March 27, 2017

Compassionate Leadership

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A Note from Luminex: This morning’s blog post is the third in a 10-week series on leadership. Enjoy!

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Matthew 9:36

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Compassion and Leadership – these two words don’t often go together in our culture.  There is a belief that we must be strong and tough in order to be an effective leader, and any softness of heart is often seen as a sign of weakness.  While not turning too political, it’s significant to note that our current president has taken this “show of strength” style of leadership to a whole new level.  The strong language, bravado, and chest-beating of his leadership style are an accurate picture of the “spirit of the age.”

Brian Zahnd, the excellent pastor and author, captures the “spirit of the age” so well in this modern re-framing of the beatitudes of Jesus’ famous sermon on the mountainside.  Here is Brian’s Facebook post from January 26, 2017:

“The spirit of the age blesses the cocky and self-confident—
But Jesus blesses the poor in spirit.

The spirit of the age blesses those who are shallow and thus happy all the time—
But Jesus blesses those who have the capacity to mourn deeply.

The spirit of the age blesses the power-hungry who want to run the world—
But Jesus blesses the meek who are willing to trust God.

The spirit of the age blesses the privilege-protectors—
But Jesus blesses the justice-seekers.

The spirit of the age blesses those who think justice is retribution and revenge—
Jesus blesses the merciful instead.

The spirit of the age blesses the clever ones who come up with the best schemes—
Jesus blesses the pure-hearted who have no schemes.

The spirit of the age blesses those who are great at waging war—
Jesus blesses those who have the patience to work for peace.

The spirit of the age blesses those who fight for might—
Jesus blesses those who suffer for what is right.”

So how are we to lead as Christians in an age and culture such as this?  Can we be compassionate and also a leader? As always, we must “fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” How did Jesus lead? Below are three observations that I try to model as I seek to be a compassionate leader. I’ve learned to more deeply lead in this way through pastoring in a community of people affected by disability at Benjamin’s Hope – find out more at  Jill Miller in her Bethesda Series material for individuals with disability refers to these as the “Three Steps of Love”:

  • Jesus SEES people – often the people that no one else sees. Jesus was not simply moving through life with blinders on as we often do, he was willing to be turned aside from his plans and his to-do list to come alongside people who were hurting and hopeless and offer them the good news that God had come to them through Him! As a leader, how tied are you to your plans and your schedule?  How willing are you to be turned aside?  Do you actually see the people around you?
  • Jesus FEELS the pain of others. Jesus doesn’t simply stop at seeing people, he allows the situation that they are in to enter into his mind and penetrate his heart.  This is hard work as we often see people with our eyes, but guard or harden our hearts to protect ourselves from feeling difficult things.  This, however, is the very essence of the Gospel.  Jesus did not turn away from our pain, but entered into it, and this is also the way that we live like Jesus. How much of the struggle of life and of others are you allowing into your journey?  Is your heart engaged with the struggling and suffering people in your community, or have you effectively shielded yourself from that pain? What could you do differently to keep your heart soft to the needs of others?
  • Jesus HELPS. He sees with his eyes and feels with his heart, but doesn’t stop there.  He moves with his hands and feet as well. He enters in – meeting felt physical needs but going further to communicate about spiritual life and health as well.  This is the way of the Gospel.  As we meet others in their pain and help in tangible felt ways, we have the open door to communicate about the love and grace of God and His son Jesus.  How often are you actively helping others with your hands and feet as a leader? How are you modelling this to those who are following you? I understand that preaching and teaching is often our main focus as leaders in the church, but we should never be too far away from being right in the middle of getting our hands dirty as we serve others.

These three steps of love are simple and easy to remember, but difficult to live into as leaders.  They mess up our schedules and to-do lists and rarely fit into our plans.  However, compassionate leaders truly SEE people, FEEL the pain of others, and HELP.  May God give each of us more grace to live this way.

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