Session 12: Agape. It’s All About Becoming Real.

To emphasize, followership is not to eliminate the notion that we need leaders. It is to flush the definitions, concepts, and practices of flesh-based leadership down the sewer they came from. Leadership within a followership culture is a totally different animal than leadership within a leadership culture. It comes from the Kingdom of God, with one and only one Lord. No flesh glories in His presence. And all stand before Him as children of the heavenly Father, as we become like children to follow Jesus into the Kingdom way, truth, and life. Just as little kids follow their moms and dads, so we follow Jesus as He leads the way. Leonard Sweet, I Am a Follower.

I began this blog series, To Lead or Not to Lead? by telling you about a leadership class I was asked to guest-teach a few years back. I was given a set of excellent notes that contained, what I would define as, a typical list of pre-qualifiers we Americanized Christian pastors look for when we pick new leaders for our churches.

As I mentioned to you in Session 4, I shared that evening my list of Twenty Top Qualifiers for Successful Christian Leadership as assembled from many of the latest and greatest books on successful Christian leadership in America. My list looked like this:

Committed, Competent, Confident, Courageous, Decisive, Effective Communicator, Entrepreneur, Excellent Character, Excellent Listener, Excellent Negotiator, Goal Setter, Helps Others Succeed, Inspiring Motivator, Life-Long Learner, Positive Attitude, Problem Solver, Risk Taker, Self-Aware, Team Builder, and Visionary.

The group of twenty or so in my class looked at the list, quickly agreed how that list included most of the top qualifiers for successful leadership that they would have listed, but then I stopped. I looked into their faces and then, in the most gut honest way I could, I asked them, “Now that we’ve seen the “official” list of qualifiers, how many of you honestly believe that you are indeed qualified to meet these requirements?”

Most, if not all of them, responded as I hoped they would. “We don’t and we, most likely, can’t.” And that, my friends, is the main reason I’m writing this blog series To Lead or Not To Lead? As a pastor who’s looking for co-laborers in Christ, men and women who can come together for the common cause of loving Jesus and serving His Kingdom purposes in the world today, the last thing I need is a qualifying list that sets the standards so high that only the brightest and best can play.

As my class sat there in the sad reality of how little they had in themselves to qualify for successful Christian leadership, I pulled out one of my favorite quotes. I’m not sure who wrote it, but here it is.

Jacob was a cheater, Peter had a temper, David had an affair, Noah got drunk, Jonah ran from God, Paul was a murderer, Gideon was insecure, Miriam was a gossiper, Martha was a worrier, Thomas was a doubter, Sara was impatient, Elijah was moody, Moses stuttered, Zaccheus was short, Abraham was old, and Lazarus was dead….

God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called!

After an initial laugh, and a sigh of relief, from the members of my class, I pulled out my copy of The Velveteen Rabbit.

Anybody remember The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams?

It’s a kids’ picture book written back in 1922 and if you don’t have it, you need to immediately go to a bookstore, buy it and then put it on top of your stack of church leadership books. In my view, it trumps them all (except, of course, the Bible).

The Velveteen Rabbit, subtitled How Toys Become Real, tells the simple story of a little boy and his playroom toys. In many ways, I’m guessing Pixar just may have stolen their Toy Story movie ideas from this kids’ classic, but who knows?

The Velveteen Rabbit was one of the little boy’s favorites. And just like Woody from Toy Story, the Velveteen Rabbit might be replaced at Christmas time with some new, exciting toy, but before long, that new toy broke or was forgotten and the little boy would return to his old favorite, the Velveteen Rabbit. The only problem in this story is that the Rabbit, while truly loving his place as his owner’s favorite toy, longed for the opportunity to become a real rabbit like the ones he saw running outside freely in the little boy’s yard. For years, the Velveteen Rabbit longed to be ‘real’ and in one discussion with some of the other toys, our rabbit friend spoke about his longings with his good buddy, the wise, old Skin Horse. Let me quote you from Margery William’ text:

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

“What is Real?” asked the Velveteen Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Velveteen Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” the Rabbit asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

“I suppose you are Real?” said the Velveteen Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

“The boy’s uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.

I won’t give away the ending for those who haven’t read it, but suffice to say that over time, our little toy rabbit gets his wish.

As I see it, Jesus is looking down upon His church today and hoping and praying that some of His ‘leaders’ just might like to become a bit more ‘Real’, just like the Velveteen Rabbit longed for. Just imagine with me for a moment. Maybe there is some old, wise Skin Horse out there who is speaking to us right now, encouraging us to let God make us ‘Real’? It could be that amidst the New Testament writings we’ve looked at in this blog series, there is a message being sent to Church, Inc. in modern-day America? Who will stop the drive and ambition to ‘lead’? Who might humbly submit themselves to the glaring truth that the Church doesn’t need more leaders? We already have a Leader. His name is Jesus. That position is filled.

So maybe some of us could lay down the ‘leadership’ titles for a while, re-examine the ancient New Testament words like overseer, elder, servant, deacon, steward, pastor, shepherd and such, allowing agape to be our qualifier, becoming the ‘Real’ loving pastoral shepherds God is looking for in this hour?

Like Skin Horse says, “It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Anybody wanna sign up for Real? I’ll go, if you will.

No wait. Jesus is leading. Let’s just follow Him.

For His’ Name’s sake.

My prayer: Father God, it’s time to lay down my earthly definitions of successful leadership and replace them with simple and sustainable phrases like agape love and being real. Jesus, You showed the way, You offered Your agape love to me, becoming real for my sake. Holy Spirit, indwell me and empower me to do the same for others. For Your name’s sake. Amen.

My questions to ponder: How is God working His agape love deep inside me? In what ways is the Master taking me through this life, allowing me to become more and more like the Skin Horse, being Real, and loving, to everyone God brings my way? Am I willing to go even further in these ways of the Holy Spirit?

So, what is God speaking to you today as we ask the question, To Lead Or Not To Lead?

Thank you for joining us for this 12-session blog series! In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our To Lead Or Not To Lead? home page for ease of use.  For those of you who are wanting to look under the hood on the “word” statistics I’m presenting in this blog series, click here for all of the biblical references we refer to in this post.

So what might it look like when you or I start to apply some of these radical changes in the way we perceive ‘successful’ church leadership? Watch this one man’s amazing story of reformation as he transitioned from an Americanized approach to church life to a slower, more intentional way of doing ministry…

godspeed Click here!

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