The Downward Spiral of Leadership


This week at 6:8 we talked about leadership in the Kingdom. We looked at a passage from Luke 6 where Jesus spends all night in prayer and then chooses the 12 apostles. From there, we spoke more broadly about the nature of Christlike leadership. Essentially, leaders in the Kingdom are first and foremost disciples. Discipleship always precedes leadership.

Just after Jesus selects the 12, he begins the “Sermon on the Plain” by pronouncing 4 blessings and 4 corresponding woes. The poor, hungry, weeping, and hated are blessed while the rich, well fed, happy, and well liked receive woe. This is not a pretty picture of discipleship – poverty, hunger, pain, and rejection. It reminds me of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s famous quote about discipleship:

When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.

For me, this quote basically sums it up. Discipleship is following Jesus to the cross, dying with him there, and being raised with him to new life by the power of the Spirit.

If Christian leaders are disciples, then leadership takes on a very different character than what we see around us. Leadership usually comes with more power, more responsibility, and more influence. Leaders are respected and honored. They remove themselves from the “nitty gritty details” of their work and focus on the “big picture ideas.”

Its hard to be a leader in the normal sense of that word when we’re following the downward way of Jesus. What is the downward way of Jesus? Listen to Henri Nouwen’s description:

Is there a way for us to nurture that faith within? The answer is yes: it is the way of poverty, the way that Jesus himself shows us as he moves toward the cross. Jesus consistently refuses the way of power, influence, and celebrity. Always, he chooses the way of weakness, powerlessness, compassion, and obscurity — the way of the poor. And so every time we choose poverty over wealth, powerlessness over power, humble service over popularity, quiet fruitfulness over loud acclaim, we prepare for our rebirth in the Holy Spirit. This might sound gloomy, unnatural, or even impossible…

Gloomy? Yeah, a little bit. The downward way of Christ is not just for leaders; it is for all followers of Christ. But it is especially for leaders, because Christian leaders are not lone rangers – they work in a Body. They build community but not just any community. The community they are after is founded in the self-giving love of God, in the humility of mutual poverty, in the hope of new creation through the Spirit. As leaders follow the downward way of Christ, they are given new eyes to see God’s presence in those who are hurting, struggling, and poor – materially, emotionally, spiritually, or mentally. And then, as Nouwen says, something pretty cool happens:

Thus, the Spirit living in our poverty will speak to the Spirit among the poor. Our poor hearts will speak to the poor hearts of those around us. And out of this, a new spiritual community will be molded, not something spectacular, imposing, or world-convincing, but, on the contrary, something small, hidden, and very humble, scarcely noticed by our fast-moving world. In the midst of the world, but hidden from its view, something very new, very tender, and very fragile can be born.

The goal of Christian leadership is new birth and the path to new birth always leads through the cross.

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