For Christian leaders, there is a (potentially untapped) power available that can set each of us free from the inability to accurately and, in a healthy way, assess ourselves. An understanding—heart understanding—and reception of the fullness of God’s grace can revolutionize our self-image and position us to grow.
An expanded definition of grace
Grace, as it relates to Christians, has traditionally been defined as “unmerited favor.” While that is true, grace goes much farther than that. The first chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus is a great place to begin to understand what grace does in us. In this chapter, Paul begins to use a variety of words to describe our new identity. He calls us; saints, blessed, chosen, predestined, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, and gaining an Inheritance (Ephesians 1:1-11, ESV). He has made us alive and honored us by seating us in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:5, 6).
God’s grace does more than “save” us. It restores, transforms, and honors us. It redeems us and makes us valuable. A perfect example is found in the book of Ruth. Ruth is the story of a young woman from Moab whose Jewish husband dies, and she goes home to live with her mother-in-law, Naomi. While she is there, she meets Boaz, a member of Naomi’s family. Boaz becomes Ruth’s “kinsman-redeemer.” It becomes his responsibility to marry Ruth so that the family line is preserved.
While this story is great in and of itself, what makes it even more powerful is the blessing spoken over Boaz at the end of the book. The city elders bless him, and at the end of the blessing they say; “And may the Lord give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those of our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah.” On the surface, this may not mean anything. However, what is interesting is that Tamar is mentioned. Tamar’s husband died too. In addition, to carry on her family line, she disguised herself as a prostitute and slept with her father-in-law! In addition, she is mentioned here as part of a blessing. In a patriarchal society that ignores women, Tamar is mentioned in a blessing. It was not “Perez, son of Judah.” It was “Perez, son of Tamar and Judah.”
Moreover, that is not even the end of it. The gospel of Matthew lists both Ruth (a non-Jewish woman) and Tamar (a prostitute) in the lineage of Jesus. This is an amazing picture of redemption. To take something is worthless and make it valuable. For both Ruth and Tamar, they were worthless because they were women (in that culture) and they should have been despised as well – Ruth because she was not Jewish and Tamar because she prostituted herself with her father-in-law. However, they were made valuable by being included in the lineage of Jesus. It is amazing how the Old Testament treats them but then to be included in Matthew’s report of the lineage of Jesus. That is incredible. The power of grace should never be underestimated.
Grace and leadership
Why is that important to pastoral leadership? Because a leader that understands that they have been redeemed – they have been made valuable by the power of grace – will never approach the concept of their own self-awareness the same way again. They become aware of their new identity in Christ. Their weaknesses no longer look like failures because they see them through the eyes of redemption. Their strengths do not produce arrogance because they are also aware of what they have been redeemed from.
When it comes to how they lead, the grace-filled leader begins to see others differently. Because they are beginning to understand that God sees them through grace-filled eyes, they can see others in that way as well. They are not threatened by differences. They can believe the best about others. Grace enables them to build the skills necessary to communicate, love, resolve conflict, etc., through the culture of the one(s) with whom they are interacting. They can truly and fully engage in servant leadership because they no longer need a job, a position, or the outcome of an exchange to elevate them. They have already been elevated. They have been redeemed.
That is the power of grace.