Leadership Oriented by the Cross

The cross is central in Mark’s Gospel, determining everything about the character of Jesus, God, and discipleship to God’s Son.

The cross also orients leadership among God’s people.

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We can,” they answered.   Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with youInstead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:35-45).

I’m always stunned when I see books on Christian leadership that begin with “leadership principles” taken from corporate business models and sprinkle Bible verses here and there.

For Mark, the way of the cross subverts all other ways.  It is antithetical to the world’s way of power, prestige, self-advancement, self-promotion, and domination of others.

There is certainly much to say about leadership in churches and Christian organizations.  But the cross must be the first thing that is said.  And the last thing.  And it must orient and saturate everything in-between.

If the Lord of all gives his life for the flourishing of others, then those who lead on his behalf must do so from a basic orientation of self-giving love.

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4 responses to “Leadership Oriented by the Cross

  • Haddon Anderson (@HaddonAnderson)

    This post was very timely as I’m currently in a Ministry Leadership class. One of the books is entitled “In Pursuit of Great AND Godly Leadership” by Mike Bonem. It stresses the need for godly forms of leadership while also embracing “great” forms from the corporate world. He argues that “great can be the enemy of godly” (when business models begin to dominate) and that “godly can be the enemy of great” (when perhaps a leader takes a lazy approach and expects God to make up for the poor effort/planning).

    The book’s argument is well-constructed and I am seeing potential ways where a corporate model could be helpful (such as doing community analysis to identify specific city needs). Such efforts open the door for more cultural awareness and effectiveness in ministry.

    However, I am concerned when the nature of the Cross is essentially unmentioned or at least on mute. As you alluded to, this is often apparent in Christian books on leadership. The foundation is often upon the “principles” rather than the Cross redefining and reshaping everything.

    Do you think corporate models should play a role in ministry leadership, as long as they’re not the foundation or the first thing said?

    Heavy question, I know. Would just appreciate your general thoughts.

    Or, write a book on Cross-shaped leadership. I’d gobble it up! :)

    • timgombis

      Great question, Haddon. I don’t like those categories, actually. I don’t see any downside to godliness or cross-oriented leadership. It’s not that the cross implies any sort of lazy or ‘hands-off’ approach to anything. In fact, a cruciform approach to ministry would demand that churches and leaders are sensitive to one another’s needs, the needs in their churches, and the needs in their neighborhoods. And cross-shaped godliness takes the initiative to serve creatively, to come up with ways of serving that draw upon the power of the cross, serve people, and radiate joy to the server and the served.

      I’d agree that we do indeed see initiative and creativity in secular leaders, but it’s not that initiative and creativity can’t be found among cross-oriented people.

      I think it’s a mistake to equate cruciformity with being passive, or with being ‘hands-off’, or being defeatist. Being cruciform is taking the initiative and acting boldly, but in ways that aren’t triumphalistic, self-promoting, self-advancing, and dominating of others. There are ways of taking creative steps that include others, invite participation, and share around credit and praise, while glorifying God.

      So, I’m far more suspicious of secular models, and I’m seriously disappointed in the lack of creativity among Christian leaders to come up with initiatives that draw upon the cross and radiate resurrection power.

      • Haddon Anderson (@HaddonAnderson)

        Thanks so much for this. So helpful. You’ve helped me reach this conclusion: if church leadership is lacking, leaders shouldn’t run to the secular world to pick up the most effective models. They should rather rethink if the cross is genuinely transforming their models of ministry. That’s the issue!

        This all makes me wonder about resurrection power in our communities. Secular models are too often implemented when the core need is cruciformity. It seems apparent that this dynamic puts a strain on the resurrection power that our settings ultimately need.

      • timgombis

        It’s a tragedy that the imaginations of Christian leaders (and Christians generally) have been deadened or captured by categories that are assumed to be well-established, and in such ways that possibilities aren’t even considered. It’s hard work, and it runs against the grain, but we need to put in the time to brainstorm and come up with creative initiatives that are new creation-oriented, cruciform, life-giving, and Jesus-shaped.

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