This was part of a conversation with another leader in YFC International
Good Friday 2nd April 2010
Thanks for stimulating me again, bro.
Let me describe some things in some detail in response to your two queries mainly because I would like to keep it as a journal entry for myself.
1. ‘But I am a servant of the family of YFC and I will obey what they say’.
I have always felt that my primary allegiance is to God and not to YFC. I have publicly said so among the YFC family often. It is unhealthy to let YFC take too important a place in our lives. But I am also convinced of the following:
a. As long as God wants me in YFC I will be a servant of YFC. God’s best for YFC will be God’s best for me. I may seem to sacrifice for the sake of YFC, but I am not really sacrificing, because if this is what God wants–it will be the best for me too. My thoughts are far removed from God’s thoughts (Isa 55:8-9). Therefore every day when I get up I have the attitude that says, Lord what do you want me to crucify today. I have found that this is a sure formula for a life of Joy. When you surrender your plans to God, knowing that he knows what is best and is perfectly capable of caring for us, we are freed to spend our time enjoying life!
As I work for YFC I have chosen to submit to the wisdom of the body. On a very rare occasion if I think they are wrong I will battle it. Often their will is different to mine–as in the case of my desire to step down from this job. But I know that even if they make a mistake, because God is sovereign, he will turn it to good. Again this frees me to concentrate on the serious business of enjoying life–that is, to look for God’s surprising providences in every situation in life!
- As for being a servant of YFC, I am sure that is a biblical concept. Some of my key leadership passages in the Bible have to do with the use of the verb and noun for “slave”: douloō anddoulos. Jesus said that those who want to be first must be the slave (doulos) of all (Mark 10:44). Paul says that though he is free from all he has enslaved himself (douloō) to all so that he may win more of them (1 Cor. 9:19). Paul described himself as the slave (doulos) of the Corinthians (2 Cor. 4:5).
The metaphor of slave, then, is used not only for our being slaves of Christ but also of those whom we lead. Another of my key leadership passages is John 10 where the Good Shepherd dies for the sheep without running away, like the hireling, when the going gets tough. I like to say to YFC, as Paul said to the Corinthians, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Cor. 12:15). I use the same principles, though not as my primary responsibility, for the Colombo Theological Seminary of which I am the founding Chairman and my local church which my wife and I helped start.
I am convinced that God will use my deprivations for others to produce something in my life which is much better than if I had not deprived myself. Let me give two examples.
- In 1976, while I was still a student in the USA shortly before returning as National Director of YFC, I studied Acts 1-13 for my devotions over a period of three months in order to learn what an evangelistic community is like. I was coming back to lead such a community. On my return I taught this material and started trying to model our ministry on the early church. Around 1977, I developed the ambition to write a book on Acts after trying to put it into practice for 15 years. When the 15 years came I realised that publishers are not interested in Bible expositions from Youth for Christ workers! But I kept preparing studies. Around 1994 I got a fax from Zondervan asking me whether I would consider doing Acts in their NIV Application Commentary Series, because the originally assigned author, had other assignments which would make it impossible for her to get the book completed on time.
The fax came the day before our Board meeting. I asked the board to give me a sabbatical to write this book. I said I will write from home as I did not think it was wise to take my children to the West in their teenage years. A few weeks before the sabbatical started, the Principal of the two-year old Colombo Theological Seminary announced that he was leaving Sri Lanka to migrate to USA. The Board frantically tried to find someone to take his place, but they could not. I had no option but to take the job for one year. I feel like crying when I think of that sabbatical. I wrote this 650-page commentary while leading a brand new Seminary. It was really tough, but I think the book was better because it was written from a seminary setting. The series is on the whole Bible and I am the only author without an earned doctorate and also who is not a full time teacher in a theological institution.
The response to this book has been really gratifying. About 30,000 copies have been sold and now the electronic edition is also selling well–giving some significant funding to YFC. I keep getting letters from people who have been blessed by it, and through that book have started reading some of my other books. Kent Hughes, Pastor of the College Church in Wheaton, has called it the best preaching commentary on Acts in the English language. Some pastors who I have met in the USA have told me that it is the best commentary they have ever read. I believe the fact that it was written from the seminary setting contributed a lot to its quality. What was a tough year for me, turned out into a very productive one. The Seminary also is doing really well now. And this year Zondervan is publishing a 150 page study guide on Acts based on my commentary.
- My second example is about my next sabbatical about ten years later. Kent Hughes, who I mentioned earlier, is editing a series of expositional commentaries on all the books of the Bible. When Zondervan got to know that I was interested in Writing Bible expositions they sent me the Romans volume in this series as a model of how to write. Now I was asked to write the volume on Deuteronomy. The deadline was March 2005. I asked the Board and received a sabbatical in the USA for three months (our children were old enough to be left at home). I was to leave on 3rdJanuary 2005…. and the tsunami struck on December 26th2004. Around the December 28, I concluded that the YFC family could handle this challenge and decided that I will go on the sabbatical. Within two days of that I had to change my mind. We realised we were facing a national catastrophe and that I could not leave the country at that time.
So instead of writing a commentary, I was writing e-mails, mainly on funding related matters. Sometimes, I wrote as much as 250 e-mails in one day. I was feeling sorry for myself. On the first working day of the year our staff workers usually observe a day of fasting and prayer. As I was in town I was asked to speak. I prepared a talk. But as I was praying that morning, I had the strong sense that this was not a suitable talk. So I quickly went to my desk and wrote up another talk. Again, as I was praying, I got the sense that this talks also was not appropriate. Now it was time to leave for the meeting. My daughter who was travelling in the van with me asked what I was going to speak on. I replied, like Abraham replied Isaac, saying that the Lord will provide a message. As I was nearing the church, some thoughts went through my mind. I jotted them down when I got to the church and shared that with the staff.
