Leadership is Influence – Lenten Season 2021
“When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the 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 your slave–just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:24-28 NIV).
7 Spiritual Laws of Success – Leadership is Influence (Law #7)
Like millions of other viewers, I have been enjoying The Chosen – a new film series on the life and ministry of Jesus. It is called The Chosen because it is focused not on Jesus but on the twelve disciples, the ones “chosen” by Jesus to follow him. It is a fascinating character study and makes each of the personalities come more alive in the process.
I have to admit that, at first, I wasn’t sure I liked how the writers developed Peter’s character. They had him collaborating with the Romans against his own people (which is not very likely) but, as time goes on, I have to admit that, details aside, they nailed his character exactly right.
This became especially clear in Season 2, Episode 3, where the whole scene takes place in the camp where there is a lot of interaction between the disciples. Jesus is “off screen” a little ways away ministering to those who want to be healed. A few disciples are taking turns helping with crowd control but, mostly, they are a bit exasperated and worried about Jesus working so hard to heal people. He simply wouldn’t take a much needed break and they didn’t know what to do about it.
The interaction among the disciples is priceless.
It comes to a head around the campfire at night when they are talking about what it means to follow Jesus, to finally throw the hated Romans out, why Jesus is wasting his time healing the crowds (especially since most of them were Samaritans and Syrians) and, ultimately, how this is all a vindication of the Jewish way of life and of the Jewish faith.
But Matthew was a problem.
A fly in the ointment, so to speak. At least for Peter. He was a hated tax collector and he had never even apologized for his earlier behavior and choices. What did HE know about what it meant to be a Jew? After all, and above all, being Jewish was about loyalty to the community.
Peter had some harsh words for Matthew, putting him on the spot and making him look bad.
The tensions begin to rise and sides are being taken. James and John, the sons of thunder, are often at loggerheads with Peter and his brother Andrew and, in no time, they are on their feet and ready to let the fists fly.
At that moment, Jesus stumbles into the camp area, weary to the bone with his singleminded focus on ministry, doesn’t say a word to anyone, doesn’t even look their way, and barely makes it to his tent. Mary, his mother, rushes to meet his needs, wash his feet, and get him comfortably settled into his tent to sleep. There is complete silence around the fire. The scene ends.
I loved it.
While the disciples are arguing and discussing and focused on all sorts of things, Jesus is singlemindedly focused on effective ministry to please his Father and has no time for these petty discussions.
And this wasn’t the only time this happened either.
Washing Feet – Leadership is Influence
In our passage above, James and John are arguing about who will get to sit on the right and the left-hand side of Jesus when he comes into his Kingdom. Peter has something to say about that. Arguments erupt. Tempers flare.
But Jesus also has something to say….
Today we would call it Servant Leadership. But that has also become a bit of a cliché lately. We do not exercise authority the way the world does, Jesus tells us. Again he turns all of our thinking on its head. For us, in the Kingdom of God, leadership is service. I would say Leadership is Influence. Same thing. Influence is always a question of service. And Jesus is always our example, especially his service to us on the cross.
It happened again (probably many times) just before the Last Supper. More arguments about who would be first, who should have the place of honor beside Jesus at this important Passover Seder Meal. Again, James and John against Peter (and maybe Andrew). They still hadn’t learned their lesson.
Jesus enters the room.
He takes off his tunic and wraps a towel around his waist and starts to do the menial task of washing their feet. At first they are quiet but then Peter speaks up and refuses this “service” from his Master.
After all, things were coming to a head now. This was the key week that they were all waiting for. Jesus was confronting the authorities head on, throwing the money-changers out of the Temple, preaching openly to the crowds who had come to Jerusalem for this unusual Passover that also happened to fall on the Sabbath Day. They could feel the tensions rising, the expectations of the crowds growing. Everyone believed that now was the time that Jesus would reveal himself as the Messiah and throw the Romans out of Jerusalem, out of Israel, once and for all.
