“Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.” John 19:38
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…” 1 John 4:18
I typically don’t write a great deal on the subject of leadership. I guess I feel there are people that are more qualified and have researched the subject more than I. But to be honest, I think it is that the responsibility of leadership frightens me. To lead it seems one must have knowledge of both the destination and direction, which I’m not always sure I have. Leadership involves commitment, commitment to people, commitment to a direction and destination, commitment of time and energy. I tend to like to keep my options open which can lend itself to being very non-committal in life and relationships. With this sort of introduction you might be surprised to learn I’ve been committed in marriage to my wife Francie for over forty years. I guess I am able to keep some significant commitments.
But my understanding of leadership has often included things like position, authority, self-confidence, right answers and clear vision. Most of those I feel I have in short supply. But Jesus, in His well known comments to His disciples regarding leadership, places far more emphasis on serving others than on accomplishing a task or realizing a vision (Mark 10:42-45). It isn’t that those other things are not significant, but that the way they are ultimately achieved may not be by imposing ones will, but by sacrificing one’s life.
In John’s Gospel account, Jesus is removed from the cross by Joseph of Arimathea. It says that Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, though secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. Later, in John 20, in the post resurrection appearance to the apostles it says that they were in an upper room with the door locked for fear of the Jewish leaders. There, Jesus appeared to them, having come into the room though the doors remained locked. His word to them was “Peace be with you.” In both these incidents the responses of the disciples were influenced by a fear, not of the public or of the Romans, but of the Jewish leadership.
I believe that leadership that instills fear may not be the best representation of the way of Jesus. I think at times the leadership and powerbrokers within the church can create a climate of fear and a lack of safe space in which to share authentically. Service that is birthed from this kind of a climate may tend to be more performance based rather than motivated by love.
When I think of the cross at this season of Lent I find that it is a horrific symbol of an immensely beautiful truth. It reminds me of the great, unfathomable love of God. It is a place we gather around as human beings and watch the love of God demonstrated in Jesus Christ for all humanity. As horrifying as it is, the cross is not ultimately a place of fear but a place of love, God’s love poured out in abundance. The cross is the undeniable symbol of God’s love poured out in Christ Jesus.
John writes in the fourth chapter of his first epistle that, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…”. There was something experienced at the foot of the cross that made it safe to come out of hiding for Joseph of Arimathea. I believe it was in facing the enormity of God’s love expressed in Jesus at the crucifixion that Joseph felt safe to come forward as His disciple. His experience of the cross enabled him to not fear the religious leaders who resisted the way of Jesus. It was the environment of the cross that provided a safe context to be authentic and real.
I believe leadership in the church needs to reflect the kind of love expressed at the cross. It is the kind of love that provides a safe context in which to be authentic and real. It is an environment that is not threatened by the questions, varied opinions, perspectives or interpretations of others. It is a cooperative, rather than a competitive, community formed around the cross of Christ. In love it seeks to edify and honor those who are weaker with the grace of Christ that strengthens with His power in spite of our weakness.
This leadership seeks to provide open and safe space, bounded by the love and grace of Jesus, to express the work God is doing within each person, rather than restrict the space to what one person or group has deemed appropriate or orthodox. It seeks above all to lead others, motivated by love, so that they too may experience being faithfully and perfectly loved by Jesus.
The cross creates safe space where perfect love has driven out fear. Any church leadership is hopefully leading others to the foot of the cross where Jesus has poured out His life for the sake of love. If perfect love drives out fear, then it seems when religious leadership is instilling fear, danger and threat, it may not be leading people from the context of the cross. May we pray for the transformation that occurs when we enter the environment of safety and authenticity the cross of Christ provides, and experience His love and grace that shapes us into new creatures in Christ Jesus.