Being a parent is hard.
Being a leader of people is also hard.
In both of these roles, one is repeatedly tasked with correction, discipline, redirection, counseling, encouraging and nurturing – sometimes to those who are stubborn and not listening. This is tiring, and requires a soft heart and the patience of Job.
What are those magic words to say to your child when they’ve acted in a manner outside of what you’ve taught them as a parent? What can a leader impart to an employee or teammate who is under-achieving or acting inappropriately? How can you best influence the great things you envision for them?
Bookstores are littered with ideas on Parenting and Leadership – with many varied opinions and styles. It is not my intention to endorse any of those (some of which are awful, and some anointed), nor to introduce a new method. However, in reading the letters of the Apostle Paul, I have been struck by a consistent approach he used in discipleship, and it is this wine I wish to serve you today.
A little background…Paul wrote 13 letters – 9 to churches and 4 to individuals – and these letters make up 2/3 of your New Testament. In most of these letters, Paul is writing in response to trouble. A church is experiencing difficulty living out the Life of Jesus Christ and His Body; or a leader is needing encouragement in serving as apostle to such a church.
In our temporal flesh, whether as a parent or leader, it is very easy to respond with a sharp tongue or a heavy hand to disobedience or other moral irregularities from those we have a duty to disciple and nurture.
I have done this as a Father to my girls. If I can be very transparent with you for a moment, one of the greatest opportunities for me to mature as a man, a Father and a Priest in my home and in the Kingdom of God, is to be more patient with my daughters. Particularly my youngest. Oh, how I love that God made her with a spirit that is confident, independent and head-strong! Oh, how I pray He nurtures that spirit for His purposes. Oh, how sometimes it is just too much to handle patiently! (Can I get an Amen parents?)
There have been times that I’ve simply lost that patience (like after the eleventy-billionth time I’ve told her/asked her kindly/reminded her/etc. to do or not do something). For me that looks like anger. I raise my voice. And immediately feel bad about it. The worst part is – it is ineffective. My daughter did not learn from her disobedience, and all she learned from that response from me was that it was ok to yell and scream when frustration pushes patience out the door. Not cool.
I know each child is different. In fact, part of what has brought me to this place is growing through the chasm of difference in how my two daughters are made – and consequently how we must communicate, encourage, and yes, discipline them. I further know that each family has it’s own dynamic, and beliefs around how a child should be treated. Again, please don’t read any of this to be an endorsement or knock on parenting styles. I am just giving you a glimpse of my reality, in order to make a point.
And that point is this…instead of feeling like I own the burden of response to disobedience (and failing in that response sometimes), I have been convicted to remind and encourage those that I lead who they are – and to live out of that reality. This shifts the ownership to them, the only place it should be. Paul helped me to “See” this.
In Scripture, you don’t read Paul dealing with his “children” with a raised voice or heavy hand. At least not in his initial response to them. To be sure, Paul is not shy about ultimately addressing sin, problems, disagreements, division, etc. And he uses strong language to rebuke these and to correct the Church. But a close look at his opening words are very revealing.
To the Church in Corinth, who were infamous for their misgivings, immaturity and immorality:
“To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:2-9)
Paul is addressing a body that was struggling with, among other things: division, prostitution, sexual sin, pride and idolatry. He would have been reasonably justified to come down hard on them from the get go. But he didn’t. Instead, Paul gracefully reminds them:
- They are the Church of God
- They are sanctified
- They are called holy
- Jesus is their Lord
- He is thankful for them
- They are IN Christ Jesus
- In Him, they have been enriched in every way
- Christ is among them
- They do not lack any spiritual gift in Christ
- They are blameless in Him
- God is faithful, and they are in fellowship with the Lord
To the Church in Colosse:
“This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our brother Timothy.
We are writing to God’s holy people in the city of Colosse, who are faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.
May God our Father give you grace and peace.
We always pray for you, and we give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, which come from your confident hope of what God has reserved for you in heaven. You have had this expectation ever since you first heard the truth of the Good News.” (Colossians 1:1-5)
This church will receive correction and instruction on the matters of: heresy, false teaching, ceremonialism, asceticism, angel worship, the depreciation of Christ, and pride.
But Paul begins by reminding them:
- You are holy
- You are chosen
- You are faithful
- You are in Christ
- You have Grace and Peace
- You are prayed for
- He was thankful for them
- They were a blessing
To the Church in Thessalonica:
“This letter is from Paul, Silas, and Timothy.
We are writing to the church in Thessalonica, to you who belong to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
May God give you grace and peace.
We always thank God for all of you and pray for you constantly. As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We know, dear brothers and sisters, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people. For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true. And you know of our concern for you from the way we lived when we were with you. So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. In this way, you imitated both us and the Lord. As a result, you have become an example to all the believers in Greece—throughout both Macedonia and Achaia.
And now the word of the Lord is ringing out from you to people everywhere, even beyond Macedonia and Achaia, for wherever we go we find people telling us about your faith in God. We don’t need to tell them about it, for they keep talking about the wonderful welcome you gave us and how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God. And they speak of how you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. He is the one who has rescued us from the terrors of the coming judgment.”
Again, this church is later corrected on: leadership, purposeful work for the Lord, and eschatology.
But Paul begins with:
- You belong to God and Jesus
- We are thankful for you and pray for you
- You are faithful and loving and hopefully enduring
- God loves you
- You are chosen
- You are an example
- You are welcoming and hospitable
As is Paul’s legacy, following these opening reminders of edification, Paul exhausts himself and human language to paint pictures of the glorious riches of the Lord, Christ Jesus. He exalts Christ above all. He proclaims Christ as all, and in all. He positions Christ as all-sufficient, and inexhaustible. Jesus Christ is magnified to such an order that ALL other issues fall away by comparison.
Then, and only then, did he correct, rebuke, instruct, redirect, etc.
It is evident that Paul’s preferred pattern for correction, instruction and discipleship was this:
First – “You are a chosen child of God. You are holy and blameless. You are loved and adored. You are prayed for and I am thankful for you. Jesus Christ lives in you, and you live in Him. You are not of your old nature, but of His new species.”
Second – “Children of God, who live by an indwelling Lord, do not live in this manner.” (Here is where the correction and instruction was detailed). “They are to live out of their new creation.”
Third – “Since you have died to your old nature, and are alive in Christ’s new Life…”
Last – “Live like it.”
I have gotten this backwards so many times in teaching my girls, or leading others. So often I jump immediately to “Live Right!” that I punt on the opportunity to disciple them as to why they are to live a certain way, out of WHO they are!
Identity matters. It matters a whole lot. Paul’s genius was in knowing that the Church would only conform to the image of it’s Lord out of a response to His love, and their identity in that Love. Our application today, as parents or leaders, is to realize that kids and adults will respond to positive correction and make transformative change when they know that God loves them, and that the one giving correction loves them, and sees a vision for their life that perhaps they do not yet.
Paul started his correction with this affirmation and reminder. As Parents and leaders, we would be wise to follow his example.