The 1998 Chicago Bulls are one of the great teams in NBA history. They won 62 games, their third NBA title in three years and their sixth title in eight years. They were truly dominant, and were dominant for a long time.
They were led by Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and coached by Phil Jackson. That’s four Hall of Famers including the greatest basketball player of all time.
It all changed…quickly. The Bulls went from the penthouse to the outhouse.
The 1999 Chicago Bulls won only 13 games. They set a record for the least number of points scored in an NBA game—49. Michael Jordan himself, alone, scored 50 points more than 38 times in his career. They were the worst team in the league and second place wasn’t even close. They are one of the worst teams of all time.
All four Hall of Famers left the team following the 1998 season. There was a brand-new coaching staff. The team was decimated by the loss of leadership that carried them to dizzying heights and they had no one waiting in the wings ready to step up and lead.
People matter. Personalities make a difference. Leadership is important. It matters everywhere. We have all experienced the benefits of good leadership and we have all languished under poor leadership.
And it’s no different in the Church. In fact, it might even be more acute in the Church.
It is no coincidence that as the Church has taken a step back from impacting the world, we have a leadership crisis in our culture. According to a massive survey taken earlier this year called the Edelman Trust Meter, only 37% of people working for corporations trust their CEO and only 29% people trust their leaders in government. And the revelation over the past month of leaders and cultural influencers who have behaved badly toward women has only made us more cynical. Barbara Kellerman is tenured faculty at Harvard in Public and teaches Public Leadership. She agrees:
Leaders by and large are performing poorly, worse in many ways than before, miserably disappointing in any case to those of us who once believed the experts held the keys to the kingdom.
The need to create leaders has rarely been greater and the need for followers of Jesus who are willing to live as leaders both inside and outside the Church is great and becomes more urgent with each passing day. That is why our core practice to “Create and Send Leaders” is so important not only to the Church, but it’s important to the world and the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. Followers of Jesus who are also leaders have been behind the greatest advances for freedom, humanity and justice this world has ever known. Followers of Jesus who are leaders bless the world! All of us are here today because someone, somewhere, created and sent a leader. That is why it’s important that a congregation like ours with so many leaders, creates and sends new leaders. We have a special calling.
By the way, you may not consider yourself a leader—and that’s okay. All of us play a role in creating leaders. Some of the people who have encouraged and impacted me the most are not charismatic, dynamic, upfront people. They are instead people who have worked quietly behind the scenes to encourage me and speak the truth in love.
Matthew 10 teaches us a lot about how Jesus created and sent leaders and how we should create leaders too.
First, Jesus made leaders by investing in them.
And he called to Him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. – Matthew 10:1
Scripture names the twelve men Jesus called and made leaders. He took the authority He had been given as King of the Cosmos, Lord of all, and He invested in them power over evil and the sinful elements of this world—the enemies of God. Jesus immediately, after calling twelve disciples, created twelve leaders.
The first step in creating and sending a leader is investing in someone. We don’t get too many places on our own. God uses other people to bring us along. Sure, many of us had great parents. We had teachers and college professors. However, I would I bet if I asked any of you who are leaders or who have been given an opportunity to lead to name someone who invested in you, who trusted you, who saw something in you maybe when very few did—you could name that person.
When I started my first call as a solo pastor, I asked a pastor friend named Herman to preach at my installation. Herman was in his mid-80’s at the time and he still preached every Sunday in small churches in Tennessee. Herman loved Jesus, had overcome a lot in his life and was filled with joy. I was shocked when at my installation service while He was preaching Herman paused and said, “My time in ministry is drawing to an end. It has been good, the joy of my life, but I have very little time left. Eric’s time is just beginning.” And Herman lifted his hands to heaven and said, “Lord Jesus, whatever of your Holy Spirit you have given me, would you please give Eric a double portion? Would you make Him twice the preacher, twice the teacher, twice the leader, twice the disciple you have made me?”
I have never been more moved. And I told him thank you.
And Herman, true to form, replied with a smile: “Oh, don’t thank me. God will grant that prayer. But God will give you work equal to His gifts. If you have twice the Spirit of me, you will have twice the work!”
We have a lot of great leaders here. We have Edmond leaders. We have Oklahoma leaders. We have national leaders. We are a congregation filled with leaders and that is a blessing. We have people who have been leading in this Church for a long time. And you have been faithful. We have such great leaders because we have great followers of Jesus here. Because we have so many great leaders, we have a special calling to create and send new leaders.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul describes the presence of God in our lives this way:
We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. – 2 Corinthians 4:7-12
The jars of clay are our earthly, fleshly, failing bodies. The treasure is the deposit of faith given to us by the Holy Spirit. My mission among you as your Lead Pastor is this: to get that treasure ensconced inside our jar of clay out into the world, to be shared with someone who needs Jesus.
