only function accurately when each part of it passes true messages to the brain and to other parts. Being a part of the body of Christ means that we can only function when we speak the truth to one another. We are related to one another, dependent upon one another. That is why Paul wrote, “putting away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with your neighbor.” 

Regarding your Christian witness as a leader, “neighbors” are not just your fellow Christians, but are all people in general. Neighbors include the people you encounter each day, family, friends, strangers, and even enemies. Christian talk is dedicated to truth rather than self-protection. The way we talk to one another, talk about one another, and support or vilify one another reflects who we are as leaders. Your talking reflects your witness to Jesus. 

We live in a time when truth has become a welcomed commodity. And who best to speak the truth to others than you as a Christ-centered leader? Put your faith into action and lead the way through telling the truth about God’s love, about Jesus who shows us God’s love, and about yourself, a sinner saved by God’s grace (love). As a follower of Jesus, the time has come, to tell the truth.

Respond

O God, it is hard for me to be truthful with you when I have trouble being truthful with myself. When I am at my best, I am grateful for the truth of your love that holds me and will not let me go. I know you take me just as I am, and you are loving me into who you created me to be. I confess there are times I do not trust your acceptance and I try to shape myself without your truth and love. By your grace, put the truth of your love deep into my life so that I know and live being truthful is part of loving others as you have loved me. Remind me of each time I shape the truth to my advantage and help me become a living model of your truth in all I say and do. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus. Amen

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. 

  • In and through whom did you encounter God? 
  • What situations did you find yourself telling the truth today? In what situations were you reminded that you were shaping the truth to your advantage? 
  • Now ask God to empower you to love others by simply telling the truth in your speech and action. Be reminded that your leadership is only as good as your word. 

It is my prayer that you will take God’s love so seriously in your life that all you say and do will bring God glory and work for the good of the people entrusted to your care. In the situations and circumstances you find yourself, be a leader and tell the truth. Remember, who you are is how you lead.

Followers look for different qualities in their leaders. A recent Gallup Poll revealed that one of the top qualities followers look for is hope. Although there are people who perceive hope as passive and as wishful thinking, you instill hope when you understand the reality of the present, can imagine a better future, and live and work to make the future a reality.

When you are hopeless about the future, there is no reason to change your behavior. When you are hopeful about the future, you take the initiative to make a difference, as you shape the future and influence the people you lead. 

Hope is essential to leadership. Dr. Shane Lopez, of Gallup, spent his life studying hope. He wrote, “Hope is the belief that the future will be better than the present, along with the belief that you have the power to make it so.” 

Passive Hope 

When you see hope as wishful thinking, you wait for external forces to shape your future. Even with wishful thinking, you can see a better future, but you don’t believe you have the power to influence situations or people to achieve that future. When hope is passive, people look for “leaders” who will fix their problems. They sometimes complain about their leaders who aren’t delivering on the vision of a better future.

Leadership is about identifying potential in people and actively assisting them to live into their potential. Passive hope blocks that behavior. You aren’t a leader when you are waiting for someone else to show up and make things happen. 

Active Hope 

When you understand hope as active, you become a participant in bringing about that for which you hope. You need active hope to be the leader needed today. Active hope is something you do rather than something you have. 

It is about knowing what you want to happen and working to get there. For example, my wife, Kim, and I grow daylilies in our flower garden. Every spring we anticipate the lilies blooming. We watch as the green leaves begin to form, push their way up out of the ground, and blooms burst open. 

Because lilies and weeds grow together, I weed the garden on a regular basis. Although most of my work depends on how fast the weeds grow, there are times I must remove dead leaves from the plants. In fact, this year, because the lilies were not blooming, I cut them back so they could produce new growth. 

Kim and I are enjoying our lilies in full bloom. For the lilies to grow and bloom, I must be active in caring for them. I must show up throughout the growing months and weed the garden, even though I know more weeds will be there tomorrow. 

My blooming lilies are an example of active hope. 

Active Hope in Action

Think about it this way: 

First, know your current reality. 

Hope is rooted in the reality of your situation. Anchor yourself in that reality. Face it, name it, and acknowledge it. Where you start makes a difference. So, start where you are with what you have, not where you aspire to be or with what you aspire to have. 

Kim and I had an area of our yard, in front of the porch, where we wanted flowers. So, we started with that area. It was bare, covered only with dirt and random weeds. It had not been cultivated to grow flowers. But that was our current reality. We could have done nothing. We could have said, “I hope grass grows there someday.” But we didn’t. Instead, we started where we were with a bare, random weed and dirt-covered area. Honestly, it did not look like much would ever grow there. But that area is where we started. 

