The Only Thing that Counts
Two millennials ago, the Apostle Paul wrote these words: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6) It’s simple and gets to the point. Love is what truly transforms and makes a difference. As Oscar Romero put it: “In the evening of your life, you will be judged on love.”
I’ve been reflecting on these words of Paul for a long time, being inspired and challenged by them. I’ve come to believe that love is the center, circumference, and radius of life and leadership - it’s the seeds, roots, ground, trunk/branches, and foliage. We have been created from and for love! As a church leader over the past three decades, I’ve realized that when it comes to leadership, what truly counts is its expression in love - and love alone.
We in the West are fascinated and obsessed with leadership. We have leadership books, podcasts, conferences, workshops, collectives, and axioms, coming out faster than rabbits produced at a national level! Even in the church world, a big part of this is fueled by the American spirit of enterprise, capitalism, and competition. We love leadership; however, we need to ask - is our leadership motivated, mobilized, and manifested by love? This is a most pertinent question, especially with the ever-increasing rise of church leader resignations due to abusive and toxic leadership.
So, what does it mean for leadership to be expressed by love? What if we used the infamous ‘marriage’ chapter in Scripture (1 Corinthians 13) as a guide? We could consider the relationship between leaders and followers as a ‘marriage,’ not in a hierarchical or flat-leadership context, but in a “poly-centric” manner where leadership has a rotational and mutual dynamic based on the needs and context of the situation (think of geese flying in a V-formation and rotating leadership). So how does Paul’s love chapter inform and guide leadership?
Paul uses 16 words to describe what love is. In the spirit of the multitude of leadership matrices out there (with their x and y axes), seeing healthy leadership as an upper-right quadrant blend of challenge and support, truth and grace, results and relationships, making and moving, access and excellence, humility and ambition (creating the word, “humbitous”), and so on - permit me to create my two-word blend that captures many of Paul’s descriptors for love: courteous and courageous.
Courteous. Not a word often associated with leadership, yet it needs to be. Its etymological development is an interesting one. Today, we often associate this word with polite and proper manners and conduct. It also carries the meaning of generous, gracious, and benevolent. This is where it gets intriguing, though. Historically, its roots are associated with a place of “court” - initially royal court and court-yard, but then evolved to mean “a tribunal for judicial investigation,” or a “hall or chamber where justice is administered.” Most people today feel like they live in a perpetual ‘courtroom,’ where they have experienced judgment and fear it will lurch upon them at any moment. As a result, so many people live life with a truckload of fear, guilt, shame, anxiety, and discouragement - longing to be acknowledged, affirmed, and championed. Courteous leadership enters the ‘courtroom’ of people’s lives, fueled and formed by 1 Corinthians 13 love, and expresses kindness, honor, delight, and lack of judgment (“not a keeper of wrongs”). It will not delight in evil or harm done - there is no envy nor pride here! It will rejoice in the truth, not data or fact-based truth, but truth as the embodiment of compassionate, relational wisdom cultivating human flourishing. Courteous leaders transform people’s court-rooms into royal court-yards marked by peace and beauty - a space where they can flourish into their God-given calling; or as Ted Lasso put it, helping people, “be the best versions of themselves on and off the field.”
Courageous. Similar sounding to courteous, but it is front-loaded with a word that at its roots means “heart.” Director of the London School of Economics, Minouche Shafik, once stated that “in the past, jobs were about muscles, now they are about brains, but in the future, they’ll be about the heart.” The future has arrived! Leadership needs to be from the heart. From this seat-of-the-heart, courage embodies zeal, strength, bravery, and confidence - not from a “self-seeking” perspective, but an “other-seeking” one. It is confidence and belief in others, so much so that it will be a “bearer,” “believer,” “hoper,” and “endurer” in “all things” (I would add “all people”) to use Paul’s words. This approach requires patience and perseverance, qualities of leadership that often are lacking, particularly in our hungry-hustle, fast-paced world that uses (and sadly, abuses) people as a means to an end. In the vein of all things “slow movement” (slow cooking, slow art, and slow fashion), it’s about developing “slow leadership” - “love is patient” kind-of-leadership. Courageous leadership does have its eyes on the future, taping into the innovative and creative. Yet, its quest for what’s next does not sacrifice what is now - connecting to and caring for people in the present, or in the words of Mike Mason, “practicing the presence of people.” It’s about the transformation of people, which requires deepening relationships, and depth is not something that can be accelerated!
Back to Ted Lasso (if you have not watched this series on Apple TV, I encourage you to check it out - so many leadership lessons here!) Success, for Ted, is about seeing people become who they are created to be, it’s “not about the wins and losses.” So much of our leadership is about the “wins and losses” - what counts is the bottom line, outcomes, and results - almost (if not always) exclusively from a quantitative perspective (such as the amount of money netted and the number of people/customers added to our organization/church). When the pursuit of results out-paces that of relationships, love is circumvented, and our leadership becomes, in the words of Paul, a “noisy gong” that ultimately will “gain nothing.”
At Chemistry Staffing, we believe in the power of love, in leadership that only counts when expressed through love. When it comes to your staffing and ministry needs, we want to come alongside you to help carry those ministry challenges as we guide you forward in the journey by being ever-present to you in your now. It is the most excellent way, a way that ultimately prevails!
To connect with Allan about finding a long-term healthy fit or to talk about church health, reach out to him via email here.