What does it take to be a leader? What is your role as a leader? What do you do? How perfect do you have to be?
Leading as a Gardener
Gardeners have quite a bit of work to do to create the best possible opportunity for growth. They have to prepare the soil through tilling and fertilizer, they have to plant seeds, water the seeds, remove weeds regularly that would choke out the plants. They also have to wait and see. Despite the regular care, concern, and even expertise of the gardener, they can’t force the plants to grow and become fruitful.
I have one of the most ideal set-ups for gardening. I live in Portland where the soil is black and nutritious, the sun comes right over our house for long stretches during the summer, and we accesses to good starters and seeds. Some seasons we have amazing crops and others seasons they are average. It is a mystery to me.
However, there was one year when our crops were down that it wasn’t a mystery. We planted late and haphazardly (we planted tomatoes in the shade), we rarely weeded, and we didn’t mulch around the plants to hold in moisture. We basically planted and then forgot all about the garden. Life got busy, we traveled, and other things occupied our time. When our tomatoes never really produced, and our zucchinis were sub-par, it wasn’t a mystery—it was neglect. The real mystery was that our garden produced anything at all!
Leading a gospel community is like being a gardener or an environmentalist. You facilitate gospel growth by creating an environment where growth can happen but you can’t make people believe and you can’t make people obey. It’s also like trying to get a toddler to eat their veggies, you can put it on the plate, tell them it is good for them, add spices, and be an example by eating them yourself, but you can’t force the kid to swallow. This is what leading a gospel community is like.
As a leader, you point to the gospel, speak the gospel, connect the gospel to people’s stories, pray in light of the gospel, and call people to serve as demonstrations of the gospel, but you can’t make repentance and faith happen. That is God’s wonderful work. It’s the mystery of discipleship. Which is how gardening is the perfect metaphor for what you are doing as a leader. The bulk of this book, speaks to the things that create a gospel centered environment where people are confronted with the joy and truth of the gospel as members of a community. We will be teaching you how to be a gospel environmentalist.
As you step into leadership, you are committing to regular cultivation of a community around the gospel. You are praying for and expecting growth to happen. You ought to expect the Spirit to be working in people’s lives as you share meals, hear stories, pray, learn from the Scriptures, serve the poor, and share the gospel with friends. You can expect growth, just like the gardener who cares for his garden can expect a crop as he prays for the crop to come. Expect the Spirit to convict and increase faith as people step into more and more obedience.
Leading as an Example
The other big piece of leading a gospel community on mission is being an example. Being a picture the community can look at as someone who is believing the gospel and walking in obedience. As a leader, you are inviting people to watch your life and follow you as you follow Jesus. It is at this point that people carry heavy leadership baggage. Being an example has often been the mark of a leader in Christian circles. However, the example being displayed is one of perfection. Someone with all the answers, free from sin and harmful vices, has the Bible memorized, and always knows the right thing to do. This however, is a picture of Jesus, not leaders within a community or church. Instead, the example and model we find within the Bible is that the best leaders are humble, repentant, dependent on God, boast in nothing except God’s grace in light of their sin, and servants. We see leaders make big and small mistakes. We see leaders sin, receive rebuke, repent, and worship God. They are bold in speaking the gospel because they need a gracious savior. This is what a leader is called to be an example of: repentance, faith, and belief.
In our years of starting, multiplying, and leading gospel communities in Portland we have seen this list as the prerequisite for being a good gospel community leader. People who possess these qualities lead their communities well.
Gospel Community Leaders Are…
- Motivated by the gospel. It seems like a given, but many leaders can lead for other reasons. You will be calling people to follow Jesus, not a model, method, or social club.
- Desire to help others grow in faith and obedience.
- Commitment to the long process of helping others grow in faith and obedience. It will take time and will not feel great or exciting most of the time.
- Prayerful in dependence on the Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells within you. It is your helper that empowers you to love others. The Spirit reminds you of the gospel, calls you to repentance, and gives your power over sin. Leaders are those who pray and listen to the Spirit.
- Servant-Posture. You are a servant to God. You are not building your resumé or gaining God’s approval by leading a community. Instead, you are selflessly serving. This doesn’t mean you are a spiritual-service provider to your group. It simply means you lead with humility. You take initiative for others’ growth in the gospel.
- Longevity. Invested in the marathon of making disciples. We can’t reinforce this thought enough. Run the race with endurance. Live in the urgency of the Spirit, not in our culture.
- Honest with their own mess. Leaders who are honest and open about their struggles to believe the gospel and their struggles in daily life facilitate true community. Those who don’t, lead communities where people hide their mess.
- Understands they can’t make people change. These communities are actually faithful in sharing the gospel and trying new things, they are also quick to turn to God in prayer.
- Not the answer man or woman. These communities take initiative for their own learning. When there isn’t an answer man, they turn to the scriptures and discover answers together.