Welcome back to the Living Leadership blog!
As we relaunch after the summer break, we’ve decided to increase the diversity of voices contributing to the blog. There is a wealth of wisdom in the growing ranks of our Living Leadership Network, and we want you to benefit from these voices, ones you may not have heard before.
Richard Collins, the author of the majority of posts up to now, will continue to contribute once per month, but the rest of the time he will focus his excellent wordsmithing skills on editing posts from other contributors (including me)! You can expect a variety of styles, tones, and approaches, focused on either leadership, pastoral care or soul health for leaders and their spouses.
We hope you find the blog encouraging and thought-provoking. We’d love to hear your feedback.
My posts, on the first Thursday of each month, will bring you thoughts from 2 Corinthians. It’s (arguably) the apostle Paul’s most personal letter, in which he exposes his heart and defends his ministry. I never cease to be challenged by my namesake’s vulnerability, as he lays bare his weakness and struggles, while also affirming his rock-solid confidence in Christ. That’s why 2 Corinthians is my ‘go-to’ book to read with leaders I mentor.
These posts won’t be sermons or summaries but snippets of apostolic wisdom. I want to focus on things Paul says that most ministers wouldn’t. This is either because they wouldn’t expect their people to understand them, or more negatively, because they’d be too proud or scared to be as vulnerable as he was. In doing so, I hope you’ll be challenged to examine your hearts and to be renewed in Christ-shaped service. I issue this challenge not just to you, but to myself.
So, let’s begin with Paul’s first words, his standard greeting.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1.2)
It’s easy to skim over these words because they are so familiar. But pause for a moment and ask yourself, what is the relationship between grace and peace?
The same two words—grace and peace—crop up again close together towards the end of the letter—grace (verse 14) and peace (verse 11). You’ve probably used Paul’s final words hundreds of times as a benediction:
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (13.14)
Again, these words are so familiar that we can easily miss their power. So, pause to think about what Paul is wishing for the Corinthians. He wants them to experience the living, transforming presence of the triune God. He wishes them to rest in, draw upon, and enjoy the grace of Christ, the love of God and their partnership with the Holy Spirit.
Isn’t that what you want for your church? The good news is that it’s possible because God has given us exactly what we need – himself! But just before that closing blessing, Paul gives his readers a final challenge:
Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. (13.11)
Notice that the presence of the God of love and peace is contingent on their relationships with each other. They can’t expect to experience his closeness if they don’t strive for full restoration of broken relationships. He is the God of love and peace, so we ourselves need to be people of love and peace. To love each other well, we need to encourage one another more often. To live in peace involves the hard task of pursuing “unity of mind”. In short, it means laying down our own demands in order to be of one mind with our brothers and sisters.
What a challenge for us as leaders and spouses of leaders. We want to see our churches filled with the living, transforming presence and power of God. We want to see our ministries bearing fruit. These are noble and honourable goals. But how often are we beset by strained relationships that are seldom fully restored? How often do we find discouragement instead of encouragement, and strife instead of harmony?
We want to lead in peace, but our church is in pieces.
How can we mend a fractured fellowship?
How can we heal a broken church?
How can we find peace with one another? Not simply the ability to coexist without fighting, but the peace of God—his shalom, which brings wholeness and wellbeing. A simply blessing at the end of a service won’t do it. It takes hard work. It often requires tough conversations and the patient work of mediation. It surely entails repentance and humility, forgiveness and goodwill.
And so we’re left with the question: how can we lead people together into God’s peace?
Another command in Paul’s letter is key.
Just one word, easily lost in a list of commands. But it’s absolutely vital. One reason why Christians don’t live peacefully together—perhaps the main reason—is lack of joy.
Joy is a prerequisite for peace. But how can we obey a command to rejoice? References to joy and rejoicing dotted through 2 Corinthians can help us learn.
Paul assured the Corinthians that he was committed to working with them for their joy (1.24).
His reason for writing an earlier letter was that they might share in his joy (2.3).
Joy overflowed in him amidst his various trials because of his pride in them (7.4). Pride in their repentant response to his rebuke (7.9), their concern for him (7.7), and, especially, the joy Titus had experienced when they refreshed his soul (7.13).
So, joy is not circumstantial – it is rooted in appreciation of people and of God’s work in them. One pathway to joy for leaders is to stop and think over the good things you see God doing in the people you lead. You may wish there was more, but don’t miss what there is.
Joy grows as we appreciate Christ and his work for us and in others. And the consequences of joy are beautiful.
This church that had brought joy to Paul was encouraged to learn from the example of the churches in Macedonia, whose “abundance of joy” led to “a wealth of generosity” (8.2).
Joy breeds generosity. That’s how it leads to peace.
When we rejoice, we become generous people. The Macedonian churches gave financially despite their poverty. Why? Because of joy. When we find joy in God, we find it so much easier to forgive freely and to bear with others patiently. That’s because joy is the fruit of grace. The Greek words are closely related. Joy (chara) is a consequence of grace (charis). Joy is grace celebrated.
Grace generates joy. Joy breeds generosity. Generosity fosters peace.
If you want to lead a community of peaceful fellowship, you’ll need generosity and, as leaders, that must start with you. So, as you start a new season of activity in your church, how are your generosity levels? If they’re low (i.e., you don’t feel like giving much to anyone and certainly not without repayment), then check your joy tank. If it’s near empty, stop and reflect on the gifts of grace you have received from the Lord. You can’t manufacture joy. It grows as a fruit of the Spirit as you appreciate grace. So, stop and meditate on God’s grace to you. Soak in it.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (8.9)
God did not only give you his Son. Through his Son, God has given you all things.
So, give thanks and let joy grow.
Remember also that his grace is abundant, a source of strength in the face of trials.
My grace is sufficient for you (12.9).
Grace is supplied and grace is sufficient. But heed Paul’s warning.
We appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain (6.1).
Grace is not just for your soul’s justification. It is also for your soul’s joy. So, as you soak in his grace, ask how you can lead in grace, by grace, and with grace. How can you help your people to delight in God’s extraordinary grace, experiencing him in fresh ways?
Grace generates joy. Joy breeds generosity. Generosity fosters peace.
So, my prayer for you is simple. May you lead God’s people into his grace, rejoicing in his love and overflowing with generosity, that by so doing, your communities might experience the enduring peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.