Epic is About… Love

In the following nine blog posts, we will attempt to articulate “nine elements of a leadership reproduction culture.”  For more explanation, see our first post here.  Feedback and questions are more than welcome!

On the road to fruitfulness in its mission, Epic is about… Kingdom Foundations: Love

By Don Diva

Any discussion about reproducing leaders and leadership development ultimately must attend to the fundamental question of motivation.  What is behind how we relate to others, and what is foundational to the vision we hope to see fulfilled among our generation and the next?

For servant leaders and followers of Jesus Christ, the answer is love.  The Scriptures put it quite simply, “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)  Love is something that we must experience first from God, and it is something that we then express through action in our relationships, communities, and beyond.

But for a number of reasons, our picture of love can be distorted.

Love can sometimes be tied to our performance and production.  When I first became a Christian my freshman year in college, I heard about God’s “unconditional” love, but experienced mostly expectations and conditions from family members, teachers, and ministry leaders.  I felt the enormous pressure, of only being accepted to the extent of what I could produce.  This deeply impacted my life and leadership.  What I knew in my head about God’s love, and how I actually loved others, were sadly different.

But though God’s love is unconditional, that doesn’t mean He doesn’t care about what we do, or how we live!  Love is not warm and fuzzy affirmation or flattery, apart from God’s truth.  Henri Nouwen writes, “To love without condition does not mean to love without concern.”  Love involves vulnerability and risk, especially as we speak hard truths to one another.  Our efforts to love can often leave us frustrated, angry, or resentful.  They always carry the possibility of rejection and hurt.  Learning to love others, and to receive love in turn, requires the tenacity to pursue what is best for ourselves and others.

As leaders, we must understand that we reproduce what we live out.  If we qualify love with underlying pressures of performance or production, we will create a generation of leaders who model those values.  If we view love as paternalistic (i.e. “coddling”) or people-pleasing, that will be the foundation of the way others are treated.

We must also recognize that our impact and influence originates out of our own capacity to love.  If we fear what comes with loving, or if we are really not experiencing God’s rich and unconditional love for us, it will be evident in our actions and relationships.  It will reflect in our struggles to truly partner with our peers, to assert ourselves maturely in the face of authority, or to let others take responsibility for their own lives.  Our broken images of love as pleasing, performing, tolerating, or controlling all must be redeemed and give way to God’s perfect love that calls for worship and obedience of God Himself, and a deep honoring of one another as God’s image bearers.  That means living connected to God and other people — whether Christian or non-Christian; whether of our own ethnicity and gender and class, or of another.  This is what it means to live in community, as we help one another experience God’s love, growing together in grace and truth.

When it comes to reproducing leaders, we must remember that for us and for the next generation, the foundation and motivation for what we do in ministry is love — God’s love.  To be truly fruitful on mission, we must always ask the questions, “Are we connected to God’s love and becoming more loving ourselves?” and “Are we helping those around us ground themselves in God’s deep love, so that they might become leaders driven to serve others out of that love?”

Knowing God’s heart means radically and concretely announcing and showing that God is love.  When we live that out in mission, we cannot help but be His agents of healing, reconciliation, new life and hope wherever we go.  And this not only will lead to others being attracted to the God we serve, but to the reproduction of resilient leaders who are secure in their identity: gracious yet truthful, confident yet humble, and able to see people’s shortcomings yet believe in them.  This kind of love will raise a generation of those who will embody Jesus’ love, who was Himself full of grace and truth (John 1:14).  Twenty years later I continue to taste this unconditional love of the Father, and am grateful that this love is endless.

Discussion questions:

  • What did love look like growing up in your home?  We have all experienced distortions of love, whether conditional love or “people-pleasing” love or paternalistic love.  What is one distortion that you see more clearly now, in contrast to God’s true love?
  • Is it difficult for you to think of the idea of loving unconditionally, alongside the idea of speaking truth?  What’s a recent example where you might have emphasized one, while sacrificing the other?  How might you do it differently, if given another chance?
  • What might others around you (i.e. your peers, mentors, and those you lead) say about the way you love?  How does this impact the way you lead meetings, do evangelism, or other concrete things in ministry?