(From an interview given to Keswick Convention in 2006)
7 – for the Keswick programme, I read your book on Jesus-centred leadership. Why do you think the church – particularly in the West – is so enamoured with the world’s style of leadership – we go for power, charisma, and bestow wonderful titles even though Jesus told us not to?
This is not only a problem in the west; we struggle with it too. I think the environment we live in blinds us sometimes so that we do not see what the Bible is teaching us about a given topic. Pragmatism has always been alluring. While we may give mental assent to the biblical teaching, when it comes to practice we can easily get carried away by the ways of the world which have been “successful”. The result is that, though we respect the Bible, in practice what the secular gurus teach about organisational life is what is most important.
I think these secular management gurus do have a lot of good to teach us, and I am not averse to learning from them. However, there are some things about Christian community life and leadership which are strange to many earthly structures.
- The model of excellence in Christianity is servanthood. So a brilliant preacher who refuses to visit the sick cannot be a leader in the church.
- Competition, which rules the way markets operate, is taboo in Christianity. When a company grows by hurting another company, the world would say it has been successful. If a church does that, it has been a failure.
- In Christianity, in addition to fiscal and managerial accountability, personal spiritual accountability is vital. So a person who does not spend time daily in the Word and in prayer; or who does not speak kindly to his or her spouse cannot be a leader in the church. In the secular structures there is no way of finding out such things. If the church has no way of finding out such things it has moved away from God’s way!
So there are some places where ecclesiastical culture is very different to secular organisational culture. The Bible informs us on how we should fashion an ecclesiastical culture. Therefore it should be our primary guide for developing our organisational structure and culture.
8 – do you think churches should be more careful over those who are put into positions of leadership?
One of the keys to Christian community is risk-taking by believing in the possibilities of grace in a person and taking the risk of promoting that person even though others may not see much good in that person. I am writing this at YFC’s drug rehab centre. We could not do this work unless we believed that God will make the students here into great people even though society has given up on them. But because of the scars they have got through their tough experiences, they will be rough people and blunder a lot in their path to leadership. But we will take the risk of assigning responsibilities to people because we believe in the possibilities of grace.
But we must see that these persons we promote to leadership have a heart for God, are teachable and sincere in desiring to please God. With such we can take risks. They will stumble and do many undiplomatic things, but in the end they will come out as powerful servants of Christ. But if there is no heart for God we must be very careful even though their talents may greatly help in carrying out the programme of the church.
The key to Christian success is bringing glory to God by doing his work in his way. His way is holy. A person who is unkind to his wife may be able to very effectively lead a group to achieve a measurable goal. But he cannot be a leader in the church until that problem in his life has been solved. So we keep him involved, and work with him until—not only his abilities but also—his character qualifies him for leadership.
9 – what would you say are the essentials of a good leader?
- A heart for God with a burning passion to live for God’s glory. This will make them students of the Word, people of prayer and teachable. I look for teachability a lot. That is what makes them willing to accept their faults when they are pointed out. Such can progress beyond what their natural abilities suggest to us.
- A servant spirit that makes them want to help people and work for their welfare. Christian leaders are good shepherds who die for their sheep. Christian leadership is taking people along to achieve what God wants for them and for the group they represent. They are committed both to the individual people and to the group. If God has put people in that group, his best for the individuals in the group will dovetail with his best for the group. Both the people and the group grow under servant leaders.
- The gift of leadership which causes others to want to follow them and together do great things for God. I have found that different people are gifted at leading different types of groups. Some are good with smaller groups and others with larger groups. Some are effective with teenagers and others with older Christians. Some do a great job leading mature and motivated leaders whereas the leadership style of others results in mature motivated people getting frustrated. When we slot people to lead groups that they are not gifted in leading the leaders and the groups they lead end up getting hurt.
I think this giftedness is primarily something which the church recognises. When the church recognises this in a person it can assign responsibilities according to that person’s giftedness. This is why I am uneasy with people who are ambitious for positions of leadership, and with ways of selecting leaders which promote such ambition. The Bible presents many of those who wanted to be leaders as bad people. Many of the great leaders of the Bible—like Moses, Gideon, Isaiah and Jeremiah—did not think they were suited for leadership when they were told about God’s choice of them to be leaders. Indeed, Paul says that because of all the good that can be done through leadership it is good for Christians to aspire to leadership (1 Tim. 3:1). But, like in the case of aspiring for the higher gifts, we leave it to God to give us what he thinks is best for us (1 Cor. 12).
If Christians leave the selection of leaders to the church they can trust God to do what is best for them (Psa. 138:8), even if the church makes a mistake in their choice. Then they would not be too upset if they are not selected. Leadership is a responsibility, not a badge of honour. Our greatest honour is to have the privilege of bringing glory to God. That honour is given to all Christians. The thrill of that will help us recover from the disappointment of not being appointed to a slot we wanted.
I know people who have been leaders of local chapters of Youth for Christ for two or three decades. They have refused to take up “higher” regional posts because they believed that God had called them to grass roots ministry. I have a friend who was pastor of a small congregation in a very small town for thirty years. He was an outstanding pastor, but he refused “promotions” to larger churches, for that would have taken him away from his call.
Now it would be ideal if the salaries given to such people were not significantly less than the salaries given to those who rose to lead large ministries. I think it would be great if churches and organisations developed salary schemes that didn’t penalise people who, because of a call, do not get promoted to “higher” positions. Perhaps special allowances need to be given to accommodate extra expenditure of those in “higher” positions. I know this will be very difficult to administer, but I think it reflects the biblical idea of leadership better.
Even if the salary proposal I have given above is not operational, those getting a lower salary would be fulfilled, for they are doing the work God called them to do.