Meeting People Where They Are

November 18, 2013 — Leave a comment

Recently, I had a seminary assignment to write out a personal philosophy of leadership.  The process of clarifying and writing my thoughts was very helpful for me, and I thought I would share it as a series here on the blog.

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Meeting People Where They Are

The apostle Paul writing to the Ephesian church speaks to this holistic aspect of discipleship. He writes:

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)

The goal of each and every believer is to serve and lead in such a way that the body of Christ builds itself up in love. If that’s the goal, then the proper working of each part is needed and thus each individual must grow up into him who is the head. Simply put, the more each of us looks like Jesus then the more the body of Christ will grow.

Understanding with clarity where Jesus desires the follower to go provides a clear vision for the forward-looking direction of the leader.  The other half of the task of leadership is to understand where an individual or an organization is.  Casting a compelling vision for a Christ-exalting life is part of leadership, but understanding how best to communicate God’s word into individual and corporate circumstances with persistence, persuasion and precision is what distinguishes a visionary from a biblical leader.

An Example from the Life of Jesus

No better example can be found than in the life of Jesus.  In John 4, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman who is drawing water.  In this instance, Jesus recognizes the woman’s marital situation (“you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband”).  He sees where she is, her sin, and knows exactly what to say in order to move her to where she needs to be.  He utilizes her circumstances of desiring water to help her understand the motivations of her heart, and pointing to her ultimate need for a savior.  Ending the conversation with the revelation that he is the messiah, Jesus clearly meets the woman where she is and points her towards where He wants her to go.

Seeking Understanding of the Person

In our current church culture, there is a tendency towards proclamation and systems building as the primary means of leadership.  Both of those tools are incredibly helpful and necessary for organizational leadership, but often those systems can only accomplish a portion of the task of discipleship and leadership.  There are two primary deficiencies with this kind of leadership.  First, in order for preaching to remain sufficiently broad to attract an audience, the content is generalized to a wide audience, which requires the individual to have the motivation to respond to the message and work out implications on their own.  Second, with respect to systems, they are often constructed inside of the current culture as a response to a problem, and therefore most often are syncretistic with culture rather than challenging the existing idolatries.

Most churches rely on small groups to combat the idolatry of individualism and challenge their communities to radical generosity to counteract materialism.  At the heart of most church systems, however, consumerism is left systemically unchallenged, providing a service where the individual church attender is merely coming to an event to receive some benefit from it.  Systemic leadership must be willing to meet people where they are, but move them towards biblical fidelity and challenge the predominant idolatry of a culture.

In the same way, leading people on a personal level must involve hearing their individual story, understanding their worldview, and engaging persuasively through building bridges to a gospel-centered, word-centered way of life.  In our current American culture, biblical leadership requires an understanding of individualism (our propensity to view ourselves as autonomous units), materialism (our proclivity to find meaning and value in the accumulation of things) and consumerism (our hearts desire is driven by what we can receive from something or someone).  These idolatries are the common world-view of most American individuals, and therefore are also pervasive inside of organizations composed of these kinds of people.

Todd Engstrom

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Although I was raised in the church and had a knowledge of God, I didn’t embrace Jesus until I heard gospel preached and lived out by some Young Life leaders. God has proven faithful and good to me since that day, even in great suffering and loss. I have learned to treasure Romans 8:28 as a wellspring of hope and truth. God has blessed me with an amazing wife (Olivia), three sons (Micah, Hudson and Owen) and a daughter (Emmaline). Growing up in the northwest, the thought never crossed my mind that I would have four children who are native Texans. Despite landing in the south, I still watch Notre Dame games with my children every Saturday in hopes they will land at my alma mater.

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