During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people, they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.” Mark 8:1-3
The story goes on and we find Jesus, for the second time, feeding thousands of people using very limited resources. It is one of many places throughout the gospels where we see him interacting with what scripture calls “the crowds.” These are not necessarily Jesus’ closest friends, and some of them will even end up turning on him; nevertheless, he leads them. And he does so with love. Jesus has spent multiple days with these people, teaching and ministering to them, but it is not just his time with these people that matters, he is also concerned with what happens when they leave. He loves bringing the Kingdom to them, but more importantly, he loves them. As leaders and creators in the church, we can learn so much from the way that Jesus interacts with these crowds.
When I lead people, I want to lead like Jesus. I want to love like Jesus. It is easy in ministry to get caught up in the details of leading, to spend our energy on the how and neglect the why, but the truth is this: If we are not leading out of compassion and love, then we are leading out of something else. Not only that, but our love, instead of being directed toward those we lead, is directed toward our methods, our craft, and worst of all, ourselves. We are creators, and creators put themselves into their work. This is why we often refer to art as self-expression. But to truly reflect God in our art, our creativity, and our leadership, self-expression is not enough. The true artist is one who understands both self-expression and self-denial. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will actually find it.” For creators, our cross is putting others before ourselves in love. This is how faith is integrated with our art. Not in finding some cheap attempt to connect the name of Jesus to our own self-expression after the fact, but letting ourselves die in the process of creating, that we might actually be expressing him.
Loving people is essential, but as with all attributes of Jesus, it is not something we can simply will ourselves into doing. We have to learn to love. It is worth mentioning here some practical ways in which we can grow in this area. First of all, get to know the people that you are leading and listen to their stories. My most sincere moments in worship are those where I am considering others, and my words become prayers or proclamations over them. When my heart breaks or rejoices with those around me, I find that my love for them grows. Second, serve your people. Jesus did not just preach – he fed. Humbling yourself for the sake of others is love in practice, and we surprisingly find that it actually begets more love. Last, pray for your people. Consider carrying their names around with you somehow and glancing at this list regularly. Praying for people means thinking about people, and this unites us with them in spirit. The more we say their names, the more our heart grows for the people that we hope to lead.
People are starving for love, and many of them have spent their lives trying to find it. As the Church we want to meet those people where they are, and with the help of Christ, let our small amounts of love be multiplied a thousand-fold. If we want to lead well, then we have to learn to love well. After all, if our foundation is not built on sharing Christ’s love, we will send people away hungry and they may collapse on their journey, for some of them have come a long way to be there.