Context Staffing



The Future of Christian Leadership: Part 2


By: Justin Anderson

Part 2: Be Watchful

Welcome back to our new series entitled The Future of Christian Leadership. This series is an expansion of a short message I gave at the Acts29 National Conference earlier in October. I rooted my message in 1 Corinthians 16:13–14, which says, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” The message revolved around the five verbs in the two verses, four of which form two pairs of ideas that work in tension with one another. The first is “Be Watchful and Stand Firm in the Faith.”

These two ideas live in tension with one another because the first verb compels us to be outwardly oriented, paying attention to the changes and trends in the culture around us. The second verb means that we need to anchor ourselves to the gospel while we do the first. This week, I want to begin to talk about what it means to be watchful. I am going to take a few weeks to unpack this idea because I think it’s critical for Christian leaders to understand how to be watchful and what we should be watching for.

First, Paul calls us to have an outward orientation toward the world. We need to know what is happening around us so we can navigate whatever dangers are ahead. We cannot put our heads down and ignore what is happening in the world. We have to be watchful. We have to follow the trends and ideas and understand the value systems and ever-changing ethics. We have to be students of their philosophies and ideas and try to see their trajectory in order to understand where culture is headed.


We have to stand firm in the faith. We have to be rooted in the gospel. It has to be our source of knowledge, discernment, answers, and solutions. This is the tension of the first two verbs. On one hand, we have to be watchful - actively educated about the world - and on the other hand, we can never lose our grip on the story, beauty, and logic of the gospel.

The illustration I think of to explain this tension is from basketball. In basketball, once you stop dribbling the ball, you can’t keep moving. You have to maintain one foot that never moves. A player’s other foot can move while you pivot on the other foot. This is used to gain separation from your defender or to get a better view of passing lanes or the basket itself. If you move your pivot foot, it’s called traveling and you lose possession. You do this a lot and you lose the game.

I think about this issue similarly. The gospel is our pivot foot and we cannot move it or drag it out further into the culture. On the other hand, we cannot keep both feet planted and stare at the ground, hoping the world goes back to normal. We have to step out into the world to get a better view, see things more clearly, and better understand the world that our people are dealing with. In fact, I think we should reach that foot as far out as we can, not to move from our essential position in the faith but so that we can gain a better understanding of the world around us.

There are two temptations here.

The first is the most obvious – liberalism. This is where we drag our pivot foot further and further out into the culture until we have traveled, and lost the gospel in the process. We’re aware of this and it's real. Churches everywhere are making concessions to culture. Thankfully, I think most of my readers are particularly equipped with the theological resources to resist the most blatant forms of liberalism. I don’t want to overestimate ourselves and become vulnerable to attacks because we were arrogant, but typically those in the Reformed tribe are theological sticklers for whom Liberalism is the favorite boogeyman.

We still have a temptation to stray but I think our temptation is more subtle and therefore more insidious. There are secular goals that seem to run parallel to the Gospel's and we are tempted to use the Bible to validate them. These tend to be around issues of race, gender, sexuality, equity, and justice. Part of standing firm in the gospel is making sure that we are pursuing the things that the scripture calls us to with the priority and intensity that the scripture gives them. We cannot take on the priorities of the world, baptize them with verses and then walk along with them toward a shared end. 

While we definitely share convictions about these issues, often our goals are substantively different and we can only walk so far with our secular counterparts before meeting a moment of necessary diversion. Our temptation is to walk too far with those allies, straying from the priorities of the gospel, our biblical goals, and strategies and simply adopting the agenda and language of the world wholesale.

But the danger of wading out into culture without the anchor of the gospel is not just liberalism. We aren’t just tempted to pursue secular ENDS using Gospel MEANS. We are also tempted to use secular MEANS (Power, Domination, Legislation, Manipulation) to accomplish Gospel ENDS.

We all want to see the world changed and that’s good, we want to see the Kingdom of God. The temptation is to pull the levers of power that society offers us in order to accomplish that change. Seeking Gospel ends using secular means is no better than seeking secular ends with gospel means. We have to fight for the goals that the scriptures give us, using the weapons that the scriptures have given us. (Prayer, preaching, discipleship, evangelism, The Holy Spirit).

I see both of these temptations playing out among pastor friends across the country. Some of my friends who are actively working for justice have taken on the language, goals, and means of the secular nonprofits they partner with and are dangerously close to abandoning a scripture-driven pursuit of justice. Their desire to find common ground with nonChristians is admirable, but we have to be always driven by the scripture in our pursuits rather than merely using the scriptures (and often just the Old Testament, oddly) to sanctify the process.

Similarly and just as predictably, many on the social and political right are essentially pursuing a rebirth of Christendom through political and legislative means. The idea that we could build the kingdom of God through political machinations is laughably absurd but some Christians are explicitly doing this. I am not against Christians being active in the political process, but the moment our hope of building the Kingdom of God is dependent on the levers of political power and not the Holy Spirit, not only have we abandoned the core of our faith, we have actually weakened ourselves significantly.

The future of Christian leadership will be fraught with tension. We have to be able to navigate it wisely and boldly, without giving up either watchfulness or faithfulness. Be watchful AND stand firm in the faith. 

Next week we are going to talk about what kinds of things we should be watching for, so be watchful of your inbox for that email next Tuesday morning!