Of course Peter would not accept this menial service from the new, about-to-be-revealed King of Israel. This didn’t fit his concept of what the Messiah was all about. He was being patriotic. He was being Peter.
But Jesus makes it clear that if he didn’t accept this “service,” this servanthood nature of the Messiah, then Peter could have nothing to do with him. Evidently meaning that if the ultimate “service” of Jesus was to die on the cross for our sins, we need to accept that service if we want to have anything to do with him. It might be shameful, since we know that we made it necessary but shame must give way to love if Jesus’ service is to have any effect in us. And so it was with Peter.
Leadership is the spiritual influence that comes from a life of service in effective, singleminded ministry.
Sadly, even after all of the warnings of Jesus, the church is still full of politics and control and the abuse of power. After years of personal experience, I can honestly say that the greatest problem in the modern church is the leadership (or the lack thereof). They preach great sermons on servant leadership but the general practice is to control everyone and everything so that we all function at the lowest common denominator of mediocrity.
Strong words, I know. And, yes, there are exceptions. But this is the norm most of the time, in most churches and in most places (at least in Western Christianity). Leadership is influence. There is no way around it.
The Edge of Ministry Effectiveness – Leadership is Influence
It shouldn’t be a surprise of course.
We are sinners saved by grace, after all. But that is no excuse for the abuse of power that we see on every side in the church. It is the one constant reason why the modern church has lost its “edge” of ministry effectiveness.
I know a Pastor who likes “pomp and circumstance” so much that every flower on the altar needs to be perfect, every person in the choir needs to be “equal-distant” from the other, wearing the same robes, everyone in lock-step so that everything is perfect. Now, you might say that that is just a difference in style and not substance. I disagree. Relationships were broken. People were hurt. The rules were more important than the needs of the people. The ministry suffered. Terribly.
I know a Pastor who threatened not “to pray” for a young woman who didn’t do what he wanted. For the sake of “the ministry,” he required a lot from his parishoners. They had to be on time, not smoke, drink or engage in any indecent behaviour, not attend any other church and be available whenever he needed them. All for the sake of the ministry. Obviously some of the things are good, but to “require” them has the wrong taste and when you start to look at the last couple of “requirements” not to attend other churches or always be available indicatesd a veneer of spirituality hiding a dark well of control, power and abuse of authority. How can you threaten anyone with NOT praying for them? As if your prayers as the pastor have “negotiating” power or some sort of effectiveness because of your position rather than because of your relationship with God.
I know a Pastor who knew how to “smile.” He was trained in the work of a parachurch ministry, working with a variety of groups from different perspectives, getting them all to work together. He got along with people very well. He knew what to say and how to say it. He was a true “church” politician. Everybody seemed to like him. But just because you know how to “smile” and be a “nice guy” doesn’t make you spiritual. The leadership is still worldly. When Alpha videos are being shown to a group of people who only speak Spanish, he insists that they be shown in English. After all, we are an English speaking church and what would the Board think if we start to do ministry in Spanish. There are subtitles in Spanish and if they are too small or difficult to read, the people can move to the front.
No big deal, you say.
Effective Ministry Service – Leadership is Influence
Leadership is spiritual influence that comes from effective ministry service.
Yes, but you can’t evaluate everyone’s leadership based on how it affects people’s walk with God, can you?
Yes, you can. That’s exactly how leadership should be evaluated. It isn’t just about the position of Pastor or elder that matters, but about effective ministry. If you see “authority” as having four distinct but inter-related parts, it might help to understand all of this discussion better. Authority can be spiritual, relational, personal or positional. Each of those is a different type and foundation for authority and they are all important. Together these four types of authority create influence which comes from effective ministry service.
Four Types of Authority
Someone can have relational authority simply based on their relationship with me. My brother has authority to speak with me and give me advice that some stranger off the street does not. Personal authority has to do with who you are as a person. Because I see my friend as a person of integrity and honest and upright, he has authority to speak to me and give me advice. He may not have much relational authority but he has lots of personal authority. Then there is positional authority. Normally, my Pastor has authority to speak wisdom and truth into my life just because he is my pastor. But that doesn’t yet mean that he has spiritual authority. Positional authority is actually the weakest of the four. Finally, there is Spiritual Authority. Paul said, follow me as I follow Christ. That is spiritual authority.
