The Leader God Chooses (Apr 1993)

By Matt Dabbs

by Rubel Shelly
April, 1993

11“What’s become clear to you since we last met?” Ralph Waldo Emerson used to greet friends he hadn’t seen in a while with that question. And Jesus might well have used the same greeting with Peter in John 21:15-19.

Jesus had already met with Peter privately before this post-resurrection incident by the Sea of Galilee (cf. Mark 16:7; Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5). In their one-on-one session, Jesus appears to have restored him to his personal fellowship.

The public event of John 21 was still needed, however, to confirm his place in the larger group of the apostles and to embolden him with a dramatic charge.

Peter was a wonderful fellow among the Lord’s disciples. He was bold and enthusiastic, daring and eager. When called to follow Jesus, he immediately left his fishing business and went in quest of the kingdom (Matthew 4:18-20). He is the apostle who made the wonderful confession about Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).

Paul would later call him a “pillar” of the Jerusalem church (Galatians 2:9), and his name appears first in all four lists of the apostles in the New Testament (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13).

Yet it must also be said of Peter that he was a flawed man. Right on the heels of his wonderful confession of Jesus, he refused to accept what the Master said about his impending death and had to be rebuked. “Get behind me, Satan!” said Jesus. “You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:23).

When Jesus predicted the scattering of the apostles on the eve of his crucifixion, Peter arrogantly boasted. “Even if all fall away, I will not” (Mark 14:29). He denied the Lord three times that same night (Mark 14:66-72).

The best thing about Peter’s situation was that he served a loving and forgiving Savior. Thus he was not rejected because of his failure. He was not booted out of the group. He was not shamed, scolded, and spurned. Instead, he was loved, looked for, and lifted.

More than that, he was assured that a leadership role within God’s plan was still in his future.

I have watched men and women be destroyed for failures of lesser proportions. Their own guilt drove them to despair. And whatever was lacking in self-condemnation was supplied by their colleagues, friends, and community.

If we would gain insight into the heart of Jesus about leadership, several things come to mind from this episode.

What sort of person can be a leader in the Kingdom of God? People who are willing to apply whatever natural gifts or talents they have to the work of God in the world. People who make a sincere commitment to Christ. And people who rebound from their failures.

How should we view our leaders in the church? Don’t expect perfection of them, for they are just as human as the rest of us. Expect them to learn from their mistakes rather than be free of mistakes. Don’t use their occasions of failure as an excuse to discredit or to dismiss them, but take those times as occasions for ministering to them as Jesus ministered to Peter.

And what should this episode teach leaders about themselves? Every leader should inventory his or her life regularly and honestly about relative strengths and weaknesses; capitalize on the former and work to rise above the latter, cautious in both against failure.

When you fail (and you will!), admit it, flee to the Lord, and lay the matter before him. Let him know, to borrow Emerson’s words, that something has become clear to you since the two of you last met. Reaffirm your love to the Lord. Then get back to serving him by tending, feeding, and nourishing his flock.

In the encounter between Jesus and Peter, the Lord asked the evangelist who had returned to his boats, nets, and fishing gear, “Do you truly love me more than these?” (John 21-15b). That is, are you still willing to fish for men? Are you still willing to leave the trappings of your earlier life for work with me? (Although some think “these” is a reference to the other disciples, it seems incredible that Jesus would try to elicit the sort of arrogant boast that once had been Peter’s downfall. Discipleship does not demand that one compare himself to others, only that he be willing to follow Christ.)

Against the background of Peter’s three denials, Jesus allowed Peter to reaffirm his commitment to him three times (John 21:15c, 16b, 17b). By making a play on the words “truly love” (agapao) and “love” (phileo), Jesus insisted that the reaffirmation be done with probing sincerity. With absolute honesty. With newfound humility.

With Peter’s commitment renewed, Jesus restored him to the group and reaffirmed his confidence in him. “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15d). “Take care of my sheep” (John 21:16c). “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17c). That this imagery made an impression and stayed with Peter from that time forward is evident from his use of it in challenging other leaders at 1 Peter 5:2-4.

When we come to have the mind of Christ about leadership, we will understand that leading means serving, that greatness is found in humility, and that even failure can serve to make some important truths come clear for us.

In times like these, God needs leaders. Not just those who are appointed to church offices, mind you, but godly men and women who know their work in the world is fishing for men. Tending their families as God’s flock. Putting the kingdom ahead of business and personal affairs. Rising from failures to exhibit in their lives the restoring, healing, and empowering grace of God.

Go deeply into the heart of Christ, then, and you will be given the call of God to a leadership role in the kingdom which only you can fill. We hope the challenging and practical articles in this issue of Wineskins will contribute to your discovery of that role and help you perform it faithfully.Wineskins Magazine

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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