In a world that is changing as quickly as you are reading these words, may I state the obvious? The foundation of Christ-centered leadership is Jesus.
When the earth is moving under your feet, the one person you can depend upon to remain the same today and tomorrow is Jesus. As you attempt to lead in the midst of the changes, developing the characteristics of trust, authenticity, vulnerability, and courage, keep your heart, mind, and work-focused upon Jesus. It is your focus on Jesus that makes you a Christ-centered leader. So, that brings me to my question, “What does it mean to be a Christ-centered leader?”
Lead With Love
May I, again, state the obvious? The greatest distinguishing characteristic of Christ-centered leaders is love. To lead with love involves genuinely caring for the well-being and growth of those you are entrusted to your care. It means developing a sense of belonging, empathy, and positive relationships. Love-centered leadership focuses on building strong connections, showing appreciation, and supporting the development of individuals. It creates a nurturing environment where people feel valued, understood, and motivated to contribute their best selves in loving as they have been and are being loved. It encourages collaboration and helps cultivate a culture of love and compassion.
There are many places in the scriptures we can go to reflect upon love, but let’s start with a well-known scripture, even to those who are not religious or part of the church as we know it.
Read 1 Corinthians 13
13 If I speak in the tongues of humans and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions and if I hand over my body so that I may boast[a] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable; it keeps no record of wrongs; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part, 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see only a reflection, as in a mirror, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love remain, these three, and the greatest of these is love.
Paul describes the heart of a Christ-centered leader. He is describing the love lived out in everyday relationships. Too often, today, his words to the church in Corinth are taken as poetry idealizing love. It is part of the Christendom culture, but to idealize love is to miss the point.
Again, from a cultural perspective, his words are used to give a general description of love. To generalize love is to miss the point. Paul wrote his words to a church in the midst of painful conflict and unwelcome change. He lays out the way of Christian living. So, from the perspective of a Christ-centered leader, he is teaching you to love as God in Jesus has loved you.
Lead in Relationship with Others
His teaching is strong and to the point. We may say it this way, “You might have and exceptional gift for preaching, or have great prophetic powers, or even the strength to make noticeable sacrifices, but without loving others as God in Jesus has loved you, your gifts, strengths, and powers are useless.” Those are strong words. Paul was not giving a general description of love and was giving poetry for a wedding ceremony; he was instructing followers of Jesus on what it meant to live in relationship with one another.
So, what does it mean to lead with love? Let’s start with the word “agape.” Although “agape” is not a word we use in our everyday language, it is a concept found in the New Testament. It is used to describe the distinct kind of love embodied in the life and ministry of Jesus. It is the kind of love that focuses on people and develops communities of care and compassion.
Leading with Love
Agape defines God’s immeasurable, incomparable love for us, all of us. It is God’s ongoing, outgoing, self-sacrificing interest and concern for creation. God loves you, me, humanity, and all creation without condition. Agape is the work of the Christ-centered leader.
To put it another way, this love is not dependent upon the worth of the people being loved. It does not count the cost based on the return. It is spontaneous and does not consider beforehand whether it will be effective or proper. It is the extension of God’s love lived out in and through our relationships with each other.
Leading with love gives meaning and purpose to all other leadership characteristics. To lead with love means:
To lead with the highest form of love described and experienced in the Bible.
It is more than an emotion. It is a matter of will. As much as 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 leader means you lead with love.
To understand the greatest expression of a relationship.
As much as I dislike conflict, this love is not about “getting along” with one another or “being nice” to one another. Sometimes, for the sake of unity, we set this love aside and become nice instead of loving. It is in the midst of our differences and disagreements that love is the source of our relationships. It is working for the good of all people whether we agree or not. To be a Christ-centered leader means to love courageously as God has loved you in and through Jesus.
To love as Jesus loves.
It is to be focused on the good of others before it is focused on our own goodness, desires, expectations, or results. Too many times we talk of loving others so we can get something from them, get them into the church, or meet our budgets. To lead with love is greater than our institutional concerns. We love because God in Christ first loved us. Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” This love is about being who God created you to be for no other reason than being who God created you to be.
To express through action.
Too often we talk about love and loving others but are slow to live the love we talk about. John, in his first letter wrote, “Those who say, ‘I love God’ and hate their brothers or sisters are liars. After all, those who don’t love their brothers or sisters whom they have seen can hardly love God whom they have not seen! This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also” (I John 4:19-21).
To lead with love is to lead as a follower of Jesus. He said, “Love one another. By this people will know that you are my disciples.” Who you are is how you lead.
As a Christ-centered leader, to lead by this love, you must focus on people. People first. There is always a place for policy and procedure, but they come in relationship to putting people first and by loving others, people, the way God in Jesus has loved you. With that said, this is a different kind of love.
Focused upon people, you lead with this love by:
You are quick to listen and slow to speak. It is important for people to know that you care enough to listen to them. You elevate the importance of a person when you take them seriously by listening. Too often, in conversations, we form our responses and interrupt before the other person finishes speaking. As important as your position and opinion might be, it is more important to listen, especially to those with whom you disagree. Love people by listening first.
You are slow to anger. You are patient with people more than patient with circumstances. Regardless of how unkind and hurtful people might be, you show the same patience with others as God has shown you. The patience of love always wins.
On one hand, you are quick to compliment and affirm, and on the other hand, you are clear with feedback. Being clear is kind. You build meaningful relationships with kindness. Being kind helps with connection and cooperation, as well as trust and well-being. To lead with love is to be kind.
You are slow to pass judgment and quick to offer grace. You freely offer space and time for people to be who they have been created to be. So, when people don’t move as fast as you, you are generous with “they are doing the best they can do.” Then you ask, “How can I help you?” or “What do you need from me to do what you need to do?” You are being who God created you to be by being who God needs you to be for people entrusted to your care. Being generous is a major act of leading with love.
The early followers of Jesus showed love in everything they did. For them, to love God and to love the people around them was motivation for everything. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Everything should be done in love” (I Corinthians 16:14 CEB). Leading with love is the main work of the Christ-centered leader. Who you are is how you lead.
At the end of the day, give God thanks for the people you met today. Where did you experience God’s love? Through whom did you experience it? With whom did you share God’s love? Who are one or two people who have helped you love others as you have been loved? Give God thanks for them. What will you do differently tomorrow? Reflect upon “Who I am is how I lead.”
O God, I want to be the leader you have created me to be. As I learn to love more like Jesus, fill me with the love that is patient and kind and a love that is not envious, boastful, arrogant, or rude. Forgive me when I insist on my own way and for being irritable when things don’t go my way. Help me tear up the list of wrongs I have kept regarding the actions of others and help me be more generous and rejoice in the truth of others. Keep working with me so that I become more of the leader you need me to be. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus whose love gives me meaning and purpose. Amen.