Jesus summed up the law with two challenges, simple to understand but difficult to fulfill. He commanded us to love God, and love others (Matthew 22:37-40). He never commanded us to make ourselves comfortable or to seek our own happiness. No! He called His followers to surrender. The teachings of Christ are diametrically opposed to a self-centered lifestyle, describing one’s self-sacrifice as an essential part of following Jesus (Luke 9:23).
So why do most believers seem more concerned with saving face than serving God? Quite frankly, American Christians seem to have lost sight of the whole reason Jesus came in the first place, to sacrifice Himself for unworthy sinners. We have good news to tell – light to shine – life to give; yet believers have our heads buried in the self-serving sands of the American dream. The church turned inward as the world turned upside down. We unconsciously embraced a ministry/missions philosophy of maintenance over mission, a self-centered strategy.
The culture is now characterized by chaos and confusion, but hope remains. The only hope for a world turned upside down is a church turned inside out. That’s right, by the grace and calling of God …“you are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). As mentioned in previous columns, in order to experience true church revitalization and renewal we must drop the rocks of destructive debate both inside and outside the church walls.
We must trade our suits for boots, acknowledging the primary calling of every believer to be a missionary in his/her community. Finally, we were challenged to pull back the curtain, removing the manufactured plastic standard of American Christianity. The fourth of five solution steps we will discuss is this: we must surrender self.
Sadly, many churches have a testimony of being a fighting church. It has to break the heart of God to see His children in constant conflict. Jesus made His expectations clear in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” So, would your community know that your church is a group of His disciples by the way you love each other? What’s missing? Mutual surrender is the answer. Christians need to get their eyes back on Jesus and the fields, which are ready for the harvest.
Cultural trends in leadership and life have led to some confusion in the church. I elaborate on several necessary leadership shifts in my book, “Inside Out,”but let me introduce these ideas here. These modifications in leadership philosophy won’t solve every problem, but they will help minimize conflict and maximize impact for your church.
Church leaders in the twenty-first century must embrace horizontal over hierarchical. This is a strategic form of leadership that is centered on teamwork at every level. This requires a broadening of the base and a decentralization of the authority. Some church leaders simply can’t surrender control, but they ultimately harm themselves and limit their own potential by refusing to invest in others.
Likewise, surrendered leaders learn how to decentralize their authority and broaden the base of responsibility. No one person should assume the right, nor feel obligated, to carry the entire weight of the leadership responsibility in the church. We often unconsciously build organizational systems around ourselves, inadvertently making them dependent on us. The truth is if we build a church on the shoulders of one person, its impact will be limited by the reach and abilities of that one leader. I believe most churches reach a growth ceiling that is created by the inability or unwillingness of the senior leaders to share the burden and joy of leadership with others.
We must also learn to intentionally empower our team. Volunteer or vocational, believe in your team! No team will ever rise above the key leader’s expectations of their ability, and no team will ever rise above that leader’s personal example. Our investment of time, energy, and belief will be the standard by which everyone else is measured. Every leader must be willing to do whatever it takes because the goal is more important than the role. We must believe the corporate cause is worth the individual cost; the value of the whole is worthy of the sacrifice of its parts.
Personal pride is the enemy of spiritual surrender, and the only way to overcome it is divine humility through God’s grace. If we hope to turn our churches inside out, we need both compelling vision and sincere humility in our leaders. To have one of these without the other is to lead a lonely journey outside the will of God.
We must cast a strong vision from a point of meekness. The most influential leaders are those who demonstrate a Christ-like spirit of humility. They are strong leaders, but they lead from a place of surrender. These leaders care more about fulfilling the corporate mission than getting the personal credit. Their strategy is not one of self-promotion but self-sacrifice. The crowds may not be chanting their names, but people will follow them to a faith-filled future.
Personal surrender demands that we are all-in when it comes to our missional purpose. There can be no halfway if we’re going to attempt to change the world. This ultimately means that everyone has to lay down his/her pride, yielding himself for the glory of God.
We don’t need a celebrity pastor, nor do we need a domineering deacon. Even those sweet little ladies who always think the temperature is too cold and the music is too loud, they must eventually recognize they’re not the center of the story. Regardless of our opinions and preferences we must remember, it’s not about us at all.