Theology: no answer but Jesus

What are the implications of the fact that God sent Jesus into the world to redeem us? First, it speaks to our worth. The God who created us in his image felt that we were worth redeeming. He died for our sins, instead of us, to reconcile us to God and to each other. None of us will ever understand that sacrifice by a holy God. So, we are valuable. Remember that as we consider this next part.

Second, according to James Plueddemann, because we are all broken and sinful, “all the problems in the world are directly or indirectly caused by sin.” Poverty, war, greed, injustice, illness and tragedies of every kind stem from a broken creation spoiled by sin. Therefore, government or business solutions are like applying a topical cream to treat cancer.

Jesus is the only solution to the sin problem… so the most competent leader in the world cannot solve any major problem without the gospel of Jesus.

The gospel alone — God rescuing us from our brokenness — is the answer for the deepest needs of humans and creation as a whole.

Third, Plueddemann adds, “the goal of leadership is to point people to Jesus.” Rather than work independently, we realize we are branches on a vine, and we can do nothing without him (John 15). Rather than draw attention to ourselves, we realize we are nothing without him. Our goal is to co-lead with him, if you will, pointing to him as the solution and primary source of any gifts and ability we have or success we enjoy.

Fourth, leaders have a model for their own leadership style. Jesus is the ideal leader who modeled servant leadership, an “astounding and universally countercultural” concept. Mark 10:45 lays out the standard for our leadership practice:

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.

So, a failure to understand what Jesus did for us leads to the misunderstanding that we are something on our own and down the ugly road of pride. This sure isn’t a feel-good post. I feel really small. Thank God that the gospel doesn’t end with how bad we are. It’s worth reading the first paragraph again.

Give your product away

The big music labels and filmmaking companies have really struggled with this one. It doesn’t seem to make business sense to let people listen to music free on Pandora or watch movies and shows free on Hulu. Yet it builds the brand and creates more buyers. Social media has inverted many traditional models, and it’s the indie market that’s proving that the economics work… for the most part.

Let me take this one step further. In Getting Naked, Patrick Lencioni tells the tale of a consulting company that never sells. Rather than tell a client what they’ll do if they are hired, they start serving as if they are already hired. Sure, they’re opening themselves to being taken advantage of as they give away the goods, but Lencioni says 9 times out of 10, the client appreciates the generosity. They get a good feel for whether the product is what they really want, and they get a feel for whether your people are the ones they really want to work with. Lencioni didn’t just make this up; it’s his own company’s secrets he’s sharing.

As I learned early on from one of Atlanta’s public relations gurus, always add value. Everything you do or everything you send out should bring value to the person receiving it. We demonstrated it by offering free tips in all of our mailers. Yet every direct mail piece we sent out brought in a client.

My left brain can’t figure it out, but any time we’re open-handed, we end up with more than if we’re close-fisted. My pastor likes to say you can never outgive God. As you give away the things he gives you, he keeps giving you more. It’s not just a spiritual principle. I learned early on that generosity can be good business.

People in parachurch agencies

I asked the question recently: In the world of social sectors, where should “parachurch” mission agencies like Wycliffe fall in the continuum between church and business? Let me try to outline the issues around the topic, and then next post we’ll look at how an organization like ours should act toward “the wrong people.”

One of my favorite metaphors for church is that it’s a hospital. Jesus himself said the healthy don’t need a doctor; those that need him are the sick, the poor and the needy. Those are the kinds of people the church is best suited to attract. The healthy aren’t the core audience, and certainly not the rich. Jesus said those are harder to corale for his kingdom than putting a camel through the eye of a needle.

A business exists to create value for its owners or shareholders. In order to do that well, it has to deliver a product or service of value to its customers, but a business doesn’t exist for its customers. At the end of the day, it has to make money.

Wycliffe is designed neither to heal the broken nor to make money. Its ultimate goal is to bring value to people in other parts of the world, but in order to do that, it must create value for that end with people and churches who are local. It therefore becomes a bridge, making connections between the two parties, and a broker, moving resources from one to the other and then communicating the effective use of those resources.

So, when the question is posed about how an organization like Wycliffe should act toward “the wrong people,” the response is complicated. If we have the wrong people on our bus, we will not effectively complete our mission. In that sense, we are like a business. We need to pursue sound strategies and good stewardship. On the other hand, few businesses recognize the role of the Holy Spirit, who is at the least a force multiplier, amplifying our meager resources and efforts. The Holy Spirit should play a huge role in our organization, as he does in each individual.

If you ask any business leader what his most important resource is, he’ll say it’s his people. With an organization whose members raise their own salaries, it may be even more so. Wycliffe is built on our staff and the relationships they bring with them. Personal relationships are our driving force, our economic engine. In addition, staff members not only serves the organization but their constituents: churches and individuals who sent them.

An organization built on a model where you screen heavily and only take in the top tier of candidates comes with a parallel value that you don’t let go of them easily or quickly. On the other hand, it comes with a value that you try to repackage and develop people for another role if they don’t work out in the initial one.

Let’s just say it’s complicated. Looking forward to further musings on the topic, and I welcome your thoughts as well.