My previous post offered the first two of five essential values for leaders to nurture and develop if they hope to still be living into their calling and sustaining important relationships, “for the long haul.” Giftedness will get you in the door as a leader, and romance will get you started in a relationship, but it’s these five critical qualities that will allow you to stay in the game for decades. In addition to teachability/humility and a rhythm of work and rest, you’ll also need:
#3 To be Rooted and Grounded (A Firm Identity) – Jesus does things that are utterly exasperating to contemporary leaders, like walking away from his ministry in Capernaum when word about him had spread and “the whole city” was looking for him. Who walks away from an opportunity to “expand their platform” or “build their brand” or “capture more market share?” Apparently Jesus does, and this makes no sense to we who are bred in the capitalist mindset that bigger and more is always the highest and best way to go.
The thing about Jesus though was that he had only one foundational source from which he drew his sense of significance, and that source wasn’t the size or success of his ministry. It wasn’t the response of the crowds either, because in John 6, Jesus is utterly undisturbed, even when the crowds shrink exponentially because of the harsh reality of his message. It wasn’t the faithfulness of his disciples, all of whom fled the scene when things got tough.
What keeps Jesus so grounded, so solid, in spite of the ups and downs of popularity in the polls, and in spite of the reality that his closest friends didn’t have a clue what he was about ’til the very end of his post resurrection life?
The answer’s found in John 13:3, where we’re told that Jesus knew that “the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from the Father and was returning to the Father….“ Because of this rootedness, Jesus is able to bend down and wash the feet of those who will betray and abandon him within a few short hours. It’s this identity with the Father that is the foundation of his life because Jesus knows his place in the universe, knows his relationship with God is secure, knows his destiny. And…
Yes, enough for Jesus, but not us, because we have a gaping hole in our lives that longs to be filled with significance, and so we set off to plant 1,000 churches, or to have a perfect marriage that’s the envy of the world, or raise children who are scholars, athletes, saints, who always eat their organic vegetables and never get cavities. Or we knock ourselves out to get whatever is, in our own world, the equivalent of a bestseller. Armed with these goals, we’re convinced that when we reach them, it will be enough.
It won’t. You’ll need to sustain it if you succeed, and then eventually you’ll need to let go of it because someday you’ll be old and tired. Then what will be enough? Or maybe sustaining it won’t be enough at all, because success can be addicting, like eating potato chips. You won’t be able to stop. If that’s you, then you’ll be on the tread mill in full swing, and it’s all for God, of course, because we’ve been told how vital it is that we use our gifts, and be a blessing, and make a difference. The whole message, at its worst, baptizes ambitions born of insecurities and leaves us desperate to succeed.
When success is our goal (marriage success, family success, ministry success, job success, publishing success) then the people in our lives become tools to help us get there. When that happens, I have a feeling we’ll no longer be washing the feet of our family members, or co-workers, or spouses, or church members when they fail to agree with us or appreciate us, because we’ll see them as barriers to our success, and our since our success is our identity, “what will we do” if our children rebel, or our church doesn’t grow, or our book doesn’t get published?
Can you see how a wrong definition of success and our desire to “impact the world” is fraught with the potential for burn-out, and even the possibility of becoming a user of people rather than a servant/lover of people? I hope so, because I can tell you from the driver’s seat that these temptations are real, and the world is filled with stories of power abuse at the hands of those who, with the very highest and noble goals articulated, came to insist that those goals be met at any cost, including the cost of servanthood, humility, and love.
The way of Jesus is different than this on two fronts:
A) Jesus invites us to union with himself and makes the audacious claim that this will make us profoundly content, regardless of the scope and nature of “impact” we have, or “fruit” we display in our lives. This is why leaders who are in it for the long haul have an identity rooted in what Christ has done for them and is doing for them, rather than in their own accomplishments. People like this don’t need outward success as much because what sustains them is fellowship with Christ and enjoying the gifts of Christ revealed in creation, beauty, good food, meaningful conversation and laughter. These gifts are received with gratitude by those whose life in Christ is their most precious gift.
Paul calls this being “rooted and grounded in love” so that coming to explore and experience the heights and depths of Christ’s love became the greatest joy, even greater than capturing market share!
Ministry, family, marriage, work; all these things are great gifts from God. But none of them are foundational, and to be blunt, none will last. The joy I have in knowing Christ, however, is a different story. He’s with me know in the midst of this oh so busy season in life. He’ll be with me later, when I’m sitting on a bench, too tired to run, or run a ministry. And he’ll be with me at my last breath. Why would I want to build on any other foundation?
B) Jesus invites us to leave the scope and nature of the fruit he produces in our lives with him. I’ll confess that it’s easy to get excited when I get published, easy to get discouraged when sales don’t match my hopes. Church life? Parenting? Marriage? Health? Money? In every area, we can get overly high or low based on whether reality matches our expectations.
How about, instead, we let go of our expectations, and simply rest in the confidence that Christ will express life through us in his way, his time, in the places of his choosing? That would lead to security. And rest. And peace.
#4 Patience but Relentless Pursuit