God created all people with hearts that churn with desires. We aren’t merely thinking creatures who find our way forward by making rational calculations. We’re driven instead by what we love, by our passions. We’re creatures that are formed by our affections. We become what we love. As James K.A. Smith says, “To be human is to love, and it is what we love that defines who we are. Our (ultimate) love is constitutive of our identity.”1James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, Cultural Liturgies, vol. 1, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009) p. 50.
You probably see where this is going. Radical autonomy bends our heart’s desires inward toward self. Hyper-individualist people believe that satisfaction can only be achieved by making themselves strong and accumulating everything they want.
The Bible calls us to a contradictory set of values that contradict this hyper-individualism. These are values that are essential for those of us who are tasked with building and keeping a network. We’re not exempt because we’re leaders. In fact, the burden to be an example is greater. And the path remains the same. If I want to be great, I must be a servant (Mark 9:35). If I desire to be treated in a particular way, I should do unto others as I would have them do unto me (Luke 6:31). I should not merely consider my own interests but also the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). To find myself, I must lose myself (Matthew 16:25). The only vaccination against the viral strains of autonomy, tribalism, and corrupted ambition is to leverage your whole being for connection and service outside of yourself. That’s the only way that we, as people who are created for the glory of God in community, can flourish in a fallen world.
The only vaccination against the viral strains of autonomy, tribalism, and corrupted ambition to leverage your whole being for connection and service outside of yourself.
How does a heart warping inward get untwisted and radically redirected? The truth is that it takes an act of God. Only supernatural intervention can reverse self-obsessed drives so that they move upward toward God and then proceed outward toward others. We were born with hearts that constantly curve inward toward self-love; we must be reborn to love others. When a human being is re-born, the gospel begins the work of overwriting radical autonomy, tribalism, and corrupted ambition with an others-centered program.
The starting point is the gospel itself. God the Son had every claim to the glories of heaven, but chose to act with other-centered humility:
[He], being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross (Philippians 2:6–8 NIV)
As converted souls behold the humble and unselfish way that Christ loved us, our souls are enlarged. As Christians meditate upon and receive Christ’s love, our stories of self-glory become less captivating to us. We grow more like Christ. The interests and stories of other people begin to take on greater importance. What’s truly remarkable is that Christ’s great love reverses the incurving of our fallenness, and we begin to love others. Why? Because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). That’s the gospel’s anti-virus.
It works both for individuals and for collectives. Cultural commentator David Brooks observes, “A commitment to community involves moving from ‘I’ stories to ‘We’ stories. The move, as always is downward and then outward. Down into ourselves in vulnerability and then outward in solidarity with others.”2David Brooks, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life, (New York: Random House, 2019), p. 281. What Brooks has observed in the larger culture is true for leaders as well. A commitment to living as a committed network begins with beholding Christ’s forgiveness and responding to this good news with two key practices—humbling ourselves before each other and then locking arms together as we go on mission. Let’s unpack this gospel two-step:
Humbling Ourselves Before Each Other
What does it mean to humble ourselves?
First, it means honest self-appraisal before God. Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of who God really is and who we really are. In reality, humility is nothing more than seeing reality clearly. What I like about this definition is that the focus is Godward, not me-ward. Yes, I’ve got to look at myself, but only in comparison to the holy God who became man and suffered as our substitute. Ponder that and it’ll make you humble! But notice something else. There’s nothing about humility that means we don’t dream, aspire, and plan for great things. Humility, biblically understood, should stoke a great ambition for new ways to bring God glory.
Second, it means honest self-disclosure to others. Let’s drop the illusion of having it all together. The only perfect man who walked the earth was Jesus. The rest of us are just bumbling through life until we eventually discover what God already knows. We are weak and sinful and still need Jesus, every day.
Consider this question: When was the last time you confessed a sin to another person? Confession is important, not because it forces us to grovel but because it acknowledges the reality of our brokenness, our humanity, and our daily need for grace. When we confess our sins to one another, we find there is nothing with which we struggle that is not common to man (1 Corinthians 10:13). And because we share common struggles at the deepest level, we also find comradery and deep fellowship with fellow believers. After all, we’re the community of people who know the only solution for sin is God’s just and faithful forgiveness—a pardon grounded in Christ’s substitutionary death for us. And because we confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness together as church communities, each church has a shared testimony; a story that unites us together as we move forward on mission.
(This article was adapted from Recovering The Operating System for a Healthy Network by Dave Harvey)