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Friday, January 20, 2012

Engendering a Culture of Spiritually Fecund Leaders and Jesus-Followers, Part 1.

Recently someone asked me to offer my thoughts on " how can we engender that sort of leadership, that conviction that it is the "normal christian life"? The question came in response to a recent blog I'd written called Character and Spiritual Formation: Fitness for the Work: In it, I highlighted five character qualities I saw in folks who exemplified to me the "normal Christian life": (humility; (people taking) responsibility for their own spiritual growth and character development; (they having the) desire to serve, and when they accepted responsibility, they followed through; (a) penchant for hard work; and love (for God and for others because they were convinced he deeply loved them). I admired such folks whether they were in formal leadership roles or not.

I love this question because it's one I've wrestled with over my almost 40 years of Christian life. For some reason and from the beginning, I thought that my salvific encounter with Jesus was supposed to change everything: how I thought; how I acted; what I desired; what mattered to me; how I'd spend my time and effort; what my core values should express, and whether I could be anywhere near authentic in this following Jesus business. Before I knew anything Scriptural or theological, I somehow understood that what overtook me was a "sea-change;" an existential revolution which couldn't be adequately measured by which local church I attended, or not cussin', drinkin', and smokin,' (or not being around those who do), looking, talking, and praying a certain way, or being nice. It quickly didn't make a great deal of difference to me if I read the officially authorized Bible version, what music I should or shouldn't listen to, whether I prayed in tongues, was Calvinist or Arminian, or whether I thought women could be in leadership over men. Even in my spiritual toddlership, I was becoming fairly aware of the manifold positions people held in Christendom, and the controversies they sparked, but none of it gained much traction my heart for very long.

The change Jesus wrought in me owned my heart in ways I couldn't comprehend yet.

As a result, what seemed to persistently spark my imagination and fill me with wonder (even in the dark and dry times - I've had plenty), was the reality of this living God/man - Savior/Lord Jesus, the Christ. A decade into it when I found out I could hear his voice through the indwelling Holy Spirit, I experienced healing, and learned a depth of  intimacy which eventually led to the ministry Tricia and I would live and teach for almost 25 years now. Then as I've written about previously, two years before moving to Northampton, I was also profoundly changed by the ancient Christian belief that I was summoned to reflect the Kingdom reign of God by loving and serving people who can't or won't see him. I'd spent most of my ministry life helping his people come to and sojourn near the heart of God. Now, I was also supposed "go out" and help the "stranger" accept God's gracious offering of friendship. 

Intimacy and Mission came together for me.

They are still joined in my eyes and heart.

Why that's important to the question I'm addressing is because I'm convinced engendering a servant and servant-leadership culture in the local church begins with enticing people all the time to open their hearts to the ravishing and intimate love of God, including men. People's hearts can fall into slumber or grow lukewarm while their outward churchianity stays in tact. It's slowly morphs spiritual sleepwalking or becomes brittle in a shallow religiosity. Church culture offers people routines to follow. It's all predictable and scheduled. They show up, but not necessarily awake to Christ.

Penetrating, life-altering spiritual transformation, on the other hand, happens most profoundly in the furnace of God's love over time. So, the first thing necessary to such a spiritual culture of transformation is pastors, elders, teachers, and other leaders eager and willing to reflect, with a growing transparency, how they are being transformed by Christ's love for them. He needs to be talked about and referred to in the present tense, coming from the experience of encountering him in prayer, worship, conversation, retreats, study, serving, and on and on. Jesus is the point, and the exclamation mark. Such leaders also need also to wrestle persistently with their own soul numbness and habits of religious routine which can slowly deaden spiritual responsiveness to the Holy Spirit's enticing.

The fact is leaders become spiritual catalysts when they lead from their tethered hearts earnestly pursuing his heart, including the deepest thinkers in the church. I'm not talking about mindless, sentimental manipulating of feelings, I hope you realize. Right thinking married to enchantment over the love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit balances the Christian mind and heart. Anyone leading from such an informed heart, and motivated to connect others hearts to the heart of God, does so because he or she has practiced abiding in his love (an act of the will at first), and then becoming a tireless, courageous advocate of people's need to learn to live freely from there. 

Engendering a spiritually fecund culture is also viewing everyone showing up as a Jesus-follower on the way, or in potential. Each person is graciously enticed to take or head deeper into Kingdom mission as a way of life. The Kingdom and the Missio Dei are not spectator sports. They're not programs, campaigns or discrete experiences to be savored as mountaintops along the way. Becoming and remaining an intimately devoted follower of Christ is the biblical, normal Christian life. While we more than likely will have seasons of rest, illness or preparation or temporary derailment in the course of our following, our primary call and identity never changes.

Therefore, spiritually fecund leaders fulfill their roles best, in my opinion, by transparently embodying, teaching, and kindly exhorting life in and with Jesus. They've been given a calling to communicate him as really alive and really with us, 24/7. While church cultures, especially as they grow large, require all sorts of routine operations and staff  management, problem-solving, program management, and keeping the ship on course, all of that should never supersede alluring people come to see, surrender to, and follow Jesus whose life animates it all. Conviction about the normal Christian life gathers around Emmanuel. The closer we come to him daily (intimacy), the nearer we come to the normal Christian life (spiritual fecundity).

In Part 2, we'll look at the need for character development that becomes centered in spiritual formation lived out in sacrificial love and service as the way of life.

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