Becoming an Irrelevant Leader - Part I
For followers of Jesus, there’s a tension we are constantly working to manage: the impact of what we do can never be the most important thing we seek and yet we’re called to love (through words and actions) those around us in the name of Jesus. As I've read over the collection of what we've shared on the blog, I'm worried that we could be sending the message that the impact of what we do is the most important thing. That can't ever be the case. The Most Important Thing is Jesus. Everything else flows from that.
Obvious and yet so difficult to practice.
We’re people who favor action, measurable progress, proof that we’re having a positive impact on the world. We hear the words of Jesus to “go into the world and make disciples” seriously, so we set about to plan, act, measure, adjust, repeat. In the process of all these great programs we loose sight of what’s most important.
Over the last decade I've learned a philosophy of ministry that helps keep first things first. It starts with a simple, but radical reorientation of our basic thinking about what it means to be a leader. Henri Nouwen states it well:
"The Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. That is the way Jesus came to reveal God's love. The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God's Word and followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life." Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus
Lead by becoming irrelevant? Be ambitious to lead a quiet life? These admonitions seem to be oxymorons and maybe even counter to the Gospel (at least as we interpret it today). We feel like we’re supposed to serve others, bring healing, solve problems, BE RELEVENT, so they’ll want to know the God we serve. That’s true, but it’s not the whole truth.
Look at what Jesus himself says: “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’
He puts them in this order, not simply because He’s worthy of our First Love, but because it doesn’t work any other way.
I have nothing good to offer anyone on my own. On my own – without Jesus - I am weak, sinful, lazy, selfish. And so are you. We all know this and that’s why we spend so much time trying to cover it over with activities, awards, trophies, education. We don’t want anyone to see how little we really have to offer. And yet when we don’t admit this and go to the source of goodness – Jesus – we end up bringing the very worst of ourselves to our ministry post. Ministry in my own strength is the dry, joyless, half-truths of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
The only answer is to keep Jesus our First Love and let Him decide how much impact He will bring through our obedience. Over the next few days, I'll explore what this looks like and may even share some practical advice. Not that I've figured it out--far from it--I can be just as lost as an Pharisee. But I'm not going to stop trying to keep First Things First. Will you join me?