Life is about balance. So is leadership as we hold to the truth that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and navigate in a world that changes at an ever increasing pace. All of the ministry approaches and techniques that worked in 1980 quite likely won’t work today. If we keep on doing what we’ve always been doing, we’ll keep on getting what we’ve always been getting. If what we’re getting is more and better disciples of Jesus – that’s wonderful. But if that’s not what we’re getting, then it’s time to refocus. We need to always keep God’s mission at the forefront and be open to how to continue to introduce people to Jesus Christ in whatever context we find ourselves.
What will that take? Qualities, characteristics, virtues that are indispensable. They’re found all over the New Testament. Some of these qualities are found in the character lists of Paul’s letters (1 Tim 3; Titus, 2 Tim 3:10-11). Others are in the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-232. Yet others are portrayed in the life and parables of Jesus. More appear as the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12). These ‘indispensables’ are qualities that are evident in our lives and they also develop through exercise, through our submission and obedience to God and our dependence on the Holy Spirit: But you, Timothy, man of God: Run for your life from all this. Pursue a righteous life—a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy. Run hard and fast in the faith. Seize the eternal life, the life you were called to, the life you so fervently embraced in the presence of so many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:11-12 The Message)
Paul wrote to Timothy, but the words are for us as well, so as we read it, let’s substitute our names for Timothy’s.
These qualities are developed as we embody them, make them a part of us as we are empowered by the Spirit to do so. As Paul reminds Timothy, it is possible to miss out: But some people have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions.(1 Timothy 1:6 NLT)
As I’ve been reading and reflecting lately, here are a few thoughts on some of the qualities that we need to keep on practicing in the Spirit.
Faith (Hebrews 11:1): We walk by faith. When all is going well, it’s easier. When certain things don’t happen we need to be able to pray through it, giving it over to God, trusting that He is at work for His good purposes and in His timing.
Courage is also needed, as faith is spelled RISK. Where Christ is leading and what He’s asking is often counter cultural. It takes courage to step out and go against everything our instincts are telling us. Yet we take that step in faith because we are convinced that God is in the outcome, and we’d rather be in that outcome with Him than anywhere else without Him.
Forgiveness (1 John 1:9): We have two powerful tools we can use any time that allow us to experience freedom in our relationship with God and others. They are confession and forgiveness. Forgiveness can also require courage – the courage to ask for it and the courage to give it.
Teachable spirit: this is the opposite of what Paul warns against as self-willed in Titus 1:7 (NASB). If we’re inflexible in our beliefs, traditions or living habits, how can we learn and adapt to a new context and model that for our people?
I heard a story a long time ago that helped me understand the role that traditions and habits can play. There are 3 generations of women in this account: a grandmother, a mother and a daughter. The daughter was interested in learning how to cook and approached her mom for lessons. One of the first meals they worked on together was a roast. The daughter watched carefully as the mom worked and noticed that the mom cut off both ends of the roast before putting it in the pan. The daughter was taking notes and asked why the ends had been cut off. The mom paused for a bit and then said she’d always prepared the roast this way because that’s the way she had been taught by her mother. The next time the daughter was speaking with her grandmother, she asked her the purpose behind cutting the ends off the roast, thinking that it was related to meat juices and flavour. Her grandmother looked at her and said ‘Oh that – I cut the ends off because I liked to do a big roast and my roasting pan was always too small.’
The daughter had her answer, even though it was very different from what she’d been expecting.
The story reminds us that we need to stop and ask questions. Do we know why we do things the way we do them? When we have the answer, then we need to explore if the reasons and conditions still exist. If they don’t, then we need to be willing to learn what we have to, to explore and lead in a new direction.
Discernment (Rom. 12: 1-2): This is the ability to observe people and circumstances and ask ‘what is God doing’ and then engage others in ‘how do we respond?’ It’s operating with ‘What is God asking of us today?’ knowing that this might change in just a short time. Discernment comes from a place of prayer and surrender.
Patience (Gal. 5:22; Eph. 4:2): Patience is what makes discernment and waiting on God possible. Most of us need to practice patience and when we ask God for help, He will – quite often by sending someone our way! Forgiveness also plays an important part in our development of patience. If we cannot (or will not) forgive people, if we cannot push on with failings, we won’t be capable of patience.
Presence (Eph. 4:1-2): This is the way we embody peace, gentleness and integrity. It’s an unspoken certain message that communicates “I’m here, willing to do what God asks of me”. It’s difficult to describe yet it’s something we recognize when we’re with someone who has that ‘presence’. It’s peaceful and comforting and attractive. This presence is the fruit of a deep relationship with God.
Humility (Phil 2): We lead by depending on the Spirit to do His work. After all, there is no vacancy on the Trinity and even if there were, none of us would be qualified. We serve, share wisdom and speak the truth in love. We are called to live out the kind of humility Christ modeled for us as written in Philippians 2.
The list certainly isn’t complete. Some may think I’ve left out the most important quality: love. I haven’t. It is the greatest. I believe that when our primary motivation is love for God (and all who He loves) there is a more natural flow as we continue to develop the other qualities we need to lead. God has a mission and the church is His instrument of choice for accomplishing that mission. We are God’s Plan A. As I read Scripture, I have yet to find a Plan B.
These qualities are all needed, yet we go through seasons when we need to practice some of them more than others. They are
timeless – after all, there’s nothing new under the sun.
Rev. Kim Henderson is the Director of Personnel for The Free Methodist Church in Canada