Leading the Jesus Way



Leading the Jesus Way

Episode Four: Leading the Jesus Way

What does Jesus say on this issue?

KATE: How do we know a healthy tree from a not-so-healthy tree? By the fruit produced. A person’s charisma is balanced with healthy character, humility, openness, and accountability.

ROY: As Kate says, it’s by the fruits of their lives, what they express and impart to others, that Christlike purity, humility and godliness is revealed. 

CRAIG: Leaders with no followers are individuals going for a walk, and Jesus was not afraid to call others to follow him. But he was also aware that there was a time and a place for both invitation and challenge. I recall Jesus’ brothers trying to bring him out of hiding during a popular festival. And when he urged someone he had healed not to tell anyone so he could melt into the crowd. He resisted every attempt to be defined as a miracle worker, and it is interesting that historians of the early church tell us that for the first three centuries of Christian history church leaders seem to have been almost embarrassed by the accounts of miraculous healings. The reason leaders of the early church were embarrassed? Because fake healers also abounded in Jesus’ day according to David Instone-Brewer (Senior Research Fellow in Rabbinics and the New Testament).

Kate used the word ‘fruit’, and I want to explore this in more depth because I think it is a key.

In Matthew 7 Jesus said: “by their fruit you will know them”. What did he mean by fruit? For me, there is only one list I will accept as genuine: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The person who devotes time, energy and resources into producing this kind of fruit will be an individual who is self-aware, reflective, accountable and trustworthy.

Introducing ‘God’ into the picture can complicate our judgement if we aren’t clear what fruit we are looking for because of a human tendency to attach the label ‘God’ to anything we don’t understand (God knows!), cannot explain (it must be God) or unexpectedly goes our way (Thank you God!). And susceptibility is heightened if, at some level which may be imperceptible to us, we are still on the lookout for proofs that God really exists (blessed are those who believe without miraculous proofs). I think this is the point at which we are open to being palmed off with a ‘fruit substitute’. So, the apparent success, breakthrough or miracle at the hands of charismatic individuals ‘must be God’ and the methods therefore can’t be questioned.

I can think of a friend I had to challenge because we got to the point where every conversation we had was about how what we were discussing would help to build ‘his ministry’. He became increasingly obsessed with watching DVDs from churches at the extreme end of prophecy and with everyone ‘experiencing the Father’s love’. It was clear to me, but not to him, that his deep need was for self-validation and those who followed him became his defences against this uncomfortable truth.

I think people and institutions who represent ‘God’ do face unique temptations and potential pitfalls. For me, the big question that flows from this is, ‘How is it possible to claim ‘God is at work’ doing x, y or z when the methodology is so unlike Jesus and there seems to be no evidence of human flourishing or lasting fruit?’ If Jesus only did what he saw the Father doing, should that not be some kind of yardstick for us?

SIMON: As has already been raised, the focus in the New Testament on fruit touches on the counter-cultural element of discipleship. This is most explicitly referenced in the conversations that Jesus has with his closest disciples. I feel certain that they reflect historical events, both during and after Jesus’ ministry. Why do we read several stories about the disciples fighting over their positions and wanting to know who Jesus is going to promote? Because these fights occur in every church, especially every church with men in leadership. The way that Jesus deals with these rutting stags is not just of historical interest: the gospel writers have put these stories there to teach us something important about what the way of the kingdom is like.

In Matthew’s Gospel, James and John’s mum is like every good mum: she wants the best for her sons. She approaches Jesus and asks him to promote her two boys. ‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ he replies. Indeed. When the other ten disciples of the inner circle hear about the approach, they are fuming. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”’ (Matthew 20:25-28 NRSV)

This is as total a refutation of monarchical leadership as is possible, and Jesus goes further: it is this posture of servanthood that is the essence of Jesus’ salvation mission. This way of being is not a management technique or success strategy, it is the gospel.


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About the Author

Simon loves helping individuals, churches and organisations through times of change and re-envisioning, and bringing together the people and resources needed to turn dreams into reality. He is also a gifted teacher and preacher and a member of the British and Irish Association for Practical Theology.

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