When it comes to leading a church, especially a new church, character trumps everything.
A careful observation through the history of almost any city demonstrates that the single greatest source of a catastrophic implosion by a church plant (and the further emanations over the landscape) comes not from imperfect theology but from deficient character.
Our most lofty public preaching does not have sufficient long-term lift to overcome the enormous gravitational pull found in our personal brokenness. Sin, however carefully concealed, will more accurately describe the dark nature of our real theology than will our well-rehearsed creeds and confessions. And worse, the swath of casualties hemorrhaging from deficient character broadens as one’s leadership’s influence grows.
It should be instructive to realize that the word “belief” in the New Testament is not a noun, but a verb. We can never own a belief – we only can live a belief. Our best theology is never truly believed until it is first integrated into our daily lifestyle. However we slice it, our character reveals the true nature of our theology.
Implicit in Jesus’ call to discipleship is a call to personally take on His character. When Jesus issued a fresh charge to His pre-disciples with these celebrated words, “follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17), He was with one breath describing both His Kingdom assignment and the only process that makes that assignment possible: “Follow me” always precedes “fishers of men.”
Taking on the responsibility of leading the charge for disciple-making without first allowing the character of Christ to transform our personal brokenness can only lead to an unhappy ending. Conversely, the character necessary for multiplying true disciples of Jesus grows directly in proportion to our personal follow-ship of Jesus.
This pattern of “following me” and newly derived “character” is clearly revealed when Jesus declared, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
This “light of life” is the very authentication of our character as we follow and therefore resemble our King. The process of following Jesus is the only spiritual discipline that can transform the darkness of our broken character into the very image of Christ Himself.
So what does the character of Christ actually look like?
Reflecting on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount we see a three-dimensional picture of Kingdom character that warrants a lifetime of study and personal application. John observed firsthand that Kingdom character and the glory of God were displayed in Jesus through the perfect blending of two spiritual realities – “grace” and “truth.”
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Grace and truth eternally and inextricably fused together. In Jesus, grace and truth were not a balanced duo nor one moderated by the other, but both dished out lavishly and unreservedly toward an undeserving humanity.
It was as extraordinary a sight in the first century as it is in the 21st – the very character of our eternal Father fleshed out before us in the person of Jesus Christ. All grace. All truth.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jeff Christopherson is the author of “Kingdom First: Starting Churches that Shape Movements,” released this month by B&H Publishing Group, and the earlier “Kingdom Matrix: Designing a Church for the Kingdom of God.” Prior to serving as the North American Mission Board’s vice president for the Canada region and the Send City Network, Christopherson had served in pastoral, church planting and denominational leadership roles in his native Canada.)