Cross-Shaped Leadership, Pt. 3

Cross-shaped 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 into 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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4 responses to “Cross-Shaped Leadership, Pt. 3

  • imaginewithscripture

    Excellent post, Tim. I was attending churches with this type of leadership and it was terrible. I tried very hard to stay, but found it extremely difficult. It seemed to me that I was surrounded by churches with that kind of leadership in my neighbourhood. Tough time it was.

    S Wu

  • Andrew T.

    Two quick observations:
    1. Regarding the church leader who wanted people to ‘buy into his vision': One valid criticism that could be levelled against many modern assemblies (churches) is that they are more interested in winning souls over to their particular Christian subculture; except that the Gospel does not proclaim ‘Christian subculture‘ rather it proclaims the crucified and risen ‘Christ‘ meaning Israel’s shepherd and kinsmen redeemer, YHWH’s rest, His appointed Jubilee, and only acceptable pascal lamb.

    So your impassioned and heartfelt soliloquy about God’s agenda becoming our agenda is spot on!

    2. The second point is about our perspective on redeeming the world vs. redeeming the ‘lost’. Yeshua prayed “I am not praying for the world, but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. [John 17:9]” Those He had been given were not destined for the world [John 17:16]. Yet, there is still a tendency in Christian theology to believe the Christ’s flock was and message to ‘the world. It wasn’t.

    There are still two gates, one wide and one narrow [Matt 7:13-14]. Yehshua came to save ‘the lost, but ‘the lost were ‘in the world’, sifted through all nations, which is different than being ‘the world‘. ‘The lost‘ are those few who enter by the narrow gate [Matt 7:14]. ‘The world‘ are those who enter by the wide gate [Matt 7;13]. The two are distinct, and there is no clearer dichotomy in all of the Christ’s words.

    The disciples were instructed to proclaim the Gospel throughout the whole world not because the world was the Word’s recipient, but because that was where its’ actual recipient, treasured possession [Deut 7:6] had been sifted [Amos 9:9], sent [Jer 29:14][Eze 39:28], and buried [Matt 13:38,44][Mark 16:15].

    Christian’s have a love/hate relationship with the apparent exclusivity of their Messiah, but shouldn’t because He didn’t. Besides, separating the wheat from the tares is not a task appointed to pastors, rather the Holy Ghost. Simply by boldly proclaiming the Gospel given in the Spirit of Truth will people accept or reject its message; thus people exclude themselves.

    So while there is no problem with your example pastor desiring to better ‘discern’ his flock, there is a problem with him thinking it was his job to prune it.

  • Tim Cole

    Herr Professor:

    Well-done and well-said.

    After 30 years as a Teaching Shepherd, it seems to me that the discovery of Jesus’ agenda is surely the most crucial task of Christian leadership.

    In my experience, there is no more vital place to be discovering it than by willingly placing oneself on the anvil of experience in the place of vulnerability. Jesus’ agenda is not be achieved; it can only be received in that place of vulnerability.

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