They are all inter-related, of course, but they can also be isolated from each other. Positional authority is the easiest. Do what I say because I am the Pastor. Relational Authority is a bit better. I have a relationship with you. I care for you therefore listen to me. Personal Authority is also helpful. I practice what I preach so therefore I have integrity and you should listen to me. But Spiritual Authority is, obviously, the goal and it includes all of the rest.
Spiritual Authority is based on following Christ in singleminded effective ministry as the ONLY way to please God which is our bread and water in life. Those who have spiritual authority don’t have to ask anyone to listen to them, or to do what they say. It just happens. Like Jesus.
But if “effective ministry service” is the foundation of spiritual authority and the measurement of true leadership, then MOST of what we do in church is wrongly-focused and misguided and distracting from the work of furthering the Kingdom of God.
Yes, now you are getting it. Does that seem harsh?
But we still have to clean the carpets, balance the budget and run the church, don’t we?
How we do Ministry is Essential – Leadership is Influence
Of course. But how we do it makes all the difference in the world.
I remember a moment in my mind that will stay with me forever. We are in the fellowship hall of our church and some of the older women in charge of the fellowship committee corner my wife to take her to task about the “smelly” street people who were coming to our church. They were ruining the chairs because they couldn’t get the stink out of the fabric and they didn’t want to spend the time or the money trying to clean the chairs every week.
You see, for some reason, my wife and I were associated with the street people. We would talk to them and pray with them, give them food and some money and we even had a Bible study in Spanish (God forbid) for them after the service.
Obviously they didn’t come for the service because they didn’t know English. They came to get some pastries and coffee after the service and maybe some food and money to go back out into the streets with. Perhaps some of them even became friends like Juan, who showed up regularly and helped around the church on Feria day. Or Scottie, who was a street evangelist and knew English and came every week (although he would steal books out of the library to sell on the street). Or Julio who would sit at a table in the back after the service and write nonsense on a piece of paper because he said he was inspired by God. Or Charles, whose sister stole everything from him and put him on the street but always dressed impeccably (though he still smelled) or Esteban who came in green flipflops, suffering from schizophrenia, spouting conspiracy theories and the like.
No, they didn’t all come at the same time. This was over a period of twenty years or so. Just enough to remind us of what was important but not enough to upset the apple cart of our religiosity.
At least, untill now….
Now, for some reason, they were starting to swarm…..to gather in bigger numbers in our small, international church. Now they were getting noticed more, making more of an impact, requiring more from us, asking for healing, for food, for help. Effective ministry was needed and it would take a singlemindedness of purpose and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. The applecart would be upset but the apples would be distributed to those who needed them. That’s what mattered.
So they were coming to church, smelly and uncouth, not even speaking English and obviously there just for the benefits. Just like the crowds did with Jesus. But Jesus’ influence grew in the region because he ministered to them it says in Matthew 4:24 (the title of that episode in The Chosen).
So the old ladies in the church had my wife cornered.
Somehow it was our fault that these people were coming and they were making their complaint to my wife. But my wife had nothing to say. What can you say to that kind of hard-heartedness? So my wife began to weep. The tears streamed down her face as she looked at these ladies and they all shut up rather quickly. It was the best, perhaps the only, answer that could be given.
Yes, we are all learning the ropes together. There is grace for everyone. No doubt.
But when the leadership of the church are the ones who are making the complaints (as in this case), who are shutting things down, who are getting in the way of effective, messy ministry, then…..
What can you do but weep?
A Clash of Cultures
I was a minister once. I studied in seminary. I took a job as a pastor of a small church in Calgary, Alberta in Canada. The church grew over 100% in three years because of the work in evangelism that I was doing. It was a young church and the elders of the church were all around forty to fifty years old, sometimes younger. Young, smart professionals for the most part. I thought I had hit the jackpot and that we would grow the church together with a focus on effective ministry.
