Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World


Written by: on April 8, 2021


It’s a remarkable force.

In the word of The Lord of the Rings character, Gollum, power tends to be that “Precious” entity that is worth contorting body and soul to attain.

It seems that once we get it, our bodies and souls have already been reshaped in order to protect the power at any and every cost. As is evidenced in the depictions of J.R. Tolkein’s character, the accumulation and protection of power can quickly become our life’s purpose…and we are willing to enact various forms of violence in order to succeed. We recognize that our increase of power comes at the cost of another. We become conditioned to use power to grow our power.

Perhaps this is what makes Jesus such an unusual and compelling leader. From the very beginning of his leadership journey, he rejected the wilderness temptations of relevance, popularity, and influence. Jesus had access to power, but not the kind of power that the religious, the zealots, and the Empire pursued and preserved. This was a power that increased and was deployed at the expense of no one. His was a power that set people free, reinforced their identities, and reinstated them into the community.

As he leveraged power for the sake of others, his popularity grew. His relevance increased. His influence spread like a contagion. So too did the community’s longing for Jesus to acknowledge his relevance, embrace his popularity, and leverage his influence for the sake of their liberation from Roman occupation.

Time and again, they catered to his ego in an effort to get what they desired. Time and again, he chose anonymity rather than applause.


One of my most important leadership lessons happened by accident. I was a young pastor with aspirations of success in my field. I had been groomed to believe that success looked like the accumulation of power as was evidenced by relevance, popularity, and influence. My two primary teammates and I had taken a break from a retreat in which we were dreaming up what we were sure would become the church that would be the answer to all of our context’s biggest questions and problems.

We had just completed a session in which we had explored the “We will know we are successful when…” conversation. Optimistic numbers and budget projections attached to innovative programming ideas filled white paper on every wall in our retreat space. Intoxicated by the power that our church plant would bring us, we filed into a movie theater for a mental break.

To this day, I cannot recall the film we watched. A certain preview had sobered me up. It haunted me for the duration of the feature-length film.

The preview was for a film on the life of William Shakespeare. It was unmemorable. Nothing grabbed my attention until the very end of the preview when the title of the film slammed onto a black screen and then dissipated into the darkness.

It was a one-word title: Anonymous.


Of course, Jesus didn’t remain anonymous. He was a rising star turned public enemy who, rather than leveraging power for his own sake, laid it down for the sake of the rest of us. He died as a political prisoner between two un-named criminals and was buried in the unmarked grave of a lesser-known migrant.

His ethic of self-sacrifice (Walker, 275-284) at times looked like leveraging power and at other times looked like laying it down. In both cases, others were the focus of his sacrificial ethic. Self-sacrifice caused new life to emerge in those within Jesus’ reach.


The letters had dissipated from the screen, but they were etched into my soul.


That evening, one thing led to another and I eventually found myself in the third chapter of the Gospel of John. It was then and there that I found my leadership calling. In the thirtieth verse, John the Baptist says, “He must increase and I must decrease.”

From there, I traversed over to the writings of Paul in Philippians and discovered the ancient hymn that set the method of Jesus’ leadership. In the second chapter of Philippians, Paul offers a picture of downward mobility…all the way to self-sacrifice…for the sake of others.

It has been my intention to pursue a downwardly mobile leadership journey. One in which my name is unimportant and in which the fame of Jesus increases through restorative self-sacrifice. I have and will continue to live this journey imperfectly, but I am convinced that it is the only way that causes new life to spring up in those within my reach.


Simon Walker, The Undefended Leader.

About the Author

Jer Swigart

12 responses to “Anonymous.”

  1. John McLarty says:

    Thanks for this, Jer. On the surface, leadership and anonymity seem incompatible, but if the ultimate goal of the undefended leader is to help others become their best selves, then it’s certainly possible for a leader to work quite effectively behind-the-scenes, out of the spotlight, even anonymously and invisible and still see stellar results. At the same time, there are good and honorable reasons for a leader to leverage influence and image as well. And sometimes despite even our best intentions to move downward, the necessity for a more upfront strategy emerges. What suggestions do you have for those who might prefer a more anonymous style who keep getting pulled back to the main stage?