Second, identify what you desire to happen. 

Hold that vision/mission before you and the people whom you are leading. Keep your values in mind and imagine what “being better” would look like for yourself and others. This sets the direction in which you lead. 

Kim and I decided we wanted flowers to grow in the uncultivated area. So, we began to imagine what the area could look like with daylilies. We identified what we wanted to happen, which set the direction we needed to move. Again, we could have done nothing. We could have said, “It would look nice to have daylilies in the area.” But we didn’t. Instead, we began to imagine what that bare random weed area could become. It was that image we set out to make a reality. 

Third, begin to move in that direction. 

In other words, you show up and act in a way that is aligned with the future you want to happen. You navigate the obstacles and barriers that stand in the way of your goal. Active hope does not require your optimism, it requires your resolve. You choose what you want to achieve. Rather than weighing your chances and proceeding only when you feel hopeful, you focus on your goal/mission and let it be your guide. 

Kim and I knew that to make our daylilies a reality, we had to buy daylilies. But before that, we had to cultivate the ground. Even before that, we had to have the tools to cultivate the ground. So, to make our vision a reality, we had to have a shovel, a rake, and other garden tools. We had to break up the ground, remove the rocks, pull the weeds, and make the ground ready for daylilies. As we moved forward, we adjusted our vision. We decided the lilies would do better if surrounded by rock as opposed to mulch. So, we bought our lilies, planted them, surrounded them with rock, and watched as green leaves began to form, push their way up out of the ground, and bloom. 

We made our desire a vision and our vision a reality. That is active hope. It invites you to make something happen, even if it doesn’t exist at the moment. 

Hope Shaped Leadership

Hope-shaped leadership has a realistic understanding of reality and a clear vision of the future. Hope is experienced in your behavior to make the vision a reality. It is about showing up and behaving as if what you do matters, not only to you but also matters to the people entrusted to your care. When you lead through the challenges and obstacles with your future in sight, you not only practice leadership, but you also offer hope…a real and active hope. 

Who You Are is How You Lead

One other thing that is critically important regarding hope-shaped leadership. Who you are is how you lead. Whether you like it or not, people are watching you and they take their cues from you. They are listening to your words, they are watching your behavior, and they are observing your relationships. They follow your lead. As the leader, you paint the picture of the future. If you are negative and manipulative, don’t be surprised when the people around you become negative and do not trust you or others. You might get what you want for the immediate future, but the culture you have created will not be one of hope and productivity.

Who you are is how you lead. So, as a leader, when you are hopeful, you help people see a path that leads to a better future. Even though there are challenges and distractions, your words and actions fill the hearts and minds of the people around you with possibilities of healthiness and wholeness. 

Impact of Hope Shaped Leadership

Finally, hope-shaped leadership makes an impact. Here are five ways hope-shaped leadership makes an impact.

Renews Faith 

Hope allows you to become more of the person you were created to be. As you grow in faith, the people around you renew their faith as well. With renewed faith, hope introduces you to a path of new beginnings and to solutions you never knew existed. 

Builds Confidence

Hope helps you build your self-confidence. As you grow in confidence, you assist others in living into their potential. They begin to achieve things they never knew were possible. With the confidence to face the future, you know you can face your fears and move forward. You have the confidence to know that “perfect love casts out fear.”

Promotes Clarity

Hope broadens your perspective and gives you the vision to see around, beneath, and beyond the goals you seek. It allows you to translate complexity into clarity. When you begin to see through a wider lens, you begin to see the potential of the people around you and it fuels your perspective. Clarity assists you in modeling vulnerability and authenticity.

Gives purpose

Hope helps navigate all obstacles that stand between you and your purpose in life. You find a way to get things done. Living into your purpose gives others the hope to live into their purpose. The truth is hope is an ultimate life changer. It keeps you and the people around you moving toward dreams, goals, and aspirations.

Strengthens relationships

Hope is a force that brings people together. It instills a sense of unity, pride, and optimism. It builds trust. When people can trust you as their leader and you can trust them as your partners, relationships are strengthened, and everyone becomes more who God created them to be.

Hope-shaped leadership is about making a difference in the lives of the people entrusted to your care. “If, as a leader, you are not creating hope and helping people see the way forward, chances are, no one else is either.” (From Strengths Based Leadership) As a hope-shaped leader, you must keep your eyes, and the eyes of the people entrusted to you, on a hopeful future. 

Hope is “the belief that the future will be better than the present, along with the belief that you have the power to make it so.” 

Who you are is how you lead.

