The Gospel message is that through his Incarnation, ministry, death on the cross, and resurrection, Jesus Christ has secured and begun the process of reconciliation. He reconciles us to God, us to each other, and us to our own selves. These vertical, horizontal, and internal healings progress together; they must, this is a theological commitment.
What this reconciliation looks like is justice, ethical treatment of all people and situations. What this reconciliation feels like is love, an ever deepening affection toward God, toward everyone around us, toward ourselves. (Only by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit can we truly come to love ourselves.)
Leadership is one aspect of our life together as people being reconciled in each of these three directions. True leaders in the church are nothing more or less than those who have gone some way forward in this experience of triple reconciliation and are thus able to assist the Holy Spirit in the Spirit’s single quest of helping people begin and carry on this life-long process. True church leaders also attend to various logistical matters but always carry out those tasks in service to this overarching work of triple reconciliation.
When we lose sight of reconciliation as our one true work and calling, we cease serving the Spirit’s mission and wind up undoing the work of reconciliation and fighting against the Spirit. Sadly, this is the most apt description for much that passes off as ministry. But the Gospel still beckons us into life and wholeness. The story of our Christ still invites to come and die to sin and self be resurrected to new life for Christ, for each other, for our truest selves.
A useful litmus test for church leaders: how does ___________ contribute to reconciling the people we serve to God, to each other, to themselves? If we can’t provide an adequate, specific answer, then ___________ may be either a waste of time/energy/resources, or worse, it might even be harmful to the Spirit’s mission. When we can provide a good answer, we can be more confident that what we’re doing is actually kingdom work.
There is only one way to climb even the tallest mountain: one step at a time. There is only one way to swim across even the English Channel or a Great Lake: one stroke at a time. It is a basic part of our nature that we do everything we do by repeating one action over and over. I think one thought at a time. I type one letter at a time. And then I string them together. And then I edit them for coherence by going over them again, one word, one sentence at a time.
Repetition becomes habit and habit becomes nature. It’s not just that these repeated actions add up to what we do, they become who we are. They are what forms our nature. It’s also true that these repeated actions don’t just happen to us. We decide to do them. We choose to write or climb or swim or paint or strum. I’m sure you get the idea. If you want to become a guitar player, you know what to do: get a guitar and play it every day. You’ll play badly at first but you’ll get better and better as you play daily and then you’ll be a guitar player.
This process is as obvious as it sounds and yet there is one area of life where we tend to forget that this is how everything works for us humans. When it comes to character development (or moral development if you like), we all have things about ourselves we would like to improve. Too angry, too fearful, too stingy, too sarcastic, too lazy, too workaholic, etc. And most of the time we cycle between ignoring, trying to change all at once (we call these ‘resolutions’), failing, and stressing out over our badness/failure to change.
But we can only climb these inner mountains the same way we would climb Kilimanjaro: one step at a time. What’s more, we don’t have to climb alone. The Holy Spirit is our guide up our mountains. Take a little quiet time today and reflect on what part of your character you would most like to change right now. Think of one small step you could take in that direction. I’m confident the Spirit will help you think through this. Then do that one thing. Take that small step. Then do it again. And again. Eventually that will become part of who you are. It takes time and there are no shortcuts. But you can do it. The Spirit will help you. And you’ll love the view.