Tag Archive for: Tim Bias

The words “Do to others as you would have them do to you” are known as the “Golden Rule.” With those words, Jesus is giving direction on how to actively follow him and is giving us a clue to what it means to be a Christ-centered leader. 

As a follower of Jesus, you take the initiative to love others the way you want to be loved. People pay attention to who you are, what you say, and how you behave. As a Christ-centered leader, your words and actions shape the reality of the people who are entrusted to your care. So, you model for them the “Golden Rule.” To “do to others as you would have them do to you” is a primary action on your part as a leader. 

Love and Truth

With that in mind, people are watching you on how to respond to the challenges of communicating love and truth in the midst of cultural changes. They are watching to discover just how they should be living their lives in relationship to the people around them. 

One area people want and need you to be their leader is around social media. As human beings, we need connection and companionship with one another to be healthy and to thrive in life. 

The Strength of Our Connections

The strength of our connections has a huge impact on our emotional and spiritual health, as well as our witness to God’s love in everyday relationships. Being socially connected to others eases stress, anxiety, and depression. It also boosts self-worth, provides comfort and joy, as well as prevents loneliness. Social media has begun to serve as a major connection for many people you serve. 

Just as social media can be a positive influence in developing relationships, it can also be a negative influence. We are living in a time when our use of social media has elevated loud, intense, and conflicting voices. Instead of helping build stronger and more healthy connections, the disciplined use of social media has provided a false sense of security that leads to the erosion of relationships. Lacking strong social connections can pose a serious risk to who you are as a follower of Jesus.

So, the question is, how do you model “do to others as you would have them do to you” in a culture that supports and propagates the extreme voices that are causing harm and division?

Let’s look at the “Golden Rule” for guidance.

Read Matthew 7:12 

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” 

Reflect

These words, known as the “Golden Rule” are Jesus’ words in response to, “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asked for bread, would give a stone? Or if the child asked for a fish, would give a snake? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” 

In essence, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you,” Jesus is teaching what God wants to see in our lives. What God wants is initiated by the things God has already done for us. Said another way, God is doing for us what God wants us to do. According to William Barclay, this is the high point of the Sermon on the Mount. 

The Golden Rule in Positive and Negative Form

In history, there are negative parallels to this statement. Statements like, “Whatever angers you when you suffer at the hands of others, do not do to others” (Athenian in the fourth century B.C.), or “Whatever is displeasing to you do not do to your neighbor” (Hillel), or “What thou thyself hatest, to no man do” (Tobit 4:16). There are negative parallels found in other religions like Buddhism and Confucianism. Confucious said, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” 

But Jesus placed this teaching in a positive form. He made it a model for action for his followers. “…you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you…” This is the fulfillment of the will of God as revealed by the prophets in the Old Testament. 

A Focus on Love and Relationship

Here is what is important. The positive form of the golden rule differs from the negative form. When you put it in a negative form, you are taking love and relationships out of the teaching. To be who God has created you to be, you take the initiative to love, to do good, and to care for the well-being of the people around you. 

When you put it in a negative form the teaching becomes a rule not to do certain things like not hurt others. It means not developing relationships with people with whom you disagree or see the world differently than you do. In other words, it is a contradiction to God’s goodness to just not do something. 

When the teaching is lived positively, you actively do to others what you want them to do to you. As a Jesus follower, you love with the love of God you have experienced in Jesus. You forgive as you want to be forgiven. Praise as you wish to be praised. You understand as you want to be understood. 

Your Faithful Response

On the one hand, this makes life more complicated. On the other hand, it is your faithful response to what God has already done for you. It means less time to spend on your own desires, activities, and preferences and more time loving others as you have been loved. 

To live this teaching to its fullest, you will have to become a new person, with a new focus, and with a new motivation. The love of God, experienced in and through Jesus becomes your new mode of operation. You begin to live doing to others what you want them to do to you. 

Living the Golden Rule

Now, what does this “Golden Rule” have to do with Christ-centered leadership? 

Healthy relationships, whether face-to-face or through online activity, reflect respectful communication. It is never okay for you to say or do anything contrary to the Golden Rule. 

Just as the spoken word has power, the written word communicated through social media has power. Whether spoken or written, words create images and assumptions. They shape the way people view one another and the world. 

Words either encourage and build up, or they discourage and tear down. Words can cultivate relationships and set the course for decision-making. They can also feed prejudices and create images of hatred and fear. All words, in whatever form communicated, shape us either in love and hope or in anger and despair.  

Your Words Matter

So, as a leader, your words make a difference. The apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian church, “…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. (Ephesians 4:25, The Message).

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

Before speaking or writing, not only check your references but check your motives. If it is anything other than to bring God glory or to introduce people to Jesus, put it away. Your agenda is to be the leader who models the love and care of the living God for all persons. There is no place for anything other than the good news of God’s love experienced in and through Jesus. Your words reveal your agenda. 

When You’re Speaking of Others

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

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

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

Social Media and the Golden Rule

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

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

Respond

In the midst of cultural changes, model how to adapt to the changes. Model the Golden Rule. Use “Do to others as you would have them do to you” to model:    

Relationships We all need relationships and the face-to-face company of others to be happy and healthy. Social media is not a replacement for those relationships. Model how to build and nurture meaningful relationships using social media as a means of support.  

  • Set aside time each week to interact offline with friends and family.
  • Make time to meet face-to-face with a friend. Initiate the invitation. Do unto others as you would have them do to you.
  • Don’t let social awkwardness be an excuse to bypass face-to-face meetings.
  • Invite a coworker out for lunch or ask a neighbor or classmate to join you for coffee.
  • Interact with strangers. Look up from your screen and connect with people you cross paths with at the grocery store or the coffee shop. Simply smiling or saying hello is important.

Focus

Keep your focus on Jesus. Your words are a reflection of who you are. Use social media as a way of witnessing to God’s love for you and for the people who are listening to you online.   

Gratitude

Feeling and expressing gratitude about the important things in your life can be a welcome relief to the resentment, animosity, and discontent sometimes generated by social media.

Mindfulness

Keep in mind that not everyone is as interested in your opinion as you are. Be fully engaged in the present. How might you use social media to share God’s goodness?

Have the same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus. Even though he could have…he didn’t. Take a moment to read Philippians 2:1-8:

Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: 

Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Reflection

Reflect upon the relationships that bring meaning and joy to your life. Model by expressing your gratitude on social media. As you reflect, be generous, kind, and loving. Remember to do to others what you want them to do to you.  

Jesus is teaching what God wants to see in our lives. What God wants is initiated by the things God has already done for us. Said another way, God is doing for us what God wants us to do. So, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.Even social media.

Who you are is how you lead.

Return

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. How did you use social media today? How did you use your words to “do to others as you would have them do to you?” How might you model the Golden Rule tomorrow? With whom do you need to confess your struggle to offer grace to others? With whom do you need to celebrate God’s grace for you?    

Prayer

O God, be my guiding light that I may have a clear vision for the days in which I am living. You are my wisdom, strength, and guide. In you, I find my joy and peace. You are my true goal. Only you can satisfy my soul. Help me be your love in human form. As people are learning to live by your love, use me to develop true relationships of love that bind your people together. I am grateful, O God, for your love and hope in Jesus. Amen.

What motivates and empowers you to lead in the midst of the cultural changes you are facing today? How do you move forward when friends, family, colleagues, and others seem to be losing heart, giving up, and walking away?  

There have been volumes written on what you need to do to be an effective and successful leader. There are lists of characteristics, research, and more advice than any one of us could follow in a lifetime. For the most part, it is all good and all needed. But what motivates and empowers you as a Christ-centered leader is something that cannot be reproduced or measured. As a follower of Jesus, you have been given something, someone, who assists you in imagining a better future and who provides you with the faith to move forward into that future. 

The apostle Paul wrote these words to the church in Rome, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” 

You have been given hope. Hope, not as wishful thinking, but hope as the agency to navigate the barriers and obstacles that stand in the way of God’s plan of love and peace. What is unusual about this hope is it is not something that you or any other leader can obtain. This hope is only in being found by the One who gives it.   

Read Matthew 14:22-33 

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into a boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So, Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind,[b] he became frightened, and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Reflect

Matthew tells a story of an experience that the disciples had with Jesus. The disciples are in the boat trying to make their way across the sea, but they were not getting anyway. They were rowing but the wind was blowing against them. Just before dawn, Jesus comes to them walking on the sea.

In ancient times, the sea was the place of evil. The enemy to all that was good was in the water. In this story, the water is a symbol of all the forces that are against us.

Jesus comes to the disciples on the sea. In other words, in the midst of all that is against us, God is with us. There is no power, no storm, no wind, no force in the world that God cannot conquer, no evil over which God is not superior. The message here is, there is nothing that can destroy your life because God loves and cares for you.

I am

Now, this story is not a miracle story. It is deeper than that. Jesus comes in the storm on the sea and says, “Take heart, I am.” These words are translated, “It is I” or “I am he.” What Jesus actually says is, “I am.” The name for God. God came to them in the storm in the person of Jesus.

They cannot believe it. At first, they say, “It is a ghost.”

But as Jesus gets closer, Simon Peter says to him, “Lord, if it is you” …or “if you are, tell me to come to you on the water.” These are the same words used in the wilderness by the devil, “If you are the son of God…” The words of Simon Peter are the words of the tempter. In other words, Simon Peter is putting Jesus to the test.

So, Matthew is telling us that in his attempt to put Jesus to the test, Simon Peter ends up testing himself. It is Simon Peter who does not believe. In other words, you don’t test God. Jesus got in the boat, and everything was all right. The storm was quieted, and the disciples fell to their knees and worshiped Jesus.

You are Never Alone

Matthew was telling the story to the church. It was for all the followers of Jesus, in all their little boats, in all of the storms, trying to make it alone. The disciples were never alone, but they were trying to make it alone, and they couldn’t.

The lesson in this story is, you are never alone. The church is never alone. God is with us. But we are never exempt from the temptation to try to go it alone.

