St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church

"Proclaiming Christ Crucified"

Follow the Leader, Leaders!

Pastor’s Blog “Follow the Leader, Leaders!”
“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mk 8:36).
This familiar passage from the English Standard Version of the Bible comes near the end of the gospel reading for Lent 2 (b). The whole passage (Mk 8:31-38) is commentary on the first of three passion predictions by the Lord Jesus (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). It’s noteworthy for Christian parents, Christian teachers and preachers, and, of course, Christian business folk. If our Lord and Master Jesus empties Himself and goes to the cross for the salvation of the world, how will those marked with His cross and sealed with the Holy Spirit respond to His work?
Doubtless, the Lord Jesus loved His mother the Blessed Virgin Mary and His stepfather Joseph. Whether the brothers and sisters of the Lord were Joseph’s children by a previous marriage or cousins, the New Testament does not make clear. That they were not biological brothers and sisters is apparent from the Lord’s charge to John the Beloved Disciple to take care of His mother (John 19:25-27). Were they biological siblings, there would have been no such charge, and the early Church would not have reported that she fell asleep in Ephesus.
Nevertheless, the Lord Jesus is singular in His obedience to His Father’s good and gracious will. As with most adult children, especially men, He separated from His family of origin to focus on His mission and ministry. At the beginning of John’s Gospel, the Lord still accompanies His mother to a wedding in Cana. By the end, the Lord has provided for His mother’s care. And, John, the Beloved Disciple, though greatly persecuted, is the only one of the twelve not to be martyred and surviving to old age. He becomes Mary’s replacement son.
Christian parents, Christian teachers and preachers, and Christian business folk each have leadership roles to play. Those who fulfill their roles well follow the Leader Jesus in laying down their lives for the sake of those in their care. What that means may not be as apparent at first blush. In each instance, leaders must lead, but how they lead is shaped by the Leader who seeks not His own will but that of the Father who sent Him to save and deliver a captive world.
Christian parents know who and Whose they are by Baptism into the Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection. Christian parents do not draw their self-worth or their raison d’etre from their children. Because they are called to lead by the Leader and in His path, Christian parents are able to self-differentiate from their children in such a way that they do not give in to a need to be needed. Those who do cannot be leaders. They are followers and not of the Leader. It takes courage and not a little grace to say: “I always love you, my child, but I love God more! Indeed, I can only love you rightly by loving God more than you.” Those who fall into neediness in later years will risk forfeiting their souls in order to gain their child on that child’s selfish terms.
Christian teachers and preachers are particularly susceptible to the world’s agenda more than the Leader’s. Parsing their way through the Leader’s words and filling them full of meanings quite at odds with the whole counsel of God come from needing the approval of colleagues, students, their parents, or the crowd. In short, much of what purports to be “bold” or “courageous” leadership is, in fact, little more than pandering after the world’s approval. When the Lord Jesus said the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church, He wasn’t guaranteeing denominations, seminaries, colleges, or congregations would survive. In fact, His parable of the wicked vineyard tenants is indeed a dreadful warning to faithless leaders who don’t follow the Leader but instead crucify Him in order to try to make His vineyard their own.
Christian business folk have to be concerned about the bottom line if they are to keep people employed in meaningful work that the neighbor needs. At the same time, Christian business folk have a deeper bottom line which is something that ethically-challenged bean counters may never understand. The Christian business leader never forgets that he or she has been given gifts of wise money and people management that will be held to a far higher accounting standard than that of a board of directors. Indeed, the Father will ask, “What have you done with what I placed in your hands? How have you been a blessing to your neighbors? How did you give your life away in humble service like my Beloved Son?” In other words, it is never enough simply to make as much money as one can and give away as much as one can. If you give generously, to whom are you giving and what are they doing with the money? If in any way they are using it to steal, kill, and destroy, they are not on God’s side (John 10:10)!
Every Christian should be greatly concerned by the dysfunctional nature of American governmental and higher educational institutions that curse more than bless through an endless cycle of, for one, fundraising and elections, or, for the other, fundraising and self-perpetuation in an echo chamber. At what point, will Christian leaders step into the fray to offer lives of humble service for the sake of the neighbor rather than for the sake of one’s own narrow interests?
Christian parents and Christian business folk need to pray daily, worship weekly, and read God’s Word as much as Christian teachers and preachers. Crossways Bible Study founder Harry Wendt asks, “How can they lead Christ’s Church if they don’t read His Book?” Faithful Christians, whatever their vocation, serve both in a congregation and in the world. They have spiritual friendships where they study God’s Word and pray for one another regularly. Whatever their vocation, Christians give generously of time, talent, and treasure, because they know they cannot outgive the Leader, who gave His life away for the salvation of the world.
On this sixth day of Lent (Sundays aren’t included), return to your Baptism. Read the Lord’s Book first. You’ll find daily readings at under the Daily Worship tab. Then, die to your selfish self by confessing your sins and asking the Lord’s help in your struggle to be the leader He has called you to be at home, at church, at work, in the world. Rise up from prayer in the certain knowledge that you are God’s child called to follow the Leader and called to lead those whom God has given you to lead in your various vocations!
St Matthew's Pastor Sam Zumwalt


The Rev. Dr. Samuel Zumwalt has worked in churches for 41 years and in May 2017 celebrated the 36th anniversary of his ordination to the holy ministry. He is a member of the Society of the Holy Trinity ( In 2004, Pr. Zumwalt moved with his family to Wilmington from Texas, where he served for 23 years as pastor of small, midsize, and large congregations.