There is something comforting about traveling throughout Ohio. There are familiar signs that remind me I’m never too far away from Jesus. Sometimes it’s a simple church sign. Most of the time, it’s the people I meet who remind me, show me, and embody the love of God I know in Jesus.

Collaboration & Community

But there’s also something that causes me to scratch my head and wonder out loud.

For over two decades of ministry, I have led, participated in, witnessed, and watched local churches in the same community behave in different ways. At times, I’ve stood in awe of how people shared Christ’s love, welcomed neighbors, and celebrated our common humanity. At other times, I’ve scratched my head and wondered, “How can your church building be within walking distance and you don’t even talk to each other?”

What I’ve come to realize, is collaboration expands our capacity to solve difficult, complex problems. Collaboration celebrates and utilizes the gifts of everyone, builds and fosters trust, opens communication channels, and ultimately creates a greater sense of belonging for everyone. 

It’s All Good

I’ve been known to say, “It’s all good!” I confess, sometimes I utter that phrase and mean something other than what the words alone say. But when it comes to collaboration, it IS all good. Collaboration is good for leaders, the church, the community, and it’s how God created us to live. 

Look at the creation account. God didn’t want us to be alone, so co-laborers were created. When Jesus sent out the 72, they didn’t go alone, wherever they wanted to go. They were sent out in pairs to all the places Jesus was about to go. And, as if those partnerships weren’t enough, Jesus didn’t do ministry alone. The 12 disciples were with him at every turn. Sure, Jesus went off to pray by himself and came back into the community to teach, preach, and lead people. Everywhere he went, he made sure in that community there were examples of love. 

Common Ground

Before I start preaching, let me ask you, “What do these examples have in common?” 

It’s the simple, yet profound, work of collaboration.

When I look at the word collaboration, do you know what I see? Co-laborers. We are co-laborers.

In my role as Regional Missional Specialist, I have the opportunity to come alongside leaders, local churches, and interact with different communities. Do you know the people and places that break my heart the most? The ones who are living isolated & inwardly focused. Whatever the reason, whatever the source, we are people created for community.

Collaboration Examples

Allow me to lift up two examples of collaboration. Over the coming months, Karen or I will likely share other examples with you. My hope is that God helps you to begin to explore what collaboration might mean in your local community. 

  • During a six-week sermon series, two churches came together to prepare, share, and meet together around Bible Study. The Bible Studies coincided with the Sunday sermon. The pastors swapped pulpits every other week. Throughout the study, they identified one way to be a blessing to the people in their local community.
  • When returning citizens and individuals and families experiencing homelessness seek to establish stable housing one of the barriers is furnishing their new apartment. Several churches collaborate with a non-profit organization and county social services to identify ways to pick up, store, and deliver gently used furniture to people establishing housing. Whether it’s donating furniture, picking up furniture, coordinating delivery, or volunteering to deliver furniture, together the church and community organizations are collaborating to remove a barrier to establishing stable housing.

Will You Be a Co-Laborer?

We have examples of churches that are already collaborating in their settings that we can connect you to.

What might God make possible if our local churches began collaborating within our local communities? If you’re ready to explore collaboration with other local churches, reach out to the District Office or Karen Cook or Sara Thomas.

Who you are is how you lead. Will you be a co-laborer with Christ in your local community?

A quick internet search will reveal that there are many styles of leadership. Whether it be authoritarian, strategic, visionary, coaching, transitional, adaptive, or any number of other styles, each style is a method of providing direction, implementing plans, and motivating people.

Leadership styles are based on a number of factors, including the level of control and power the leader possesses. Different situations call for different approaches. Most leaders use a combination of styles to motivate and equip people to fulfill a purpose or mission. 

What’s Your Story?

Regardless of the style, your inner story will subconsciously guide the way you lead. You do not leave who you are, how you think, or what you feel, at home. Your needs, emotions, and dreams come with you. As much as you want the people with whom you work to trust and respect you, the people who look to you as their leader are looking for the same. 

Over my years I have learned there are two underlying influences in the style of every leader. There are those who lead with fear and there are those who lead with love.

The question is, which is the underlying influence in your leadership?

Fear-based Leadership

Fear-based leadership usually shows up in two ways. You either make decisions based upon what you want, or you are paralyzed because you want people to like you. 

Either you react to challenges based upon assumption and hearsay or you deny and dismiss challenges because of the fear of offending someone. You either make unilateral decisions or make no decisions which lead to “anything goes.” Your cynical attitudes permeate your style, and you pass your pessimism on to others. 

