Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Most Important Question for Christian Leaders

Following mom
Following Mom by Tambako The Jaguar on Flickr

One of the great blessings in my life is a pastor peer group that I meet with once a month. We gather to pray for one another, learn from each other, and just as importantly, to enjoy one another’s presence. That last part is the most important part. Everyone needs friends who love them just because.

Our desperate need for unconditional love has been reaffirmed by a book we've been reading together by Henri Nouwen entitled, In the Name of Jesus. In classic Nouwen style, the book makes the case that Christian leadership is not primarily about leading, but rather, being led. If we are Christian leaders, the leadership we most need to be concerned about is Christ’s leadership in our own lives and not our influence in the lives of others.

That our relationship with Jesus is primary is a reminder even preachers need to hear on a regular basis. It’s easy in this life to think that our value and our worth and our significance depend upon any number of factors other than our relationship with Jesus. Nouwen especially takes to task the temptation of thinking our importance to God depends upon our relevance to the world around us. The desire to be relevant is basic human desire. We want to believe that our lives matter. We want to believe that we have made a difference in the world. We are tempted to think that is only possible if we remain relevant on the world’s terms.

This is not only a problem for individuals. As the church’s influence in our culture diminishes, it is tempting for the church at large to spend an inordinate amount of time on issues of relevance. Nouwen reminds us that we follow a Savior who was not relevant in his day. Instead, he was “crucified and put away . . . by a world in search of power, efficiency, and control.” Nouwen goes on to challenge us by writing, “The question is not: How many people take you seriously? How much are you going to accomplish? Can you show some results? But: Are you in love with Jesus?”

To be significant in the Kingdom of God requires not relevance but love. Jesus loves us. That makes us relevant to him. Let us now, in gratitude, love the one who first loved us, and love our neighbors as ourselves.

We love because he first loved us – 1 John 4:19

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Read more on this topic:
1. In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen. This is the book I mentioned in the post. It’s aimed primarily at ministers, but would be valuable to anyone who longs to find their worth in Jesus alone. You can read this book in an afternoon, but the fruit of its wisdom proves long lasting.
2. The Church Needs More Followers – a book review of Len Sweet’s book, I Am a Follower over on Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed. Good conversation starter about the evangelical church’s views on leadership.
3. Leading the Follower by Bob Wells. This is a lengthy essay on the healthy tension between pastoral leadership and active lay followership. Wells argues that there isn’t a one size fits all model for congregations but that every congregation needs an engaged laity that is willing to both follow and challenge their leaders.

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