A Foundation Misplaced?
If you are into leadership, there are a lot of fast food leadership troughs from which to consume. Six steps to this, five principals to that. Talking point after talking point. A pithy tweet here, a 45-characters-or-less quote there. Well intentioned and valuable I am sure. But have you ever just thrown up your hands and said, “How am I suppose to remember (let alone do) all that in the real world?” To be sure, the functions and behaviors of leadership are and will always be critical and worthy of much study and internalization. But if the foundation of leadership is faulty or malnourished, there is more going on than fast-food-leadership can remedy or redirect.
In fact, I wonder if our foundation for leadership within the realm of church ministry isn’t whole-heartily askew. For example, in relationships and organizations, the less trust there is, the more rules are created. Rules become remedies to what’s broken or missing. Pretty soon what was a foundation of trust and shared vision becomes replaced by a foundation of rules, policies, and procedures.
In the same way, I wonder, with all the rules, principals, techniques, steps and do’s and don’ts of leadership being articulated in waterfall proportions, if this is perhaps indicative that the foundation of ministry leadership has been misplaced. Whether it has or hasn’t is a topic better suited for another post, but what is critical to articulate is the foundation of ministry leadership.
The Gospel of Grace
In simple terms, the foundation of ministry leadership is the Gospel of God’s Grace. It begins and ends with the Gospel established through Grace. The Gospel provides everyone, through faith in Christ, what they need. They need to become a completely new person, with a new identity, that they may have a new life. The foundation of leadership is not what you do, but who you are. Who you are is determined and defined by your belief (trust) in the pure Gospel of God’s Grace in making you into a new person, with a new identity, and thus a new life. Ministry leadership is from the Gospel, by the Gospel, for the Gospel.
Yet, for many in ministry leadership, their trust is not fully in the Gospel of Grace, but more in their skill, capacity, and insight.
“Grace is a gift only the non-religious can accept. They’re the only ones who can understand it, and put it to use. ‘Religious’ folk see grace as soft and weak, so they keep trying to manage their junk with willpower and tenacity. Nothing defines religion quite as well as attempting impossible tasks with limited power, all while pretending that it’s working.” -John Lynch, Bruce McNicol, & Bill Thrall
My sense is that the sentiment of this quote is easily and additionally applicable to “religious” leaders and segments of the current state of ministry leadership. Much of today’s ministry leadership focuses largely on willpower, tenacity, skill, principals, strategies and alike while pretending it’s all working as we create large, multi-campus ministries of primarily relocated, re-baptized, or rededicated Christians who are commissioned to try to live better lives by following the rules, all while America becomes the only country in the world where Christianity is declining. Our ministry mindset concludes that Grace doesn’t work in leadership nor discipleship, so we’d better focus on willpower and skilled leadership. Indeed, we live in the age of performance-driven church and leadership culture. The sad reality is we think it’s working.
Here again, nothing wrong with skills, principals, churches with large multi-campus ministries etc. as long as the foundation is the Gospel of God’s Grace. Leadership is a serious calling and should be taken very seriously with a desire to steward the gifts and calling of leadership vigorously. God loves excellence. However, foundations in leadership matter. The only foundation of which can be… from the Gospel, by the Gospel, and for the Gospel of God’s Grace.
What does that look like? Here are a few thoughts…
Believe it or not, ministry leadership is actually about you, that is, who you are in Christ. It isn’t about what you bring to the table, but it is about your trust in Who God has brought to the cross and what God brought to you through the cross on your behalf, received through your faith.
We say leadership isn’t about us, but “do” leadership as if it is. The truth is, it is about us. That being our faith in the Gospel of the Grace of God. When it becomes about our faith in God’s grace, it is our work and skills that no longer matter, but His. The focus shifts as faith turns our eyes onto Jesus, away from our old selves, and onto who we are in Him (provided and protected solely by Grace).
Faith is not a work, it is a trust. Through the Grace of God, by faith we can look at ourselves and see Him. If we don’t see Him, we do not believe, nor can we truly lead.
Grace-centered Leadership is leading from primarily three things…
When we lead from righteousness we are leading from Christ. He is our righteousness. Further than that, we have become righteousness through Him and of Him. Don’t rush past that last sentence, it’s gold. By God’s Grace, the moment we believe, our old self is killed with Jesus on the cross, our sins past, present, and future are put to death, we are no longer worthy of shame or guilt, our sin no longer defines us, and we are partakers of the divine nature, because He lives, and now lives in us and as us.
