Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part five)

If the Church in North America is to become fully alive, awake, and influential, her pastors must become what they were always intended by God to be.

Courageous leaders.

What does it mean to live and lead courageously, particularly amidst a culture of cowardice?

Here’s a quick overview of what we’ve covered so far:

One: Courageous leadership is not about skill, technique, or knowledge.  It is, most of all, about the presence of the leader as he or she moves through life.

Two: Take full responsibility for your own emotional being and destiny.

Three: Promote healthy differentiation within the church or system you lead.

Four: Stand, as an exemplar, in the sabotage and backlash that must come. Edwin Friedman, in A Failure of Nerve does a masterful job illuminating several stunning characteristics of effective leadership.  I am indebted to him for sparking the perspectives written about in this Series.  We’ve been looking at the way Jesus embodied these traits—not for intellectual edification, but to challenge Christian leaders to change.

As a minister of the Gospel of Christ you are an exemplar. Your way of life is a model- and it must be so.  It is ridiculous to serve in Christian ministry and to shrink from the exposure and vulnerability befitting your station. A leader stands. Sometimes, that means you get to stand alone.  Always it means you are visible in ways that those who follow are not.  My invitation is to embrace the reality and necessity of standing up, of standing out, and of standing alone—

or get out of Christian ministry.

There is an anxiety, common to American culture, about being alone.  It seems that only raving narcissists are immune from this.  I disagree.  There is another kind of person who has calmed his own disquiet when coming under scrutiny – or fire. It is the kind of leader we’re examining in this Series.

Consider the accounts that are chronicled in John Chapter 6: the 5,000 witness the miracle of the loaves & fish, Jesus walks on the Galilee, and a sizeable crowd follows him to the other side of the Sea.  He calls them out!  ‘You’re only here for the show; because of the miracles’, is how he greets them.

Then he exposes their shallowness with his seldom-repeated “sermon in the synagogue” about eating his body and drinking his blood. [Jn 6:53f]  The crowd scatters and many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him—ever.

Does Jesus explain that it was just hyperbole, a figure of speech?

Does he beg them to come back?

Does he soften the message, lower the bar, or ease their distress?

Read it, and see.

A few chapters later, Jesus has become so popular that even the Hellenized Greeks are seeking him out. [Jn 12:20-24]  They ask Philip for an audience with the Master.  At this moment, they may be at the pinnacle of their popularity. Imagine Philip’s enthusiasm as he tells Andrew the great news!  The two go together to let Jesus know that so-and-so has requested to see him.  Rather than assign one of them to schedule his appointments with dignitaries he ignores the request and instead he talks to the two of them about of his impending sacrificial death.

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies….

Neither the admiration nor the disdain of the crowds and his closest followers seems to deter Jesus from his mission.  Jesus does not simply take a stand.  He is a stand.

Having taken full responsibility, before God, for his being and destiny, Jesus’ lives as if his every movement, his attitudes, his words, and even his silence are on purpose.  His Father’s purpose.  To establish the Kingdom of God in the lives of women and men.

This is what leaders do.

Acclimate yourself to the rigor of taking total responsibility, before God, for your own responses to your environment and circumstances. Friedman notes: “Leaders must not only not be afraid of that position, they must come to love it.” So, you ask, where do I get that kind of courage?  How could I ever come to love being ridiculed and adored, being evaluated and critiqued, judged all the time?

What if you have it all, already? What if you’ve been given it in Christ?  If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation… [I Cor 5:17]


God’s power has given us everything we need for life and godliness… [2 Pt 1:3]