Leadership. What comes to your mind? Immorality, pride, power, lies, war, division. This word strikes many different chords in the human heart. It can seem that not many days pass without another story of a fallen leader: secular and Christian. The church of Jesus Christ is in need of men who understand grace, emulate humility, but stand unswervingly on truth. It doesn’t need “smiley” spineless leaders, nor power hungry authoritarians, but rather men who grasp leadership according to Christ1. If the Anabaptist church is going to effectively advance the gospel in this generation, old and young men must bridge the generational gap and assist each other in leading according to Christ.
I propose that the man who encounters grace, who leads with humility, and who does not shrink from suffering, has truly embraced Christ’s model of leadership. Leadership according to Christ starts with embracing the cross and shifting our minds from small realities to big realities. Now, that’s a mouthful so let’s decipher it.
Leading With Grace
First, leading according to Christ starts by encountering grace. Until we encounter grace our attempts at leadership will be profitless. At a pivotal time in my life an older leader helped me understand grace. I was eighteen years old and my life was a mess. My teenage years had been wasted pursuing selfish passions. I was broken, ridden with guilt, and disillusioned with the Christian life. I didn’t have hope that God could do anything with my life. I had been a slave of sin for too many years. One sin particularly weighed on my conscience.
After deciding to confess it to an older leader, I expected at the minimum disgust and frustration. Instead, this leader showed me forgiveness and grace. I learned that showing weakness didn’t make me less of a man—a belief men seem to struggle with. On the contrary, I began to see that Christ could be made strong in my weakness. I am thankful a leader modeled for me the unmerited grace that Christ displayed when He died for me while I was yet in my sin (Rom. 5:8).
One who leads according to Christ must always be prepared to extend grace. I have always resonated with the Apostle Paul’s story. He was zealously persecuting Christ when he encountered grace on the road to Damascus. While the circumstances of his story are different than mine, Paul was willing to boast of his weakness (2 Cor. 11:30; 12:9). Paul understood he wasn’t going to singlehandedly change the world. Christ was already doing that.
Leading With Humility
Second, leading according to Christ is marked by a posture of humility. Until humility is deeply ingrained in our hearts our attempts at leadership will be devoid of power. Fast forward a few years and I was beginning to understand my God-given call to leadership. Yet I had this crazy illusion that church leaders lived on another plane of holiness. It seemed to me they were spiritual superstars who didn’t struggle. It felt overwhelming to think I could ever reach that stratosphere.
Enter a second leader who took an interest in my life. He carefully corrected my thinking by displaying humility. He helped me understand that he was also a sinner saved by grace. God does not call any of us to be perfect leaders. Rather, we are called to humbly submit to the only leader who is perfect: Jesus Christ. Only when we admit our own brokenness are we able to lead others according to Christ. God cannot use the man who is still relying on the arm of the flesh. Only when we humble ourselves under the hand of almighty God can we be used in the Kingdom. As James 4:6 so aptly says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (ESV).”
In Mark 10 Jesus is walking with his disciples to Jerusalem as He tells them of His coming suffering and death, “the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise (10:33b-34, ESV).”2 Immediately following Jesus’ prophecy James and John make a request. They want to be seated at the right and left hand of Jesus in glory. Jesus is talking suffering, James and John are thinking personal gain, and the rest of the disciples respond self-righteously.
In the face of their foolishness, Jesus responds with grace as he instructs them how Kingdom leadership works. You want to be great? Be a servant! You want to be first? Be a servant! You want to be my disciple? Be a servant! Why? The key to this story lies in verse 45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (ESV).”
We all find ourselves in Mark 10, whether we are the egocentric brothers, or the self-righteous disciples. All of us were hopeless slaves of sin. That can change because of one thing. Jesus gave his life as a ransom that we might be set free from the power of evil.
Leading Through Suffering
Third, leading according to Christ means embracing suffering. Something that I have always struggled with about Jesus’ model of leadership was the way he embraced suffering. Embracing suffering does not make sense to my natural man; I want to run from it at all costs. Since the fall, man has been naturally bent toward egocentrism. It does not help that we live in an I-centered world, e.g. iPod, iPhone, iPad.
If we are going to be serious about leading according to Christ, we must be serious about destroying I-centeredness. My job, my vehicle, my house, my hobbies: minuscule realities. The Word, the cross, regeneration, holiness, the resurrection, future glory: MASSIVE REALITIES. The Apostle Paul relegated the smallness of his own pursuits to the trash heap because his heart had been taken captive by something bigger (Phil. 3). Paul understood the path to eternal life required sharing in the sufferings of Christ. This was possible because Christ had become his prize. The only solution to I-centeredness is God-centeredness (Rom. 7-8).
No legacy of leadership must be remembered by failure. Consider Paul, James, and John. Paul was a murderer (Acts 9:1), the brothers were a couple of hotheads (Luke 9:51-56). Paul becomes the most prolific missionary and writer of the early church: he dies a martyr’s death. James is a member of Jesus’ inner circle (e.g., Mark 5:37; 9:2; 14:33): he dies a martyr’s death (Acts 12:2). John is the beloved disciple of Christ and author of numerous New Testament books: he dies while exiled on the Isle of Patmos.
What led these once egocentric men to such courageous leadership? They experienced firsthand leadership according to Christ. Weakness is strength, humility is power, suffering is glory, God is in control. They encountered grace, tasted the goodness of God, and humbly shifted their focus from their small reality to a bigger reality.
But our flesh dies hard. Transformation does not happen overnight. To the older men reading this I implore you to model leadership according to Christ while taking the time to teach younger men about the glory of God. To younger men I implore you to embrace leadership according to Christ while building relationships with older men. We need each other as we strive to lead according to Christ.
|Timothy Miller currently lives near Sarasota Florida with his wife Sarah. Notable interests include hunting, woodworking, reading, sports, and traveling. Timothy is passionate about the Bible, truth, and understanding history. His supreme desire is the glorification of Jesus Christ through sacrificial service.
1. Throughout the article I use the term “leadership according to Christ.” By this phrase, I mean leading in a manner which displays the characteristics that Christ displayed in His earthly ministry.
2. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2011. Print.
What are ways old and young men can bridge the generational divide?
Why is it so difficult to show weakness when put in a position of authority?
How can men lead according to Christ?