As leaders, because of Christ and Him making us into our newly created self, there is nothing wrong with us. We don’t lead from any nuance of depravity whatsoever. We aren’t leading to become, we are leading from. Cosmic difference. We are trusting in the quality of the new person God has made us into by trusting in the quality of the One who remade us, Jesus. We are leading from our identity not for our identity. Don’t rush past that last sentence either, it’s leadership changing.
Personal assessment changes into Christ assessment. We will never be any worse or less than Him.
In addition to a new identity, through faith, a genuine believer has been given every spiritual blessing. And by the way, everything is spiritual. You lack nothing. Not one thing. Your “Strength Finders” (if you are familiar with this assessment tool) assessment has become a riches-of-Christ assessment. He is your strength, and all His strengths have become yours. Through the Holy Spirit, you have been graced with a mix of spiritual gifts, especially crafted for you. These gifts compliment the wholeness you already have. They are a kind of grace upon grace. The grace of spiritual gifts upon your life position and empower you to fulfill God’s plan for your life to help others discover and live the Gospel of God’s grace. From God’s blessings, everyone has the capacity for leadership and is created to lead, some in different ways, settings, and platforms than others. If you have the Gospel, you are a leader. We don’t lead for blessing, but from blessing.
In Christ, you are already as great as you can and need to be. The moment you believed, the highest level of greatness in your life was realized and established. The true work in your life was finished, and now it’s time to rest as God accomplishes the work of your life for His Kindgom through your faith. Rest is a posture of the heart and soul that is satisfied with trusting God, not the presence of inaction. When we rest, God works through us. When we work, God rests. He is willing to let you muscle and burst ahead unproductively. Faithfulness is responding to God’s action in our lives, it is not work. Work steps ahead and in place of God, faithfulness steps with God initiated by His movement. Laziness is not rest, it is the absence of rest. Rest is trusting God to work and expectantly waiting on the moments and opportunities of faithfulness. Rest convinces our heart that we don’t have to do anything for God, we get to do things for God. It is a privilege nor a performance. In the same way, we don’t have to be faithful, we get to be faithful.
Our highest leadership job is to trust and to be faithful, anything more or less, is founded on doubt. We don’t lead in order to rest, we lead from rest. We don’t rest from leadership, we lead from rest.
Grace-centered Leadership is leading for primarily three things…
For the Gospel
When we lead for the Gospel, we speak it and live it, trusting in Jesus to be our message in word and action. The Gospel is our success, not a means to it. Don’t blow past that last sentence, there is a lot of meat on that bone. It is for the Gospel of God’s pure Grace that we were created to lead. We are to promote it, give it, live it and protect it first and foremost it. The Gospel of God’s Grace is the answer for all of life and living. It is not a theology, confession, strategy, or idea, it is a person… Jesus. It is God’s unmerited favor, forgiveness, and future freely given for all, received through faith. When people become a new person, with a new identity, living a new life, free from guilt, shame and rule keeping, everything changes. This the Gospel of Grace.
What the world needs now is the experiencing of the pure Gospel Grace of God, seldom trusted by modern ministry leadership.
Like the manger was to Jesus, the Church is to the Gospel. It is the carrier of the Savior from which Christ is to be born into people’s lives providing new birth to the spiritually dead and lost. The Church is the package, not the present. We are not church leaders first, we are Gospel leaders first. Leadership is not about the church first, it’s about the Gospel first. Our churches are not the Savior, Jesus is the Savior. Ministry leadership is not for the church first, it is for the Gospel first. We become faithful carriers of the Gospel only when we first become leaders for the Gospel. The Gospel is not for the church, the church is for the Gospel.
These nuances of distinction shift foundations, values, strategies, approaches, and vision. Far too much of ministry leadership is church-success-minded and far too less, Gospel of Grace-minded. When we lead for and from the Gospel first, effective church ministry flows out. God never meant for us to put our faith and trust in “church” to transform lives. It is only the Gospel that can perform the miracle. The church is the very important manger of the Gospel. But we worship and focus on Jesus, not the manger. Our leadership priorities and values should reflect that.
By the Spirit
Grace-centered leadership is solely enabled by the Spirit. It is the sailing vessel on the ocean that doesn’t (can’t) move without the power and placement of the Wind. It’s role is not to create the Wind, replace the Wind, fabricate the Wind, nor deter the Wind, it is to respond to the Wind in ways that best harness its power towards the purposes of God. Grace-centered leadership will not and cannot go where the Spirit does not enable.
Grace-centered leadership trusts the Wind. In it’s presence and absence there is equally present purpose. Grace-centered leadership is the art of sailing the Wind of God as the icing on the cake of our Salvation. It is from Jesus, for Jesus, and by Jesus.
Looking forward to your thoughts…