Empowering leadership … it sounds good doesn’t it, but what does it look like? That’s the question I’ve been asked, so here’s a stab at my answer as it comes to me today (definitely not the last words on this subject!). My response is counter-intuitive in the sense that when we think about leadership we tend towards thinking about what we do for the other, but in my experience it arises out of what God has and is doing in me.

A life focused on becoming more like Jesus. In other words, followership comes before leadership. In practice this means before I can ever be effective as a Christian leader to any degree, I must first and foremost be focused on following Jesus. This is about both starting with the end in mind: a life which reflects the life of Jesus and taking daily steps, pursuing him in my every day. The process of the Discipleship Cycle consistently reminds me that becoming more like Jesus is a process. Hopefully I’m a ‘work in progress’ taking confidence from the promise of God: he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6).

Leadership is about empowering others to become the person God has called them to be, in every element of their life. Whilst I may have some influence through speaking, or writing, on those I have no other relationship with there’s no doubt those I have the greatest influence upon are those closest to me, relationally and socially. It’s the same for us all, although we’ll all recognise the double-edged nature of this as they’re the people who are most likely to see us as we really are.

A life deeply rooted in the life of Jesus. I have constantly in mind the fact we are told when Jesus was calling those who would be his closest twelve followers, he went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. (Mark 3:13). Jesus wants me to be with him! Jesus wants you to be with him!

The greatest factor towards my becoming more like Jesus is being with Jesus. In the daily reality of my own life, it’s the twin priority practices of prayer and dwelling in the scriptures which are my primary means of being with Jesus.

Honestly, there’s no by-passing being with him if you want to become more like him. I don’t want you to get a distorted view of my daily life – I’m neither transported into a heavenly trance, or step into the blaze of God’s glory, nor do I consciously feel God’s presence with me every time I sit down in the seat I use to most regularly practice the presence of God, but I do know he is present: both with me and for me. What this means is I am regularly called to re-align an element of my life with his.

Aligning my life with the life of Jesus consists of both large and small, both the goal setting and everyday decisions. Sometimes this looks like a commitment to act in a particular way, sometimes it’s to acknowledge how I am needs to change if my words, attitudes, or actions are to better reflect Jesus’ way in my life. Traditionally we have used the words repentance and confession, neither heard as frequently around the UK church today as they shall need to be if our life together is to better reflect the life of Jesus.

A life grateful for all I have already received and committed to knowing Jesus whatever tomorrow brings. If anyone else is ever going to recognise something in my life which resembles an empowering leader, it will be down to two things: they have grown in their faithfulness and fruitfulness related to our connection and/or they recognise an element of faithfulness and fruitfulness in my life made evident by my responding to the empowerment of God. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are involved.

The empowering love of the Father: I have been saved, I am being saved and I will be saved are the three tenses of salvation I read about in my New Testament. I know, as I have always known since my very first conscious encounter with the reality of God this is all about his love, grace and mercy. On that day it was merely a peaceful awareness, now it is a deep and unshakable sense of gratitude and thanksgiving. It is the security of the love of my heavenly Father, which has produced this in my life. That’s today, but tomorrow as the song ‘Cornerstone’ reflects ‘through the storm he is Lord, Lord of all’.

The empowering call of Jesus: Jesus called me because he wanted me to be with him. I’ve learnt two things since then: He is Lord and I am not. I know it’s true Jesus looks at me as we see him looking at person after person in the four gospels and sees both who I am (and loves me for that) and who I can become.

The empowering work of the Holy Spirit: when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor 12:10). I regard what Paul recognises here as a guiding principle for my life, rather than simply being a text to quote. I don’t need much reminding what I can’t do, but I continue to experience God’s surprises what he can do through me!

A life committed to removing the barriers to following Jesus for other people. You may well be thinking ‘at least a heading which directly relates to leadership’! The reality is who we are shouts greater than what we say. If I do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Cor. 13:1). Character either amplifies or stifles gifting and capability – that’s the reality not the theory. The element which translates faithfulness to Christ and fruitfulness in Christ from my life into the life of another human being is intentionality. That’s a marriage of intentionality of heart, mind and will. If my heart is for you to become all Jesus Christ calls you to be … if my attitude towards you is focused on helping you become all Jesus Christ calls you to … if my will, translated into not simply attitudes, but actions expressed in words and deeds, is committed to encouraging you to become all Jesus Christ calls you to be, then there is hope together we’ll get a little closer today.

Nigel Coles

Nigel is Regional Team Leader of the West of England Baptist Network. He facilitates the life of the webnet team and oversees the missional strategy for the region. He also works to develop missional strategy over a wider geographical area with our partner Associations and Baptists Together. Nigel believes that when Jesus sent out seventy-two others, he meant everyone who was there, and this passion to help everyone find their way in the mission of God is what inspired the development of Seventy-two.