So, we are all in the boat. We can give pep talks to one another. Some of us can bail while others of us will sing. But the truth is that without trust in God, we are not going to make it to shore. But, if we trust God, “we are more than conquerors through him who loves us… and neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, not things to come, nor power, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

So, what does that story have to do with being found or with leading with hope?

Respond 

In the church, it is not uncommon for us to urge each other to give a witness to our faith. Sometimes we assume that sharing stories of faith is easy. I must confess that I have found it incredibly difficult. Although I do regularly as a preacher, it is tough to talk about things so deeply meaningful and profoundly intimate. 

Several years ago, a young father called me about his church membership. He and his family were actively involved in programs and activities of the church. In our conversation he said he was tired of searching for God and that he and his family were leaving the church. He said he was tired of searching for answers and needed to be in a church that could provide some answers. As I listened to him, I tried to understand his dissatisfaction. We talked about his work, his family relationships, and his contentment with his life. During our conversation, he said, “I feel like I’m running the bases, but I never reach home.” Then he said, “I am not sure I really believe in God.” 

God Believes in You

My next words to him were words I had used before.  I had heard them as a teenager in a Sunday school class.  It was there they had taken root in my life and began to shape my understanding of God’s love. Because they were meaningful to me, I had offered them to others through sermons, bible studies, and conversations along my faith journey. 

So, I offered the same words to him, “At this moment, it doesn’t matter whether you believe in God or not.  God believes in you.” I said, “I know you are searching for God.  But have you ever thought that God is also searching for you?  Can you imagine that God believes in you so much that God is searching for you?” 

I remembered words that had profoundly shaped my understanding of God’s love.  They were words of one of my instructors in seminary.  At that moment, I offered them to this young father.

I will come for you

“When our parents, Adam and Eve, left the garden of Eden, God whispered in their ear, ‘I will come for you.’  Adam and Eve didn’t understand God’s word as a promise.  They interpreted the word as a threat.  So, they ran and hid. 

As human beings, we have been running and hiding ever since.  But God has come searching for us.  God has come as a fragile, vulnerable baby, growing up with the comforts and restraints of home, family, community, and culture. 

As he grew up and matured, he worked hard. He experienced both joy and exhaustion. He learned what it was to love and be loved. He experienced what it was like to have people betray him. He had a dream of making the world a better place. His dream was rejected. He experienced the pain of having his friends turn against him. He suffered and died for his dream.  That is how God has come searching for you and for me.” 

Being Found By God

I wish I could say that my words made a difference. I did not hear him say to me, “I never thought of it that way before,” Or, “Now, I know that God loves me and my family,” Or, “Thanks Pastor.” The reality is, all I could do was to tell him a story of Jesus, “I AM” walking toward him on the water, in the midst of his search for answers. 

What would happen if you and I began to tell our stories of “being found” by God? What would happen if we took John Wesley seriously and began to “Offer them Christ” as we developed relationships and talked about what was deeply meaningful to us? 

Offer of Hope

What I know is this, to offer Christ is an offer of hope. The offer is more than sharing “spiritual facts” which lead to a mental assent to correct understanding and logical decisions.  You don’t experience hope as a form of indoctrination. 

The offer of Christ is not, what I grew up hearing, “closing the deal” for Jesus.  You and I don’t experience hope by being manipulated into saying “yes” to carefully worded questions.

The offer of Christ is a two-way process of honest interaction. Because you and I simply do not see everything the same way, we develop a friend-to-friend relationship.  So, the offer of Christ is not a single encounter.  It is an extended relationship of mutual respect and care.  It is within the relationship that hope is developed, experienced, and lived out. 

As important as it is, the offer of Christ is more than inviting people to worship or to participate in the programs of the church.  To offer Christ is to create a space where people can talk about their discontent and dissatisfaction in their search for God, and then embody the hope they need to experience the love of God that will never let them go. It is in and through our relationships that we can share our experiences of God searching for us. It is in and through our relationships that we share being found by God’s love in Jesus. Hope becomes a sign of who you are, and who you are is how you lead.

T. S. Elliot wrote, “the life we seek is not in knowing but in being known, not in seeking but in being sought, not in finding but in being found.” It is in being found by God that you are empowered to lead with hope. 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. Where do you experience hope? What happened? With whom did you share hope?  How did you express being found by God’s love in Jesus? With whom do you need to confess your struggle with hope? With whom do you need to celebrate the hope you have experienced in and through them?   

Prayer

O God, be my guiding light that I may have clear vision for the days in which I am living. You are my wisdom, strength and guide. In you I find my joy and peace. You are my true goal. Only you can satisfy my soul. Help me be your love in human form. As people are quietly quitting your church, help me develop true relationships of love that bind your people together, so that the people I encounter today and tomorrow will experience your love and grace through me. I am grateful, O God, for your love and hope in Jesus. Amen. 

There is a phenomenon that is permeating our culture. It is called “quiet quitting.” In the workplace, it is experienced when employees put in the minimum amount of effort to keep their jobs. There is little meaning or joy in their work, so they quietly do as little as possible before walking away. 

In the church, it is seen when members are unhappy with some aspect of their role in the church and participate marginally before silently walking away. They too find little meaning or joy in their faith, which has been reduced to participating in pseudo-religious activities and programs. 

Uncommitted Church Members or Ineffective Leadership?

Some have raised the question, “Is quiet quitting about uncommitted church members or about ineffective leadership? The research shows that poor leadership leads to more quiet quitters than effective leadership. Although I believe the problem is deeper than leadership, I am trying to help you be the leader God has created you to be in the midst of the cultural changes we are facing today. 

You are leading in a complex time. People have been leaving the church for many years and for many reasons. It is an issue influenced by societal changes, personal beliefs, and experiences. I don’t want to focus on the negative, but let’s look at some common reasons why people leave church. You might have experienced several of these for yourself. 

Why People Leave the Church

People leave church because of: 

Busy Lifestyles 

The demands of life, such as work, family, and other commitments, have made it challenging for some people to maintain active involvement in a church community. Youth and children’s activities which are held on Sunday mornings have been a big reason for the decline in participation. 

Generational Differences

People of all ages, but younger generations in particular, have been less motivated to attend worship or participate in church programs. People have begun to look for more flexible and non-traditional forms of spirituality. The reality is the church has not adapted to some cultural changes and has for years had difficulties in relating to younger generations. 

Negative Church Experiences

Unpleasant experiences within a church, such as conflicts, scandals, or mistreatment, have led people to lose faith in the institution and its leadership. Because the church has become more of a religious club, people are opting out of club conflicts. 

Changing Beliefs

Some people have undergone personal spiritual or religious transformations, leading them to question or abandon the beliefs they learned as a child or were taught in their churches. 

Doctrinal Disagreements

Sometimes differences in interpreting doctrine or differences in understanding the teachings of Jesus have led people to look for alternative denominations or spiritual paths. These differences are usually based upon personal preferences and preconceived unchecked ideas. 

Societal and Cultural Shifts

Changing societal norms and values, particularly in more secular or diverse communities, has led some people to question the role of faith in their lives. They have found the teachings and practices of the church no longer relevant to their lives, so they disconnect from the church as an institution. 

Leading the Church in the Midst of Change

Every reason listed above is true and valid when the church is viewed as one institution among others in competition for the interest and participation of its members. When you start from the perspective that the church exists to serve its members and their preferences then you, as the leader and the church as a whole, are continually jumping from the “pinnacle of the temple” to entertain and keep the interest of the people you want to reach. 

In other words, when the church does not meet the perceived needs of individuals those people seek to have those needs met elsewhere. 

As a Christ-centered leader, how do you lead in the midst of cultural changes? What is your focus during this time of quiet quitting? 

Let’s look at the scripture to bring clarity to your focus. 

Read: John 1:1-14 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being  in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overtake it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,  who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 

Reflect 

As we reflect upon this scripture, let’s start with incarnation. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us…” The word translated “lived among us” is literally “he pitched his tent among us.” When John wrote his gospel, the people were wandering nomads. They didn’t just take their tents on vacation; they lived in their tents. So, John’s good news is, “God became one of us and lived among us. He pitched his tent in our midst.” Today we might translate it “And the Word became flesh and parked his RV next to ours.” Or “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” The point is, God has decided to become a member of the human race. This is called incarnation. 

Incarnation is God’s method of evangelizing love. The method is to become a human being, to live with us, and to love us in our everyday situations. When we search the scriptures, we find that God made other attempts to evangelize his love. 

For example, one method found in the Old Testament was the revelation from Sinai. There God came down to earth in the thunder, the lightning, and the smoke on the mountain. God spoke and Moses presented God’s message on tablets of stone. We know that message to be the covenant of the Ten Commandments. 

The New Testament

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says that God was a little disappointed in that method. The purpose of the covenant was to provide love, life, and vitality to God’s people, but the purpose was lost in the “keeping” of the covenant. So, God discarded the old covenant and wrote a new one. God did not discard the commandments. God used a different method to have the commandments come to life.    

The New Testament method is God revealing his nature of love in the human person of Jesus. This was God’s new approach to evangelism, to model his love in a human being. It is in Jesus that God confronts the world with his visible Word. It is in Jesus that God models his love for us. Jesus is the incarnation of God’s love. 

So, as a Christ-centered leader, your focus is upon the incarnation as the evidence that God has come to be with us. And that we cannot be related to God without being related to the people around us. 

God’s Dwelling Place

That is part of the good news according to Matthew. Jesus said, “… 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, 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.’ 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.’” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40). 

Jesus was affirming his place in the human family. God has become one of us. The dwelling place of God is with us. In fact, we call him “God is with us.” With God’s new covenant, we can no longer deal with God without dealing with one another. 

Your Focus is Incarnational

So, part of your focus as a Christ-centered leader is incarnational. You become the love of God in human form. One way of being God’s love in human form is to love others as God in Jesus has loved you. 

