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Grace Motivates and Other Things I Wish I’d Known…

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About Leadership

Grace is not the opposite of strong leadership, but the heart of it. This is important for leadership in all realms, and especially in ministry.

Insecure leaders worry about power dynamics and control. They worry about losing. Or as my friend Steve Brown says, “Real pastors worry about people and their walk with Christ. Wolves in sheep’s clothing worry about power and control.”

Because of their misunderstanding of people and leadership, weak leaders manipulate instead of persuade. But strong leaders know that grace motivates.

Grace is not the opposite of strong leadership, but the heart of it.

Mature leaders are secure enough to be insecure. We get this from Jesus, who demonstrated his power by death on the cross. Following him, Christian leadership looks like suffering and self-sacrifice in the service of others as we give ourselves unconditionally to the aid of others. Mature leadership is built on trust, empowering others, and a deep sense of security, not in self, but in Christ.

Carl Trueman explains powerfully the implications for this new understanding of Christian authority: “Elders, for example, are not to be those renowned for throwing their weight around, for badgering others, and for using their position or wealth or credentials to enforce their own opinions. No, the truly Christian elder is the one who devotes his whole life to the painful, inconvenient, and humiliating service of others, for in so doing he demonstrates Christlike authority, the kind of authority that Christ himself demonstrated throughout his incarnate life and supremely on the cross at Calvary.”

About God’s Sovereignty

The sovereignty of God is not just some abstract principle—it should be understood in the context of the character of God. The God who is sovereign is the same God who is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty (Exod. 34:67). God is merciful, compassionate, loving, holy, and just.

Weak leaders manipulate instead of persuade. But strong leaders know that grace motivates.

God’s sovereignty is not merely a technical, abstract, theoretical concept but a truth about God and how he relates to his creation. It is a description of the God who Jesus teaches is also my “Father” who loves, protects, and provides. Sovereignty should be understood in a more robust manner than the mechanical and sterile way some talk about it.

God’s sovereignty should bring believers comfort. Here are two examples.

First, Article 17 of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion talks about God’s sovereign grace in a powerful way:

As the godly consideration of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: So, for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God’s Predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchedness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.

Put most simply, God’s electing grace should lead us to focus on Jesus’ cross, not the doctrine of election. To focus on the latter at the expense of the former leads to either despair or pride.

God’s sovereignty should bring believers comfort.

Second, the “Prayer of Humble Access,” a prayer said before communion, brings together to majesty of God and his mercy: “We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.” The God “whose property is always to have mercy” is also the one who is your advocate, Father, and judge.

Because God is more sovereign than my sin, suffering, and stupidity, it means that he also cares more than I do about the things that burden me. God’s sovereignty means that God is “the One who loves in freedom.” This sovereign grace is about God overcoming the sinner’s resistance with divine love.

About Counseling

Listening is more important than you think. If listening is just a skill or technique, it is more about you coming off as a good or wise counselor. But listening is a ministry. Ann Long describes the ministry of listening as a gift, hospitality, and healing. Almost anyone can give advice, and most people give way too much way too early.

Listening is a way to serve someone humbly, love them well, and share their burden. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains, “The beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.”

Justin Holcomb is an Episcopal priest and teaches theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary. Justin wrote On the Grace of God and co-authored with his wife Lindsey Rid of My Disgrace and Save Me from Violence. He is also the editor of Christian Theologies of Scripture. You can find him on FacebookTwitter, and at

Posted on October 10, 2014