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The second example is what, for me, I see as the heart of the message: Jesus’ whole “strategy,” the bull’s-eye of the divine conspiracy, was to be a servant leader who grew a few servant leaders around him and then entrusted the succession of the responsibility of the mission to them—and to the power of the coming Holy Spirit within them.
As I thought about how I might have tackled his mission, I realized he understood more than anyone how a leader takes a vision, embeds it in the lives of others, and helps equip them to be the people to carry it on to ultimate fruition. He used stories to teach truths, not simply laying down a theological system or a series of “steps,” and his own life was the real story—washing feet before he goes to the ultimate battle; laughing at the table with good friends, food, and drink; and, most significantly, the story we retell each Eucharist, his willingly dying for others.
I found this means of life-shaping echoed in Jim Houston’s teaching on mentoring. He emphasizes the understanding of mentoring not being a “method” but a “way of life,” deeply reinforcing the understanding of Jesus’ life as his primary teaching.
Now, as I try to teach and mentor others, Jesus’ example as a teacher, mentor, and coach of future leaders is one I return to again and again. Willard’s books have been a significant help in this regard.
On the surface, the leadership vision Willard describes is, it seems, so much smaller, less compelling, and even less immediate than the grand visions of the great corporations—and even many of the great churches. In the case of consumer-driven corporations and churches, the emphasis on meeting people’s expressed and ever-changing needs and on producing large-sized results seems to be the alternative, competing story to Christ’s vision for discipleship focussing on a few.
The patient, persistent cultivation of character and the investment of one’s life in a few of those coming behind—“the long obedience in the same direction”—through time-tested and exampled discipline has proven to be a far more powerful and enduring vision and strategy than that of the cover story leaders. Sadly, most of them fail to finish well; they are not “built to last.” History shows this all too well. Enduring results come more from persistence on the few, “small” efforts of cultivating relationships and living obediently than from the larger, spectacular visions for transformation of culture and organizations commonly espoused today. “The divine conspiracy” was also the divine vision and strategy for transforming the world, and I believe Willard nails it.
The radical truth of Philippians 2:5-11 remains, for me, both the mindset and the example of the heart of wisdom I want to possess and to be my legacy at the end of the day. Those lessons will stand the test of time, and Dallas Willard has pulled them straight from the life of the Person I want to follow and learn from most.
Affairs, and is now Adjunct Faculty with the Federal Executive Institute and the Graduate School, Leadership Development Academy. In addition, he serves as Senior Consultant with Federal Consulting Group and with Center for Human Resources Management at the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA). He is a frequent speaker and author in the field of leadership and human capital initiatives.
He and his wife, B.J., live in Alexandria, and have two grown children and four grandchildren.