Who has Jesus placed in your life, so they may receive a portion of that treasure you have been given—maybe even twice the treasure? Who does God want you to invest in? Don’t wait until you are ready to give up leading whatever it is that you’re leading. Start today, right now, so that when the time comes by your choosing or by events beyond your control that you stop leading, there is someone, preferably even more than one, ready to step in and pick up Jesus’ mission where you left off.
It is not enough, in God’s economy, to just lead well. We must create other leaders. If we are not thinking about raising up leaders, if we are not urgently asking God to show us who that person is in whom we can invest, who might receive the treasure placed within us we may be overestimating ourselves and we are absolutely underestimating God.
We may be overestimating ourselves because we are likely thinking, even subconsciously, “I don’t think anyone could take my place. I don’t think anyone could do it like me.” I’ve thought that before. I’ve fallen victim to that illusion. It’s easy to do. It’s true no one can do it like you, but no one should! You are unique. You are singular. Someone else will lead differently and that’s okay. Maybe even better!
People matter. Leaders matter. But God’s plan, God’s investment in you matters the most. When we invest in future leaders—in prayer, in time, in presence, in teaching, in financial support—we love God and we follow His plan for making all things new.
The very next thing Jesus did after creating twelve leaders was to send them.
These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. – Matthew 10:5-8
No sooner had Jesus invested in His disciples than He sent them. God never invests in us to just sit still. God never invests in us just to enjoy the benefits of His grace. God never invests in us so we can count the copper coins of our blessings like Ebenezer Scrooge. Jesus invests to send. Period.
After investing in them, Jesus sent His disciples out immediately. And Jesus gave His disciples a very clear mission—heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast our demons. Tell the lost sheep of the house of Israel, those lost and wandering without a shepherd, tell them the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!
God is a sending God. God is constantly sending someone somewhere to proclaim and expand His Kingdom.
God sent a man named Abraham from the only home he had ever known to go into a foreign land and bless all the people of the world. God sent Moses back to Egypt from tending his father-in-laws sheep to set His people free from slavery. God sent His people out of slavery in Egypt in to the land He promised to give them. Jesus sent His disciples into all the world to make disciples and baptize them. Jesus asked the Heavenly Father to send the Holy Spirit into the world. At Christmas, of course, we celebrate the sending of God’s only Son into the world.
God is constantly sending someone somewhere to proclaim and expand His Kingdom. Here’s the thing about sending, however. We almost never feel prepared when we are sent. It doesn’t matter how much education or training or spiritual formation we have had—we are rarely ready to be sent. We are rarely prepared to venture outside of our comfort zone into a place where God is at work.
But this is all part of the plan. What’s the use of being sent somewhere by the God of all creation to do something so easy and uninspiring that we don’t need Him at all do it. I get sent all the time to the grocery to buy some milk or some lunch meat and I don’t need anyone to go with me. I can accomplish that task all by myself—I might make a cell phone call! But I don’t dare step into this pulpit by myself where God continues to send me week after week, because being behind this pulpit scares me to death. Every once in a while, preaching the Word of God to hundreds of faithful people, people with more experience, intelligence, and knowledge than me, I just stand here and say, “Who do you think you are? What right do I have to proclaim God’s Word? How do I measure up to this great responsibility? How can I possibly presume to stand up here and demand your attention for half an hour week after week?” I don’t feel ready. I don’t feel adequate. I feel ill-equipped.
For that reason, I never go into this pulpit alone and I am never comfortable. But I have come to believe that’s a good thing because it makes me dependent upon Jesus whose Word promises:
I can do all things though Him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:13
Jesus never sends us when we’re ready. But He also never sends us alone. He calls to where He is already at work with the promise that Jesus will never leave us alone. So, if you’re not ready to be sent, if you feel ill equipped, unprepared—you are right where Jesus wants you to be.
Next, Jesus made leaders by giving them urgency.
You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. – Matthew 10:8-11
Some Bible commentators read this passage and say that Jesus was in a hurry. He wanted His disciples to go and proclaim the Kingdom quickly because time was precious during His short earthly ministry.
I disagree. Jesus never hurried. Jesus did not rush. Remember, Jesus is this guy who was on His way to heal a man’s daughter who was dying and stopped to have a conversation with a woman who had been sick for ten years! Jesus never hurries but Jesus did have a sense of urgency.
We often confuse being in a hurry with having a sense of urgency.
Hurry is simply the by-product not having enough time.
Urgency is a focus on the important.
