Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

September 2005
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The Twofold Place of Community in the Life of the Leader

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

Community serves a twofold place in the life of the leader:

  1. The healthy leader is built in community.
  2. The healthy leader leads in community.

First, the healthy leader in built in community (Eph. 4:13-16). No healthy leader will ever be developed in a vacuum. The hottest ember grows cold in isolation.

It is relatively easy to live victoriously when we are all by ourselves. The “spiritual lone ranger” is not tested as deeply as the man who lives in community. It is easy to be patient when no one is irritating us! It is when we come together that we have the opportunity to be patient, kind, forgiving and loving; to walk in servanthood and grace toward one another. As someone said, the Christian life would be easy if it weren’t for the devil and people! In reality, we only really mature and grow as Christians in the context of community.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Prov. 27:17)

Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Col. 3:9-14)

Jesus grew in community, subject to His parents and a part of the community around Him (Luke 2:41-52). Paul was built in community in the school of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3) and then in the church after he was saved (Acts 9:19, 27). According to church tradition, even the apparently individualistic John the Baptist matured in community.

The healthy leader is built in community. We will return to this truth in a later Letter.

Second, the healthy leader leads in the context of community (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:12-27).

…in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Rom. 12:5)

He never grows to the point where he no longer needs vital relationships with others around him. Effective Christian leaders lead in a context of community – not as tough “ministry islands” off by themselves. In the body of Christ, no members are independent (1 Cor. 12).

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. (1 Cor. 12:12)

Jesus had friends and He needed them. Jesus needed their fellowship and support.

…My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me. (Matt. 26:38)

He was grieved when they fell asleep in the garden (Matt. 26:36-45).

Paul also had friends, and they nurtured and strengthened him:

You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints. I urge you, brothers, to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work, and labors at it. I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. For they refreshed my spirit and yours also… (1 Cor. 16:15-18)

Significantly, Stephanas was Paul’s own convert! Paul was not too proud to receive nurture and support from his own spiritual son. Onesiphorus also was a friend to Paul and strengthened him in “many ways,” doubtless including emotionally and spiritually :

May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus. (2 Tim. 1:16-18)

Romans 16:1-16 mentions several of Paul’s “dear” friends and even a spiritual “mother” in verse 13!

Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. (Rom. 16:13)

If Jesus, the Son of God, and Paul, the mighty apostle, needed friends, who are we that we don’t? It is not a sign of strength to be by yourself in leadership. It is a mark of weakness. Leaders need friends!

Thus, community serves a twofold place in the life of the leader:

  1. The healthy leader is built in community.
  2. The healthy leader leads in community.

These two points do not refer merely to an ideological commitment to “community” but to genuine, committed, nurturing and accountable relationships. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “He who loves community destroys community. He who loves the brothers builds community.” The author has known people who loudly declared their great love for “New Testament church life”; it was people they were not too fond of!

In our next Letter, we will consider the four kinds of community that the leader must be connected with.

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