New couples were coming for marriage counseling, getting saved and becoming part of the church. One couple, a friend of my brother, who was a cop, became part of our church and she (the wife) was baptized as an adult. I remember trying to use the small baby-sized baptism font to scoop water out with my hand and put it on her head. She was a bit too far away and the water spilled quite a bit before it got to her. She started to giggle and I couldn’t help but smile. But many people didn’t like it and there were already complaints and murmuring in the camp.
We only did baby baptisms. Have done it that way for years. No one was saying that adult baptisms were wrong……it’s just that…..what? I don’t think they even knew why they were upset.
I did. There was a clash of cultures going on.
The church is a cultural unit and they did things a certain way for years. This was the first adult baptism they had seen in fifty years, if ever. This church culture did not do evangelism. They did not expect the church to grow by having people from outside the church community join them. What would happen if there were more of them than of us? Who would be in control? Who would make the decisions? This is our church and we like our services a certain way and that’s all there is to it.
And the Board of Elders seemed to think that it was their job to keep the peace and to maintain the status quo. Not to do effective ministry whatever that takes, whatever the price. They wouldn’t say it that way, of course. Many wonderful sermons were preached on effective ministry but actually doing it was another thing altogether. Leadership is influence. It is there whether you like it or not, for good or for bad.
Well, enough said. I could go on ……and on…… and on….. and, probably, so could you. I know.
Almost anyone that I know that has tried to do effective ministry in the church has run into this “power” wall, this control mentality, this worldly view of authority and it is so well-justified, so protected, that there is no way through to the other side. So you either conform or you leave. Those are your choices.
He worked his effective ministry outside of the religious establishment and was persecuted for it. Why do we think we are any different?
Yes, but this is the church.
I’m sure that God has his remnant in every church but they aren’t necessarily in charge.
I am also sure that some (if not many) of the leaders are well-intentioned, even Christian (I won’t say godly) men and women who are trying to do their best. But this issue of making the church “political” which means making anything other than “people-oriented effective ministry” the goal and focus of the church, is the major issue of our day.
Is that too negative?
Maybe for you in your church context, it is. Good for you. There are good leaders out there. Find them. Work with them. Have grace with them. Focus on effective ministry together with them.
But it is “not the norm,” at least, not in my experience.
And the only response to that is….. to weep.
Committed to the Local Church – Leadership is Influence
But one more thing needs to be said. Jesus died for his church. We should too.
Now don’t confuse the institutional church with the spiritual church which is the bride of Christ, but still….we must be commited to the spiritual, universal church of God.
There is a movement in the States that claims that reaching the world for Christ depends on the local church. I couldn’t agree more so long as the local church is lead by people with spiritual authority.
That is the whole point of this series on the 7 spiritual laws of success (for Christians). First of all, to define success in Biblical terms, then to point out the pre-requisites that are necessary to make that happen. The overall goal is to arrive here, at the point of leadership. This is what will make or break our ministry.
And yes, the local church is key to that effective ministry but, still, remember that the Kingdom of God is bigger than the church, even though the church is the key to the expansion of that Kingdom. There are Christian schools, Christian Ministries, Christian political movements…..the list could go on and on. But the church is key. It is the incubator of Kingdom Ministries.
If Leadership is influence, it has a particularly powerful application to social media, the internet and the whole world of online influence which is a topic for another day.
Whether online or offline, in the local church or in a Kingdom ministry, leadership is key.
And when God blesses you with spiritual leadership and you are part of a team of spiritual leaders, well…..that is when all of your weeping will turn to joy.
The Desert Warrior
Lord, I am also in danger of this “worldly” disease of power, control and abuse of authority. We all are. Leadership is Influence. Protect me and help me to serve my family, my friends and my church without concern for anything except “effective ministry.” Transform your church through the transformation of your leaders. Make them true servants who follow you with all their hearts. In your name I pray. Amen.