The Word became flesh leads directly to the body of Christ. The church is the living, breathing body of Christ in the world. We are an extension of his life and ministry, actively participating in his ongoing work. This is the fundamental expression of our faith. This is who we are as grace-filled Jesus followers. 

Love of God in Human Form

Just as you, as a Jesus follower, are the love of God in human form, the body of Christ is the incarnation of God’s love in the world. We are the body of Christ because of the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection is simply God’s way of saying to us, “You might reject my covenant and presence, but I’m going to have the last word. I’m going to put my son right down there in the midst of you and he is going to dwell among you.”  God raised Jesus from the dead and we are the evidence of the resurrection. We are his body, living and breathing in the world today. 

The early followers of Jesus did not say that Jesus is risen because the grave is empty. They said, “He is risen because we are alive with his spirit, and we are doing the same things that he has taught us to do. We are the evidence that he is alive; healing, feeding, caring, serving in the world today.” 

Reshaping Lives

In The Acts of the Apostles, Simon Peter essentially says that the resurrection of Jesus is the reshaping of the lives of the believers to conform to his life, the reshaping of their minds to conform to his mind, the reshaping of their style of life to conform to the love of God. 

As a Christ-centered leader, your focus is on the resurrection and upon the followers of Jesus being the evidence of the resurrection in every situation and circumstance they might find themselves. 

Your work is to equip people to be who they have been created to be. They are part of the body of Christ, the evidence of the resurrection. As the body of Christ, living and breathing in the world, we already know that God has refused to take the world’s no for an answer to his love. So, with courage and boldness, we love one another as we have been loved by God. 

Model God’s Love

The Word became flesh, and the body of Christ leads directly to establishing loving and caring relationships with people. As a Christ-centered leader, your focus is on modeling God’s love so that through healthy relationships people can and will love others as they have been loved. 

Relationships within the body of Christ are fundamental to the spiritual, emotional, and social well-being of all people. It is within the body of Christ where people connect and learn from one another. It is where they build friendships, discuss faith, grow as followers of Jesus, and develop supportive and caring people who then love and care for the community at large.  Relationships within the body of Christ focus upon God’s love which leads to the practice of forgiveness and reconciliation. 

Relationships are Primary

Our reflection upon the incarnation, the body of Christ, and healthy relationships are primary to the life and impact of the church in the world today. I am sure you have noticed we did not focus on the next best program or how to attract people back to the church. We did focus on developing relationships with God, who has taken the initiative to come be with us in Jesus, and who has empowered us to be the evidence of God’s love and care in everyday situations and circumstances. 

As a Christ-centered leader, your focus is not on what next program is available to attract people into your building. Your focus is on modeling God’s love in your life, developing relationships with the people you encounter, and inviting and equipping them to model God’s love in their lives. Your focus is on being the incarnation of God’s love in the midst of the cultural changes of today.   

Respond 

So, as you reflect upon your focus as a leader, you might discover several ways to respond to being the incarnation of God’s love, being the body of Christ, and to developing relationships with the people God sends your way each day. 

Here is a story to assist you in bringing clarity to your focus.  

Two brothers lived on adjacent plots of farmland they had inherited from their father. For years, they had farmed together, played together, shared meals together, and supported each other in good times and bad. 

Then, one day there was a disagreement and they stopped speaking to one another. In fact, there was not a word spoken between them for years. 

One day, the elder brother was at his house when there was a knock at the door. When he answered the knock, he met a carpenter who was looking for work. The carpenter said, “I would like to do some work for you. Do you have any work that I can do?” The older brother thought for a moment and then replied, “Yes. I need you to build a fence on the edge of my property.” He pointed toward the stream that separated the land. “I want you to build it down near the stream that separates my farm from my brother’s farm. 

Puzzled, the carpenter asked him to explain the purpose of the fence. The older brother told him about his brother’s use of the stream. He told the carpenter that neither he nor his brother owned the water and that for years they shared it unselfishly. But then there had been a disagreement about the use of the water and that he and his brother had not spoken in years. ­He concluded by telling the carpenter that he wanted the fence built so he didn’t have to see his brother. 

Once he and the carpenter agreed upon the work to be done, the older brother said, “I’m going into town to run some errands. I’ll settle up with you when I return.”   

When he returned that evening, he was shocked to see that the carpenter had not followed his instructions. Instead of building a fence so he could not see his brother, he had built a bridge over the stream. The older brother walked down to take a look at the bridge. While he was there his younger brother walked toward him from the other side. 

The younger brother said, “After all the terrible things I’ve done to you over the years, I can’t believe that you would build a bridge and welcome me back.” He reached out to his brother and gave him a hug. 

Confused, but pleased, the older brother received the hug with gratitude. Then he walked back up to his farmhouse to settle up with the carpenter. The carpenter was packing his tools in the back of his pickup truck. The older brother said, “I just talked with my brother. He thanked me for building the bridge.” 

Then the older brother said to the carpenter, “Even though you did not build the fence, I am grateful that you built the bridge. Your gift has already helped to heal the wounds of our disagreements. I have more work that needs to be done. Will you stay and work for me?” 

The carpenter replied, “I like your invitation, but I have to go. I have other bridges to build. Besides, you and your brother can work together to finish the work that needs to be done.” 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. What happened to help you gain clarity in your focus?  With whom did you incarnate God’s love? How did you invite others into the body of Christ? How did you equip them to incarnate God’s love? With whom do you need to confess your desire to build fences? With whom do you need to celebrate building bridges of God’s love?  

Prayer

O God, be my guiding light that I may have clear vision for the days in which I am living. You are my wisdom, strength and guide. In you, I find my joy and peace. You are my true goal. Only you can satisfy my soul. Help me be your love in human form. As people are quietly quitting your church, help me develop true relationships of love that bind your people together, so that the people I encounter today and tomorrow will experience your love and grace through me. I am grateful, O God, for your love and presence in Jesus. Amen.


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 

As a Jesus follower, you have been called and gifted to be a Christ-centered leader. You have a responsibility to live and lead as God has created you to live and lead. The question is, “What does it mean to live and lead as a Christ-centered leader?

The Role of a Christ-Centered Leader

Your first and primary task is to be faithful to Jesus. So, your first task is not a political or social one, though you will certainly make an impact politically and socially. Your first task is to be shaped by God’s love so you can be who God created you to be. It is to live and be the truth of God’s love in everyday situations and circumstances.

Your goal is not success in terms of bigger and better or more people means more money. Your goal is to demonstrate that Jesus makes possible a new order based not upon what works or competing self-interest, but upon the truth of God’s love.

Living Out God’s Love in Everyday Situations

This is not a withdrawal from the world. God’s love invites, leads, and drives you into the world to work for justice and peace. You must take seriously the political processes that change systems and structures. You develop relationships with political leaders and assist them in working for the common good.

But you don’t put your hope in the political systems that serve self-interest or in societal norms of personal preference. As you live and lead you offer an invitation to the people entrusted to your care to confront the world. In obedience to Jesus’ invitation, you are first focused upon who you are by responding to, “Come unto me,” and “Do this in remembrance of me,” and then upon living as you have been created to live, “Follow me” and “Go into all the world.”

Balancing Belief and Behavior

As a leader of the people of God, you serve the church and the community. Your service is not in running errands but in providing light. You lead to provide an imaginative alternative to the culture. As you model leadership, you are providing hope for people who are struggling to create the structures and alternatives that the world cannot achieve through governmental power of self-interest.

You might wonder if your leading is worth the hassle. Here is where your courageous leadership comes in. Keep your eyes, heart, and mind on Jesus. When you feel your living and leading are ineffective, remember that Jesus appeared ineffective in the world. Then remember that his power was the truth of the nature of God and not power, strength, and violence within the culture.

Modeling Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Modeling God’s love will always be more radical than the world can provide. Legislation cannot serve the poorest and most powerless. The best policies can do is to give the less powerful a little more power and call it justice. The world cannot give dignity to the young, the old, the sick, the disabled, the marginalized. All it can do is hand out a few meager rights and call it compassion.

For the poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick, there must be hope that is not dependent upon public policy but upon the promise that God’s love is stronger than death, and that nothing can separate them or any of us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. You living into your call and giftedness helps bring that about.

As a Christ-centered leader, your living and loving help develop and provide a radical hope that forms a community of faith around the truth of God’s love as experienced in and through Jesus.

So first be faithful to Jesus.

Putting Faith into Everyday Action

Your second task is to live your faith in everyday relationships, encounters, situations, and circumstances. It is important to put belief and behavior together. As a leader influenced by John Wesley, you balance personal piety and social holiness.

In the scripture, proper behavior is a response to faith in God who is acting on your behalf. God’s requirements are always preceded by God’s actions. In the Old Testament, belief and behavior are brought together, “Hear O Israel: The Lord your God is one Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:4). That is the belief. Then follows the response: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). So, to be faithful to Jesus is to live your faith in everyday relationships, encounters, situations, and circumstances.

The Ten Commandments begin with the words, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). That is faith and belief. The commandments represent appropriate behavior in response to God’s acts of deliverance from slavery in Egypt.

The Good News in the New Testament

In good news according to Mark, Jesus walked along the lakeside announcing, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15). That was an invitation to faith. It was an invitation to believe that God was bringing a new world. Then comes the appropriate response, “Repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). All of Jesus’ demands, from “Come follow me” to “Take up your cross,” from “Go sell all you have and give to the poor” to “Turn the other cheek and go the second mile” are rooted in God’s invitation to love.

Paul in his letter to the Galatians writes, “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). That is belief. Jesus has set us free. Then comes the invitation to respond, “Stand firm, therefore and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery…For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters” (Galatians 5:1, 13). Then Paul offers the expected behavior, “Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another” (Galatians 5:13). So, to be faithful to Jesus is to live your faith in everyday situations and circumstances.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (II Corinthians 5:19). God acted in Jesus to reconcile us to God, to our true selves, and to others. In other words, God has acted in Jesus so we can be who God created us to be. The question is, what is the behavior to be balanced with this good news? Paul answers the questions for us, “And entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us” (II Corinthians 5:19-20). Your response to God’s reconciling love is to model through your leading the gifts of forgiveness and reconciliation.

