This man is our personal mentor and pastor and there aren’t words to express what it has meant to us that he has faithfully shepherded us through the last several years. His encouragement of the Farmer, fierce prayers for our family, weekly check-ins and generous, uncommon wisdom, has led us down the better roads — and his unbelievable pastoral heart has led us closer to God’s heart. If I could only get Scott Sauls’ first and second books into the hands of every Christ-follower…. my own copies are beat-up, well-worn friends. Scott, who is pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, speaks rare wisdom with genuine humility and grace, and is just, frankly, so much like Jesus. Scott has just released his third blazingly brilliant book – this one for leaders in the home, in the neighborhood, in the world, and in ministry – and it is another absolute must-read for the times we are in: From Weakness to Strength: 8 Vulnerabilities that Can Bring Out the Best in Your Leadership. This right here echoes the heart of his new book. It gives us incredible joy to welcome our friend, Scott Sauls, to the farm’s front porch today…
If Jesus were with us in the flesh today, I wonder if we would accuse Him of being un-American.
For as long as I can remember, I have loved being American.
Yet I have often been caught in characteristically American trappings such as the pursuit of power, money, recognition, prestige, selfish ambition, making a name for myself, and advancing my interests, my agenda, my goals, my comfort, my privilege, and my view of the world.
As a young man, I took a trip to Jamaica with a few friends. Part of our visit included a brief stop in an art gallery.
As an American Christian, I was alarmed when I encountered a Jamaican painting of Jesus and His twelve disciples.
To my surprise, all thirteen men in the painting (including Jesus) had brown skin, brown eyes, and black hair—betraying my long-held image of the white-skinned, blue-eyed, light-brown-haired, English-speaking, American Jesus who could have easily passed as the fourth member of the Bee Gees.
As I imagined Him, Jesus was decidedly American. For this reason, my gut told me that something was off—perhaps even wrong—about the Jamaican portrayal.
Or, perhaps, the fault was not with the Jamaican artist. Perhaps the fault was with me.
Now, more than twenty years since that Jamaica visit, I have come to see that my home country is not and has never been at the center of the Christian story.
Rather, we in America are members of the “ends of the earth” about whom Jesus spoke in the Great Commission.
It turns out that the Jamaican image of Jesus was much truer to form than my culturally biased American one.
The Jesus of Scripture is in all likelihood a brown-skinned, brown-eyed, black-haired, first-century Middle Eastern Jewish rabbi who never married, was materially poor, experienced homelessness, was more homely than handsome, never spoke a word of English, and never stepped foot on American soil.
Realizing these things does not take me to a place of shame. Rather, it takes me to a place of deep awe, gratitude, and worship.
Through the corridors of time, from the other side of the world, and across language and ethnic and cultural and religious and economic barriers, this same Jesus purposed to include people like me—Americans like me—in His great story of redemption.
Though Jesus is in many ways un-American, He is by no means anti-American. He is for people like me just as He was for His own contemporaries.
Through sheer grace and based on nothing that I have contributed, he has grafted me into his everlasting family, which, although it is first for the Jew and then for the Gentile (Romans 1:16), is no less for me than it was for first-century Middle Eastern Jews like Joseph, Mary, Peter, and Paul.
Jesus also offers a radically different understanding of what it means to be a leader. His vision for leadership often parts ways with the typical American view of such things. For example:
In America, credentials qualify a person to lead. In Jesus, the chief qualification is character.
In America, what matters most are the results we produce. In Jesus, what matters most is the kind of people we are becoming.
In America, success is measured by material accumulation, power, and the positions that we hold. In Jesus, success is measured by material generosity, humility, and the people whom we serve.
In America, it is shameful to come in last and laudable to come in first. In Jesus, the first will be last and the last will be first.
In America, leaders make a name for themselves to become famous and sometimes treat Jesus as a means to that end. In Jesus, leaders make His name famous and treat their own positions, abilities, and influence as a means to that end.
In America, leaders crave recognition and credit. In Jesus, leaders think less of themselves and give credit to others.
In America, leaders compare and compete so they will flourish. In Jesus, leaders sacrifice and serve so others will flourish.
In America, leadership often means “My glory and happiness at your expense.” In Jesus, leadership always means “Your growth and wholeness at my expense.”
In America, the strong and powerful rise to the top. In Jesus, the meek inherit the earth.
The apostle Paul enjoyed great professional success and all the position, power, and recognition that a first-century rabbi could have dreamed of, yet He declared:
The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling … not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:25–29)
Scripture confirms Paul’s words to be true.
Time after time, the greatest and most influential leaders were imperfect, un-credentialed men and women who would never be candidates for our “Who’s Who” and VIP lists.
Joseph, who was disowned by his brothers and thrown into an Egyptian prison, later became the prime minister of Egypt.
Noah, a man who got drunk and passed out naked, rescued all the species on earth from extinction.
Isaiah, a preacher who was rejected by his contemporaries and sawn in half at his execution, became one of the most influential voices in the history of the world.
David, the youngest of seven brothers and son of an obscure shepherd, became the king of Israel and writer of over half the Psalms.
Peter, a hotheaded fisherman and erratic disciple who denied Jesus three times, later became a bold truth teller who courageously gave up everything for Jesus and was crucified upside down.
Mary, the unwed teenage girl from a small town, became the mother of God’s Son.
Ruth the foreigner, Rahab the prostitute, and Bathsheba the adulteress were honorably included in the family tree of Jesus.
Paul, once a blasphemer and persecutor and bully and racist toward Gentiles, became apostle to the Gentiles and writer of one-third of the New Testament.
And then there was Jesus, who came to His own—but whose own did not receive Him—who had nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him, who died on a trash heap as a condemned criminal.
Through this excruciating loss, Jesus won salvation for billions of souls and prepared the way for all things to be made new. Now and forevermore, the government of the whole universe rests squarely on the shoulders of the One who was despised and rejected by men.
Indeed, the most impactful, life-giving, and lasting leadership rests firmly on the shoulders of weakness. God chose the weak things …
… including me.
How often I have pleaded, as the apostle Paul did, for the Lord to remove my thorns, my struggles, and the obstacles that beset me! Yet it has been in these very weaknesses and challenges, even heartbreaks, that God has revealed His power, strength, and sufficiency. Although the thorns are painful, they are a gift of grace to grow me into the kind of leader that I could never become without them.
From Weakness to Strength, examines eight common thorns through a biblical lens: unfulfilled ambition, isolation, criticism, envy, insecurity, anticlimax, opposition, and restlessness. Depending on how we respond to them, these challenges will either make or break us as leaders in our families, our communities, our work.
Scott Sauls is senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Before CPC, Scott was a lead and preaching pastor alongside Tim Keller with New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church. He is married to Patti and has two lovely daughters, Abigail and Ellie. Scott blogs regularly – bookmark him! His is one of a handful of blogs I subscribe to.
In this powerfully honest book, Scott exposes the real struggles that Christian leaders and pastors regularly face. He shares his own stories and those of other leaders from Scripture and throughout history to remind us that we are human, we are sinners, and we need Jesus to help us thrive as people and leaders.
About From Weakness to Strength, Joni Eareckson Tada said, “My friend Scott Sauls has written an extraordinary book for people like me…for Scott understands weakness. He resonates with people who have stumbled and fallen.”
I deeply concur. I read From Weakness to Strength all in one sitting — and have returned to drain more than one highlighter on these astonishingly insightful pages. If you have ever wanted to lead your people well, I have no higher recommendation than this book.