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

On Leading Despite the Threat of Death

Written by: on April 12, 2021

In Luke 3:1-3, we learn of a time when the word of God came to a nobody…a locust-eating, camel-hair-wearing hermit in the middle of nowhere.

The word was “Repent.” But repent from what?

…from idolatrous religion that centered performance and piety over love?

…from ethnocentrism that elevated some at the expense of others?

And why repent?

Was it because they had generated systems of oppression that diminished the image of God in humanity, prematurely extinguished far too many, and tarnished God’s fame in creation?

When John received the word he offered it to others. There was power in this invitation to repent. People were hungry to redirect the course of their lives. They were inspired when John spoke truth to power and change to society. They were fascinated with his refrain from building platform and choice to prepare the way for a better way.

His message was contagious, convicting, invitational and transformational. It grew hope within the marginalized and threatened the power-brokers.

He knew that this message would cost him his life, yet he proclaimed it with every ounce of energy he had.

What is it that causes a leader to live and narrate a disruptive message of hope when to do so guarantees death?

In Luke 3:21-22, we learn of the baptism of Jesus by John. As Luke tells the story, in the moment of baptism, the heavens were severed guaranteeing a new reality of access to the Divine by humanity. And a voice from the heavens declared Jesus as beloved.

Jesus was deemed beloved before he ever did anything. This means that he didn’t have to spend his life working his way to beloved…he was already there. Rather than wasting his life trying to seduce the attention and affection of the Creator, Jesus lived his life in response to that love. So confident was he of God’s love for him that he couldn’t help himself from living costly, creative love in response to it.

It seems as though Jesus lived and loved like he believed that he was beloved and that everyone else was too.

In Mark 1, we learn of the Spirit and her leading of Jesus into the wilderness. Desolation was the place of his transformation. It was the location where Jesus began to learn what it meant to live as the beloved. It’s where he discovered that the beloved live fueled by the Spirit with ever a growing fluency in her voice.

In Luke 4, we learn that the Spirit compelled Jesus toward home and to his community of origin. Upon arriving in Nazareth, he entered the synagogue, was handed the Isaiah scroll, and was invited to teach. Unraveling the ancient hides, Jesus read and then declared himself the embodiment of messianic prophecy.

His community of origin was elated! They were ready to worship him.

As their murmurs increased in fervor Jesus re-rolled the scrolls, sat down, and continued to teach. When he did so, he told two stories of God’s restorative reach extending beyond their bloodline.

His community of origin was outraged! They were ready to kill him.

Returning to Mark 1, we learn that Jesus then formed a beloved community comprised of brothers, friends, and enemies. He lived them into an understanding of their belovedness. The more they discovered their belovedness, the more they participated in the restorative revolution of Jesus. Every time that popularity surged, the Spirit provoked them on…usually to the places that were thought to be beyond the reach of God’s restorative wingspan.

When the beloved hear the promptings of the Spirit, we grow with wisdom and diminish in our regard for image management. We recognize that “our needs are met through an unconditional attachment to an Other, in which we find our identity, belonging and affection.” (Walker, 300)

So perhaps it is the certainty of our belovedness that would cause a leader to live and narrate a disruptive message of hope when to do so would be costly.

About the Author

Jer Swigart

12 responses to “On Leading Despite the Threat of Death”

  1. Dylan Branson says:

    A lot of what you’re saying is tied to our identity. That identity of being “beloved” and of seeing the world through the eyes of Christ. I think what gives us that drive to live that narrative of hope is leaning into that identity that Christ gives us when we become His. How has that identity Christ has given you shaped and influenced your own desire to live that message of hope?

    • Jer Swigart says:

      My view of spiritual formation is that we are participating with the Spirit in the process of becoming better, more Jesus-looking/sounding/loving/leading versions of ourselves. John 3:30 and Philippians 2 set the biblical framework for my journey. It’s been my experience that as I grow in the confidence of my belovedness, I become more liberated to live/love/lead sacrificially. My prayer is that I calculate less, and live more habitually in this way.