The Leadership Role of Gratitude

At the heart of your faith and action is gratitude for God’s faith in you. Gratitude transforms obedience from a dreaded duty to a joyful expression of love. We simply enjoy doing what we do out of gratitude and love.

I remember a friend of mine telling me about his wife being on a business trip and what his children did to surprise her. On the day she was to return, my friend said he tried to persuade his son and daughter to help him clean the house before she arrived. He said they grumbled and procrastinated because they had other things to do.

As he served them their lunch, he said to them, “You know, Mom has been very good to us. She works hard and long, and she loves us very much. She will come in the door tonight with a hug and a gift for each of us. That is who she is. We are lucky to be loved so much. Why don’t we give her something as a gift? Let’s give her a clean house.” The children agreed. After lunch, they helped clean the house and even had fun making a game out of it.

I remember thinking that a clean house became a grateful response to a loving parent. That is behavior linked to belief. What a beautiful expression of faith in Jesus lived out in everyday situations and circumstances. That is what it means to lead as a Christ-centered leader. First you are faithful to Jesus, and you live your faith in everyday relationships, encounters, situations, and circumstances.

The Impact of Leadership

As a Christ-centered leader, why do you put your faith in Jesus into everyday action?

Several years ago, I read a story of a Canadian photographer by the name of Yousaf Karsh. The only portrait he took of a person’s back was taken of Pablo Casals in a small French Abbey in 1954. Karsh said he was setting up his equipment when Casals began playing Bach on his cello. Karsh was so taken by the music that he said he almost forgot why he was there. He took his portrait of Casals with the musician bent over his cello, frozen in time against the plain stone wall of the chapel. Karsh said that he took it that way to capture the loneliness of the truly great artists and the loneliness of the exile.

You are God’s Masterpiece

Years later, when the portrait was on exhibit in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, another old man came day after day and stood for long periods of time in front of the portrait. The Curator of the Museum noticed him, and when his curiosity got the best of him, he went over, tapped the man on the shoulder, and asked him why he stood so long before the picture. The old man, with obvious irritation, turned toward the curator and said, “Hush, young man. Can’t you see I’m listening to the music!”

Karsh watched Casals play his cello and presented a picture. The old man, looking at that picture, could hear the music.

You have been called and gifted to be a Christ-centered leader. You have a responsibility to live and lead as God has created you to live and lead. As a leader, you are God’s model, God’s picture, God’s music of what God wants your community, your neighborhood, your city to be.

As a Christ-centered leader, when you live and lead with God’s love you provide a radical hope all people need. Your music, your leadership, will permeate the whole of life and people will listen to you and follow you to Jesus.

Remember, who you are is how you lead!

Defining Leadership in Today’s World

Who or what defines a leader? How do you understand the concept of leadership?

I am discovering that most people assume that they know good leadership. Their understandings are based upon what they have seen or experienced. Sometimes their view is limited to a particular place, like the workplace, a service club, the PTA, or the church. Other times their view is based upon a person who has helped meet a need or shown some particular interest in relating to people.

Shifting Views on Leadership

Some people experience leadership all the time. Whether at work, school, the grocery store, or wherever they interact with people. They experience some form of leadership. They understand themselves as leaders, regardless of position or power. Wherever they encounter people, they have the opportunity to influence and to motivate people in one way or another.

In today’s culture, there are many ways to define, think about, and approach leadership. Some say a leader is one who inspires and motivates action. Others say a leader influences and advances change for a more equitable world. Then, there are others who say that a leader is anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes and has the courage to develop that potential (Brené Brown). Regardless of your definition, your belief about leadership informs what you think about and practice as a leader. So, how do you understand leadership?

The Need for New Leadership Models

Over my time in ministry, leadership has been limited in understanding. It has been seen as either pastoral (caring for God’s people, counseling, and spiritual care) or entrepreneurial (the leader knows where the church needs to go and has the vision, passion, and strategy to take it there). Pastoral leadership has its roots in scripture. Entrepreneurial leadership has its roots in the sociological aspects of the culture. Both models have their strengths and have met particular needs at particular times.

Because of the cultural shifts being experienced today, the time has come to rethink our leadership models. Most of us have been trained to be good caregivers and caretakers of the people entrusted to us. As we seek uniformity and stability in our congregations, we have learned that good pastoral care helps to get better results. I agree that good pastoral leadership is needed, but it is not enough to navigate the shifts taking place.

Because of the sharp decline in church membership and worship attendance, we have decided to rethink how we develop congregations. Some of you have special gifts of vision and development. You know how to start new faith communities and grow new congregations. I agree that leaders with entrepreneurial gifts are needed, but entrepreneurial leadership is not enough to overcome the shifts taking place.

Please hear me, I am not saying we don’t need pastoral and entrepreneurial leadership. But I am saying neither are adequate, by themselves, to lead through the cultural shifts of today. Both models have their place in providing effective Christ-centered leadership. But, even together, they fall short of the leadership needed to navigate the shifts being experienced today.

Cultural Shifts and the Role of Missional Leadership

Several years ago, I read a story about Halloween Mischief Night in a Philadelphia neighborhood. Two boys broke into a store. They didn’t steal anything, but they did something worse. They went around and changed the price tags on everything in the store. The next morning, people found televisions selling for $10.00, while phone adapters were selling for $1200. What had been made valuable was made cheap, and what was cheap had been made valuable.

That story is a silly illustration of what has happened in our culture over the past several years. It is almost as though someone has broken into our culture and changed the price tags. What we once thought was really valuable and precious does get as much attention as what has always been considered frivolous and worthless. The ground seems to be moving under our feet, and there is no firm place to stand. We are in the midst of some sharp cultural shifts.

The Call for Missional Leaders

The followers of Jesus have navigated cultural shifts from the very beginning. In the early church, the followers of Jesus were sent to serve and convert the world, to care for the sick, the prisoner, the widow, the children, and the poor. They knew they had been called and commissioned by Jesus to carry on his loving service in the world.

They were to engage the world, not withdraw from it. In the middle of a hostile environment, they were to witness to God’s love The front door was the frontier into mission. They were compelled to take the life they shared in the congregation and cross over the threshold into the hostile world outside.

Baptism was a powerful symbol of death to things of the hostile culture and a new birth into the way of Jesus. It was their call to be missional leaders. It meant that they put their lives on the line for the love of God they had experienced in and through Jesus. (The Greek word translated for “witness” is the same word for “martyr”). Leaders put their lives on the line for the love of God.

Living Out the Mission

Then with the conversion of the Roman emperor, Constantine, Christianity became the official religion of the empire. The church was no longer in a hostile environment because the church and the culture became intertwined. The followers of Jesus were no longer called upon to witness in a hostile world because everyone in the culture was Christian.

Over time the church shifted from a community of convinced, committed, believers supporting one another within a hostile environment to a community of good, law-abiding citizens, who paid taxes and supported both religious and secular institutions. Unity was no longer centered upon Jesus but shifted to administration, theology, and politics. Institutional structures were developed to minimize discord and to reconcile differences.

To become a follower of Jesus was to be born into the church. Baptism was no longer a call to mission but an affirmation of your place in the church. People became organizational leaders who became loyal and obedient to the institution.

Today, we no longer live in a culture where we can assume everyone is a follower of Jesus. We can no longer assume that the church is part of the community or vice versa. Although the culture is not totally hostile to the good news of God’s love, A new way of living out the mission is emerging. The shift is back to the mission field being just outside the front door of the church, of the workplace, of your home.

A New Way of Leading: Missional Leadership

In a time in which the mission field is changing, pastoral and entrepreneurial leadership alone are inadequate. The cultural shifts call for more than transitional change. There is a deep need and yearning for transformation. There is a call for a new understanding of leadership. Although pastoral and entrepreneurial leadership are part of it, a new way of leading is emerging. The orientation of leadership is different.

For the sake of clarity, I am calling this new leadership orientation missional leadership. It is not a new leadership concept or model, but it is a new and different orientation for most Christ-centered leaders today.

Missional leadership has its roots in the love of God. At the very heart of missional leadership is the development of a congregational environment where God is the center of conversation and where God shapes the focus and work of the people. It is about a cultural change that is powered by curiosity and imagination more than new techniques or programs.

Shaping Cultural Imagination and Embracing God’s Love

It is about shaping cultural imagination in order to create an environment where people, both in the community and in the church, are embraced by God’s love and set free to love others as they have been loved. It is a missional orientation that cultivates the practice of searching scripture, discerning prayer, and Christian conversation for the purpose of discovering places of God’s life-giving future in Jesus.

Missional leaders know the difference between transitional and transformational change.

They know that transitional change is focused on maintaining stability. What changes are made are reactions to what has caused a disruption or discomfort. The ultimate goal, whether intended or not, is stability at all costs, while transformational change names current reality, focuses upon the goal of new life, and leads the necessary change to build upon the fundamentals that bring about new life.

Differentiating Transitional and Transformational Change

They understand that transitional change is concerned with creating as little pain as possible, while transformational change is “ripping off the band-aid” and moving toward a new reality.

They recognize that transitional change works to maintain the status quo, even if by a different name, while transformational change works to adapt to the changing world and is willing to pay the cost to become effective and fruitful.

Missional leaders have a growing understanding that the church, which is made up of Jesus followers, lives the gospel message that not only embraces personal salvation for individuals but also embraces salvation for communities, cities, social systems, and all of creation. They lead by putting God’s mission at the center.

With entrepreneurial gifts, they develop relationships that assist people in understanding that God’s mission is not about personal preferences, pleasing people, or promoting prosperity. With the care and compassion of the pastor, they lead the shift from program-focused ministry to people-focused ministry. They model leadership by engaging with the community, adapting to societal changes, and helping people become followers of Jesus. They highlight the need to understand and embrace the local community, moving from attractional models to celebrating what God is doing in the community and in the lives of the people.

