By Vaughn W. Baker
The Trinitarian model of interdependence, self-giving, and honoring the Other
Blaise Pascal said God is not the God “of the philosophers and savants” but “the God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob.” God is also “the God of Jesus Christ.”
Whatever else this might mean, it necessarily means that God is a person, and if a person, then essentially relational and if relational, then essentially related. Divine temporality, which is assumed here, can be found throughout the biblical witness. Describing open and relational leadership is another way of describing biblical leadership, for the witness in scripture to the God-world relationship is one of give-and-take. It describes interaction between God and humans, and humans among themselves, in which some things are settled, and other things remain open.
Leadership in the biblical sense is essentially relational and related! Women and men used of God to lead demonstrated the give-and-take of the divine-human relationship. This kind of relationship out of which leadership arises is not based on monergist visions of divine impassibility where, traditionally understood, God cannot be affected by creatures. Nor does this kind of relationship assume an unbridled omnipotence where God’s power overrides all outcomes and human responses. God honors our responses, in fact, God encourages such. The divine human relationship is one based upon love in self-giving, much like is found in Philippians 2:6-8:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Such a description of Jesus’ response to the Father is indicative of a leadership that exhibits the following characteristics:
For Jesus leadership meant “follow-ship!” God the Father sent Jesus. He himself said, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me,” (John 530, ESV). By taking upon himself the form of a servant, Jesus looked to God for direction and guidance. All leadership in this regard is Spirit-led and Spirit-directed.
For Jesus leadership meant being a servant. Jesus said, “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted,” (Matthew 23:11, 12 NIV). Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet demonstrated visibly his approach to servant leadership.
Christ’s atoning work on the cross gives us the ultimate sign of his leadership style. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” (John 15:13, NIV). The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, (John 10:11). As Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15) then we can conclude that God is essentially self-giving, self-sacrificing, and therefore self-related to all creation in love. There never was a “time” that God was not self-giving, self-sacrificing, or self-related.
Given that leadership arises out of being related to God and others in love, how does that work out practically speaking?
Leadership begins by leading from God’s presence. We cannot assume that God’s will is already and always being done. We must seek God daily just as Jesus did. “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed,” (Mark 1:35, NIV). Relational or open leadership is constantly open to the Spirit’s leading from a God who does all things new, (Isaiah 43:19). Wesleyan disciplines would say that leading from God’s presence and initiative involves a dedication to acts of piety: scripture meditation or lectio divina, prayer, Holy Communion, fasting, worship, and accountable discipleship. The more we devote ourselves to these things the more we experience God’s grace in our lives.
Leadership moves to affirm interdependence with others. We cannot affirm a God who is essentially related to others while seeking to be independent from others ourselves. God more often than not uses others—human, angelic, and even animals—to bring about God’s purposes. The first Jerusalem Council makes a bold statement in saying “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements,” (Acts 15:28, NIV). Discernment is both an individual and a corporate experience. Otherwise, why have spiritual gifts? Why even have a body, i.e., the Church? God loves interdependence! Rarely, if ever, in scripture do biblical figures travel alone. We need each other to accomplish God’s purposes!
Leadership is divinely chosen. Jesus said, “You did not choose me, I chose you and appointed you,” (John 15:16, NIV). None of us is “freelancing” as leaders. We are related essentially to the One who called us and to one another. God takes the initiative in our calling as we respond either with a yes or a no or with delayed obedience. It behooves all who are called of God to respond in the affirmative in a timely manner. I have met individuals who felt called of God to the ministry while employed outside of the church and who said “no” to God’s promptings for years, if not decades. But upon retirement decided that it was time to yield to God’s grace and enter the ministry. God is very patient, but in each of those who delayed their response to answer the call to ministry I heard only regret for not obeying sooner.
In conclusion, we can find clear guidance about relational and open leadership by looking at the relationship between the Persons of the Holy Trinity as found in the New Testament. Interdependence and not isolation, love shown in self-giving, and showing honor to the Other is modeled between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Such a demonstration and such a divine Presence exists in all who yield to God.
Serving as Pastor of United Methodist churches for over forty years, Vaughn Baker shares a belief with others that the God of the philosophers is not the God of the Bible. Vaughn has engaged in writing and research leading to a doctoral degree in theology and missiology. In addition to serving as pastor in local congregations, he also has taught in the summer course of study school at a local seminary. The Trinitarian model of interdependence, self-giving, and honoring the Other gives us clear guidance for yielding leadership.