Osmosis and Kenosis

Recently, I have been reading quite a few books on leadership for my doctoral program. It’s been quite interesting as I have been to leadership conferences over the years as well as read a number of books and articles on this topic. My Bachelor’s Degree is in Organizational Management so it’s safe to say I’m pretty familiar with most leadership models used in the business world as well as the ones used in churches. (Big surprise: They’re often the same.)

If you’ve taken a science class or watched educational videos along the way, you’re probably familiar with osmosis. It’s when water passes through one membrane into another to achieve balance. However, it’s also used to describe the “process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas and/or knowledge.” This is the way most leadership seems to work in both the church and the world around us. We spend time around great leaders, we read their books, go to their seminars, and hopefully we will assimilate their methods or principles into our lives.

My views on leadership have begun to change due to one simple sentence written by Leonard Sweet in his book I Am a Follower. It reads, “Christians are called to live by faith in a world that lives by fame.” When I came across this sentence, I immediately posted it on Twitter and it became one of my most retweeted posts. (For those who don’t use Twitter, this means quite a few people sent this message out to their friends.) It also made me reevaluate many of the leadership models I’ve come across over the years. Most of them are personality based and this has bothered me for some time but I’ve not addressed it as often as I should.

Well, it’s time to stop. Stop practicing an osmosis form of leadership in the church. It’s time to put behind us a model of leadership which says find the biggest, the flashiest, and the shiniest and try to have them rub off on us. It’s time to quit trying to get someone else’s Christian fame to permeate our lives and look for something different.

When thinking about leadership, one nice theological word comes to mind: kenosis. All these years of theological study and I get to use one of those thousand dollar words. (Yeah, with the price of seminary, these words end up costing quite a bit.) What does it mean? On a theological level it simply means, “The relinquishment of the form and power of God when Jesus became human, suffered and died.” The basis for this idea is found in Philippians 2:6-8, “[Christ] though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.

So, Jesus emptied Himself. What does that mean? It means that Jesus walked in the power of His humanity and humbled Himself. This is the man who washed the feet of His followers and touched lepers and outcasts. This is how Jesus led…by following the will of His Father and serving others. It also means that everything Jesus did was in the power of God’s Spirit. This is the wonder of it all.

Now, here is where it gets tough. We often have two types of people in the church. People who want to lead so they might have a little fame or power to stand out front or ones that believe they’re unable to lead but they’re very happy to support others. According to the model promoted by American culture, this is the way it’s supposed to be. According to Jesus, we must turn our models upside down!

Kenotic Leadership means we must humble ourselves and follow Christ even if it means sitting on the sidelines. This Jesus leadership also means we should find the most humble people doing the work behind the scenes and follow them as they follow Jesus. It’s not going to be an easy job so I’m looking for some people who would like to walk with me along this way. I want to be a follower of Jesus and I find that He appears amongst those who are the most humble, loving servants we might ever find.

So, who is ready to empty themselves for Jesus?

God’s Best Always and in All Ways,

Pastor Derek

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