Engaging the Church and Community

Missional leaders engage the church in God’s active healing and wholeness, leading people to break down the barriers and navigate the obstacles to God’s mercy, equity, justice, and reconciliation. They engage the church and community to “scatter across the countryside” with the love of God experienced and known in Jesus.

So, said in another way, missional leadership isn’t about getting people to a church building on Sunday mornings; it’s about meeting people where they are and forming genuine connections. These connections are the catalyst for healthy and mutual transformation.

In a culture that feels like the price tags have been changed, missional leaders help the church be who God created the church to be at unexpected times in unexpected ways.

A few years ago, in a small rural community Presbyterian church, a young single mother brought her baby to the church to be baptized. On the day of the baptism, she stood alone before the congregation, holding her baby in her arms.

The pastor had not recognized the awkwardness of the situation. He came to the part in the baptismal service when the questions were asked, “Who stands with this child to assure the commitments and promises made here will be carried out? Who will be there for this child in times of need and assure that this child is brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?”

It was then that the pastor realized there was no grandparent or godparent to answer the questions. But without hesitation, as though on cue, the entire congregation stood and with one voice said, “We will.”

Missional Leaders Embody God’s Love

At the very heart of missional leadership is God’s love for all people. Missional leaders develop a congregational environment where God shapes the focus and work of the people. They help shape the cultural imagination in order to create an environment where people, both in the community and in the church, are embraced by God’s love and set free to love others as they have been loved.

Although there is much more that can be and should be said about missional leadership, I will end with this: How do you understand the concept of leadership? Who will stand with the community to ensure the love of God is experienced and known in and through the church? Will you be present and available in times of need and assurance to nurture and guide the community to become who God has created the community to be? Who is ready and willing to be a missional leader? Who you are is how you lead.

May I state the obvious? We are living in a time of great division in our country, our communities, and even our churches. Whether it be political divisions caused by particular agendas or a cancel culture perpetuated by social media, there is a tension that leads to fear and a lack of trust. 

There are no easy answers on how to lead through divisiveness. One of the first places I go to is to the scripture. But we have just come through a time in the church when scripture has been used to separate people. It has been painful to experience. Something like this has happened: If you and I don’t agree on the interpretation of certain scriptures then there must be something wrong with you or at least one of us. Because of how scripture has been used as a weapon, it is hard to trust the truth that leads us to God’s Word made flesh in Jesus. 

Don’t Confuse Your Understanding of Scripture

At other times people have confused their political views with their understanding of scripture. Because we have made scripture more about morality than we have reality, people use scripture to support their views more than allow scripture to transform their lives. There is a culture of fear growing around the understanding of scripture. I think of it this way. You start talking about God’s love for all people and an old snake will come crawling out from under a rock to scare you away. 

So, let me put it into context and then we will explore a scripture that can be helpful in meeting the challenge of divisiveness. 

The Word Made Flesh

As Christians, we believe in the Word made flesh, not in the Word made words. The scripture points us to Jesus, God’s love in human form. Following Jesus is more than a set of beliefs. It is a way of life. Following Jesus is about loving one another, especially those who are strangers or who are different from us.    

According to the scripture, the world will know that we are followers of Jesus, God’s love in human form, by the way we relate to, interact with, and love one another. When I start with that perspective, I am convinced that Scripture provides a way to lead through divisiveness. 

Read Acts 17:24-25 

For the total story, read Acts 17:16-34

24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.  

Reflect

The apostle Paul found himself in a new world. His old world in which all questions had clear, precise answers had been shattered by his Damascus Road encounter with the Risen Christ. 

He had to sort out that experience and its impact on his perception of himself, his tradition, and what he believed. He needed direction to begin his mission of love and acceptance of the Gentiles. Before his experience with Jesus, he had considered the Gentiles beyond mercy. Now, he was an ambassador of love to the Gentiles. 

New World Required New Tools

He traveled to Athens, a center of Greek culture, where new ideas, competing values, and diverse philosophies were the norm of the city. Sharing the gospel of God’s love in that setting demanded that simplistic answers to difficult questions would not suffice. 

The new world required new tools. So, Paul had to learn new ways, understand his context, and earn respect to deal with the new world that was thrust upon him. He had to take what he knew and what he was learning to meet the demands of faith in the pluralist environment in which he found himself. 

How did he respond to the demands of the new environment? What tools did he use to meet the challenges of the new culture? 

Leading Through The Lens of Scripture

One of his tools was his grounding in the Hebrew scripture. In this story, he is surrounded by a different worldview. He was dealing with people who were more familiar with Zeus than with Yahweh. Their heroes were Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle rather than Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 

Paul saw the situation through the lenses of scripture. The Old Testament’s emphasis on belief in one God and its warning against graven images shaped Paul’s perception of and response to the Greek world. His grounding in scripture shaped him and provided a framework for approaching a different culture. The scripture provided a foundation upon which his new faith in Christ was built. 

The shifting sands of our world today, with its conflicting values and diverse relationships, call us to reexamine the primary tool for discerning God’s presence and purposes. The Bible has always been our primary witness to God’s revelation and loving activity.   

Use the Bible for Illumination

John Wesley dealt with the changing social currents of eighteenth-century England with his faith firmly rooted in scripture. He was so steeped in the biblical story that every personal and societal issue he faced was shaped by the bible. 

The Bible remains the primary tool we use to approach the issues of our time. The question is, how do you use the truth of the scripture to address the challenges of our day? William Sloan Coffin, former chaplain of Yale University and senior minister of Riverside Church in New York City, once wrote, “Too many Christians use the Bible as a drunk does a lamppost, more for support rather than for illumination.”   

Instead of scripture providing a light to help us navigate our way through conflicting values, it is being used to support our political and theological perspectives. Instead of scripture being a framework for approaching cultural change, it is being used to separate and divide people. 

How Do You Read Scripture?

As I have written before, it matters where you start. If you start from the perspective that scripture supports your point of view, you will use scripture as a weapon to get what you want. If you start from the perspective that scripture gives you direction on loving and relating to people, you will be transformed to love others as God in Jesus has loved you.   

Paul used his grounding in scripture to shape his understanding of people and the culture in which they lived. The scripture became his framework for approaching a different culture and a foundation upon which his new faith in Jesus was built. 

The Tool of Tradition

Another one of Paul’s tools was tradition. As a respected Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, Paul was accustomed to interpreting and applying Jewish tradition to new situations. He knew the Torah and rabbinic literature. He drew upon his tradition when confronting the alien gods and philosophies of the Greek world. It is obvious from Paul’s speech to the philosophers that passages from the Wisdom of Solomon, from Isaiah 42, and from Psalm 74 were in his mind and heart. 

He not only drew upon his own tradition, but he took the tradition of the Athenians seriously. He quoted from their philosophers and called attention to their heritage. He saw connecting points between his own tradition and those of the people whom he confronted in Athens. 

Responding to Cultural Change

When confronted by personal tragedies as well as new challenges in the form of cultural change you must not only stay in touch with your values and traditions. You must also learn about and understand the values and traditions of others. 

You need to be clear about who you are in order to stand firm when the ground starts moving. But if you are aware only of your own tradition you will not be able to develop the relationships needed to address the complex challenges when the ground is moving. 

Claiming Tradition and Relating to Others

Please continue to learn about and stand upon the tradition of historic creeds and liturgies, the great stories of faith, the bloodstained examples of the martyrs, and the heartwarming sermons and hymns of our ancestors. They are part of who you are as a follower of Jesus. 

But, at the same time, don’t forget that those to whom you are trying to relate have their own creeds and liturgies, great heroes of faith, and heartwarming stories and songs. Remember, it is God’s love for you in and through Jesus who is at the heart of your tradition. 

The Power of Experience

For Paul confronting the Athenians, scripture and tradition were not enough. He had to call upon another tool in order for the gospel to be relevant in a new setting. Paul met the Athenians at the point of their experience. 

He acknowledged their desire to know the Divine. Rather than put down their experience, he affirmed their genuine search for the ultimate. He accepted the validity of the insights of their traditions and heroes. Rather than introduce them to God, as if they had no experience of the Divine, Paul named that which they had experienced but had labeled unknown. 

The Validity of Experience

Here is a clue to courageous and faithful leadership in a world of conflicting voices and values. If there is validity in your experience, then you will allow others the validity of their own experience. As a follower of Jesus, you know that God is present in and with every person and in all of life. 

In other words, God is not present with some absent from others. All persons experience the reality of God in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). But, not all persons, know that it is God whom they experience.  

In Jesus, God has claimed each and every one of us. You have been claimed as a member of a loving household and called to be a giver of God’s grace. The scriptural story is a story of God’s love for all persons, but not all people know they have been claimed by God. Your experience of God’s love is a tool to connect with the experience of others and to identify the intersections of God’s grace and their experience. 

Love as You Have Been Loved

Just as Paul with the Athenians, it is your task as a Christ-centered leader, to be open to God’s presence in others and to hold the common experience in the light of scripture and tradition. God often comes to us from the experiences of those whom we assume do not know God. 

So, keep in your heart and mind the command to love as you have been loved. It remains at the center of what it means to be faithful to God. In the world in which we live, many complex realities are before us. The fundamental question remains the same, “Where have you experienced the presence and reality of God? 

The Tool of Reason

Notice that Paul did not stop with the Athenians’ unnamed experience. He connected their experience to the Risen Christ, who is the shape and source of authentic love. Scripture, tradition, and experience were resources used by Paul as he stood in the Areopagus. But he had one more vital tool, reason. 

The Athenian philosophers worshiped at the altar of reason, so Paul met them there. Drawing upon the insights of their philosophers, Paul attempted to connect the Greek culture to the God made known in Jesus. Paul told the Athenians, “From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth” (Acts 17:26). He then quoted their own thinkers and poets: “In him we live and move and have our being…For we too are his offspring” (Acts 17:28). 

Reason, motivated by love, under the banner of faith, can be fertile ground for eternal truth to grow and mature. In 1768, John Wesley wrote a reply to a theologian at Cambridge University, “To renounce reason is to renounce religion…for all irrational religion is false religion.” 

