The word charisma in Christianity usually is refers to some aspect of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, especially in charismatic church groups.
But I want to examine the old fashioned meaning of the word and look at whether Jesus had charisma. I’d also like to explore whether it is something we should seek to cultivate (assuming one can), and if so, how?
To be charismatic is to display compelling charm. It is a word used to describe great leaders. I have mixed feelings about charismatic leadership, because I understand that charismatic leaders are able to lead people to buy into some really stupid ideas. In the church, this happens frequently. Consider all the charismatic monsters in history. Hitler and Jim Jones come to mind.
Assuming that our intentions are to be better leaders and communicators, because we genuinely love people, have no desire to exert personal power over them, and want to be of service to God and mankind, then it may be worthwhile to consider. There is a book I read in 2012 by a woman named Olivia Fox Cabane called, THE CHARISMA MYTH. I am not going to go back and look at it again right now for exact references, but from what I remember, the main point was that everyone can learn to become more charismatic, and that charisma is made of three component parts.
Presence is simply the act of being in the moment. When it comes to charisma, it means being in the moment with another person. When you are present, people notice. This is an attractive quality. The other person feels like they are being seen. There are many ways to cultivate presence, as it is simply a refraining from letting your mind wander, and focusing attention on your subject. My favorite way to do this that I remember from her book is to think of your toes when you realize your mind is wondering. You would not think that would work. But it somehow focuses your attention on the moment, brings you out of your mind and back on the what the person is saying.
Power is the sense that you are a strong and able person. As this relates to other people, it means that if someone thinks you are a strong or powerful person, then you have the ability to help them. We are wired by God to see it that way. This is why we are impressed by strength and size. Presence and power are linked, because a person who is present, seems also to be more powerful. They appear unafraid, because they are obviously not preoccupied with fears in their mind.
But power and presence alone won’t make someone charismatic. They must also be warm. That is, they must also seem to like you. Why does this translate as charisma? Because here is a person who will be important to your life. They are powerful and warm. This means they are able to help you, and not only are they able, but, since they like you, they are also willing.
Think of the charismatic people you know, and you will realize that they are present, powerful, and warm. They may lean more heavily on warmth or power, but they will definitely have a measurable amount of both.
Christ the Charismatic Leader
Christ was charismatic. We don’t think of him that way because he did not try very hard to win people. He was not a salesman, or a manipulator of people. He was perfectly authentic (which was part of his power). But let’s look further at how he displayed naturally the three components.
Jesus walked in the constant presence of the Holy Spirit. He prayed for hours at a time to his Father in heaven and stayed constantly focused on what the Father was doing. His mind was not wandering and worrying. He was always absorbed in what he was doing and who he was with. He took the time to see the person he was with. Consider the leper who came to Jesus for healing. Jesus was moved with compassion and he healed him. Those who are not present are not able to be moved with compassion.
The Bible is clear that Jesus is powerful. Consider the effect it had on his disciples when he displayed power over the water that turned to wine, or the power he had over the weather, or his fearlessness in confronting the powerful Pharisees. The disciples came to understand very early that Jesus was powerful. This is why they were so shocked and dismayed when he refrained from saving himself from crucifixion, and overthrowing the Romans and the Jewish establishment.
And there is very little doubt that Jesus loved everyone. To meet his gaze would have been to receive all the love in the universe. He loves you. He will not fail to help you in your need. In John 15:9, Jesus says,
“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.”
And he loved us to the ultimate degree when he died for us, because of his love for us.
Consider the Gospel. Jesus became present with us when he came down off his throne in heaven.
He displayed power over satan, sin, and death with his perfect life, and his atoning death.
He did this because he loved us.
What About Us?
So if you would like to become more charismatic you can practice the three components. There are ways to do that, and many books cover those topics.
If you are a Christian, abide in Christ (Jn 15:4). Simply walking in Christ for real will increase your charisma. Do it for God’s sake, because it is what you were made for. As you take on the likeness of God, you will necessarily become more like him in presence, power, and love (warmth). In fact, I’d say that if you see you are lacking in one of these areas, you can see it as a sign that you need to reorient yourself to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Mt 6:33). In other words, abide in Christ. You will become more powerful as you walk in his authority and courage. You will become more present as you seek HIS presence, and you will learn to love as he loves, becoming a warmer person.
The truth is, you did not have to know any of this, and pressing into your relationship with Christ would cause it to happen anyway. But if you are a leadership nerd like me, you hopefully found this enjoyable and helpful.