A Word on Christian Leadership: Reflections on My Last Year with the Kandiyohi Church of Christ

I don’t know what a person thinks of when they hear the term “leadership”.  The literature on this subject is vast, some of which is helpful and some is…  But as a Christian leader and evangelist whose interest is the gospel and the development of churches living out the life and mission of God, I am not interested in general leadership.  I am interested in a specific sort of leadership, the sort of leadership Jesus continuously employed during his public ministry all the way to his death, resurrection, and ascension.  Since this is the sort of leadership I believe that is to be found in the church and in her leaders, I will simply call it “Christian Leadership.”[1]

We see this sort of leadership employed in such passages as Mark 8.31-38; Lk.14-30; Jn 13.1-17; and the Apostle Paul most pointedly utilizes this sort of leadership both as his means and as a way of instruction in the book of Philippians.  So what is this type of leadership?  First, it is self-sacrificial for the sake of others.  It is the type of leadership that serves others even at the cost of forsaking self.  It is the way of Jesus’ life who served others even at the expense of his own life which is seen as Jesus washes the feet of his disciples.  It is the way of Paul who in Philippians is willing to be imprisoned and even put to death for the sake of the church.  Secondly, it bears witness to the redemptive life God creates and redeems people to live.  Rather than employing the wisdom and methods of this world, it rests upon God’s wisdom and God’s ways.  Rather than turning on Judas because he would do wrong to Jesus, Jesus continued to serve him by washing his feet.  Rather than Paul calling for the two sisters in the Philippian church to mistreat each other, Paul encourages them to become like Christ to one another (e.g., Phil 2.5-8, 12-16).  Lastly, this leadership operates with the big eschatological picture rather than the temporal and seemingly immediate needs in mind.  Jesus’ definition of success or results is not determined by the present circumstances (good or bad) but by whether but by whether his actions serve the redemptive goal of God.  Those who are focused simply on immediate results must view both Jesus and Paul as failures because their lives culminated in being arrested and put to death with few disciples (in the case of Jesus) and a mixed bag of disciples (in the case of Paul) to show for their mission efforts.  However both Jesus and Paul understood that their efforts here on earth were only part of the bigger whole that God will accomplish because of their faithfulness that may have appeared too many as failed leadership rather than faithful leadership.

As I reflect on my last year serving as the evangelist/pastor for the Kandiyohi Church of Christ (KCOC), I have tried to employ this model of leadership.  I certainly was far from perfect in modeling this type of leadership but I also believe that I am just a clay jar and yet God can still work through me for the sake of others.  I also had the privilege of serving with a group of four other men and two women from the church called the Leadership Focus Group.  I was proud of these six Christians because they continually sought to live out this model of leadership.  With their own families, their own full-time jobs, and other responsibilities, they sacrificed one Sunday afternoon per month and one Thursday evening per month to serve the KCOC.  We met together to serve as a steering committee for the church to accomplish certain goals and activities.  We did not accomplish everything we had hoped to accomplish nor did every member always have things go the specific way they thought the church should go but that was ok because we all knew the group was not about us, our ways and wants.  Rather we wanted to help the congregation to be more about God’s redemptive call and to that end, we did see increased youth ministry in the congregation, we spent time praying for people who were on our prayer lists, organized the church’s participation in the Kandi is Dandy day for the local Kandiyohi community of which many people from the church participated in some way, to name a few things. 

Some might look at what took place and claim little to nothing was accomplished.  There were not many baptisms.  In fact, there were only two baptisms over the last year.  There was not an increased church growth in the congregation.  With a couple of families moving away, we actually declined in membership slightly.  There were not big events being organized and carried out every week in the church.  Yet we were not railroading our personal expectations upon the congregation at the cost of division.  Some of us believed the KCOC would have been better served by relocating into downtown Willmar, MN but not everyone in the congregation agreed and so the Leadership Focus Group did not push this issue. Yet people were growing stronger in their faith.  God was at work in ways that cannot be seen through eyes relying upon the wisdom of the world rather than the gospel. 

I have heard leadership defined as influence more than a few times.  While there is some truth to that definition, it is also misleading.  If leadership is only about influence then Jesus, abandoned at the cross by everyone but God and a few women, must be the biggest failed example of leadership.  Leadership is about faithfulness to God, in the ways of God and for the sake of God’s redemptive goal.  I am proud to say that the Leadership Focus Group – Kevin, Wendy, Peter, Tim, John, and Wanda – understood this and modeled this (even if they would not articulate it in the same language as I do).  They were a source of encouragement in both the good times and in some difficult times.  They sacrificed themselves for the sake of God’s mission and God’s church, specifically at the KCOC.  I am proud of them and their reward is an inheritance being “…kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet 1.4-5, TNIV).

[1] I am writing this essay in dedication to the Kandiyohi Church of Christ who loved my family and I in ways that go beyond description for the last year.  To my family at the Kandiyohi Church of Christ, thank-you!

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