Reason as a Path of God’s Presence

When I was in Peoria, there was a young man, a physicist, who had difficulty believing God’s love for him, especially in and through Jesus. He spent hours reading, researching, and asking questions. Eventually, he took a step toward God. 

He found the universe to be full of mystery and wonder. He made his way to worship. In the liturgy, he found a way to express his sense of praise and adoration toward a reality he called God. Through many conversations and reading the writings of theologians, he was challenged to read the scripture with a fresh openness and to recite the creeds with integrity. Reason was a path of God’s presence for him. 

Ask Your Questions

I know a pastor who tells the story of receiving a letter from an eleven-year-old member of his congregation. Here is part of the letter: 

In the Bible, it says that several days after making the earth God made Adam and Eve. But in science, it says that no one lived before the dinosaurs or while they were living. How could dinosaurs have lived for millions of years before people if God made Adam and Eve seven days after the earth was made? …I hope you won’t be mad at me, but sometimes I have trouble believing…but I still believe in God. 

The pastor encouraged him to ask his questions. Somewhere this bright and articulate eleven-year-old got the notion that to use his mind was outside of having faith. Because he asked questions it meant he did not or could not believe. On the contrary, through reason, he and many others have come to glorify the God who is the source of all truth. 

Scripture, Tradition, Experience & Reason

Paul used the tools of scripture, tradition, experience, and reason to relate to the Athenians and to introduce them to the God who they had labeled unknown. These same tools are instruments by which God comes to us from that world out there beyond our church walls. They are the means by which God transforms the world through us. 

Respond

As a Christ-centered leader, how will you lead through the divisiveness of our culture? Here is something to keep in your heart and mind as you navigate the separation and pain of our day. 

  • It is not scripture, tradition, experience, or reason that creates the hostility we experience today. It is fear. So, as you lead with courage keep this in your heart. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). 
  • It is love that banishes fear and prejudice, which allows us to grow in understanding, freedom, and compassion. It was love that made Jesus draw to himself those who the world abandoned. It is love that will assist us to do the same. 
  • In the midst of the divisiveness, be who you are supposed to be. Love as you have been loved. Learn from Paul’s response to the challenges he faced in Athens and lead as you were created to lead. Be who you are because who you are is how you lead. 

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 awesome responsibility of holding and leading the mission of the church. There is no greater work than equipping people to follow Jesus and to lead them into the community to love others. There is no greater work than to love others as God in Christ has loved you. 

I know I am not telling you anything new, but over the past several years, it has been difficult to stay focused on the mission. Because of several cultural shifts, the church is shifting as well. Without your courageous leadership, the church will lose focus on the mission and drift astray. 

As a Christ-centered leader your work is always to assist people to follow Jesus, but how you assist them is shifting. Your work is shifting from developing programs of preference to engaging people in loving others as God is Jesus has loved them. The shift is from a full calendar of activities to equipping them to pray, study scripture, and share life together. The shift is from bigger and better to “what do we need to do that no one else is doing?” 

Equipping People to Follow Jesus

Over my years of ministry, the shift has been from providing programs that would bring people into the church building to equipping people to follow Jesus into the community to love others as Jesus has loved them. 

To lead through these shifts is not easy. It means having a clear understanding of identity. “Who are we as followers of Jesus” and “What does being a follower of Jesus have to do with the church?” 

A Fable

There is a Hindu fable about a tiger cub who was separated from his mother and fellow tigers. He was adopted by goats who raised him as if he were a goat. So, instead of roaring with a voice that shook the forest, the tiger bleated softly in sounds heard only by his adopted family.

Instead of eating red meat, the tiger grazed on the soft grass and ate bark from tender saplings, which caused him to lack the robust strength characteristic of well-fed tigers. Instead of roaming the lofty peaks and leaping the treacherous mountain crevices, the tiger, who thought he was a goat, roamed the paths of the lowlands. 

He didn’t know who he was. His only image of himself was taken from the world around him, a world of goats rather than of tigers. He was less than a tiger because he had no understanding of what it meant to be a tiger. He had been cut off from his true identity.

An Uncertain Identity

The church suffers from a similar situation. We are unsure of our identity because of our broken connection with our biblical and theological roots. Our failure to stay in daily contact with the images of the church found in the scripture has blurred our identity. Because we are unclear about who we are, we have turned to images of the world around us to provide models of being and doing. 

The business world, civic clubs, and social and political organizations have become our patterns. Because of our lack of clarity, the church is treated as an institution among institutions. The church has become an organization among many organizations to which we belong, in which we find fellowship, and in which we engage in endless activities. 

The Result of Lack of Identity

The result is that we wander around on the smooth, well-worn lowland paths, grazing on tasty but unnourishing pious junk food. No one trembles at our blah messages or pays much attention to our bleating pronouncements. We hear the echo of a distant roar which temporarily strikes a responsive curiosity, and we have a vague hunger that is not satisfied by pious platitudes.

Occasionally we catch a glimpse of a Christlike image that gives a nudge to being more than we are as a church. We go through the motions, but our hearts are elsewhere. We know deep down in our souls that there is more to church than going to meetings and promoting an institution. 

Effectiveness of the Church

In every age, the church has wrestled with its identity. John Wesley, in his sermon titled “Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity,” raised the concern that Christianity, and particularly the Methodists, has not been more effective in transforming the world. One reason he gave is that so few understand the basic doctrines and beliefs of the faith. 

According to Wesley, before the church can be effective, it must know the doctrines, practice the disciplines, and give itself sacrificially in obedience to Jesus Christ. In other words, the church’s effectiveness requires that we know our true identity and live out that identity in the world. (The Works of John Wesley, Albert Outler). 

Our Identity is Rooted in Jesus

Let me be clear, our basic identity is rooted in Jesus. However the prevailing understanding of the church today is rooted in sociology. Rather than images like “people of God,” “Body of Christ,” or “community of faith” being the images for our life and work together, we have given into images like buildings, budgets, conferences, meetings, boards, committees, agencies, and programs.  Instead of prayer, searching the scripture, and life together being our main focus for carrying out our mission, we have adopted management by objectives, strategic planning, marketing techniques, organizational structures, and institutional maintenance, as our mode of operation. Please hear me, I am not saying any of those things are wrong, but they are not the root identity of the church. 

Prayer has been reduced to a functional way to open meetings. Bible study often is nothing more than an attempt to find biblical quotations to support our self-absorbed and programmatic preferences. Worship has degenerated into an ecclesiastical performance of a variety show. 

Transforming the World

When the world gives us our identity, the mission is defined in terms of strengthening the institution rather than transforming the world. Evangelism is equated with church membership rather than loving others in word and action. Ministry becomes a profession, a career to be cultivated and promoted, rather than a calling to be fulfilled. And pastors function more as institutional CEOs rather than as spiritual leaders or as visionaries of a new heaven and a new earth. Church leaders look for the next best program for renewal rather than look to the theology of personal and social transformation. 

Being Faithful Followers of Jesus

Since I am on a roll, while Jesus dies on the cross for a broken world, his new body, the church, is preoccupied with its attractiveness to the world. While Jesus lives and serves among the poor, the addicted, the imprisoned, the wounded, and the sick in the community, the church is at the beauty shop trying to become more appealing to the masses. It is at the public relations firm working on a new slogan, brand, and marketing technique. It is in a boardroom developing a strategy to stop the downward slide of its membership. 

Again, let me be clear, it is not about the survival of an institution. It is about being faithful grace-filled Jesus followers who put faith into action. It is not our identity as a social institution that transforms the world. The world needs us to fulfill our identity as a community of God’s faithful people who are motivated by God’s love to move into the hurting places of the world. 

The New Testament is full of images that define who we are. 

Read Matthew 5:13-14 

13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything but is thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.” 

Reflect

The good news according to Matthew was written a generation after Jesus’ death. Members of the new community of Christ were in danger of losing their identity. Matthew sought to keep the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus before the community.  He knew that only in doing so would the community remember and fulfill its true identity. 

So, he chose two images from Jesus as reminders. “You are the light of the world,” and “You are the salt of the earth.” 

“You are the light of the world; a city set on a hill cannot be hid.” So, we, as the church, are a light to the community. We live God’s vision for the world. In our personal lives and our life together, we are to model for the world God’s presence and purposes. 

Our Guiding Light

Bishop Kenneth L. Carder tells the story of serving a church that was in the flight pattern of a regional airport. The spire of the church was lit at night. It could be seen by the pilots as they made their approaches to landing or as they took off. He said that one Sunday morning a pilot attended worship. After the service, he told a few worshippers, “For years I have been using the lights from this church to get my bearings in the night. I’m sure glad you keep your light beaming.” 

As a Christ-centered leader, you are to be and hold the light by which others can keep their bearings. As a Christ-centered leader, you are to equip Jesus followers to be and hold the light in the places they live, work, and play. 

Our True Identity

Do you remember the story of the tiger cub who thought he was a goat? One day the king tiger approached the herd of goats that had adopted the tiger cub. The goats scattered, leaving the tiger alone with the king tiger. The king tiger confronted the cub who thought he was a goat with his true identity, but he didn’t understand. 

So, the king tiger took the cub to a stream. There he saw his likeness to the king tiger, but he still did not feel or act like a tiger. Then the king tiger gave him some red meat. At first, it tasted bitter, but soon it satisfied his deep hunger. It was then that the tiger roared his first roar, a roar that shook the whole forest. 

Jesus Shows Us Our Identity

Jesus has come to show us our true identity. In him, we see that we are beloved children of God. He feeds us the often-bitter meat of divine truth, but our hunger is satisfied with nothing less. We are to be the body of Christ in the world, by which bruised and alienated people are led to the living water where they see themselves as made in the divine image.  Through our relationships in the community, the people around us can taste the bread that satisfies the hungry heart. 

