There was an audible gasp among pastors, elders, and deacons when I said,
“Leadership is not primarily a position, it is a process.”
Leadership is not something we can hold like a title or an object. It is not stagnant. Leadership is a dynamic process in which a man or woman with God-given capacity influences a group of people towards God’s purposes for the group.
I remember gasping in the same way the room full of office bearers did when I first heard those same words from Bobby Clinton, one of my professors at Fuller Seminary.
Jesus delegates his authority to his disciples to have influence in his mission in the world. The pattern established in creation of men and women serving alongside one another in the care of God’s world, continues in the commission of all disciples to participate in God’s mission. What began in creation is redeemed in Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said to his disciples,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Rick Warren, retired pastor of Saddleback Church shared his experience reflecting on the Great Commission in a recent Christianity Today interview. He said,
“We believe the Great Commission is for everyone, that both men and women are to fulfill the Great Commission… There are four verbs in the Great Commission: ‘Go, make disciples, baptize, and teach.’ Women are to go, women are to make disciples, women are to baptize, and women are to teach – not just men.”
Participation in the mission of God isn’t reserved for a select few. John, the author of the fourth gospel, shares a story that illustrates this truth.
The woman of Sychar, after meeting Jesus at the well, returns to town and invites everyone to meet the one who sees her, who knows her, and who values her enough to engage in a thoughtful, theological conversation. He is the Messiah. The whole town believes as a result of her testimony and their personal experience of Jesus.
My faith in Jesus is a result of my mother’s testimony and my personal experience of Jesus. For most of my mother’s life, she wouldn’t have considered herself a leader.
She was a pastor’s wife who largely served in the background as my father planted a church in Michigan, built relationships with college students through a campus ministry, and then went on to support pastors and churches in church renewal.
Mom’s leadership was always present, even if she didn’t recognize her own influence. She established a dynamic process in which her God-given capacity to communicate a deep trust in God influenced every one of her children to trust in him too.
When she was diagnosed with an aggressive, life-threatening cancer just after her fiftieth birthday, her faith was tested. I remember her well-worn Bible lying on the table next to her favorite chair with a bookmark giving ready access to Paul’s letter to the believers in Philippi.
“Now I want you to know that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.” Phil. 1:12
When asked if she felt like her body and her God had betrayed her, she said, “God never promised life would be easy. He promised he would never leave us.”
She lived another seventeen years in a body that could at any moment resume multiplying irregular cells that would put her vital organs at risk. Each of those days, she lived with a quiet, steadfast trust in the God who was present.
“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” Phil. 1:20
My mother was a leader. She had the delegated authority of Jesus to make disciples. She influenced her children, grandchildren, and many others to put their faith in an ever-present God. I can hear her voice in the words of the apostle Paul,
“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Phil. 4:9
Who is influencing you towards God’s purposes in your life?
Who are you influencing towards God’s purposes in their life?
Written by Rev. Elaine May, CRCNA Congregational Ministries Ministry Consultant and principal creator of Thriving Essentials, a leadership development course for all the leaders in the church. This set of four devotionals will follow the four themes of the course: mission, discipleship, discernment and leadership. You can register for the course and find more information about the Thriving Congregations Initiative at crcna.org/thrive.
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Well done, Dr. May. Thanks for sharing this powerful devotional with us. Thanks be to God for your mother, for you, and for the way you both have stewarded the good news of the Gospel.