Formations 05.06.2018: Fearless Humility

1 Thessalonians 1

Karel Dujardin, St. Paul Healing the Cripple at Lystra, 1663

Author Jim Collins and his research team spent five years exploring “good” companies and what it took for them to become “great.” The results were published in 2001 in Collins’s book Good to Great.

The secret, Collins discovered, was an exceptional leader “displaying a paradoxical mix of intense professional will and extreme personal humility.” Nearly twenty years later, leadership expert Marcel Schwantes remains convinced that this same type of leadership is key to a successful organization.

Schwantes identifies eight important habits of this kind of leader:

They let other people talk.
They admit being wrong.
They rarely impose.
They seek input.
They give their people credit.
They speak their truth.
They are teachable.
They involve others.

As I read 1 Thessalonians, I can’t help but think that the Apostle Paul belongs in this category. We read in this letter how Paul behaved in Thessalonica. He shared his faith not merely in words but “in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction,” proving his character through his actions (1:5). He never flattered or ministered with ulterior motives (2:5). Rather, he was as gentle among them as a tender nursemaid (2:7). In short, he demonstrated what Schwantes describes as a balance of “fearlessness when it comes to making decisions coupled with personal humility.”

Paul didn’t just tell the Thessalonians about Jesus; he personally demonstrated the kind of transformation that Jesus could work in their lives. As a result, the Thessalonians came to faith and became examples in turn to everyone they met—and Paul exults in how much they have accomplished in his absence!

How did they get so far, so quickly? Paul says it was the work of the Holy Spirit. He didn’t merely preach sermons to them, he showed them what following Jesus was all about.

Marcel Schwantes, “How Can You Tell If Someone Has True Leadership Skills? This Famous Study Narrows It Down to 1 Rare Trait,” Inc.com <https://www.inc.com/marcel-schwantes/how-can-you-tell-someone-has-true-leadership-skills-this-famous-study-narrows-it-down-to-this-1-rare-trait.html>.

Discussion

• What does it mean to share the good news with power, the Holy Spirit, and deep conviction?
• What are the results of such preaching?
• How does this approach challenge stereotypes associated with the word “evangelism”?

Reference Shelf

Power

God’s power is creative and also recreative. Its most gracious expression is in redemption and deliverance with the Exodus as the classic example. Israel was “brought forth out of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand” (Exod 32:11). The plagues ultimately were redemptive: “That you [Egyptians] may know that I am the Lord in the midst of the earth” (Exod 8:22).

God shared power. A psalmist declared that the Lord “gives power and strength to his people” (Ps 68:35). God told Moses, “See that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power” (Exod 4:21). Moses was complimented after his death “for all the might power and all the great and terrible deeds that [he] wrought in the sight of all Israel” (Deut 32:12).

D. C. Martin, “Power,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 704.

Adding Value

From these words of Paul we learn a great deal about his leadership style. These observations on leadership provide inspiration even in the twenty-first century. In the midst of the massive swirl of discus- sions and finely tuned definitions of good leadership, one observation I continue to remember is this: A good leader knows how to add value to others. John Maxwell clearly states that “leadership is influence instead of position…. You don’t strive to be a leader; you strive to add value to people, and they’ll let you be the leader.” Paul was an effective leader not because he demanded his way with an autocratic hand but because of the way he sought to affirm and add value to the people with whom he served. The congregation of believers in Thessaloniki followed Paul’s leadership because he added value to their lives. This section of the first letter to the Thessalonian congregation clearly makes this point—Paul adds value to the people with his leadership style of affirmation.

In families, corporations, and churches, models of leadership have changed dramatically in recent years. Traditionally, an exemplary leader appeared in the form of a stern taskmaster, distant in relationship and space from subordinate workers. The boss who is rarely seen, whose lifestyle differs from the subordinates, who sits at the top, barking orders from behind closed doors to a humble and subordinate group of workers, represents the traditional style of leadership. This tough kind of leader is seen as capable of maneuvering through structures like a military general in a combat zone….

The costs of this model, however, are dramatic and often tragic. The family with the leader father, who wields control of family members, suffers tremendously. Independence and self-worth are stripped from children and women when the father’s authority reigns unchecked. If the autocrat’s power is expressed as violence, women and children are wounded or killed. In the world of corporate life, loss of morale among the workers because of an authoritarian boss also means loss of productivity, which in turn means loss of revenue. The laity in ecclesiastical structures, likewise, remains impotent when church leadership is from the top down. The gospel message becomes garbled when only offered from one voice. Dialogue and negotiation, primary engines of theological vitality, are not present. Growth and vitality are squelched. The structures groan and travail. Self-defeat and sorrow replace personal confidence and joy. The system of hierarchy causes great suffering. Life is snuffed out.

Linda McKinnish Bridges, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2008), 26–28.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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