God’s light, in and through us, exposes the evils and heals brokenness. It nurtures us and invites us toward new horizons. It pushes back the darkness of despair and opens the curtain of a new day. That’s who we are. We are a sign of God’s reign breaking out in the world. We are a community in which God’s future invades the present. 

The Church is a Preserving, Nurturing Community

“You are the salt of the earth.” Salt preserves and gives taste. The church is a light, a mission, but it is also a preserving and nurturing community. 

As the salt of the earth, our identity is known through love. We are not a cozy fellowship of nice people trying to be nicer. We are a community of compassion loving one another, friend and stranger alike, with the love of Jesus. As the church, we are the conscience of the community, where love, just like salt or red meat, can have a bitter edge to it. We come together because Jesus, who died for us, has invited us to gather and to serve in his name.

Because we are followers of Jesus, who love like he loves, the barriers of gender, race, and class are not present in the community. Everybody is somebody. Our worth depends upon to whom we belong. All are treated with respect and dignity, like daughters and sons of God, like sisters and brothers of Jesus. 

As a Christ-centered leader, you help equip the followers of Jesus to model God’s love in the places they live, work, and play. 

Respond

What would happen if everyone who entered the church building was treated with dignity and value? And that every time they entered the sanctuary they felt as though they were being hugged by God? 

What would happen if every time the followers of Jesus left their homes, church buildings, schools, and places of work, the people they met were treated with love and dignity? What would happen if everyone you met felt as though they were being hugged by God through you? 

Our Identity from Acts

Jesus is the identity of the church. Here are the characteristics that help shape identity from the Acts of the Apostles: 

Devoted to Apostles Teaching

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

Related to One Another

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

Praying Together

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

Worshiping Together

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

Attracted by Joy of Community

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

Gathered in Homes

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

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything but is thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.” 

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 

Have you ever considered yourself to be a missionary? Have you considered entering a different culture, developing relationships with the people, and sharing God’s love by serving and working with the people? 

Whether you have considered it for yourself or not, you know people who have been called and gifted by God to share the good news of God’s love by learning the traditions and activities of the culture and by developing relationships of trust and compassion. 

They have been trained to be cross-cultural workers, immersed in a culture different than their own, to discover and understand the needs and assets of the people they are called to love and serve. 

Are You A Missionary?

There is a need for people to respond to God’s call by leaving the known and entering the unknown. There is a need to cross the cultural barriers, motivated by God’s love, to love and serve people in the name of Jesus. With that said, have you ever considered yourself to be a missionary? As you reflect upon the question, let me offer a perspective to consider. 

The early followers of Jesus found their identity in his mission. They understood themselves as evidence of the resurrection and that they became part of the loving, healing, feeding, serving, and dying of the Risen Christ. They engaged the world and witnessed to the work of Jesus in the midst of a hostile environment. In the midst of the tension, they did not withdraw from the world or forsake the mission.

Baptism as Calling and Commissioning

Baptism was a powerful symbol of new life in Christ. It symbolized death to things of the world and new birth into the way of Jesus. Through baptism, Jesus followers knew they had been called and commissioned by Jesus to carry out his loving service. They understood the mission field to be where they were at the time. So, they lived out their call in the places they lived and worked. They were driven to ask “Who are we in relationship to those around us? To whom are we sent?” It was out of their experience with Jesus and developing relationships that their understanding of mission emerged.

They put their lives on the line for Jesus as they witnessed to God’s love across boundaries of race, nationality, and economics. They were missionaries just by being followers of Jesus.   

Sharing the Good News of God’s Love

Then, during the age of Christendom, when all institutions of the culture were Christianized, the mission field shifted.  It moved from wherever you were at the time to areas outside the boundaries of the empire or country. To be a missionary during Christendom meant that you entered a culture different than your own, developed relationships with the people, and shared God’s love by serving and working with the people. 

You shared the good news of God’s love by learning the traditions and activities of the culture and by developing relationships of trust and compassion. You became a cross-cultural worker, immersed in a culture different from your own, who worked to discover and understand the needs and assets of the people you were assigned to love and serve. 

The Mission Field is Outside Your Door

That brings us to today. The missionary spirit is in our DNA as a follower of Jesus. But we are living with a Christendom mindset. So, what does that mean?

It means we are in the midst of another shift. Although most of us believe we live in a Christian culture, we can no longer assume everyone is Christian or assume that the community is part of the church. A new way of living out the mission is emerging. The mission field is, once again, just outside the front door.

The reality is wherever you are, you have the opportunity to enter a new community, to learn the traditions and activities of the people, and to develop relationships of trust and compassion. In the truest sense, wherever you are, you are a missionary of the love of God.   

Love Like Jesus

The foundation of being a missionary is Jesus. The greatest distinguishing characteristic of Jesus is love. So, your work as a missionary is to love like Jesus in the places you interact with people on a daily basis. 

To love like Jesus means to focus on people and develop communities of care and compassion. It is a love that defines God’s immeasurable, incomparable love for all people. It is God’s ongoing, outgoing, self-sacrificing interest and concern for creation. God loves you, me, humanity, and all creation without condition. To love like Jesus is the work of the Christ-centered missionary.

Love Lived Out in Relationship with Others

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

So, to love like Jesus means to live 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 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. This love is greater than politics, nationality, gender, and race. To be a Christ-centered missionary means you live by and serve with love greater than yourself. 

Be a Missionary of Love

To love like Jesus is to understand that love is the greatest expression of relationships. As a missionary of love, you are working for the good of all people. Relationships, and not agreement, are the issue. As a Christ-centered missionary, you love as you have been loved and you courageously serve the community with that same love.

To love like Jesus is to express your love 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). 

Be Focused on the Good of Others

To love like Jesus is to be focused on the good of others before it is focused on our own good, desires, expectations, or results. As a Christ-centered missionary, you love because God in Christ first loved you.  

Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” This love is about being who God created you to be for no other reason than being who God created you to be. Who you are is how you love.  

Love the People in Your Community

As a Christ-centered missionary, you love the people in the community where you are at this moment. So, it is important to know your context, your community, the people to whom you are sent (or are sent to you). You love like Jesus so you can fall in love with your community. So, try experimenting with the following: 

  • Take a walk through your community or neighborhood. (This might happen a little differently in some areas. In more rural communities, you might need to drive by your neighbors). Organize a group of people in your church to walk together in twos or threes. 
  • Pray for each family in the homes as you walk by. Ask God to help you be the neighbor God needs you to be for them. Pray for their well-being. Ask God to love them through you. Pray for each business, service, hotel, etc. that you pass by. Ask God to love the people you meet through you. 
  • Engage the people you meet along the way in conversation. Ask them, “What do you like about our community or our neighborhood?” “If anything, what would you like to see changed?” As you reflect upon your conversations, think about how you and/or the church can come alongside the people in the community? 
  • Take note of the different agencies and services in your community. Are there schools? Libraries? Police stations? Fire stations? Extended care facilities? What other assets can you identify? Medical clinics? Social agencies? Begin to engage your church in prayer. Pray, “Oh God, help us see you in the people in our community. What do we need to do that no one else is doing?” 
  • In your conversations, listen to the needs in your community. Is there a need for food? Housing? Childcare? Community park activities? Health care? Pray, “Oh God, send us the people that no one else wants and help us love the people you send to us.” 
  • Identify the individuals in your congregation who can assist in making connections in the community. Who are the leaders in the community? Who are school teachers or administrators? Who has influence among the people? Now, pray for each of them. Ask God to prepare them for the mission of loving the community as God has loved them. At the appropriate time, ask them to assist you in relating to the community. 
  • Identify other churches you might ask to be a partner with you in developing relationships and providing resources. Give God thanks for the opportunity to be a conduit of God’s love to the community. 

So, as a Christ-centered missionary, you love like Jesus, and you love the people in your community. The question is, “do you need special training to love? 

The answer is no. You love people and your community as God in Jesus has loved you. 

Jesus Loves You

Tony Campolo tells the story of being a counselor at a junior high camp early in his ministry. He said junior-high boys have a strange and often cruel sense of humor. There is a strong tendency to pick on anyone who is different, to make fun of them, and make them the brunt of their jokes. 

He said this was the case during one particular week of summer camp. The boys picked on a thirteen-year-old boy named Billy who had difficulty walking and talking. He had cerebral palsy. 

The boys at the camp would often mimic his gestures. They thought it was funny to imitate his halting movements and his slurred speech. Their actions were cruel at best, but the cruelest thing they did was on Thursday morning of the camp. 

On that day, Billy’s cabin had been assigned to lead the morning devotions. They voted for Billy to be the speaker. They wanted to get him up and in front of everybody so they could be entertained by his struggling attempts at speaking.   

Surprisingly, it did not bother Billy. When the time came for the devotion, he dragged himself up to the front of the room. Except for the snickering of the boys from his cabin, everyone was quiet and attentive.   

Campolo said, It took Billy almost30 seconds to say, ‘Jesus…loves…me…and…I…love…Jesus.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus…loves…you…too.’” 

Campolo said, “When he finished, there was stunned silence.  When I looked over my shoulder, I saw that all over the place there were junior-high boys with tears streaming down their cheeks. Some of them had their heads bowed.” 

He said, “We had done many things that week to try to reach the boys with the gospel message, but nothing had worked. We had even brought in baseball players whose battering averages had gone up since they started praying, but it had no effect on the boys. It wasn’t until Billy, with his slurred speech, declared his love for Jesus that everything changed.” 

It was years later, while traveling, that Campolo met a young man who said, “You probably don’t remember me. I became a Christian at a junior high camp where you were a counselor.” Before the conversation was over the man said, “Jesus reached out and spoke to me through Billy.” 

Friends, God doesn’t need superstars or trained witnesses. As it says in the scripture, God likes to take “the stones which the builders reject” to use as the foundation rock for loving all of creation. 

Are You a Missionary?

Have you ever considered yourself to be a missionary? When you leave your home, your work or your church building, you are entering the mission field where people need a kind, caring, encouraging word. God has already loved you through his Word made flesh in Jesus. The joy and peace of this life come through sharing what you have received. 

