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  • Writer's picturePZ


When I was studying business at Purdue University, I took a literature class that has always stuck with me. We read and analyzed classics such as Don Quixote, 1,101 Nights, and even parts of scripture. One book that we read that always bothered me was Ovid's Metamorphoses. This epic book is a collection of poems, largely focused around the concept of change (metamorphoses, meaning transformations). A woman transformed into a tree to escape the lust of a man, a king is transformed into a wolf to help temper his rage, and the various gods transform themselves (or others) into many shapes in order to deceive humanity for various purposes. Of course, the stories in the book are fables, but as we discussed the contents and themes, we were invited to ask ourselves: what do these transformations tell us about human nature, and the nature of change? I remember thinking: change is sometimes necessary, given life's circumstances, but also not so simple as the fictional expressions of the book.

Fast forward to this week. For my Doctor of Ministry classes, we are focusing heavily on a concept called Transformational Leadership. This is a category of leadership that assumes that people work hardest and enjoy their work the most within a system of leadership that treats them like valuable holistic human beings (not just means to an end) and helps them believe in themselves and in that what they do is important. I say "system of leadership," because transformational leadership assumes that it's not just the CEO who plays a part in leadership, but every person at every level of the company. Essentially, transformational leadership transforms followers into leaders and urges (those who we would traditionally call) leaders to be followers in the sense that they listen to and are guided by their employees. So, though there are people who play roles within a system (it's still the CEO's prerogative to hire, fire, enforce and interpret policy, and report to boards and committees), everyone takes turns leading and following in a system that builds up trust and esteem and belief that they are all doing something important together.

If the concept seems tough to grasp...don't worry, you're not the only one. Hundreds of books, dissertations, and scholarly articles have been written on the subject, and people are still debating the best way to explain, understand, and replicate transformational leadership.

One of the concepts we've been wrestling with this past week is in a question: can you be a transformational leader, if you yourself have not undergone the process of transformation? Can we realistically ask others to accept change, when we ourselves are immune to it? Think about it: are you inspired to change when someone tells you they have never ever had to make a change in their life? Or are you more prone to desire your own transformation when you hear of all the difficult trials someone made it through, with the result of them being a better person for it? Change isn't easy for any of us! But certainly no one wants to be the first one to be demanded to change, and certainly not by someone who has been resistant to change themselves.

That brings me to truly transformed and transforming leaders in the Bible. Peter, while one of Jesus' closest disciples in scripture, remained fairly ignorant and unhelpful during his time with Jesus. Yet, after a conversation resulting in his forgiveness, as well as his later receiving of the Holy Spirit, we find Peter transformed. Where before he was doubting, clueless, lying, and violent: now Peter is baptizing thousands, leading others to connecting with the Holy Spirit, and transforming Jewish ministry to include outreach to Gentiles (unheard of!). His shadow even transforms sick and hurt people into healthy and whole people.

Paul is another one who experienced transformation, and later transformed others. Starting out as Saul, the killer of Christians, he finds himself knocked off his horse and blind after an encounter with Jesus. After receiving his sight back, he makes it his mission to tell the good news of Jesus to the world, and he becomes the first itinerant missionary. Many communities all around the Mediterranean are transformed as they follow Paul, who now follows Jesus. These are two examples of individuals who, because of their own transformation, find themselves transforming others into leaders in their own right. Paul empowers Timothy and Titus to be missionaries to Thessalonica and Corinth, respectively. And Paul and Peter both play leading roles in the Jerusalem Council, which transformed how Christianity would operate (in opposition to long-held Jewish expectations) forever. These, among other transforming roles they played, show the biblical basis for transformational leadership.

Further, Jesus Himself transformed so that we could better know God and so we could have access to salvation from sin. First, transforming from the celestial glory of King of the Universe, Creator of the World, Jesus became a human baby, Immanuel: God with us. He was the only human who never sinned, and then died on the cross, bearing every sin of all time. The Bible even speaks of transformation in that "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

When I look back on my own journey, as I'm sure many of us do, I see transformation. I think back on the time I failed at being a counselor at summer camp, and figured I really would never make much of a leader...but also how I gave it another try years later and excelled at it. I think to when I was starting school as a pastor, wearing heavy metal band tee shirts and not really getting that the way you present yourself as a pastor will be an important factor to consider. I think to the first funeral I conducted, verses the most recent one...there has been a lot of growth. Even from the time I started as Youth Director to now, three years later, there has been transformation.

While there are times we can all look to that prove we have transformed at one point...there is always more growth, more room for transforming. That's the part that I'm faced with that is the hardest about transformational leadership. Because it's not so much "transformed" leaders who we need, but "transforming" ones. The minute we stop being committed to growth and transformation is the minute we stop being effective in helping others grow and transform. Because if people look at me and see a static person, unmoved, untroubled, no struggle, no emotion, no doesn't matter what happened in the past: it is easy for them to say "this person isn't willing to change, and neither am I."

So as you consider your own leadership roles--whether it's as a parent or spouse, as a student with your peer group, as a pastor or church leader in another role, or even just as a kid who doesn't see leadership as a part of your life--I want to encourage you to never stop learning, never stop growing, and never close yourself off to the transformation God has prepared for you. And He does!

Transformation may seem as far fetched as a lady turning into a tree. But how about a pillar of salt? The Bible is full of transformations, both good and bad. Our Lord, Jesus wants to transform you into a leader who can transform others for His kingdom. Who better to do that transforming than our very Savior, who is not dead or coldly looking down from heaven, but living and moving in our lives today. He is developing a plan to come back and transform the earth anew, to transform our bodies and minds anew, and to transform our relationship with Him to one that is face-to-face. I can't wait for that day! But in the meantime, take this charge from Paul with you today:

Romans 12:2

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

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