Jesus is a Charismatic Leader, and You Should be One Too

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.

  1. Presence
  2. Power
  3. Warmth

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.

Presence

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.

Power

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.

Warmth

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.

The Gospel

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.

OR…..

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.

If you are new to my blog, I’d be honored if you would start with my first two posts. They are here and here.

Manifestations of a Broken Image Pt 3

In the first two posts we talked about some common ways that our brokenness negatively affects our ability to bear the image of God in the way that he originally intended when he dreamed up and created mankind to reflect him and represent him on the earth. Because of sin we have never been able to pull it off, but because of Christ we can begin to learn what God intended for us, and we have the tools: truth, redemption, the Holy Spirit, and the example of Jesus to make it possible.

But today I want to explore some of the more insidious ways that our broken image can manifest so that we can not only watch for signs of these in our own hearts, but also know them when we see it in others around us. 

Crooks

A crook is a person who does not understand that according to the true knowledge of good and evil handed down by God, it is an abomination to steal from others.  As we said in an earlier post, God institutes the sacredness of property rights in the Ten Commandments.  In order to elevate one’s status, some will become thieves of one kind or another, whether by breaking in and stealing physical property, online theft, identity theft, scam business practices, false advertising, cheating, or other such activities.  This violates the very principles we’ve been discussing about the sacredness and dignity of human beings.  God says our stuff is our stuff to dispose of any way we see fit, hoping we will look to him for direction.  Crooks deny his existence by denying the necessity to follow his ways and by trampling his image in their victims. 

Liars

A glance at Scripture may make it seem like it is a sin to be rich. But a careful and balanced study of the Bible will show that the issue is not how much money one has, in itself a neutral thing, but how one acquires it, and what one does with it.  Many of the passages that seem to condemn wealth assume that those with wealth will have gotten it by means of oppression (Ja 5:4).  Indeed, to acquire wealth by oppression violates the principles we’ve been discussing. It fails to see the inherent dignity of the oppressed and is wicked. 

Closely related to crooks are liars. Remember we are discussing the manifestations of the shame that began in the garden (Gen 3:10). Why do people lie? They lie in order to project a false image, or to gain something. If when we were kids, we were expected to be perfect, at least outwardly, we may have discovered that lying was easier than being good. In a sense, this whole blog is about being good, but not like you think. Not looking good. Not pleasing anyone. Not gathering other people’s opinions that you are good, but actually being good, which is a major key to the abundant life of being a glorious image-bearer. Since no one teaches us that as kids, we find out that the rewards are for looking good, and getting other people to recognize that. Well that is difficult, but we can short-cut the process by lying when we fall short. This can go with any of the other categories of the manifestations of shame.

Recluses

Any of the above characters could choose to escape all that shame and interpersonal complexity by becoming a recluse. There was an article in GQ called “The Strange and Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit” (Aug 5, 2014; Finkel). Christopher Thomas Knight lived in the woods of central Maine for twenty-seven years.  He was affectionately known to the locals as the North Pond Hermit, and when he was finally caught stealing by the police, he admitted to around forty robberies over the years.  He’d go into the town when he needed food, or batteries, or clothing, fattening up on Smarties and Oatmeal pies in the fall against the harsh Maine winters (never lighting fires to avoid being seen).  

When they finally caught him it eventually came out that, while he felt a fair amount of shame for being a thief, it was ultimately worth it to him because it meant that he could avoid interacting with people.  When he was twenty years old, he had just had enough. Not that he’d had a bad life, but interpersonal relationships made him anxious and uncomfortable, so he ran, and though it was really tough to survive out there in the woods all those years, he said the anxiety and stress just stopped the day he left, and started up again the day he returned, twenty-seven years later.  But God made us to be in relationships. It is healthy and good to become a self-reliant person who is emotionally resilient enough to spend lots of time alone, but not forever.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in his book, Life Together, “Let him who is not in community beware of being alone” (pg 77).  

The recluse can manifest on a spectrum, like any of these.  Some just have a tendency to stay home and avoid people most of the time.  Some go into the woods for twenty-seven years.  But either way, it is still a function of our brokenness when we are unable to deal with being around other people. 

Tyrants

Tyrants come in all shapes and sizes, but what they have in common is that their favorite mode of coping with people is to dominate them. Jesus was clear that God created us for what psychologist Alfred Adler called, horizontal relationships.  No one is meant to be above us, and no one is meant to be below us.  This does not mean we cannot have or be a boss, a teacher, a police officer, or some other such authority. Christians are called to submit to authority (Ro 13:1). But none of that is ever meant to be personal authority. If we have authority over another person, there is some higher entity that they are actually submitting to: the state, who has the power to protect rights; the company, who has the power to fire, or promote; or even the parents, who are invested by God.  

But no person is supposed to dominate another person because it violates that person’s selfhood. It does violence to the image of God in them.  A Tyrant, because of his shame, will seek personal power over people, rather than trade value for value as a servant leader.  A boss, a parent, a friend, or the worst, a pastor, may use you to soothe their insecurity and the anxiety of their self-doubt by seeking dominance over you.  

But this is the broken image of leadership as God intended it and as Jesus described it to his own status-hungry disciples (Mk 10:42-44).  All relationships should start with the acknowledgement that here before you is an image-bearer of the Almighty.  To seek dominance is to destroy that image.  The techniques vary from obvious and physically violent, to subtle and highly manipulative. Either way, as Jesus said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you.” (Mk 10:42-43 emphasis mine).  

Followers

On the opposite end, are the extreme followers.  There could be no tyrants if there were not those who were prone to give over the keys to their identity and their responsibility for thinking to these tyrants.  People long for heroes and infallible leaders, because they long for God.  Many people did not quite get what they needed or wanted from an earthly Father, and so they are susceptible to any fatherly type of tyrant.  Others just like having someone to trust in, who will take care of them, of everything, and sometimes, who they can blame when things go wrong.  

You don’t have to look all the way to the cults like Jonestown and Waco. There is some level of a sinful willingness to follow in every sphere of human life, and at most otherwise good churches.  Consider the teenager who lets the cool kids get him into trouble. Why is he doing what he knows to be wrong? Because of the powerful desire to follow the one who will give him status by association.  Isn’t this what happens in spiritually abusive churches?  Men and women seek status, so they seek to hitch themselves to the highest status leaders in the church. These followers will eventually become tyrants if they can, and for the same reason.  

Gangs, online communities, clubs, secret societies, and pretty much any grouping of people has great potential for this sort of thing, but none is more destructive than when it happens in a government. The extreme version of this might be seen in fascist (Hitler) or communist (Mao) countries, but even democratic political systems will bring out the sinful tendency to want to give over thinking responsibility to an all powerful leader who has tapped into a need in the masses and become a cult of personality.

So What Do We Do?

These are just some of the ways that our sin manifests to break down the image of God inside us and derail us from living the life we were made for and to live for God, ourselves, and others. Sometimes, to look around, or to even look at yourself can feel hopeless. Does anyone come to earth and live like an image-bearer, fulfilling the purpose God had for humanity when he lovingly created us? There was one. And his work on earth has made possible the restoration of us all, if only we will have eyes to see what he has done, and ears to hear what he has said. His name is Jesus. He knows you and loves you, and he was everything he is calling us to be.