I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership lately. I’ve read a ton over the years, studied, gotten counsel, input, coaching, modeling. I’ve taken classes, been a part of ongoing conversations, I’ve led and been a part of networks. I’ve got great leaders around me locally, and great leaders consistently providing input and counsel through our Central Indiana Presbytery. And, as I’ve reflected, I think that the greatest need for leaders is to know the peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding. This is true at whatever level or context you’re called to be a servant-leader in. Christ’s peace, received through faith in an ongoing way, lived out by the grace of the Holy Spirit, encouraged and nourished through the life of the Church, is what establishes his disciples as faithful and courageous servant-leaders who will not be moved, no matter the strains, oppositions, setbacks, victories, tangent opportunities, or the banalities of daily life.
If we don’t know this peace of Christ which allows us to find our ultimate joy and satisfaction in God, we will be moved away from God alone as our refuge by every wave of doctrine, every attractive desire, every sad circumstance or trial, or every tendency to hold up others as our ultimate savior or ultimate enemy. When we are moved in these ways it’s a sign that we have allowed our or others’ emotional storms to drag us in, shape our perception of what is true, and lead us to harmful or unfaithful actions. Through our panic to create our own peace, we buy into a distorted view of God, our selves, and others. Our internal panic can lead us to seek counterfeit peace. And, this counterfeit peace, while it can look attractive from the outside because it gives us the feelings we might want, can actually lead us to pull others in or be pulled in to a toxic environment because it is not true peace through the grace of Christ.
This is precisely what we see happening with the disciples throughout the gospel accounts in all of their blunders of competition with one another, alienating outsiders, and even abandoning Jesus. The true peace that Jesus was bringing through his person and work for them, was not what they expected nor wanted because it challenged their sinfully distorted view of God’s truth, and required them to trust in Christ for their peace, rather than their own efforts to manufacture peace.
As we all enter into the new Fall season of roles in work, school, service, relationships, athletics, family, neighborhood, and church, consider how the presence and peace Christ invites you into through faith in the gospel of grace can affect your own personal sense and presence of peace for others. It’s living into and out of this peace secured by Christ and given to us as a gift, that God’s people can function as true servant-leaders within each area of influence God has placed us– even when the areas (and, people, big and small) we are serving can be challenging or even toxic.
(Borrowing from common grace observations of Edwin Friedman from his book “Failure of Nerve) God’s grace shapes us into people who can be compassionate, yet not enmeshed in anxious emotional processes of others, separate yet remaining connected. And, this allows us to maintain a loving, non-anxious, and sometimes challenging presence. A leader is “someone who can manage his or her own reactivity to the automatic reactivity of others, and therefore be able to take stands at the risk of displeasing.”
Jesus’ call for his disciples to servant-leadership for the sake of others is clear (Mark 10:43-45)– this is for all of us whether we’re servant-leading in the home or the office, the classroom or the fraternity, the church or the job site, our circle of friends or our families. For disciples of Jesus, we have no choice, we’ve been enlisted in his mission in the “toxic” realm of this fallen world. And the only way for us to proceed forward in obedience is to abide in Jesus, receive and live out of his peace, and trust in the Holy Spirit to form us into people of peace so that we can be a loving and sometimes challenging presence to a world swirling in the storms of anxious emotional processes.
Here’s a short video summarizing Friedman’s theory of Differentiated Leadership in order to help you understand what practical application of Christ’s peace might look like in your areas of servant-leadership: