Cruciform leadership is marked by a determination to live authentically and relate honestly. Jesus-shaped, cruciform leaders don’t hide their weaknesses, inadequacies, and failures. They aren’t self-promoting, they don’t seek power, and they don’t trumpet their strengths.
Their ultimate goal is the blessing of others, the arrival of God’s transforming grace and overpowering love into their lives. Their goal is not to appear ultra-competent and amazing, but to serve others.
Worldly leadership, on the other hand, is consumed with image-consciousness. Worldly leaders manipulate situations in order to put the best face on things. They try to control how people see them and what others think of them.
This pursuit leads to denial of one’s failures and even to deceiving others in order to keep from being seen as a failure. This is serious inauthenticity.
While such leadership postures are tempting, they are ultimately destructive in so very many ways. Such an approach breeds anxiety. If I portray myself as better and more successful than others, I’ll always be worried that people might encounter the “real me”—the one who struggles with sin the way everyone else does; the one filled with self-doubt; the one who needs the help of others; the one who isn’t always up to the task.
This can also be crushing when failure actually occurs. If a person weaves a public image and takes great pains to hide behind it, there’s almost no way to recover when the “real me” is revealed.
Further, such an approach discourages others from participating in ministry. People who are honest with themselves will be too afraid to fail if only the super-competent or “experts” are qualified to serve.
Cruciform leadership resists such strategies.
Paul portrays the anti-image character of cruciform leadership in a powerfully counter-cultural passage.
…but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses. For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me (2 Cor. 12:5-6).
If he talked about his strengths and his mind-blowing experiences, he wouldn’t at all be exaggerating. He’d be speaking the truth. But he resists this because he doesn’t want the Corinthians to think of him as a bigger deal than he is. He refuses to construct an image.
His ultimate goal is their blessing, their communal flourishing, their enjoyment of the goodness of God in Christ by the Spirit.
Cruciform leaders refuse to try to control what people think of them. They don’t cultivate an image. They don’t try to make others imagine that more is true of them than matches reality.
Such leadership frees others to participate in ministry without fear of failure. I’ll never forget the first time this hit me. I have heard preaching my whole life and have hardly ever heard preachers relay anecdotes in which they don’t come off as spiritual superstars.
When I was in seminary, I had a pastor named Rick. Rick was a great speaker and decisive leader. He was impressive in so many ways, but was also unconcerned with his image.
After returning from a ministry trip to South Africa, he began his first Sunday back with an anecdote about his airplane ride. He said that he was so jacked up to be going on this trip that he initiated an evangelistic conversation with the two people sitting in his row. After an initial back-and-forth, Rick said that out of nowhere his brain locked up and he couldn’t think of a response to one of their questions. He sat there tongue-tied and gape-mouthed as they stared at him, awaiting a response.
Mortified, he slunk back in his chair for the torturously long plane ride to South Africa.
I’ll never forget how that made everyone feel. We all looked up to Rick and thought he could hardly put a foot wrong in ministry. But his anecdote reminded everyone that he was just like us and that it’s okay to fail.
He would tell his ministry interns later to seldom be the hero of your preaching anecdotes. I’ve never forgotten that. That’s one way of embodying honesty and authenticity. It resonates with people who are honest with themselves and are tired of a superficial culture dominated by inauthenticity.
Cruciform leaders aren’t paralyzed with fear that others will see their shortcomings, weaknesses, and inadequacies.
Authentic ministry is built on the truth. Cruciform leadership cultivates authenticity and invites others to develop similar habits of truth-speaking and truthful modes of life.
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