We are hosting an online event Leadership Development: What Matters Most? next Wednesday over the lunch hour (12-1:30 CT). In preparation for the time, I have been revisiting the Apostle Paul’s stunning words to the Corinthian church. Why? Because years ago Dallas Willard suggested that this is where all discussions, admonitions, strategies, and efforts of Christian leadership must begin—1 Corinthians 13. Paul writes,
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
I remember Dallas saying something like… this is not a wedding chapter, this is a leadership chapter.
If we don’t have love, here’s how Paul sees it: (1) we are a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal, (2) we are nothing, or (3) we gain nothing. Paul offers a startling bottom line. Especially when you consider his other variables: tongues of mortals and angels, prophetic powers, understanding mysteries, and all knowledge, faith to move mountains, all our possessions given away, our bodies surrendered. These variables compose quite a Christian leadership profile, but none of these things count without love.
Secretly we may say to ourselves, let’s be realistic, there must be some sort of exaggeration here or perhaps some rhetorical trick to really get the reader’s attention. We search for anything to guard ourselves against the blunt force of these words. Without love. Nothing.
So we come with our knowledge, we come with our skills and strategies, we come with our personalities, and we come with all our gifts, and Paul offers us no wiggle room. We must come with love. Why?
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 (MSG)
Paul’s compelling picture shifts the emphasis to the real difficulty of Christian life and leadership. Love. We have so much anxiety around the many things that we strategize and plan and implement. And we can become enamored and dominated by these many good things. But sadly the challenges and investments of leadership can often distract us, and perhaps even detract from the simple, patient, and hard work of love. Perhaps we can hide in the effort and determination required of these activities. Perhaps the many projects or sermons or meetings or events provide a safe place away from the true and desperate realities of compassionately serving others. The realities? In this world, love is what is needed. As Karl Menninger once wrote, “It is un-love that makes people unwell, and it is love, and love alone, that makes people well.”
Paul’s words invite us into what God is up to in our midst. To the church in Corinth, there was much that needed to be addressed and corrected, there were conflicts and abuses and disorders, there were gifts that needed to be stirred, poor thinking that needed to be confronted, and there was worship that needed to be encouraged. In the midst of all this stuff, the good work of leadership, Paul offers the Corinthian church a demanding and gracious portrait of God’s loving life, one in which they were invited to enter in and express in their community.
So today, amidst the many challenges and disorienting realities of 2020, may we as leaders allow Paul’s vision of personal love (1 Corinthians 13) to center our thoughts and efforts, our conversations and prayers. And may we each continue to be open to God’s loving leadership in our lives and our communities, for such a time as this.
Leadership Development: What Matters Most?
Join us this Wednesday, November 18 (12-1:130p CT)