Cruciformity & Christian Leadership, Pt. 3

Cruciform leadership constantly adjusts to God’s agenda.  This is significantly different from worldly forms of leadership, which are oriented by the leader’s agenda.

Worldly leadership is leader-determined.  It’s all about “my dream,” or “my vision for this church.”  Churches with charismatic leaders are often compelling communities for a time, but they seldom manifest cruciformity.

I remember talking with a pastor about his church.  He was looking for people who would “buy into” his vision.

We spoke some time later about his struggle with one person who didn’t fit the profile of his ministry target audience.  He was struggling to figure out how to gently move this person on to “where she belonged.”  He was caught between genuinely caring for people and his training in a corrupted style of ministry.

Churches oriented by a singular leader’s vision that require “buy in” on the part of those participating don’t manifest cruciform leadership.  They can’t afford to.  The leader’s vision is the ultimate end and people become the means to that end.

In a tragic irony, the leader is going around putting people on crosses in the name of the ministry vision.

What happens when people who don’t fit the profile find a home in that community?  They may be seen as obstacles rather than gifts.

Cruciform leadership, on the other hand, is God-oriented.  Ministry goals and ministry means are shaped by God’s program and God’s agenda.

God’s aim is to break into peoples’ lives with love and grace and blessing so that God might redeem, reclaim, restore, and save.

God’s agenda must become our agenda.

We serve on behalf of God, who sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but to seek and to save what was lost.

We minister in the name of God, who sent Israel into exile because they were neglecting the orphan and the widow, oppressing the poor and the needy, exploiting the weak and defenseless.

God, who heard the prayer of Hannah—the marginalized wife of Elkanah.

God, who is exalted above the heavens, but who bends low to look into the face of the lowly and the neglected.

God, who puts himself on the cross for the redemption of the world.

Cruciform leaders regard people out of a healthy fear of the Lord who gave his life for those who “don’t fit the ministry profile.”  They are careful to treat people the way that God treats people. 

If we sacrifice the awkward and marginalized on the altar of our cherished “vision” for what we think our churches should become, we invite the fearsome judgment of the God who passionately loves and pursues those who don’t fit the mold, those on the margins.

Cruciform leaders go the way of the cross.  This means that their pride, ambition, and ministry goals are on crosses, too.  This is the only way to unleash resurrection power in the lives of those to whom they minister.

Cruciform leaders stay on the cross, knowing that this is the only contact they have with the life of Jesus.  And they constantly evaluate the extent to which their visions become idols that put others on crosses.

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6 responses to “Cruciformity & Christian Leadership, Pt. 3

  • Wesman

    I resonate with this yet while hearing the comeback of the pastor: “But my vision is God’s agenda.”

    • timgombis

      This may be the case — hopefully it is!

      But that assumption can often be put to use to ward off the criticism of others that needs to be heard and that just might prove seriously fruitful. Naming our own thoughts and ideas as “God’s agenda” can easily lead a church off the rails in a big way.

      This is one reason that leadership teams are better than singular pastors. There’s wisdom among greater numbers of counselors and leaders. This also prevents any singular person from being exalted. That is always disastrous.

      • S Wu

        Thanks for the post, Tim.

        A leadership team is always better than a single leader. But my experience is that the bigger the church community is, the harder it is. Likewise, the bigger a Christian organization is, the harder it is. That is, when a relatively small team of people holds all the power, it is not easy to lead well. Of course, a team is still much better than one single leader. But when, say, a team of five like-minded highly effective visionaries lead a church of 2,000 people, those at the bottom can have little say about how the church should be run. Nor can the grassroots people’s voice be heard in that situation.

        In other words, I wonder whether systemic/institutional evil starts to arise when the size gets bigger?

        Two thoughts come to mind. First, leaders need to listen to the prophets (with discernment, of course). In ancient Israel the prophets – who were outside the institutional structure – played an important role in alerting the leadership of any issues in their rule. But alas, they often failed to listen to the prophets and sometimes they killed the prophets.

        Second, the leadership example of Paul in 2 Corinthians might be useful. Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles encountered leadership challenge at Corinth. But instead of competing with other charismatic leaders by showing off his credentials, he boasted in his suffering. He was, I think, trying to follow Christ’s cruciform life.

      • timgombis

        Great thoughts, S. 2 Cor. will come up during this discussion, for sure.

        I’m sure the size thing would bring much disagreement, but I’m in agreement. Churches are supposed to be modeled after families and it’s tough to be a family when things get too big. And much trouble is brought about by the evangelical entrepeneurial spirit that draws upon ambitions, growth dynamics, pride, etc. Lots of trouble ensues.

        So many of those problems are avoided in parish models of ministry, of course, but that doesn’t eliminate the trouble of non-cruciform leadership. But I’m with you on the size thing.

  • athanasius96

    I can think of marketplace situations that need to apply this as well.

    As to the pastor’s vision possibly being God’s vision, God is all about the process and not just the end goal. (ie The ends do NOT justify the means.)

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