Excerpts from my upcoming new book (Summer 2017), Kenotic Leadership and the Movement that Changed America (working title), that looks at the imitation of Christ in the life and leadership of Francis Asbury, first bishop of the Methodist church in America.
(A condensed version of this subject is covered my chapter “The Leadership of Francis Asbury” in Leadership the Wesleyan Way [2016, Emeth Press].)
Some years ago, I came across across a wrinkled, black-and-white family photograph of a newly-built stone farmhouse on the Oklahoma prairie (I am writing this from Oklahoma’s Green Country in the northeast). Scrawled across the bottom in black ink were the words, “Part of my consecration 1953.” At the age of 36, the author, a successful farmer and married father of five, heard God’s call to ministry. He traded his large farm and newly constructed home for his brother’s smaller property, and then set about constructing a brand new building for the church he began pastoring. Across the next half-century, he worked as a bi-vocational pastor in small, rural churches across Oklahoma and Louisiana. The family would grow to 10 kids, eventually sensing the call to settle in the Ozark mountains of northwest Arkansas. There, he carved a homestead and a church out of the cedars and rocks of the Boston Mountains. A small, modest chapel for ministering to the local mountain community was constructed in the woods off a county road. I was coming of age as a young teenager at that time, and had the opportunity to help this pastor, my grandfather, clear the land and work on the building.
My grandfather sacrificed a great deal to be obedient to God’s call. The photo of his new house, built the year of his calling, represents a consecration far beyond merely a home. His ministry will never make the pages of denominational histories or be publicly celebrated for its tremendous numeric impact or methodological influence. There are no great monuments to his leadership; the fruit of his work will not be seen in the books he authored, seminars he conducted, masses to which he preached, or countries to which he traveled. He did not serve among the intellectual, suburban, wealthy, or sophisticated; rather, he embraced a life of selfless ministry to an ordinary, common, and out-of-the-way people. With the exception of those who knew him personally, few will ever be aware of the affects of his ministry. Yet, in my reading of the life of Francis Asbury, I cannot help but see echoes of his life in that of my grandfather. In my own life, he modeled for me the life of a leader who imitated Christ through sacrifice, servanthood, humility, incarnationality, and devoted obedience.
I wrote this book because I firmly believe these stories — of devout, faithful, and skilled men who are so seized by a hunger for God that they will abandon everything — just might have something to say to modern western culture obsessed with celebritites and celebrity leaders, fueled by desires of self-expression, self-fulfillment, and self-gratificaiton, and unanchored to any transcendent point of reference outside of themselves. Nor do I think one has to look to far to realize this is an affliction as much in the church as it is in the culture.
The 21st Century could use another Francis Asbury with the spiritual, moral, and intellectual courage to lead boldly out of theological convictions and a personal experience of divine transformation and, in so doing, catalyze a renewal of both culture and church. At the same time, though, there are countless numbers of leaders in church, in business, in families, in the marketplace, who are just like my grandfather. Going about their calling with diligent steadfastness, pursuing righteousness and holiness in love of God and neighbor, and seeking to let all they do be informed by that pursuit. But their names are largely unknown. They do not grace the fronts of bestsellers, banner ads for mega-conferences, or magazine covers because of their great influence. Yet they lead, they shepherd, they model, they exemplify, they give, they pour out their lives and change their corner of the world daily. Upon such men and women rests the kingdom of God and the vitality of human culture. This is, in one sense, their story.