Leading Wisely: A Fight for Joy

  • Natalie Corbin
  • Aug 28, 2009

Denver Seminary graduate Jeff Nikkel has seen the fruits of leading wisely since his graduation from the Master of Divinity program in 2004. He is currently the pastor of the missionary Mennonite Brethren church plant Trailhead. Nikkel’s leadership model stems from his experiences within the church, the theology of the Mennonite Brethren, and principles instilled during his time at Denver Seminary.

“The reason we exist is to help lost people find life in Jesus,” states Nikkel, “There’s really more than one way to be lost. We as a church have to be about helping lost people find a life in Jesus. We have experienced that and want that for other people. We see Trailhead as a missionary church and I see myself as a missionary to the people of Denver.” To help the lost Nikkel believes that an authentic community with healthy growing people living in the way of Jesus must be established, must be the Church. “We believe the Church is not a building or a set of programs, but God’s people that are practicing the ‘one-another’s.’ It seems to be mandated in Scripture to love one another and encourage one another and confess sins to one another and bear one another’s burdens, on and on. That is our vision; that is what we want to be as a church.”

With such a vision, Trailhead’s leader must do so wisely. “I think it really starts with humility. That all I am and all that I have are from God, for God. Maybe a better way of saying it is ‘by God, for God.’ That God doesn’t need me. The second thing that I think it means is living a life that’s worthy of emulation. I have to embody the mission and vision and values of Trailhead. I have to, in some way, show people what it means to be involved in authentic community, to live in an authentic, truthful, real way myself. I have to show people holistic spiritual formation, what it looks like to be healthy, whole and what does it means to live in the way of Jesus. The third thing is to just genuinely love people, to love people within our Trailhead community and to love people in Centennial and Littleton that we’re building relationships with. What I really want for our folks is to experience all that God has intended for them. I want to fight for their joy.”

Nikkel’s model of wise leadership sprouts from very practical characteristics. He firmly believes that holistic health is necessary for a leader. “I have to be healthy physically, relationally, emotionally, spiritually. I think that it is really important that my leadership comes out of a sense of health and wholeness.” Nikkel goes on, “The other thing that I think is incredibly important, especially for a Christian leader, is to treasure Jesus over all things. If my genuine desire is to know Jesus, to obey Him, to please Him, that He’s my treasure over the success of Trailhead, over my family, over other people’s opinions, over all these things, then leadership is just easier; it’s better. And for me, that’s been a big journey, and it’s easier to lead with courage.” Nikkel also emphasizes a prayer filled life that is lived with expectation.

As far as Denver Seminary’s impact on Nikkel, “Seminary enlarged my world in lots of different ways. My years at Denver Seminary taught me to think theologically and live biblically. The importance of servant leadership, permission to think outside the box, and the freedom to think, dream and ask good questions developed at Denver Seminary for sure.” Nikkel goes on, “There’s a lot of integrity between the professors: what they were teaching and how they were living. When there’s that integrity, education is that much more powerful, meaningful and full of impact.”

Nikkel leads wisely. This is evident at every turn, and he articulates it well. “Leadership that doesn’t flow out of an intimate relationship with Jesus in a sense of personal wholeness simply isn’t worthy of following.”

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