~ Ajith Fernando
Peter was a person whose public ministry had a huge and wide influence on the history of Christianity. This is immortalized in his speeches recorded in Acts and his two Epistles. He was the leader of the first church. When Jesus restored him to ministry following his denial, he summarized his call with the words, “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15). As Timothy Laniak says, “The Lord was emphasizing to Peter that leading means feeding.” To be a leader is to be one who nurtures others. Foremost among those nurtured by senior leaders should be those working under them.
But there is a scandal in the church today: there are many Christian workers whom no one is personally, pastorally caring for. So many could have avoided the messes they got into if they had senior leaders who knew about and helped them with their struggles, temptations, and challenges.
I earnestly plead with leaders to care for their team members. Let me glean some principles about leaders caring for team members by looking at some of the things Jesus and Paul did with the workers they led.
- Pray earnestly for the young workers you supervise. Seventeen out of the twenty-six verses of Jesus’ longest recorded prayer were for the disciples (John 17). Paul mentioned praying for the recipients of his letters in ten of his thirteen letters. But he mentions praying night and day for his assistant Timothy (2 Tim. 1:3).
- Dream about their futures and have ambitions for them and their progress. It is clear from the Pastoral Epistles that Paul desired Timothy to be a great Christian worker (e.g. 1 Tim. 1:18; 4:15). When Paul gave Timothy a strong charge it was “in keeping with the prophecies once made about” him (1 Tim. 1:18—NIV). The prophecies had become the basis of Paul’s ambitions for Timothy and had motivated his exhortations.
- Look beyond their weaknesses and failures and work for the fulfilment of these ambitions. When Jesus called Simon, he saw beyond his obvious weaknesses and gave him a name Cephas (Peter) that predicted his bright future (John 1:42). When predicting Peter’s denial, Jesus saw beyond the failure and predicted what he would do after he repented of his folly: he was told, “strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). In the heat of his trial, Jesus “turned and looked at Peter” prompting him to repent of his sin (Luke 22:61).
- We must be willing to pay a price to help them become great. Jesus said that he was dying to enable the sanctification of his disciples (John 17:19). He said that as “the Good Shepherd” he “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). When the seniors die for the juniors, the juniors will die for the church! That’s the solution to the commitment crisis that plagues the church today.
- Meet them regularly for relaxed conversations. Jesus would often hide from the crowds to spend time with his disciples (see, for example, Mark 9:30-31). Many of the deep truths he taught emerged from informal chats he had with them. Paul tells Timothy that he had already observed in Paul’s life and ministry the truths that he presented to him as exhortations in his two letters to him (2 Tim. 3:10-11). They had spent long hours together!
- Visit their homes. In the warmth of one’s home, especially over a meal, deep ties can be forged. It is not surprising then to find Jesus having meals in the homes of Peter, Matthew, and Mary and Martha. Describing his teaching ministry, Paul said, “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house” (Acts 20:20).
- Talk to them about their own ministries. 1 and 2 Timothy are loaded with Paul’s concern for Timothy’s ministry. He is urged to work hard at his ministry (1 Tim. 4:13-15), to use his gift (2 Tim. 1:6) and to be faithful in carrying out his responsibilities (1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:14)
- Ask about their spiritual life and the time they spend with God. Paul urged Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16). Jesus’ High Priestly prayer gives ample evidence about how Jesus sought to protect the spiritual lives of his disciples (John 17:9-19).
- Ask them about their weaknesses and potential points of failure. The only time Jesus mentions his own prayer life outside a prayer was when he warned Peter about the possibility of his denying him and said that he had prayed for him (Luke 22:31-34).
- Ask about their finances and their health. Jesus had several conversations with his disciples about financial matters (Matt. 17:24-27; 19:23-30; Mark 6:8-11; 12:43-44; Luke 22:35-36). Paul gave instructions to Timothy about what he should do about his frequent ailments (1 Tim. 5:23).
- Ask about their family, their marriage or their romantic life. While I could not find specific instructions about this from Jesus and Paul to their mentees, their frequent teaching on the topic to more general audiences must suggest that they had instructed their mentees about family life also.
- Labour to create an atmosphere of trust that will give them the freedom to talk to you about their secrets without fear of it going out. Such trust can come only through the kind of unhurried times together which Jesus and Paul spent with those they led. It would also require leaders to exercise severe self-control in refusing to betray confidences. Sadly, the common incidence of the betrayal of confidence by leaders is one reason why many younger workers don’t like to share their secrets with their leaders.
LET’S RID THE CHURCH OF THIS SHAMEFUL SCANDAL!
We need to nurture a culture of caring in our churches and Christian organisations so that caring for people, however busy the leaders may be, will be a natural part of our lifestyle and ethos. What Peter said a few decades after Jesus’ instruction, “feed my lambs,” shows that caring had become part of his approach to life and ministry: “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder…: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:1-3).
Ajith Fernando is Teaching Director of Youth for Christ, Sri Lanka, the ministry he led for 35 years. These days, in addition to teaching and preaching, he spends his time mentoring and counselling younger Christian leaders and pastors. His latest book is Discipling in a Multicultural World (Crossway).