When you enter your community, you have the opportunity to develop new relationships and to share the joy and peace you have received in the name of the living God who loves you in Jesus and who empowers you to share God’s love through the Holy Spirit. 

Whether you have considered being a missionary or not, you are a missionary just by following Jesus. Today, love like Jesus and love your community. Be the missionary you have been called and gifted to be right where you are at this moment.  And remember, who you are is how you lead.  

Who or what comes to mind when you hear the word “missionary”? Is it someone who leaves everything behind and enters a foreign cultural context to serve God? Is it someone who crosses cultural barriers to share the good news of Jesus? Is it someone who goes beyond their natural environment and into a new one motivated by the love of God?  

Who or what comes to mind? Traditionally a missionary has been seen as someone who enters a culture different than their own, develops relationships with the people, and shares God’s love by serving and working with the people. They share the good news of God’s love by learning the traditions and activities of the culture and by developing relationships of trust and compassion with the people. A missionary is a cross-cultural worker, immersed in a culture different than their own, to discover and understand the needs and assets of the people they are called to love and serve.   

Are you a missionary?

Who or what comes to mind? Have you ever considered yourself to be a missionary? Maybe you can think of it this way. Wherever you are called to serve, you have the opportunity to enter a new community, learn the traditions and activities of the community, and to develop relationships of trust and compassion with the people. In the truest since, wherever you are, you are a missionary of the love of God you have experienced in and through Jesus.     

On Mission for Jesus

The early followers of Jesus were missionaries. They found their identity in his mission. They understood themselves as evidence of the resurrection and that they became part of the living, serving, and dying of the Risen Christ. Their witness was seen in their loving, serving, and caring for the sick, the prisoner, the widow, the fatherless, and the poor. 

They engaged the world and witnessed to the work of Jesus in the midst of a hostile environment. Whether it was living in tension with the established religion (Judaism) or being persecuted by the government (Roman), they did not withdraw from the world or forsake their mission. They were missionaries of the Risen Christ.

They understood themselves as called to ministry through their baptism. As baptized followers of Jesus they lived out their call to ministry with the people they encountered each day in the area in which they lived. As they worshiped, they listened to the stories of Jesus and how he interacted with people. It was out of their developing relationships and their experience of Jesus that their understanding of mission emerged. 

They put their lives on the line for Jesus as they witnessed to God’s love across boundaries of race, nationality, and economics. The mission field was at their front door. In other words, they became missionaries of Jesus with everyone they met.

Prepared to Be Messengers

Those early followers were missionaries of the Risen Christ. In the bible, you can read about the Acts of the Apostles. I’m being a little “biased” here, but some of my favorite stories are of people like Philip, Peter, and Ananias meeting people along the way. God has prepared them to be God’s messenger as they meet those who have been pushed to the edges of society and cut off from the community of faith, who are theologically and religiously misaligned with the new community of Jesus followers, and that Jesus is greater than cultural norms and religious laws.

As missionaries, they saw themselves as evidence of the resurrection of Jesus. They told everyone they met about Jesus. When the religious council heard of what they were doing, the followers of Jesus were told to stop. But they persisted. So, the religious council had them arrested and beaten. 

Then the followers of Jesus were told not to speak in the name of Jesus again. Read the words for yourself from Acts 5:33-42

As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah” (Acts 5:41-42).

Worship as a Celebration of Christ

Worship was the celebration of their experiences of the Risen Christ and of what God was doing in the lives of the people they met each day. To be considered worthy to suffer for the sake of Jesus was reason to worship and to continue to witness to the mighty acts of God. So, these early missionaries, freshly beaten, walked down the road with their heads held high, smiling, giving each other first-century high fives, because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the name of Jesus.

To our modern-day ears, being a missionary does not sound very inviting. You and I have been shaped by a different worldview. Those early followers were part of a missionary age while we have been influenced by Christendom. In a missionary age, the mission field was wherever you were at any given moment. In Christendom, the mission field moved to countries beyond the borders of the empire or country in which you were living.

Specialized Ministry

The shift came with the conversion of Constantine. He declared that all the empire was Christian. With that edict, the identity and mission of the church shifted from being a voice and force in a hostile culture to becoming the official religion of the Roman empire. With that shift came a different understanding of being a missionary. As a follower of Jesus, you were no longer a missionary as you stepped out the front door. Being a missionary became a specialized ministry that carried the good news to countries outside the empire.

Baptism was no longer a call to ministry but became a rite of claiming new followers of Jesus for the empire or the institution providing the baptism. The shift was from being centered upon Jesus to being centered upon a particular culture, theology, and worldview.

Most of us, if not all of us, have been shaped by the idea that being a missionary means you pack up your belongings, travel to a foreign culture, to serve God by crossing cultural barriers to teach people about Jesus. There is a kernel of truth to that idea, but only a kernel.   

A Christ-Centered Missionary

When I ask the question, “Who or what comes to mind when you hear the word “missionary?” We have been shaped by a worldview different from those early followers of Jesus. So, take a deep breath in, now let it out. You are not going to be beaten for your faith in Jesus today.  But you are not off the hook.

What does it mean to be a Christ-centered missionary today? We are living in a new missionary age. Although most of us still believe we live in a Christian culture, we can no longer assume everyone is Christian or assume that the community is part of the church. A new way of living out the mission is emerging. The mission field is, once again, just outside the front door. And you, as a follower of Jesus, are a missionary in the places you live, work, and play.

Follow Jesus in the Every Day

So, being missionary today means you are a follower of Jesus in everyday places. You are learning about the traditions and activities of the community. You are developing relationships of trust and compassion. You are listening to and learning about the hopes and dreams of the people, while at the same time being the evidence of God’s love in every situation and circumstance. Your witness is seen in your loving, serving, caring for the sick, the children, and the poor. You are engaging your community and witnessing to the work of Jesus in an environment crying out for connection and care. You don’t have to have special training or go “overseas.” You are a missionary of the Risen Christ right where you are at this very moment.

Oh, there is much more to be said about being a missionary today. I will go deeper in the meaning and purpose of being a missionary in the blogs that follow this one. But for now, let this story illustrate what it means to be a missionary today.

Go to Jesus

Will Davis Campbell was a minister, author, and activist. He was a supporter of civil rights in the southern United States during the 1950’s and 60’s. He is best known for his book, Brother to a Dragonfly.  I wanted to introduce him to you to tell you this story.

As a preacher in the tradition of “altar calls”, he preached a sermon critiquing “the invitation” given in at the end of the sermon.  The preacher in most southern churches invited people, who wanted to commit their lives to Christ, to come down the aisle to the altar of the church to indicate their desire.

In his sermon, Will Campbell said, “I hope that someday there will be an evangelistic service when the preacher gives the invitation and people start coming down the aisle, and he yells back at them, ‘Don’t come down the aisle! Go to Jesus! Don’t come to me! Go to Jesus!’

“Upon that declaration, the people who are coming down the aisle will turn around and exit the auditorium, get in their cars, and drive away. He then yells at the rest of the congregation, ‘Why are you hanging around here? Why don’t you go to Jesus too? Why don’t you all go to Jesus?’ The people will rise quickly, leave the church, and soon the parking lot is empty.”

We Want to See Jesus

Campbell continued, “What I imagine is that about a half hour later the telephone at the police station starts ringing off the hook, and the voice on the other end says, ‘We are down here at the old folks’ home and there are some crazy people at the door yelling that they want to come in and visit Jesus. I keep telling them Jesus isn’t here. All we have in here is a bunch of old lonely and forgotten people. But they keep saying “But we want to visit Jesus. We want to visit Jesus.’”

“The next call is from the warden down at the prison.  He is saying, “Send some police down here. There are a bunch of people at the gate yelling, ‘Let us in there. We want to visit Jesus. We want to visit Jesus.’ I keep telling them that all we have in his place are murderers, rapists, and thieves. But they keep yelling, ‘Let us in. We want to visit Jesus.’”

“As soon as the phone is put down it rings again. This time it is the superintendent of the state hospital calling for help.  He is complaining that there are a bunch of people outside begging to be let in. They, too, want to see Jesus. The superintendent says, ‘I keep telling them Jesus isn’t here. All we have a bunch of sick people, but they keep yelling at us, “We want to see Jesus.”

Follow Jesus into the Community

As much as the story is slanted, it reflects the truth. As a missionary, you follow Jesus into the community to meet his friends who are sick, lonely, broken, lost, hungry, homeless, imprisoned, marginalized, and forgotten. As a missionary, when you worship, you gather to celebrate where you have seen God at work, where you have experienced Jesus and his love for people and the community.

In the day in which we live, in the context of our culture, you are a missionary where you are at this very moment. The question is, “Where are you seeing Jesus in the lives of the people?” As you reflect upon that question, consider this: Ask yourself, “Where am I experiencing Jesus in the community, at work, on the golf course, and at the ballpark?”

Look for Jesus in the Lives of People

To be a missionary is to get outside of the walls of the church building and look for Jesus in the lives of the people God sends your way. As a follower of Jesus, you have the opportunity to love others as you have been loved, to serve others in Jesus’ name, and to become the leader you were created to be by leading others into the mission field. 

As a missionary, you have been given the power to communicate across the barriers taught and experienced over centuries. You are a witness to God’s love in Jesus which is greater than the prejudices that keep people out of the community of faith. You have been given the power to address the barriers of biblical and theological ignorance rooted in the misunderstanding of who has received God’s grace and who is included in the community of faith.  

Communicate Beyond Barriers

You have been given power by God, through God’s holy spirit, to be a witness, starting where you are, in the church, in the community, and in all the world. It is God’s power given to you that communicates beyond the barriers. 

So, put this blog down and get out in the community to see Jesus. Look for him everywhere you go and when you gather with other believers, tell them where you have seen Jesus and what he is up to in loving, caring, serving, and forgiving. Put this blog down and get out there. Your community is crying out for the love of Jesus that holds them and will not let them go.

Be the leader you have been created to be. Because who you are is how you lead.