The Leader as Catalyst – Part 5 (Progenitor)
This is the fifth installment in a seven-part series on understanding the leader as a catalyst. In the last four weeks, I have laid the foundation for this concept from a biblical perspective, so if you missed it, you should take the time to revisit those blogs. Today I would like to introduce the fourth of five key elements within this framework, each being a different role the leader plays within the community to which they provide leadership. These five roles are essential to catalyzing a community to embrace the Jesus way in both thought and practice. They are sequenced by design, each element being foundational for the next.
Fourth Element: Progenitor (Give the Way)
A progenitor is defined in English as a person or thing that first indicates a direction, originates something, or serves as a model, predecessor, precursor (dictionary.com). Also, it means an originator of a line of descent, a precursor (The American Heritage Dictionary, 5th Edition). It comes from the Latin progenitor, to beget to bring forth. In an organic sense, within humanity, it speaks of our parents or ancestors, those who started our tribe or clan. Essentially, it can be thought of as the one who initially gave us life. Quite obviously, from a Biblical perspective, we see this in Father God as our Creator and in Christ who is both the Head and Cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20) of His Church:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross (Colossians 1:15-20).
In establishing His Church, Jesus also set a pattern for the way of life and mission He called His followers to embrace. In the same way, His expectation was that those followers would, in turn, be those who would pass on His way of life. We are to be fruitful and multiply in the co-creative process of facilitating the new birth (John 3:3) and seeing Christ formed in people (Galatians 4:19). This is the role of spiritual parent and is the prime metaphor used to describe the leadership role in the New Testament. As a rabbi in the Second Temple Period tradition, Jesus saw Himself as a "spiritual father" to his disciples, referencing them as "little children" in John 13:33. It is important to note that most of these disciples were not too far from Jesus' age. The term here is not used as a condescending hierarchy statement but rather as a familial term of endearment. There is an understanding of responsibility within Christ's relationship with His disciples to enter the Kingdom by way of the new birth and then continue in His way. He is the progenitor for all of us to claim Christ as Lord, yet His disciples carry on the very same practice to those whom they have brought into Christ.
The Apostle Paul speaks to the Corinthians in such a manner, claiming them as his spiritual children and making a claim on their obedience to his teaching as a father:
"I do not write these things to make you ashamed but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?" (1 Corinthians 4:14-21)
He continues using the familial metaphor in calling out Timothy, Paul's chosen emissary to the church in Corinth, as his "beloved and faithful child in the Lord." In His role as a parent, Paul claims the authority to remind them of the pattern which he has set for them in Christ, in doctrine, in practice, and in the manner of life. In the same fashion, He speaks to the Galatian church about being his "little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!" (Galatians 4:19). In like fashion, Paul speaks of Titus as "my true child in a common faith" (Titus 1:4). Perhaps the Apostle John is the most well-known of the disciples for speaking in family terms to those he brought into Christ, calling his disciples in Christ "children" more than a dozen times in his letters.
Why is this important? It is the significance of the role as spiritual progenitor that conveys the authority to call people to account to follow the ways of Jesus as it was delivered to them. In speaking to the Colossian church, Paul reminds them, "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him" (Colossians 2:6). As I have shared before, this statement is dripping with rabbinic meaning, indicating not just the haggadah, or teaching they have received but also the halacha or the practices he delivered to them as well. In application to our pastoral ministry today, this means that people who don't receive you as a spiritual mother or father cannot be held accountable to the way of life in Christ you call them to observe. The lack of such relational capital makes it difficult to lead them. If they do not receive you in that role in Christ, they are someone else's disciple. They must accept the value of Christ in you to receive from you what Christ wants to do through you:
"Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person's reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward" (Matthew 10:40-42).
The "reward of the prophet" which is received is the upbuilding, encouragement, and comfort which comes from the Lord by their prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:3). The "reward of a righteous man" is the example of his character (1 Corinthians 11:1). When someone receives another as a spiritual parent, all the resources of Christ in that person are released to the one who accepts them in that role.
So, my question for you today, dear leader, is who are your spiritual parents? And who are your spiritual children? In other words, who are you following in the way of Jesus, and who are you leading in His way? Suppose this is not happening in and through your ministry. In that case, the church you may have a leadership responsibility in will never be able to catalyze the Kingdom mission as God so desperately desires. Spend some time in prayer and evaluate how you are serving as a progenitor in the faith. Also, reflect on who is leading you in Christ and how well you are following Christ in and through them, as this will directly impact those who may be your spiritual children. Because we all reap what we have sown. Wherever you find yourself, start immediately to shift your followership and leadership, embracing the role of being a spiritual parent who sets the way for others to follow Christ.