In my last post, I named four strategies we can deploy as wartime leaders. There’s one more.

5. Wear the right clothing
When you heard “clothing,” many of you immediately jumped to Ephesians 6:10-20, which unpacks the armor of our warfare as believers, the outerwear believers are exhorted to put on before standing “against the schemes of the devil.”

The remarkable thing about that list of armor is that almost every piece can be used ineffectively. We’ve all seen Christians wildly swinging their swords and using Scripture in a way that causes “friendly fire.” We’ve seen people use truth as a hammer instead of a belt. Others put on the breastplate of self righteousness, hide behind their shields of faith or misunderstand their helmet of salvation. Confident in the fact that their own eternal salvation is secure, their helmet narrows their vision, makes them hard-headed or prevents them from asking if salvation has relevance to this life.

How can we Christians misuse our armor this way? Because we go out to war commando-style. We forget to put on our underwear.

Before we grab our armor, shield and sword, Paul recommends some additional clothing in Colossians, some traits that we should put on first. Think of these as the Under Armor of the believer (with apologies to the company, I think the idea translates pretty well).

I think Eugene Peterson’s rendering captures the essence of these verses:

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. (‭Colossians‬ ‭3‬:‭12-14‬)

Be honest: we think of compassion, humility and love as “soft skills” for peaceful, “kumbaya” community. This list of clothing doesn’t read like preparation for warfare, does it? So let’s look a little deeper. We’ll see that these characteristics have very real application to wartime leadership.

First, the Colossians list maximizes the effectiveness of each piece of armor. Look again at the list in Ephesians 6. The Bible is full of verses that pair “soft skills” with each piece of armor. A sampling:

  • Proverbs 21:21 pairs righteousness with kindness. He who pursues the two together will find life and honour in addition to righteousness.
  • Psalm 45:4 matches truth with meekness and righteousness. A victorious king puts on his armour and sword, and defends the causes of truth, meekness/humility and righteousness.
  • In Ephesians 4:15, Paul pairs truth with love within the context of growing up.
  • In Philippians 2:12, Paul speaks of the process of learning to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Other translations use words like reverence, awe, humility and sensitivity.
  • In 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul urges his protege to become an approved worker, “rightly handling the word of truth.” The context is maturity, hard work and discipline, drawing from the metaphors of a soldier, an athlete and a farmer.

Second, the traits in Colossians provide incredible defensive protection on their own merits. Knights knew the best way to prepare for flaming arrows was to cover their shields with dampened hides before they went to war. That’s the image Paul had in mind when he said faith is a shield that can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one (Eph 6:16). Character traits like compassion, humility, gentleness and patience are equally effective at dousing the flames of accusation, violence and rage. As Solomon pointed out, “A soft answer turns away wrath” (Prov 15:1).

There’s another application. Many of the attacks on the believer come from within and behind. Our own spirits are waging war within us (Gal 5:17; Rom 7:15-8:11). Unity and community are constantly breaking down. The clothing in Colossians 3 is our best response to the everyday situations of tension, misunderstanding, abrasive personalities, false motivations, jealousy and narcissism. Leaders in particular are vulnerable, because a large part of leadership is dealing with personnel and personality issues.

Third, the Colossians characteristics prove to be our most effective offensive weapons. In my last post, I mentioned the immense power in forgiveness to disarm our most fervent attackers. Proverbs 25:21-22 associates kindness and compassion with an image of surprising violence: feeding a hungry enemy is like heaping burning coals on his head. In Romans 12:19-20, Paul picks up that image and sets it in the context of forgiveness and allowing God to mete out vengeance and wrath. “‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Rather, our job as sons and daughters of God is to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt 5:44-46).

Bottom line: our flesh wants to fight back in kind, but we cannot win God’s victories without using God’s weaponry and methodology. It’s counter-intuitive, and it’s counter-cultural. In Jesus’ upside-down kingdom, meekness trumps power, humility can defeat hostility and death can equal victory. Recently, as I read A Wind in the House of Islam, I noted what the research showed about movements to Christ. People are drawn to the Lord when other religions model violence. But people move just as quickly away from Christianity when Christians (or “Christian nations”) respond with violence. It’s only in responding with compassion, kindness, meekness, forgiveness and love that the kingdom of God expands. Those are the weapons of our warfare.


As I’ve been reading The Lord of the Rings to my boys, a series of moments stick in my mind: the times that Frodo seeks someone to give the ring to. Surely Aragorn or Gandalf or the Lady of Lothlorien would use the power benevolently to combat the evil of Sauron! Each one contemplates briefly the possibility of harnessing such amazing power and concludes that they wouldn’t be any less ruthless and horrific than previous owners. They therefore studiously avoid touching or looking at it, some even taking great satisfaction that they passed the test.

Last week at a leadership development event, we read together Henri Nouwen’s message, In the Name of Jesus. Nouwen is a Harvard man of great earthly success who ended up as a priest working among mentally handicapped people at the Daybreak community near Toronto. He cautions against the rationalization many Christians go through regarding power: that as long as it’s used to serve God and other human beings, it’s a good thing. He points out the irony that, throughout Church history,  followers of the one who emptied himself of power have used power for crusades, inquisitions, enslavement, opulence and manipulation of all kinds and forms. Then he cuts to the point.

What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistable? Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.