    • Jer Swigart says:

      I would encourage them to model a self-sacrificial kind of leadership while on the main stage. Tell stories. Point to other people. Invite folks to consider an “in-step” (to quote Darcy) kind of leadership with illustrations of how this is effective. Leverage the main stage to invite folks into a more sacrificial and generous way of life, love, and leadership.

  2. Darcy Hansen says:

    I continue to be drawn to Jesus’ time in the wild desert. What did he see? Who did he encounter? What demons of ego did he have to embrace to successfully navigate the temptation of power associated with “relevance, popularity and influence.” In The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, Lane notes how the desert is a place of subtraction more than addition. It’s a place where all things of our internal and external world come under review. But as subtraction happens, freedom comes. Lane says, “No threat is as dangerous as the power of a people radically set free from the value structures of the world” (173). As I ponder your word “Anonymous,” I think of the countless desert mothers and fathers who shaped the church over the years, those sought out for wisdom that flowed from a place of freedom. What might our churches and the world look like if pastoral leadership training involved extended time in the actual, harshly indifferent, wilderness? How might leaders be formed over time through a one on one relationship with a spiritual director while in that wilderness? We say we want to live like Jesus, to love like Jesus, but we fail to ask how did Jesus become who he was? To lead, we must first die, and really, very few people want to do that. How many people are willing to die to themselves in the wilderness? How many people are willing to die and be placed in an unmarked grave, dead and anonymous to the world? But yet, it is often the people who do that, the ones who’ve lead quietly, steadily, and freely, who move the Gospel of hope and freedom into the future.

    • Jer Swigart says:

      I recently learned of a funeral for the kind of leader that you and I describe. He hadn’t written books. Hadn’t spoken in front of thousands. Few knew his name. But those that did had experienced unthinkable transformation as a result of his self-sacrificial, “in-step” leadership. One of the observations from a friend who was at the funeral is the stunning amount of people who were in the room. The massive auditorium was at full capacity because this leader’s influence had quietly impacted so many. I wonder what the correlation is between quiet, sacrificial leadership and lasting impact.

      • Darcy Hansen says:

        Do you think if we study the quiet, sacrificial leaders too in-depth so as to understand their impact, we begin to strip them of their embodied presence and make them more of an object to be measured? Like if you just live like so-and-so, then you, too, can have an impact on countless people? There’s a weird tension there for me that I can’t quite articulate. It is almost like shining a light on them diminishes the Light within them some-how, makes it a commodity to be had rather than lived?

  3. Greg Reich says:

    This may be my favorite blog of yours. In a world the continually teaches that popularity and being center stage are needed for influence the concept of being anonymous is powerful. Thanks for the reminder that we are not called to out shine Jesus. The challenge comes when we are thrust into the spotlight. Another challenge is having the discernment and humility to know when and how to leverage the influence we have. Any advice on how these challenges can be maneuvered well?

    • Jer Swigart says:

      Thanks Greg. I think that it’s important when invited into the spotlight to use the opportunity to point to others. Perhaps this is a way to increase God’s fame rather than subtly increase our own.

  4. Shawn Cramer says:

    Time itself will lead to anonymity for the large, large majority of us. What I know of my father could fill a book, my grandfather a chapter, my great-grandfather a paragraph, my great-great grandfather a sentence. I share this not for a sense of nihilism but as to harmonize with what you share – prematurely finding our anonymity in the One whose kingdom will never fail.

  5. Dylan Branson says:

    One of the things about Gollum is that he’s a case study in how the corruption of power eventually defeats itself. In the end, it isn’t Frodo or the forces of good that destroys the Ring, but rather Gollum in his lust to regain and hold on to the power he lost. I think that’s an apt metaphor for the fallen leaders who have tried to hold on tight to their position of authority amidst their own fall.

    As I was reading your post, I was reflecting on my old pastor. I’ve written about him several times, but he was someone who modeled self-sacrifice in a way I’ve rarely seen. He was someone who used his position of authority as means of giving, not of taking. He never gave in to the “Precious”, but carried it at arm’s length.

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