Wow, what a Super Bowl XLVI! It was fun watching a great football game between two great teams and not rooting for either one. Since I had no dog in this fight, I could appreciate the game for what it was – a sport played at the highest level. I’ve heard some commentators call it the greatest Super Bowl ever.
One of the most intriguing parts of the game was the play of the quarterbacks, who are two of the greatest ever to play the game. They were leaders in the best sense of the word. Each played exceedingly well, and their play inspired their teammates to play their best. This causes me to reflect on what leadership means to Christians, especially as I position myself to be the moderator of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
My scripture is Philippians 2, the great Christ Hymn. In describing Jesus, Paul writes, “…though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…” Jesus, the incarnation of God, did not exploit that power for personal gain. He was a servant, a slave. How different Jesus was when compared to other leaders of his day from Caesar to the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and priests. I offer the following characteristics to you as examples of servant leadership.
First is vision and expectation. A coach offers a winning program. A politician describes solutions to problems. Christ offers the kingdom of God, and Paul presents the fruits of the Spirit. A leader evokes images of a fulfilled and fulfilling life. I offer a vision of the PCUSA that promises to move us past “The Fight” to embrace our primary mission: proclaiming the love and grace of God in Jesus Christ; calling all to faithful discipleship; and living as provisional examples of God’s heavenly realm. The key to fulfilling this vision is to live in a relationship with one another based, as Paul instructs, on “Christ and him crucified.” I offer a way to create new relationships in Christ.
Next, a leader sets an example. I love sports writers who equate leadership with a coach who yells, gets in the face of his players, and is a tough disciplinarian. Leaders in sports are the players who perform when the pressure is on and the game is on the line. Their example motivates and inspires their teammates. The best leaders are those who make everyone around them better. That was Jesus. His example makes us better because it inspires us even as he shows us how to live the kingdom life. One of the greatest compliments given me at the time of my endorsement by Palo Duro Presbytery was the observation that my life reflected the respect and appreciation for others that my message proclaims.
Leaders have an air of quiet confidence. In some places this is called a “non-anxious presence.” This was Jesus when he was being challenged by the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders. This was Jesus when the storm raged around his boat, and the disciples were in a panic. This is the coach who reassures his players and encourages their best. This is not arrogance or cockiness. This is confidence. I am confident that the PCUSA is not on its last legs, but that God is creating new ways to be the church in the 21st Century. They are taking root everywhere for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Good leaders equip and teach. When I coached Little League baseball, I had a personal rule that I would not criticize a player if I could not teach a proper technique. I had to show a player how to do it right, or I would not criticize him. Jesus was constantly teaching. His life was a constant teachable moment. He was showing his disciples by example what it looks like to be a citizen of God’s kingdom. I draw on my experience of working in highly conflicted situations to bring about unity and purpose, and I offer it to the PCUSA at this time of great uncertainty. I pray that whoever is elected by the 220th GA commissioners will teach the rest of us how to live together in peace, unity, and purity.
Finally, a leader is more interested in his followers than himself. In his “High Priestly Prayer” in John 17, Jesus prays, “I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost…” Jesus demonstrated his love over and over. A good leader does the same. I have a track record of creating relationships of love, respect and appreciation across the theological and political spectrum within the church. Remember what grew the early church: “See those Christians, how they love one another.”
I end this addition to my blog with this thought that plays on perhaps the most memorable of the Super Bowl commercials. It’s half time in the PCUSA. I pray for leaders to emerge that will lead us back from our deficit to the remarkable mission and ministry that is our heritage.