On Reining and Releasing

Christ is the most secure leader of all time. Consider these words of his,

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12 NIV)

He had no need to maintain his superiority. In fact his purpose was to develop people who would surpass him in their achievements.

Neither did he need to control anyone. Not only would he not micromanage them, he planned to split the scene, physically anyway.

Now, of course such an approach would be madness if Jesus had trusted in the innate goodness of his disciples since they had repeatedly demonstrated a lack thereof. But Jesus’ trust was in the Holy Spirit who would reside within each of them. This the glorious revolution that is the kingdom of God. The life of God within each person reigns as the supreme authority. And so each person becomes free and submitted at the same time.

The question then becomes, in a free kingdom, how do we perceive and execute leadership?

In defending his choice not to return to Corinth at the time they expected him, Paul wrote,

I call God as my witness—and I stake my life on it—that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm. (2 Cor. 1:23-24 NIV)

Please indulge me in a paraphrase here, “God knows that I didn’t come last time because I knew that, given your state of immaturity, I would have reamed you out. But that doesn’t mean that I have the right or desire to dictate your spiritual life. Your faith is your standard. The problem is that you’re not living up to your faith and I can tell because you are not experiencing the joy you should have in Christ. Our job is to point you to him again and again so that you will have confidence in him alone and so possess that abiding joy.”

Faith is the key to the kingdom. When leaders attempts to dictate behavior for those under their influence, they begin to exclude their followers from living the life of faith. You see, faith goes out not knowing. Disbelief runs in circles shouting, “Tell me what to do!” We can’t tell a person what to do and leave their faith in tact.

On the other hand, Satan doesn’t need us to give the disciples direction apart from faith. He has a whole arsenal of distractions and diversions which he deploys against God’s people each day. It is for this reason that the author of the letter to the Hebrews wrote,

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.  We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. (Hebrews 3:12-14 NIV)

Leadership in the kingdom of God runs on the mantra, “high accountability/low control.” We will not abandon those who we are leading to Satan’s devices, neither will we ourselves become the pawns of the devil by derailing their progress toward Christ-likeness into the fold of our own egos. Rather we expend ourselves to be helpers of their joy.


Practically speaking, we could imagine disciples as horses whom Christ has broken. He has sent them into the world as messengers and rescuers in his cause. As they gallop and trot on his errands they feel the joy and freedom of using their innate gifts for his divine purpose. From time to time, though, the horses get baited into Satan’s corrals or weighted down with his unnecessary cargo.

Those who care for the horses on behalf of the king might begin to think that the best way to keep them from these snares is to place reins on them. So, they build long, fine coaches for the horses to pull (let’s call them church programs) and they lash the horses to them. Now everyone is pulling together. That’s good, right? No! It’s another form or bondage. The horses are no more listening to the internal prompting of the king than they do when they’re trapped by the enemy.

Leaders in the kingdom of God, serve. Our job is not to rein in the energies and resources of the people in our congregations to our own vision. Rather, we must communicate Christ’s mandate, equip them to listen to his leading, release them to live it out and support them until they are established leaders in their own right.

In this way, the genius of our God will be demonstrated as leaders are proliferated into every culture through an inestimable number of relevant expressions.

Published by Nathan Wilkerson

Holding on for dear life.

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