One of the most impactful sermon series we do every year in the youth ministry is our series focused on identity. I learned very quickly that young people desire to “know” who they are and respond great to messages on identity. The response we so overwhelming year after year that we try to incorporate in every message or at least a part of the service to include a message on identity. As I began to minister to adults, I noticed that they too struggled with identity issues maybe even more so than younger people as their network of influences have grown and now have more voices telling them who they are/are not.
Identity can be defined as, “the condition of being oneself or itself, and not another: condition or character as to who a person or what a thing is; the qualities, beliefs, etc., that distinguish or identify a person or thing. While definitions of identity vary depending on the source, in general, it is dealing with the way someone/thing views themselves in relationships (as in relation to things outside ourselves). See table for use of word “identity” over time In our rapidly changing society where connections are copious, relationships can be attenuated, thus causing a fluidity of identity. The Network Society provides an almost unlimited amount of transactional relationship, while at the same time not providing a clear identifying relationship in which one can identify themselves. Charles Taylor in his book, A Secular Age, in addressing the identity issue speaks to the matter and the rise of individualism. Taylor says that we now live in a “culture of authenticity” which he defines as, “the understanding of life which emerges with the Romantic expressivism of the late-eighteenth century, that each one of us has his/her own way of realizing our humanity, and that it is important to find and live out one’s own, as against surrendering to conformity with a model imposed on us from outside, by society, or the previous generation, or religious or political authority.”  Simply put we live in a society where people think they can know themselves by themselves and therefore create an identity without outside relationships. The outside relationships, thus, become durables for us rather than helping to delineate identity in us.
In reading Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice it acknowledges that scholarship on the subject of leadership and therefore leadership itself, has also become entangled in the web of outcome /economic driven results and therefore followers/employees are nothing more than commodities. It also acknowledges the growing field of research of Identity-based leadership or meaning-making leadership. In this growing field the book provides this definition of leadership:
“Leadership is about understanding the way people and organizations behave, about creating and strengthening relationships, about building commitment, about establishing a group identity, and about adapting behavior to increase effectiveness. It is also about creating meaning. True leaders are merchants of hope, speaking to the collective imagination of their followers, co-opting them to join them in a great adventure.”
If we had a picture of Jesus, I would imagine that it would be beside this definition of leadership. When we read the Scriptures, we see a Jesus, through the fullness of the Spirit, knew his identity, even as a young boy (but also grew into a more mature understanding). He knew his purpose and who sent him. The Gospel of John records seven “I am” statements that Jesus makes during his ministry: “I am the bread of life, I am the light of the world, I am the gate, I am the good shepherd, I am the resurrection and the life, I am the way, the truth, and the life and I am the vine” (John 6:35; 8:12, 10:9, 11; 11:25, 14:6; 15:5). In John 8:58, Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I Am.” In understanding himself, Jesus understood who he was in his community (local) and the community of God (global, think all of history). The point being, Jesus knew who he was because of outside relationships and therefore also lead others to find who they are, in connection to the Triune God and others (identity-based leadership).
As I seek to understand, how the church can cultivate leaders, in the millennial and post-millennial generation within our post-modern culture, it would seem that shifting our understanding of leadership is necessary. The shift from a positional and producing based relationship to an identity forming (mean-making) space of development might provide the church with the opportunity to engage culture rather than become endangered in it.
” “Identity.” Dictionary.com. Accessed November 15, 2018. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/identity.
 Anthony Elliott, Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction, (Routledge: New York, NY, 2014), 309.
 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), 475.
 Nohria, Nitin, and Rakesh Khurana, Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press), 2014, 10, 77.
 Ibid., 23-25.
 Nohria, Nitin, and Rakesh Khurana, Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, 192.
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