Wow. Whether you follow Nouwen’s logic and conclude that love is the opposite of power, his words sure slice deep. He’s right: it is easier to control than to love, and yet the latter is clearly God’s command for anyone, but in particular leaders. Nouwen spoke from a long personal journey into the messy world of loving those that our culture overlooks. Control and ownership are wrong methodologies arising from wrong motivations from a wronged heart. Nouwen continues,

One thing is clear to me: the temptation of power is greatest when intimacy is a threat. Much Christian leadership is exercised by people who do not know how to develop healthy, intimate relationships and have opted for power and control instead. Many Christian empire-builders have been people unable to give and receive love.

I remember when I worked in youth ministry that I lost count of the people who got into that field because of their own pain growing up. Few came from a healthy place and wanted others to share in that health; many more were on a personal journey to redemption and sought to help others avoid what they had experienced. But if you haven’t experienced real healing, how do you avoid temptations like power? I think Dan Allender has a lot of solutions in his book, Leading with a Limp. He suggests we confront our brokenness and allow God’s grace to redeem it. Failure and brokenness are not necessarily obstacles to leadership; they can be incredible motivators and a foundation for the right kind of servantly leadership. But those core needs must be addressed and the failures brought into the open.

Nouwen based much of his message on Peter’s example of being restored after abandoning and denying his friend and Rabbi Jesus. The lessons he learned on that beach in John 21 were to love deeply, receive love and give love to others. That was the basis for Peter’s leadership of the Church. It’s a lesson that many of his successors failed to get.

My boys were surprised when I told them I think of Lord of the Rings as a Christian story. I’m still teaching them the idea that a Christian story doesn’t mean that Jesus is a character, or that God is explicitly mentioned. Failure, redemption, fear, ambition, love, evil and desires are deeply woven into the story. And I think I can learn from the characters who suspected themselves and wouldn’t allow themselves to get near to raw, unbridled power.

9 Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other….

13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality….

15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.

My intern did a survey this summer of a lot of leaders in our office. One of the questions he asked was what they considered their leadership strengths. While a number named characteristics traditionally thought of as “strong and bold” — visionary, decisive and strategic thinking, for instance — I was happy with the number of times some “alternative” characteristics came up: listening, serving, understanding context and caring for their team. I’m not sure how many business schools or leadership courses emphasize that last one.

I think there are two problematic areas in leadership today related to this topic. First, the “old school” line of thought is that leaders should distance themselves from their teams. It’s built on the idea that you can’t uphold the discipline necessary in the manager-subordinate relationship if you let your co-workers become your friends. I get it. I know I’m making it more difficult for myself, but I just can’t keep that distance. For one, it compartmentalizes my life too much. I pour a good portion of my life into my teams. And two, I think the problems outweigh the benefits. For a team to be successful, Patrick Lencioni says in 3 Signs of a Miserable Job, the manager needs to know each team member. If this is true in a for-profit context, how much more should it be true in a Christian ministry context? Managers should know when their staff members are weeping inside and when they’re jumping up and down at home. Managers should know when they’re in need.

The other major problem is that managers fake care for their teams. The trend right now is to offer all kinds of flex time and benefits for employees, making the corporation feel more socially conscious and family-oriented. Managers are encouraged to empower their teams and give them voice. Former Yahoo exec Tim Sanders has build a speaking tour on the principle of love being the “Killer App.” But greater benefits, social consciousness, family orientation and empowerment don’t necessarily equate with love. How many managers really love their staff members? What does that look like?

Loving your team means all your actions honor the people you work with. It means you’re a developer of people. It means you hold them to high standards. For instance, you don’t tolerate cutting corners, and you don’t allow gossip to undermine the team. And it means when you fire someone — because you love them too much to let them underperform or break the rules — or have to lay someone off, you bend over backwards to care for them and make sure they land on their feet.

It means taking delight in honoring your team. The starting point is that in success, you’re a window, pointing to the team’s contribution and in failure, you’re a mirror, taking credit for your own part in the mistakes. It goes to awards, too. I read recently in The 52nd Floor how every time an award is given, half of your team are thinking of another team member who deserved it more, and the other half think they’re that person. The only people that feel good about an award are the boss and the recipient, and both are often happy for sinful reasons!

I think to delight in honoring someone has to include individualization. Every person on your team has a different way of feeling appreciated. When you notice a person’s “love language” and show appreciation in the language that speaks to them — which might not include public praise — I think they feel known, and they feel honored. When you ask them their favorite food for a party and then use that to celebrate a milestone, they feel known and honored.

Loving your team means you set up a system to identify needs, because most people are too proud to tell you, and then a system to help meet those needs. A lot of people are struggling right now, but they put on a face of professionalism when they come to work. Most colleagues will never know the pain they’re in. So, how can we allow people to share their need? How can we allow an intermediate to tactfully alert others to our needs? And how can a manager participate in meeting those needs?

Loving your team means you practice hospitality. Instead of keeping the distance, invite them into your life and into your home. Hospitality is actually one of the qualifications of a church elder (1 Timothy 3:2). I think it should be a mark for any ministry leader.

And I think that’s the point here. Ministries should be able to become more professional without having to copy the cutthroat measures of the corporate world. Love should be the mark of any leader in a ministry setting. And I think Tim Sanders has one thing right: the business world would be a better place if they copied the ministry world a little more. I suspect they’d even find that love is profitable.