Cross-Shaped Leadership

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about leadership recently and I thought I would revise some previous meditations on the topic from a cruciform perspective.

The cross of Jesus Christ is central to the Christian faith, and it shapes  and determines everything about being Christian. Cruciformity — or, being “cross-shaped” — means having our lives and church community dynamics oriented by the cross-shaped life of Jesus.

Cruciformity is a powerful reality because it is the only way to gain access to the resurrection power of God.  When we shape our lives according to the life of Jesus, we experience his presence by the Spirit, and God floods our lives, relationships, and communities with resurrection power.

When I talk to people training for Christian leadership about cruciformity, however, I discover the assumption that it isn’t easily practiced in ministry.  Many assume that cruciformity may be good for ordinary Christian people, but it won’t work in leadership situations.

I wonder if this is because our imaginations are shaped by worldly conceptions of leadership and of power.  We assume that at some point cruciform leadership would fail.  It wouldn’t be up to the challenges of “real world” situations where power must be wielded over others.

In my view, we simply haven’t given enough creative thought to how leadership in churches and Christian organizations can be shaped by the cross, generating and unleashing the life-giving power of God.

For Jesus, this isn’t negotiable.  He addresses forms of leadership in Mark 10.  The disciples are agitating for positions of privilege, power, and prestige in the Kingdom of God.  Jesus responds:

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 you. Instead, 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 10:42-45).

Leadership in the Kingdom of God must be shaped by the life of the King, who gives himself for others.  This is contrasted directly with worldly forms of leadership, which has to do with power over others.

This form of leadership for God’s people isn’t all that new, actually.  Moses had already outlined a counter-cultural form of leadership in Deut. 17:14-20.  Israel’s king was to be radically different, having the Law read to him daily so that “his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen” (v. 20).

Christian leadership, then, ought to be cruciform since those who lead do so on behalf of the One whose identity is determined by the cross.

Over the next handful of posts, I want to think through some contrasts between cruciform leadership and worldly leadership in an effort to provoke imaginations with hope in leading God’s people according to the ways of God revealed in Jesus.

9 thoughts on “Cross-Shaped Leadership

  1. Haddon Anderson (@HaddonAnderson)

    I’m excited to read your ensuing posts on this. Question: What comes into your mind when you consider Cross-shaped leadership in sports? For instance, what characteristics should a Christian athlete/coach embody that exhibits cruciformity? It seems that our imagination is often limited in this area. It’s also a struggle due to the dynamics of sports, where the practicalities of servanthood seem hazy. I’ve experienced this as a player, and now as a coach.

    I recognize this is a heavy topic, but I’d love to hear your initial thoughts on this!

    1. timgombis

      I’ll have to give that some thought, Haddon, but where I’d start is in reflecting back to experiences where I’ve had (or been) a bad teammate, or a bad experience with a coach. What was done that made a situation bad? Where has genuinely enriching behavior taken place? When has a teammate acted in a way that radiated life and excitement to the rest of the team? When has a coach made someone feel really great and also treated team members in ways that were dignifying, enlivening, enriching, without treating others badly?

      But it’s also worth thinking about the place of sports in a Christian conception of life. They’re essential, but especially as Americans, we have such a skewed perspective on how it all should look because of professional sports.

      1. Haddon Anderson (@HaddonAnderson)

        Those questions are helpful to consider. Thanks for sharing. When it comes to our skewed perspective on sports, are you referring to the ways in which we idolize them, and the wide-range of negative effects that happen as a result?

        It seems that a shallow view of God is often perpetuated from Christians in sports. I’ve done it. We make God into more of a superstitious entity who will hopefully “bless” us with a win. Or, we only identify limited behaviors (i.e. not cussing, thanking God after a victory) that will hopefully bring glory to Him.

        I’m seeking to develop a larger, more concrete picture of Christian leadership in sports. It’s an area that could use some redefining. Cruciformity seems like a challenging issue in this arena, but also a very hopeful one if discernment is appropriated.

      2. timgombis

        I’ve got a few helpful articles on the place of sport in being human. I’ll poke around and find them and send them to you. It’s helpful to conceive of sports as part of sabbath — human activity that is ‘rest’ and ‘refreshment’ and that isn’t ‘work’. We work 6 days to sustain ourselves and on sabbath we play, explore, enjoy — we do other activities that don’t sustain ourselves, or that produce anything. It’s just free and fun, even though we take it seriously. So, one of the modern perversions of sports is that we play ‘professionally’ or we play to establish our identities. I am someone because I’m good at basketball. But we should have our identities because of Christ — I am loved by God in Christ. That’s settled. Now, I can go play and just ‘have fun’ (while taking the game seriously), and it doesn’t matter what the outcome is because there’s NOTHING riding on it. My identity and value are already set. So much comes from getting that fundamental reality right.

        Now, as far as cruciform leadership in sports goes, it will remind everyone that they’re loved and valued and that while we’re going to take the game seriously, everyone’s value and identity are already established. It will probably also have loads to do with not being selfish, not exploiting being a leader to get more playing time, etc. It also won’t ever demonize opponents. It will probably seek to maximize the reality of sports — FUN. And fun for everyone. Even though that will come in different ways for everyone, because there are different skill levels. In fact, cruciform leadership will probably have to remind others, graciously and truthfully, that because they’re not skilled, they won’t get much playing time, or they won’t play at a certain position. Their role is to enjoy watching the team excel, or to encourage their teammates — though, again, that says nothing about their identity and value as people.

  2. Tim Cole

    Herr Professor: Cross-shaped leader formation–as a paradigm and captured in book form–is overdue in our CEO-driven churches. You write it and I’ll read it; then, let all seminary deans make it required reading for all future Elders/Teaching Shepherds.

  3. Andrew T.

    You could actually go beyond saying that the ‘Christian leader’ should be cruciform to saying all good leaders should be.

    This site provides a typical ‘military’ view of what constitutes a good leader. Ultimately, all of those attributes were embodied perfectly in Christ.

    1. Lead by example. Christ did so perfectly.
    2. Maintain a level of competence. Would any argue Christ was incompetent?
    3. Know your self, and seek improvement. Christ knew Himself, but perfection needs not seek improvement, so Christ accomplished this perfectly.
    4. Keep your followers informed. Christ was and is the word, and his followers are still informed today [John 14:26]
    5. Seek and accept responsibility ..

    Only Christ can claim to have fulfilled perfectly all attributes of the perfect leader (how ever poor the followers). The rest of us imperfect mortals only have partial success. Also, any reasonable description of the perfect leader inevitably is a partial description of Christ.

    So if any leader, Christian or not, could be perfectly cruciformed, they would be like Christ, and so effective leaders.

    Your point is well made!

  4. Haddon Anderson (@HaddonAnderson)

    I appreciate your emphasis upon the Sabbath and one’s identity. Sports so easily become more than refreshments or fun activities. It’s a refreshing reminder to dwell upon how a Christian’s identity is in Christ, and how that reshapes EVERYTHING, including sports.

    Shoot me those articles on sports you mentioned ( I’m interested to delve more into this.

  5. Pingback: Jesus-shaped VS worldly leadership: Tim Gombis on Christian leadership | Imagine with Scripture

  6. Pingback: Biblical Studies Carnival – June 2014 | Reading Acts

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