I generally resist calling myself a “leader.” Although I have fulfilled leadership roles in different ways throughout my life, I consider the world’s assumptions of leadership to be flawed. The dictionary definition of leader is “the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.” Nowhere in this definition do we see any qualifiers on what makes a good leader. I’m pretty sure that each of you reading this could name qualities of good and bad leaders.
It can be hard work to serve as a leader of a team. This is why I am grateful for the Psalms where we can hear the prayers of people in leadership positions who were faced with difficulty and also placed their trust in God that it would all turn out okay somehow. And I’m also grateful for the lessons from reluctant leaders like the Prophet Jonah, who hear God’s voice but who also try to escape their call. If you are a person who doesn’t like leading or being called a leader, believe me, I hear you and so does God. This is why I’m also grateful for the way that Jesus models leadership.
In Jesus we see a leader who models a different way of leading. Jesus deeply listens. Jesus speaks boldly to authorities and offers thoughtful but alternative considerations. Jesus is more than willing to be seen with the unpopular, the unclean, and the downtrodden. Jesus hears appeals and even reconsiders his own decisions! Jesus doesn’t need a fancy office, or the most beautiful war horse, or the latest fancy cloak. In Jesus, we see a way of leading with humility and love. Jesus shows us that a good leader is simultaneously a follower and a leader. Jesus follows God’s heart and prays for clarity.
So, what if we reconsidered what it means to be a leader? What if we abandoned the dictionary and redefined a leader as “anyone whose heart and gifts are aligned with God’s intentions and is willing to serve when moved by the Spirit.”
Would this definition make it possible for each of us to see ourselves as a leader?
When we choose to serve, whether it be volunteering to serve in some capacity at church or in the world, aren’t we showing others what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus?
Isn’t a follower of Jesus also a leader whose sacred assignment is to carry God’s light into the world so that others will come to know God’s love?
A few years ago, I took this picture of a beautiful red dahlia I encountered at the Bellevue Botanical Garden. This beautiful red flower had exactly one large white petal. I had never seen anything like it before. It was proud, healthy, and unique. I looked at the flower closely and there was nothing wrong with the white petal. It just happened to be white, not red. Upon returning home and searching the Bible, I found Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
This flower often reminds me that as a follower of Jesus, I am to model a different way of being present in the world. In 1 Corinthians 12, we find a whole chapter brimming with vivid descriptions of the ways in which each of us is equipped differently while also being part of a whole body.
We can be confident in the knowledge that God loves every inch of us and knows what our personal gifts and mission are. It means that I don’t have to serve in ways that others do.
When we trust in God’s ways of love, we can also trust that it is entirely okay with God if someone else is not moved to serve in the same ways I do. None of us can know with any certainty how God is moving someone else. Furthermore, Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time and place for everything, and sometimes, it is not the right time even though we might have done these things before.
I am grateful to be a witness to dozens of acts of love every week. It reminds me of the quote attributed to Mother Teresa, which says, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” When we find that sweet spot where what we like to do meets what we are moved to do - it is in those moments where I think we get a glimpse of the heart of God. In those sometimes brief moments, when we know deep in our hearts that we are where we are supposed to be, that’s what leadership is all about to me – doing small things with great love. It’s the very best way I can think of, too.
What do YOU like to do?
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About Marissa Singleton:
Marissa Singleton is a member of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Renton, loves playing piano for worship and serving in various ways including the Anti-Racism Team, Stewardship Team, and Spiritual Care team. Marissa recently received a certificate in Christian spiritual direction from the PAX Center in Essex, Massachusetts.