This is the sixth of seven blog posts that are excerpted from my upcoming book, Steward Leader Meditations, which was released in June. It is my heartfelt prayer that this book of Scriptural texts, meditations, action steps and simple prayers will bless leaders on their journey toward kingdom faithfulness and effectiveness.
Part 1 – Dear Leaders: Sell Everything – Really!
Part 2 – Leaders: What Do You Fear Today?
Part 3 – The Crucial Difference Between Producing and Bearing Fruit
Part 4 – The Importance of Defining Success in Kingdom Terms
Part 5 – Who Are You?
Part 7 – A World at War – Are You Prepared to Lead?
May you be blessed by these texts, thoughts and prayers.
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2: 5–8, NKJV)
I love the New King James version of Philippians 2, especially the phrase, “made Himself of no reputation.” Now, it doesn’t say that Jesus made Himself a bad reputation or a questionable reputation, but simply “no reputation.” That is, reputation, image, prestige, prominence, power, and other trappings of leadership were not only devalued ‒ they were purposefully dismissed. Reputation – its cultivation, elevation, and protection – was of no importance to Jesus in His ministry. Jesus became such a man. Not by default or accident but by intention and design. And it was only in this form that He could serve, love, give, teach and, yes, lead.
This may be a challenge for us, for we have come to believe that the development of a good reputation is part and parcel of living a holy and ethical life. But in that assumption lies an insidious temptation. Reputation and pride are so closely linked that it is difficult for us to consider one without the other. When we are concerned about our reputation, we cannot help but be attentive to what people think of us, sensitive to criticism, and always on guard to protect a wrong notion or unfair judgment of our work and character. Here is a rather harsh conclusion I’ve come to: caring too much about our reputation as leaders is absolute bondage. We can spend the rest of our lives running around propping up our reputations, making sure nobody feels ill toward us, and trying to squash any rumor or bad report. And we can do this all the time believing this has nothing to do with our pride. Such is the deception that underlies this idea of reputation.
In reflecting on my life, I have come to believe that following Jesus is an ongoing, disciplined practice of becoming a person of no reputation and, thus, of becoming more like Christ in this unique way. In his reflections on Christian leadership, Henri Nouwen refers to this as resisting the temptation to be relevant. He said in In the Name of Jesus, “I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.”
There was a time in my life when I would’ve rejected this idea outright. Now I believe it is the fundamental position of a disciple of Jesus Christ. Here is the bottom-line takeaway from this meditation: I am not the caretaker of my own reputation. When we can embrace this understanding, heavy chains will fall from our shoulders. We are called to be obedient disciples of Jesus Christ, period. That may bring us a good reputation, a bad reputation, or no reputation at all. That is up to God. If we obediently follow Him, love our neighbors, speak the truth in love, and proclaim the coming kingdom of God, then our reputation should be of little consequence to us.
Are you leading in a way that ensures the safekeeping of your own reputation? Are you willing to give it up completely in order to follow Jesus regardless of the cost?
Think back to a time when an unjust rumor or skewed perspective threatened your reputation. How much effort and energy did you employ in trying to “set things straight”? If you were known simply as a person who would go wherever God directs and do whatever God asks, would that be enough for you? If so, then name the first thing you have to do to turn your reputation back over to God. Then place it in his hands with confidence that if you obey Him, He will be the caretaker of your reputation.
Close your time with this prayer:
Gracious Lord, I struggle so much with my reputation. I confess that I want people to think well of me, and it hurts when something damages how others think of me. I don’t understand how You could stand to listen to the insults and lies that were hurled at You before You went to the cross and remain silent about them. Sometimes I wonder why You didn’t defend Yourself, yell out the truth, and hold accountable the people who slandered Your name. But I understand that sometimes following You requires us to let people think of us what they may. Lord, I can’t do this on my own. I need the power of the Holy Spirit to calm my spirit so that I may rest in You. I give You back my reputation, and today I will walk away from my frantic work of constantly protecting it and propping it up. My only desire is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, a faithful follower of You, and someone who boldly and confidently speaks the truth in love into this hurting and broken world. Help me focus solely on that and set aside my claim on my reputation. I give it back to You willingly and completely today. In Jesus’ name; Amen.