The Christian community needs better—stronger—leadership. By that I mean spiritual leadership—the sort of thing Paul had in mind in Ephesians 4 where he wrote of leaders who could bring others “to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”.
Such leadership doesn’t look to basic management theory: Jesus wasn’t promoting better synagogue services, nor was he chasing program-based church growth, or setting up a theological franchising project. Instead Paul, in following Jesus, spoke of leaders who could draw others to be more Christlike by first wanting that for themselves and then by inviting others to join them. That’s our target.
We need to start here because the question of our goal in leading is crucial. If, for instance, someone wants to be a leader but isn’t planning to go where Jesus traveled, I suspect we’ve just met an egoist—a “lover of self” in 2 Timothy 3—who may have a form of religion but will never have the transformational power that comes with being crucified to self.
We also need to consider the means of spiritual leadership. I’ll tell a story to make the point. I once crossed paths with a natural leader who is now a franchise-builder. His advertised aim is to define and promote a reliable version of the gospel that he and those he trains will inspect and approve. I’d met him years ago when we had good fellowship for most of a year—with multiple visits and conversations—as he helped me on a project I was chasing. He has a confident and compelling presence: he’s easy to like. Our friendship grew and we shared a common enthusiasm for all the core elements of faith. But in time it emerged that I didn’t buy some of his theological packaging—items seen as second-tier issues by almost all theologians. My letters and calls to him suddenly went unanswered. So when, after nearly two decades, I was surprised to see him in an overseas setting recently I greeted him with a smile and a reminder of our earlier connection. His response was a curt stare: “Oh, you’re the guy from Oregon.” Nothing more.
What was missing? Love. The message I heard then and now was, “I’ll love you if you buy my franchise and embrace my leadership. If you don’t, you’re nothing to me.” I hope I’ve misread him, but a point can still be drawn: strong leadership always follows Jesus who knowingly had a true renegade among his closest followers. Yet he still broke bread and shared the cup with him. The offer of love was still alive in the upper room as Judas went out to betray him. The motor of real Christian leadership, then, is devoted love: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, that you love each other” (John 13:35). Or, in the obverse, “If anyone says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, he is a liar” (1 John 4:20). These are the toughest measures of real spirituality.
In this limited list a final mark of strong spiritual leadership is passion. I’ll offer another example to make the point. Last night I attended a meeting to hear a 72-year-old man whose passion has drawn many thousands to a more Christlike maturity. George Verwer founded Operation Mobilization decades ago and is still active in ministry. As he bounded onto the stage he lofted a 4-foot blown-up globe of the earth and spun it over his head, calling us to give ourselves to the world for the sake of Christ.
At the end of the meeting I couldn’t summarize his points but I could summarize the passion of his message: “Get off your behinds and go make a difference for Christ!” He didn’t tell us how to do it, or what to believe, or promise us any wealth, health, or status, but he clearly loved Jesus in a life-changing way and wanted that for all of us. It was an great example of strong and authentic spiritual leadership.
What also struck me as a historian is that his talk was offered at a church in Bristol, England, under the very pulpit where another George (Whitefield) had preached centuries earlier. The first George—also a global Christian—traveled to the American colonies to share his own similar passion which helped launch the 18th century Great Awakening.
I pray, then, that at least one reader—is there a George listening?—will step up and lead: focused on Christ’s life as a measure; motivated by Christ’s love for others; with a passion for Christ’s words as a message. Any takers??