Several staff said I should write down what I had shared. A former colleague, who is now a pastor, had told me that the pastors do not know what to preach on after the tsunami and that I should write something for them. So I wrote it down and sent it as one of my e-mail reflections. The response was amazing! A Dutch Newspaper published it, a Chinese website posted it and then RBC Ministries asked whether they could do it as a booklet. I said OK, and they printed 50,000 copies in English and 25,000 copies each in Sinhala and Tamil. The title was After the Tsunami.
Later that year there was the Earthquake in Pakistan and the booklet came out in Urdu entitled After the Earthquake. Then came Hurricane Katrina. RBC in USA published 396,000 copies of the booklet under the title After the Hurricane. Then a German book included it as a chapter in a book on the tsunami. And about four months ago it was included in an American book on Mission. So there are well over half a million copies in print without taking the Dutch newspaper into account. And I was complaining about not being able to write!
Later the Day of Discovery Programme of RBC ministries decided to do a TV programme hosted by me called “The God of Joy and the God of Pain” based on responses to the tsunami. The estimated audience of that programme was about 800,000. Later I did a series of talks on Joy and Pain, at a pastor’s conference in the USA. Crossway Books transcribed the talks and sent it to me asking whether they could publish it. I decided to write a fresh version and the result was The Call to Joy and Pain which in less than two years has been published in 11 countries in six different languages. I know of at least two more languages in process. This book won the Christianity Today book of the year award in the Pastoral and Church leadership category.
My Deuteronomy book however is still not complete. The publisher graciously kept extending the deadline. My Board gave me a three and a half month sabbatical last year to complete the book. But our Staff education fund was very low. As I was not successful in raising funds for this area, I decided that my book royalties and preaching/teaching honoraria should to go exclusively for staff education. Now we had a crisis. As we reach people from very dysfunctional backgrounds, we have a great need for training in counselling. We decided to send a staff worker and his family for a two year Masters degree course in Christian Counselling in Australia. Owing to a mistake in budgeting, we had under-budgeted the cost of this course. The total course was going to cost YFC US$100,000. I could raise only $10,000 from donors. He was already in school. So I used my sabbatical to earn money for my colleague by teaching and preaching. I earned a net amount of $30,000 and managed to do some writing too. But it was exhausting and I still had a lot more to do on the book. The Board has given me one month off in July and I hope to finish the book then.
All these decisions may seem crazy, but they have made for an exciting life!! I can honestly say that I have been really, really happy in the work of the Lord. When you sacrifice because of love, you are happy because the outflow of love from our lives makes us glow with the joy of the Lord. This love is actually derived from God’s limitless reservoir of love. I have felt therefore that if I am to sacrifice daily for my staff I must fill myself daily from God’s reservoir through unhurried times of prayer and the study of the word. God thrills us and charges our batteries through that. With the strength of that we, as Good Shepherds, can go and die for the staff. Today (Good Friday) I had the whole morning free as our church is in the afternoon. So I spent about two hours at the piano singing praise to God. (Yes, I do play the piano and sing, but not like you. My efforts can be described as zero talent plus maximum effort). I was so overwhelmed with ecstasy that I sometimes found I could not sing. I was so happy, I was weeping for joy over God’s goodness to me.
And now to your next question:
- ‘Over the years I have wanted to leave my job because for many reasons. But each time the staff and board keep telling me, why do you want to leave now? The ministry is growing, we are doing well financially’
One often hears in sermons on the subject, ‘facing adversity’,
‘When you sense it is time to leave try not to do so when the going gets tough or when you are facing a mountain of problems. The best time to leave is when things are going well and when your people least expect it’…….
I completely agree with you. In fact one of our cricketing heroes is playing past his prime and has become an embarrassment, at least to me! He is in the national team, I think because of political pull.
It is because of the principle you stated that I wanted to leave about two years ago. Actually things are going much better now than two years ago. So this is a good time to leave. I keep myself open to leave as soon as it is good for YFC. But the body has felt that I should wait for a little longer. I agree, and I submit knowing that God who is good, will do what is best.
I went through a personal struggle and came through recently on a related issue. I asked, “What if I have to lead past my prime and become a laughingstock or at least a burden on the organisation?” After a struggle, I told the Lord that if that is best for YFC, I will take that cross on. When they are sick of me, they will be more open to enthusiastically welcoming a new leader. So if God wants me to stay until they are sick of me, I will do so knowing that the result will be glory to God. My heart beats with the vision of lost young people coming to Jesus. For that I will be willing to bear shame. If I go down in my leadership abilities, so that the body will want very much to have a new leader, I will take that cross on. I know that what is important is not fleeting shame–it is the glory of God revealed through the conversion of lost youth. In the meantime, we will look at Jesus, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross despising its shame and is now seated at the right hand of God (Heb. 12:1-2).
Fortunately, that stage has not come yet. In fact one of our leadership team members told me two days ago that he and another leader were talking and asking whether the relinquishing of my executive powers that I am doing is too premature. I told him YFC must get used to being without me at the head, and I cannot delay that any longer!
Hey, thanks for letting me write this. These are convictions I have forged over the years in YFC and I thought it will be good to have this in my journal.
Bless you bro,