Sometimes they are the same thing. For example, when our first son was born, Jen drove herself to the hospital because she couldn’t reach me. I had turned my phone off because I was in a meeting. The third message Jen left on my phone that night was, “I’m in a hospital bed. I’m wearing a gown. You have a child arriving very soon.”
That was urgent. And it put me in a hurry to get to the hospital.
I am very bad about waiting to shop for Christmas until about December 23. At that point as well, I am in a hurry and it is urgent. The result is buy a lot of hand and face cream for folks.
Hurry is usually bad. Urgency is always good.
Jesus infused His leaders with a sense of urgency. We are rarely in a hurry to proclaim the Gospel but it is always urgent. Our culture is always in a hurry but very little is truly urgent. Urgent means that nothing else has priority, nothing else is more important. One of the keys to leadership is being able to discern the urgent. Great leaders have a sense of what is urgent and what is optional, or marginal, or unimportant disguised as the urgent because someone is in a hurry. And great leaders set their agenda with relentless focus on the urgent.
Jesus was a master at discerning the urgent and He wanted His disciples to lead the way He did.
Jesus told the disciples not to demand payment or not seek gold, silver or copper and limit their possessions or worry about where to stay so they could maintain the sense of urgency. Possessions often get in the way of purpose. Our plans often get in the way of Jesus’ purpose.
Great leaders and great Churches share Jesus’ sense of urgency.
Jesus ensured the leaders He sent understood that His Kingdom, not their comfort, is urgent. Jesus ensured the leaders He sent understood what was important and was inconsequential.
Great leaders, especially in the Church, do not say “Yes” to everything someone considers important. This always results in hurry because there is not enough time to do it all and it usually results in being a slave to someone else’s priorities rather than Jesus’. Jesus wanted His disciples to lead like Him, sharing His priorities and being urgent about what He says is urgent.
And there is nothing more urgent than Jesus’ Kingdom.
Finally, Jesus made leaders by giving grace.
As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. – Matthew 10:12-15
Jesus sent these twelve men out knowing they would be rejected, knowing they would fall short, even fail.
Jesus also sent them with grace.
Leaders struggle today because we don’t want to give any grace. A critical spirit possesses our culture. We no longer debate about truth. We instead criticize each other’s character. It is not enough to simply have a difference of opinion, I must declare you are morally reprobate for believing differently than I do.
We have become a people of very little grace.
But we need grace desperately especially leaders.
History tells of a very distinguished pastor in the city of Myra in present day Turkey. During the first ecumenical council, this pastor got upset with another man and he slapped him across the face. Although the man he slapped probably had it coming, that pastor was stripped of his work as a pastor and thrown into prison. It was a real scandal by 4th century standards. After some time in prison, he was restored as a pastor. Not long after that, he tore down a pagan temple in his city, and stood up to the corrupt governor of the city who had taken a bribe to execute three men. This pastor literally stood between their necks and the axe. He gave away his family fortune to the poor.
His name was Nicholas, also known as St. Nicholas.
And he needed grace. If the inspiration for Santa needed grace, doesn’t everybody?
Leadership is hard. Leaders sometimes fail. Leaders are sometimes rejected. That’s why leaders need grace.
For most leaders, failure is not an option. It’s a prerequisite.
A leader does things others are unwilling to do and goes where angels fear to tread. Leaders often become the faces for choices and paths over which they have had very little control. Leaders are publicly criticized and mocked for not meeting unclear and unfair expectations.
If you doubt me on that, just ask Jesus. When we lead like Jesus, this world will receive us like Jesus. For most leaders failure is not an option. It’s a prerequisite. Like the dirty manger where Jesus was born, our failures hold surprising and precious new life.
That’s why Jesus gave grace to the leaders He was creating. He knows how hard being a leader is. And that’s why He told them it was okay if not everyone responded to you. Offer your peace, offer reconciliation and redemption and love and if it’s returned—rejoice. But if it’s not, move on. In fact, move on with extreme prejudice, shake the dust of your sandals. Don’t even let the dirt of that place cling to your feet and weigh down your soul with the memory of failure.
That’s grace and every leader needs it. To create and send leaders, we must allow them the opportunity to fail, to make a mistake, mess up, even be rejected. And our response to that is grace—to allow them to knock their dust off their sandals, turn the page, move on and try again.
For most leaders failure is not an option. It’s a prerequisite. And we make leaders by helping them knock the dust off their sandals, washing away the stink of the past and giving them the grace they need to try and try again.
And we need to try and try again to create leaders and we need to do it like Jesus.
We need to invest in people.
We need to send people out.
We need to give a sense of urgency.
And offer them grace.
( Audio of this message is also available at fpcedmond.org/sermon )