The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
It will be through spending time looking at Jesus that we will lose our appetite for self-promotion.
The first days of the year are typically days of anticipation and planning. All around us people will be making their resolutions. Even in the world of Christian ministry it is easy to get caught up the annual cycle of planning and scheming, often with unchecked values driving fine-sounding aspirations.
This year I want to be fitter, better informed, more productive. This year I want to start a book, finish a book, see the church grow, etc. All good things, but potentially all reflections of a set of values that may be dressed up in Christian language, but deep down are very much in line with the competitive culture of this world.
How about something a bit different? This year I want to think about Jesus so much that I become more like him.That would be a leadership resolution worthy of our investment!
Just in case you like the idea, let’s kick start the year with a few verses from Isaiah 42. This is the first of the so-called “Servant Songs” – four songs that are clearly speaking of the Messiah himself, and not the nation of Israel as a whole. This first song speaks of Jesus as a leader.
42 Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
2 He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
3 a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
4 He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law.
Three times Isaiah refers to the Servant’s great task of bringing justice to the nations (Isa.42:1, 3, 4). This is no mean task. This calls for all the strength, all the power, all the political acumen, and all the gravitas to achieve such a task. Surely the passage is going to speak of the Servant’s power, his presence, his charismatic personality, and so on? Actually, no. Surprisingly it speaks of the Messiah’s relational tenderness.
1. In the first verse, we see the Trinitarian rootedness of the Messiah. Here the Father speaks of his delight in his chosen servant. He speaks of putting His Spirit upon him. It is easy to bypass this introductory image, but we would be theologically poorer if we did bypass it. Actually we should be rejoicing that our God is the Trinity. We should be delighted beyond words that we are not serving a self-serving despot, but instead we get to also serve a God who gives of himself, a God who exists in delightful communion. Later in John 13:3-5 we see how Jesus’ rootedness in his relationship with his Father enable him to give sacrificially of himself as he took on the role of the slave at the feet of his disciples. The Christ-like leader will always be one whose life and ministry is planted deep in the soil of fellowship with the Triune God. If God being Trinity does not thrill you, stop whatever else you are doing and lay your heart before God, pursuing the delight that can only be found in fellowship with Him.
2. In the second verse, we see the Messiah in respect to himself. The striking thought here is that he does not boldly announce his arrival. He chooses no fanfare, no elaborate introduction, no impressive biographical details. We exist in a world of self-promoters, and sadly the church offers little respite from this scourge. Maybe it will be through spending time looking at Jesus that we will lose our appetite for self-promotion and impressive introductions. Maybe your leadership is marred by a spectacular obsession with self of which you alone are unaware. Jesus is refreshingly different.
3. In the third verse, we see the Messiah relating to his subjects. Just as there is a subtle tenderness and humility in the preceding verses, so that becomes explicit in how he deals with others. So many in our churches and ministries are bruised reeds and faintly burning wicks. So many are on the edge of collapse in one form or another. So easily we can stamp all over the people around us, leaving a trail of crushed spirits and broken souls. Look past the praise of your strong leadership and ask God for sensitivity toward the weak who you may have trodden on in recent months. Time spent gazing on Christ will result in a radically different manner with people. Perhaps if we spent more time with Jesus we would invest less praise in the shooting star heroes of the faith who leave a burning trail of destruction behind them.
4. In the fourth verse, the Messiah’s tenderness is not seen to be a lack of endurance. His task was great, and yet that did not mean he created casualties. Tenderness is no reason for giving up, nor is endurance an excuse for hurting others. As it says in Hebrews 12, we should fix our gaze on Jesus so that we also will not grow weary and be tempted to give up.
Maybe a good 2018 for you is not to be measured in new projects, increased productivity or amplified praise. Maybe a good 2018 will mean more time spent with Jesus, greater tenderness toward others, and simply pressing on with what God has already given to you. I don’t know what my year looks like, nor even yours, but I know that if our leadership looks Christ-like, then it will be a year well worth living.