The Gospel gives us a new heart filled with love and affection. It is not one more weapon in our leadership utility belt.
The phrase gospel-centered gets much use these days. Books, blogs and articles on what it means to be gospel-centered seem to pop up every day. My aim here is to wrestle a bit with what gospel-centeredness looks like when it comes to leading an organization such as a church, a bank, a school, etc.
What does the gospel-centered leader (GCL) look like? How do they function day to day? How does the gospel bear weight on how leaders make decisions, hire and fire, and cast vision? Here are a few qualities of a gospel-centered leader.
1. They love the gospel.
GCLs love the gospel. They love to talk about it, sing about it, and tell it to others. The death and resurrection of Jesus, and their union with him moves their heart like nothing else. They never tire of hearing the gospel or preaching it to themselves. The Word of Christ (Colossians 3:16) dwells deeply and richly in them. They define themselves as people loved by God in and through the person and work of their Lord Jesus Christ. Their identity, value, worth and significance—their life is found in him. Everything must begin here. If you miss this, you will end up using the gospel to make a name for yourself rather than using the gospel to spread the fame of Jesus.
2. They invite critique.
GCLs know that it took God in the flesh dying and rising again to save them. Therefore they know they are not beyond critique and error. They find ways to receive feedback and critique from their friends, spouse, staff or co-workers. If their identity rests only Christ and if they are convinced that God is for them, as the gospel clearly reminds them (Romans 8:32), then no amount of negative or positive feedback can shake their foundation. GCLs work into their life and schedule other eyes and ears to help them lead as effectively as possible.
3. They are bold and humble.
The gospel has shattered the pride of GCLs, and yet empowered them to boldly trust in the grace and goodness of God when it comes to how they lead. They can make hard decisions without fearing the opinions of others but also admit their mistakes and seek restitution. They don’t slump their shoulders or puff out their chests. They are humble and strong, bold and gentle, confident and self-deprecating. Only by trusting the gospel can one become this kind of leader.
4. They bear more affliction than they give out.
The great mystery of the gospel is that the one who owed us nothing gave us everything. The one who knew no sin was made to be sin to make us righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21). The one who was rich became poor to make us rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). The blessed one became the curse to lift the curse from us (Galatians 3:18). Therefore the GCL will look and listen for ways to absorb affliction when he has every right to dish it out. Every leader has to bring affliction. They have to discipline, fire, layoff, cutback, reprimand, etc. But the gospel shines brightly when leaders winsomely bear the bulk of the pain and blame, especially when they don’t have to. I am not suggesting that performance standards in the workplace or the church be lowered because of the gospel. I am suggesting however that the gospel calls us to, at times, shower underserved grace (and all grace is undeserved) on those we lead.
5. They have no “game face.”
The gospel doesn’t give us a game face to lead. The gospel gives us a new heart filled with love and affection. It is not one more weapon in our leadership utility belt. The gospel enables us to weep when it is time to weep and rejoice when it is time to rejoice. GCLs don’t have to worry if they are performing correctly in a particular situation since their heart is buried in the gospel. They are free to take the blame in situations and give praise in others. Their ultimate worth and value does not hinge on results or failure because, to be honest, they are not that concerned with themselves. They are free to be honest about a particular decision or result, admit failures and mistakes, and boldly trust in the God who took on flesh and died for them to carry them forward. GCLs can afford to look bad in front of the team. They don’t have to take themselves too seriously. They can take a risk as quickly as they can admit a mistake.
6. They are the wisest fool in the room.
The gospel reveals to us that we are not wise. We must become fools in order to embrace wisdom. We become fools by embracing the foolishness of the gospel. When leaders realize that it took Christ dying and rising again to save them, they never walk into a meeting with a swagger. They walk in confidently to be sure, but their only confidence is in the gospel. They know that walking in their own wisdom only leads to pain and frustration. Proverbs is clear that being wise in one’s own sight is worse than a fool. Therefore a GCL is always learning and growing both in the gospel and in leadership.
7. They take blame and give credit.
The gospel is about an exchange, Christ takes our sin and we get his righteousness. He gets the blame for what we’ve done and we get the credit for what he has accomplished. Leaders are at their best when they are taking the blame and giving the credit to others. When things go wrong they are the first to take responsibility. When things go well they are the first to give the credit to those who work, prayed, planned, and performed.
8. They exult in the gospel.
How does one become a more gospel-centered leader? Many ideas come to mind, but let me leave you with one: Exult in the gospel. Only the gospel can make you more gospel-centered. Books on the gospel, songs about the gospel, and the culture built around gospel-centeredness are gifts from God. But they are only echoes and scents (to borrow from C.S. Lewis) of the gospel, not the gospel itself. It is possible to love the idea of gospel-centered leadership but not love the gospel. So dwell in the gospel. Exult in it. Learn about it. Meditate over it. Be open to radical changes God wants to make in you. Let it shape how you serve and lead those entrusted to you.
Greg Breazeale is north campus pastor at The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas. This article was originally published at TheGospelCoalition.org.