The Person of the Leader

“Abide in me”

Jesus, John 15

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard

which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at

and our hands have touched

                                                                                                                  –this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.

                1John 1:1-1


The Person of the Leader:  On Spiritual Formation by Jim Van Yperen

 There is a wide gulf between knowing Jesus’ theory of leadership, and leading like Jesus. Perhaps this is one reason why Jesus states, “Follow me,” not, “Study my theories.”


Recent articles in this column have explored the attributes of a godly leader, such as love, humility, courage, integrity and justice. We’ve been reminded that Jesus calls us to a radically different kind of leadership, one that is other-centered and based on service. But how does one move beyond theory to practice? Specifically, how are the attributes of Jesus formed in us?


On the night Jesus was betrayed, after washing feet and completing the meal, Jesus says something deeply profound and seemingly impossible to our ears. Jesus states that we are chosen for joy, fruitfulness, love and friendship. The metaphor Jesus uses is a grape vine, that ancient symbol of Israel, God’s chosen people, the vine that ancient leaders allowed to degenerate and run wild. In fact, it had been 500 years since Israel had heard any new word from God.


Now, Jesus says the True Vine has appeared. “I am the vine and you are the branches,” Jesus says. “As branch is to the vine, you must be to me.” The secret to our formation is abiding—remaining–in Jesus, as Jesus is in the Father.  In fact, Jesus says, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” Jesus tells us that bearing fruit is a result of our connection to Christ, Who is connected to the Father, not as slave to master, but in love for others and friendship with Christ.


The person of your leadership is formed in the presence of Jesus Christ.


This is the core of what the Apostle John writes in his first letter to believers in Asia Minor in the late first century. For John, formation is rooted in “beginning”—both the creation of the world and the incarnation of Christ. Jesus is Creator and Lord. So, John states, “What we have heard Jesus say, what we have seen Jesus do, what we have looked upon and our hands have touched about Jesus . . . this we proclaim.” You become like Jesus by living, learning and practicing the disposition of Jesus Christ in the company of others.


Spiritual formation is a relational, discovery process, involving all of our senses; a series of responses rather than a decision-event—much more like “walking with” than “studying under.”  In fact, our formation is not tested, affirmed and proved in a class- or conference-room but in the crucible of community. Abiding in Christ is a communal practice.


So John continues, “The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.  We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.” Note again, that formation is forged in fellowship with Father and Son, and the result is joy.


So what are the practices of abiding in Christ?


John suggests that we listen, watch and touch, then tell others about. Briefly, here are five dispositions of Jesus’ presence we can note in the Gospels.


  1. The presence of Jesus is non-anxious. Jesus was persevering in patience. He did not fret, or worry. He did not doubt. His patience came from abiding faith and trust in the Father.


  1. The presence of Jesus is non-coercive. Jesus is peace. Jesus does not use violence, manipulation or coercion to achieve his ends. Rather he entrusts his life to the will of his Father.


  1. The presence of Jesus is humbly submissive. Though Jesus was God’s Son, he claimed no divine right, but emptied himself, submitting to death, even death on a cross.


  1. The presence of Jesus is truth-filled. Jesus is truth and speaks truthfully. He does not manipulate or lie.


  1. The presence of Jesus is loving.  Jesus loves unconditionally such that those whose behavior and knowledge is furthest from the Kingdom are people who are most attracted to Jesus. People know Jesus speaks and acts with their best interest in mind.


What if you invited a few others to join you for a journey to Jesus, to not only read the Gospels together, but to enact them by:

  • Listening to what Jesus said
  • Observing watching what Jesus did,
  • Enacting the dispositions of Jesus into your life together, and
  • Speaking about what you are learning with others.


You just might find that you are abiding in Christ and being formed.


–Jim Van Yperen