Friday, July 30, 2010


In our never-ending quest to firm up our leadership, many of us take inspiration from Paul's words to Timothy: "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others." Truly, the greatest amplifier of our impact is leadership development, as described in 2 Timothy 2:2. But that is the second verse, not the first. The first is, "You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." Before we strengthen others, we strengthen ourselves. And in a very particular attribute: grace.

It seems like a mixed metaphor to be "strong" in "grace." But if you're Paul, you know all too well how the two go together. After his conversion, Paul was not readily accepted by the Christian community. He had an unsavory past. Fortunately for him, Barnabas (an established Christian leader at the time) was strong in grace. He put his arm around Paul and welcomed him into the community. It was a strength that Paul would evidently develop within himself, as he continued to face doubters throughout the rest of his ministry (in nearly every book Paul wrote, he included some "defense" of himself). Such, you might say, is the life of a murderer who comes to Christ and becomes an outspoken apostle. But when Paul tells Timothy that he will also need to be strong in grace, he reveals an important insight: a Christian leader needs to be strong in grace, not by virtue of the fact that they have a dark past, but simply by virtue of the fact that they are a Christian leader.

When I became a pastor I didn't realize that I was stepping into a storm. The storm goes by different names - legalism, moralism, judgmentalism - but it is always driven by winds of fear. There are always people in your ministry who will try to blow you and others off course from the life-changing, life-giving message of grace. Like the Galatians of old, their skepticism will be clothed in religious-sounding garb. They will use words like "accountability" and "protect the flock." Only, they won't be talking about the standards laid out in scripture, they will be talking about their own list. They will try to exert control over the ministry and the people in it. Frankly, these moralists will dominate the church, if you let them, and have done so in many ministries across the country. What is the antidote for these fear-mongers? Leaders who will stand strong in God's grace. If you don't, who will?

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