  2. Darcy Hansen says:

    I absolutely love this, but wonder how difficult is it to overcome generations of skewed theology that tells us we are nothing but sinners? How do we overcome the language that says, our churches are filled with sinners saved by grace through faith alone, and repeatedly heaves the weight of shame upon each person, if even the subtlest of ways? It has taken me years to begin shedding such theology, for it wormed it’s way deep into my being. It is so very difficult to live into the reality that I am, we are, God’s beloveds. What would it look like for Spirit to transform a generation of followers from believing they are primarily redeemed sinners, to followers who are beloved, made in the image of God? What is necessary for such the shift to happen?

    • Jer Swigart says:

      This has been one of my biggest critiques of Western Christianity’s approach to the gospel. It’s as though we have to brow-beat people into acknowledging that they are so wretched as a means to them pivoting toward a God who died for them. This message doesn’t make sense to me anymore…in my view, it’s not good news. The religion that perpetuates it is not worth my life.

      I often invite folks to consider what they are saying “Yes!” to. It seems much more invitational to consider a “Yes!” to a God who has lived an unending “Yes!” toward us. Life in the Way of this God communicates to others God’s “Yes!” to them. Of course, I’m not reflecting on ethics at the moment. A life shaped around my “Yes!” to a God who has lived “Yes!” toward me doesn’t mean I continue to live in pursuit of my own pleasure. Instead, the ethic that pours out of this is a costly & creative response to God’s “Yes!” to us.

      Are you following me?

      • Darcy Hansen says:

        I had to read this a few times, but yes, I think I’m following. As we live more into our belovedness, our Yeses change and cause us to be more focused on others. We aren’t looking for the #blessings to prove we are chosen. We don’t have to work our way into God’s approval by serving others. Instead we serve because we are loved. We sacrifice because we are called to live for others. We keep saying yes, because of God’s yes to us. Yes?

  3. Shawn Cramer says:

    My syntopical essay follows the emotional process of change. A minor argument is that people don’t change unless forced through pain OR through a grander vision of something worth moving towards. It seems that finding solidarity in others’ pain and moving towards something worth the change is a topic you are addressing here as well. Something so captivating that sacrifices, or the ultimate sacrifice, is worthy.

  4. John McLarty says:

    This post captures Walker’s theme- leading with nothing to lose. Yet many people who are in positions of authority and visibility seem so afraid- afraid of the perception of weakness or defeat, or of losing control. And their tactics are celebrated by those who follow, even lifted up as models of leadership. I know some of the deconstruction that has happened in me over the last 18 months. I’m grateful for the wisdom that’s been shared through posts like this.

    • Jer Swigart says:

      I’m with you, John. It seems that a model for Christian leadership has been propped up that looks very little like the cross. Interesting how folks clamor for the strength of leadership while desperate for us to embody the more sacrificial forms.

  5. Chris Pollock says:

    How are His wrapped up into being ‘beloved’? Something changes when we find our identity in the ‘Other’.

    New inspiration, willingness to be led, life let-go. Seems, as you’ve described, that what comes to life is the surrender into a movement that leads into harm’s way in this world. Beloved. Some kind of unique (blessed) anointing in this kind of commitment.

    Signposts, landmarks of the Beatitudes.

    • Jer Swigart says:

      In my syntopical essay, I reflect on Henri Nouwen’s description of the Christian leader of the 21st century as found in his book (& one of my favorites) ‘In the Name of Jesus.’ The third and final distinctive that he points to is that the leader will resist the temptation of power, choosing instead the wisdom of being led. I think we see this in Matthew’s version of Jesus’ temptations. He was led…and continued to be led. May we follow suit.

  6. Greg Reich says:

    One of the aspects I appreciate about Walker is the understanding that even the best of our human relationships are not big enough or string enough to give us a proper sense of self. It appears that we need the something greater, something divine to give us a proper identity of who we really are. Thus our need for Jesus. The desire for a leader to untether themselves and embrace an identity in Jesus empowers them to do the hard stuff.

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