Even when it is not your intention, you create an “us and them” culture based upon mistrust. You either micro-manage out of fear things will not be done the way you want them done or your desire to be liked creates a culture of mistrust where everyone is doing his or her own thing. Lots of activity but little production. Both types of fear-based leadership become the center of all the work.

Fear-based leadership cultivates fear rather than trust and stability. It always seeks an enemy. Its focus is usually on something the leader is against rather than on people and their potential.

There are good people who are motivated by fear. Just remember, who you are is how you lead.

Love-based Leadership

The opposite of leading with fear is leading with love. Loved-based leadership is relational. You are vulnerable and genuine with the people with whom you work. Love-based leaders look for their potential and equip them to live up to their potential. You are generous in your assessments, giving the benefit of the doubt. You are courageous in your decision-making, creating a space for trust and collaboration.

Love-based leaders cultivate trust and compassion. They take pride in the work of the people entrusted to their care. Love-based leaders focus on the well-being of the people entrusted to them. They are grateful for the work of their colleagues and give credit to whom credit is due.

Lead with Love

Love-based leadership is rooted in unconditional love. It is selfless and works for the well-being, not only of the people entrusted to your care but of all people, especially strangers. Love-based leadership is Christian leadership. It is greater than your likes and dislikes. It is greater than your fears. John in his first letter wrote, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love” (1 John 4:18).

There is one characteristic of love-shaped leadership that sets the foundation for everything else: self-care and self-compassion. Stephen R. Covey, in his writing and speaking, emphasized the significance of love in leadership. According to Covey, love, trust, and managing people with a dedication to helping them reach their full potential were key responsibilities of leaders.

He said having a love for yourself was critical to your performance as a leader. If you want to care for others, you must look after yourself. Love-shaped leadership is built upon a solid basis of self-care and compassion. It is the first step toward leading with love.

You can lead with love once you have established care and compassion for yourself.

Three Characteristics of Love-Shaped Leaders

There are many characteristics of love, but here are three to help you lead with love. 

Vulnerability

One of the most essential characteristics of an effective leader is vulnerability. It is one of the qualities we look for in others but is the last quality we want to show of ourselves. To lead with love means you nurture a culture where people feel safe and where you, when struggling, find support and care. 

It takes courage to be vulnerable. Instead of hiding your failures and covering up your weaknesses, you own them. You ask for feedback and learn from others. Your authenticity helps build trust and your capacity to care. Your experience of trust creates compassion for and acceptance of those around you. 

Although vulnerability is difficult work, it helps you become the leader you are created to be. 

Explore more about the intersection of vulnerability and leadership here.

Listening

One of the most desired characteristics of an effective leader is the ability to listen. It is another quality we look for in others but find it difficult for ourselves. But love-shaped leadership is focused on the well-being of others. Listening builds trust and shows your capacity to care. It means you create a culture where people feel safe to speak up and where you are slow to shut people down. 

It takes courage to listen. You know where you are going. As a leader, you know the path that needs to be taken. You know what needs to be done to navigate the barriers. But unless you give people the opportunity to be heard, they do not feel they are a valuable part of what you are doing. 

A reminder is, God has given you two ears but one mouth. It is difficult to be quick to listen and slow to speak, but it helps you become the leader you are created to be. 

What stops people from listening to you? Explore more here.

Generosity

One of the most needed characteristics of an effective leader is generosity. It means that you make a genuine effort to understand others. You only have to look at your relationships with family and friends to experience how difficult it is to truly understand one another. Being generous means that you assume that your colleagues have good intentions and that they are doing the best they can under the circumstances. 

It is closely related to listening. Generosity requires patience and humility. It requires a sense of wonder and curiosity and a genuine interest in the people you are leading. You listen to what is being said, ask questions for clarity, and explore their perspectives. It is easy to judge and blame when things do not work the way they should but staying open and curious in conversations creates an environment where people feel heard, seen, and truly cared for. 

The best way to think of it is, you are loving others as God in Christ has loved you. It is difficult to be generous when you are depending upon others to do quality work, but your practice of generosity will help you become the leader you are created to be.

Perfect love casts out fear

You know better than anyone what motivates you and your leadership. This week, examine your leadership style. Are you leading with fear? Afraid to be vulnerable? Does fear emerge when you seek to listen and develop relationships? Are you afraid to be generous with colleagues?

As you reflect this week, keep in mind that you were created to lead at this time and place. Accepting God’s love for you is as important as you sharing God’s love for others. In fact, there is no love-shaped leadership, your acceptance of God’s love for you and for the people entrusted to you care.

Who you are is how you lead. I pray that your relationships are shaped by love this week.