Within Christian theology, the concept of kenosis refers to Jesus’s self-emptying of His divine nature and His own will to be fully receptive to the will of God. It is a choice; it is not that His nature or will was forcibly stripped away, but rather He willingly gave of Himself so that the will of God could be realized. This kenosis is shown in Paul’s words in Philippians 2:6–11 where Paul writes, “Instead, He gave up His divine privileges; He took on the humble position of a salve and was born as a human being” (v 7). It is because of Jesus’ willingness to fully submit Himself to God’s will, which bore with it death on a cross, that Jesus was elevated to the highest place of honor and given a name that is above every name (v 9 – 11).
But what does this mean for the Christian leader? If we are to follow Paul’s words in Philippians 2:5 and have the same mindset as Christ, how do we emulate Jesus’ kenosis in our own leadership?
Simon Walker calls this the “Self-Emptying Strategy”. He immediately contrasts it with an “absent leader” and argues the self-emptying strategy “judges that the best and most powerful – and, indeed, most responsible – action is to choose not to exercise influence.” He compares this type of leader to martyrs, those who are willing to “give their lives” for the cause as a means of furthering it and inspiring others. Walker writes, “Self-sacrifice compels people to take action…Self-sacrifice is the conscious choice not to use force or to exercise power but to allow something to be done to you.”
As a 9w1 on the Enneagram, this self-emptying strategy is one that resonates deeply with me. However, if one is not careful then this leadership strategy can actually cause harm to the leader. Completely ignoring or divorcing our own needs for others can lead to unhealthy co-dependency or the tendency to find identity in our self-sacrifice. I would even say it can build a sense of self-righteousness if we are not careful. “Look what I’ve given up for XYZ” becomes the banner we rally around as we look down our noses at those who “don’t give enough.”
So what can be done to facilitate a “Kenotic Leader” – one that is willing to empty him or herself while not losing their identity in the midst?
- Be Marked by Humility. In Philippians 2:1-11, the theme of humility is written throughout the entire passage. It is in humility that Jesus gave of Himself to suffer death on a cross. It is in humility that Jesus submitted Himself to the Father’s will. Likewise, it is in humility that we should practice the self-emptying strategy. The more that we give, the easier it becomes to build our identity on our self-sacrifice. The irony in the situation is that in a strategy that should be built on a foundation of humility, pride always has a way of trying to weasel itself in its midst.
- We Don’t Suffer for Suffering’s Sake. Walker writes, “It is important also to recognize that I’m not promoting suffering for its own sake. I see no good in pain and loss in themselves at all.” Suffering must have a purpose to it. Suffering is not the end, but rather the tool to be used. When we see suffering, it has the ability to appeal to the emotional elephant that can spark change. But to suffer for suffering in and of itself is not healthy.
- Know Your Boundaries. As a people pleaser, it can be easy to give up more and more without realizing how much you’re truly giving. We each have a “relational bank account” that needs deposits in it. If we are not receiving those deposits regularly, there is nothing left to give.
 Ibid., loc. 2050.