Faculty Column: importance of gospel-centered leadership

Chris Johnson discusses the key to discipleship.

Chris Johnson and Chris Johnson

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I still remember the conversation that I had with God nine months ago. It was 5 a.m. as I stood outside a village in the middle of Ghana. As I stood there, I was overwhelmed by the weight of the task that God had placed before me. I was already exhausted from leading a team through the bush of Ghana, and in a few weeks I would need to lead 25 staff as we mobilized Biolans to participate in Christ’s mission. It seemed like God had set me up to fail. As I stood there, covered in red dirt, dead tired and filled with frustration, God opened my eyes to his grace. In an instant my exasperation became awe as the Spirit recounted the truth of the gospel in a way I had never experienced it before.

Ministry of leadership centered around people

After my time in Ghana and in the Student Missionary Union, I have learned that leadership must be gospel-centered. When I was in Ghana, I was asking God to split the sky and give me the “10-step process to clean up my mess” talk. Instead, he reminded me of the gospel and that true leadership flows from a correct understanding of what Jesus has already accomplished. Instead of focusing on my individual story, I need to recognize God’s global vision and how he is working all things together for the good of his people for his glory.

As a leader, my vision is directed toward people and not programs. It’s my role to provide opportunities for my staff to grow as disciples of Jesus regardless of their position, major or strengths. When Jesus was living with and leading his disciples, he was more concerned about who they were becoming than what they were doing. Yes, completing tasks that advance the kingdom of God is important, but that is not the primary goal.

If my team is well cared for, given a clear vision and equipped with the tools to accomplish that vision, they will create programs that will impact the nations. When the task becomes the main focus, leaders have a tendency to micromanage their team and belittle their staff. I am convinced that if people are primary the programs will be accomplished and done with excellence. This vision has set the paradigm for how to approach equipping the people God has entrusted me to lead.

Three keys to gospel-centered leadership

In SMU there are three things that we have focused on the entire year. I believe these things are present in the lives of gospel-centered leaders and they have sustained me in the most stretching year of my Biola journey.

First, intimacy with God is essential for us to do our work as disciples of Christ. Leaders are developed on their knees in the presence of God before they are elevated to lead from the podium in the presence of their peers. Second, we must be people of intercession. When we pray for others we recognize our dependence on the Spirit for the transformation of others, and we relinquish all control to him. Finally, we seek to disciple others as we are discipled by our leaders. Jesus’ plan for changing the world entailed investing the majority of his time in a rag-tag group of disciples and leaving his mission in their hands. My life was changed because a few good men shared their life with me, a fatherless kid looking for guidance, and empowered me to share my life with others. Now I have been given the opportunity to disciple my team as well as some other guys outside of my staff.

Much time has passed since my conversation with God in Ghana, and he has accomplished more than I could imagine. I have had the honor of watching the Spirit transform the lives of not only my staff but also the people they lead and disciple. To this day, I am convinced that the gospel is not only something that we proclaim but it also shapes the way we lead.

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Faculty Column: importance of gospel-centered leadership