Leaders must be lovers

Jesus washing Peter's feet. Photo by Jim Forest
Jesus washing Peter’s feet. Photo by Jim Forest

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that ‘We all possess knowledge.’ But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God. (1 Cor 8:1-3)

In a recent consistory meeting (the governing body of our congregation), we discussed the areas of vitality as well as places of concern within our congregation. It was an encouraging and fruitful conversation. As we shared our hopes for mission and growth as well as our long-term concerns and anxiety about change, my thoughts began to swirl. ‘Ooh, Jim Belcher’s Deep Church says something about that.’ ‘Ah, Roxbourgh could be helpful here.’ ‘Augustine has a great quote that applies.’ And on and on and on. The myriads of books and relevant quotes that have been part of my training came streaming to the front of my mind. I wanted to share it all. I wanted to infuse this group of people with what I had learned with the idea that it would infuse them with my passion for the vision I have for our congregation.

I wanted them to know what I knew so that they would follow my vision for the congregation.

I envision a congregation rooted in scripture and prayer, growing in deeper fellowship with Christ, one another, and the world God so loves. A congregation shaped by ancient and contemporary Christian practices that embolden us to love God and neighbor, walk faithfully as disciples of Christ, and share the good news of Jesus Christ. A congregation with deep, expansive worship that reshapes our imaginations to see the world anew in the light of Christ. A congregation grateful for Christ’s atoning work on the cross, committed to the way of the cross, and living in the hope of the resurrection.

In those moments, I wanted leadership to be about knowledge.

But as I looked into the faces of the men and women gathered around those tables, I paused. I love these people. I love their stories and all of God’s workings in them. I love their quirks, the way they tease me, and the way they hunger to follow God. So, in those moments, I tried to love them. I didn’t share any of the quotes, visions, or grand strategies that were bombarding my frontal lobe. I shared my fear and excitement about what lay ahead. I shared my trust that God would hold our church, and our future in his faithful hands.

In those moments, leadership was as much about loving those people as it was about ‘knowing the right stuff.’

In the days that have passed, Paul’s words have settled into my heart. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” There will be a time and place soon for me to share some of my passion and vision. There will be a time soon for communicating information and sharing knowledge. All that knowledge will not go to waste. But if I do not love God and seek his face, the knowledge will only serve to feed my arrogance. If I do not love the people God has entrusted me with, then I will not be leading them faithfully. As John Chrysostom said, “Arrogance causes divisions, but love draws people together and leads to true knowledge.”

Love is deeply personal, accounting for and cherishing all the particularities of a life. All the knowledge in the world will be but a clanging symbol without love for the people. Knowledge alone remains disengaged from the particular, removed from the personal. Love particularizes knowledge without compromising it. Love takes the bones of truth and gives it sinews, muscles and breathes life into it. Leaders in the church cannot avoid being lovers because leadership cannot avoid the particularities of lived faith.

Maybe my hopes for the congregation will catch on, but maybe God has something else in mind for us. We trust God will show us what we need to know when we need to know it. But if I am to lead, I must love. If I am to fulfill my calling to help build up the body of Christ, I must love these people.

2 thoughts on “Leaders must be lovers

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  1. Oh Stephen, I love your heart, and your openness to listen for God’s guiding, even in a meeting! I also have to say I sensed a little of Jill’s style in your decision, too. She’s all about love! You are a blessing to your flock.


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