The Leadership Moment

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This fall I will teach a class on Ministry Leadership for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary’s Pacific Northwest campus. This is the first time to teach such a class and it’s forced me to reflect on my leadership experiences and core convictions. Over the next couple of months I plan to write about some of these, beginning with something I call “the leadership moment.”

Leadership moments can be huge, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, or they can come at times which seem less momentous, appearing to be less significant, yet providing opportunities for large and lasting impact. For example, when a disaster strikes your community, or strikes a family in your church or community, what a leader does in that moment will leave a lasting impact. Near the town of Oso, Washington in March, 2014 a mudslide killed 43 people, devastating the small towns of Oso and Darrington. Pastors Gary Ray and Michael Duncan will be forever remembered in those towns for their ministry in the days and months following the tragedy. Carrying great grief of their own, they served their people through God’s enablement in ways that will never be forgotten.

But not everyone understands the significance of a leadership moment. One pastor I know left town at the approach of a devastating storm. It was not a hurricane or tornado that must be fled, but it was a type of storm that “shut the town down” for several days. Though his church was a “safe place” for families without electrical power or in need of food, this pastor left the care of the community in the hands of others in the church and remained absent himself. He did not understand that this was a leadership moment that would forever be remembered by the people he was called to serve.

I was reminded of a moment in my life when I was speaking at a missionary retreat in South Asia. I had a conversation with a young short-term missionary, in which he said that he knew he needed theological training in order to pursue a missionary career, but that he feared attending seminary because his college degree was in geology. He thought this would leave him ill-prepared for seminary. I told him not to fear attending seminary, that my degree was in engineering, and that he would do fine and would enjoy the experience of studying something that he was passionate about, namely the Bible and theology. The conversation lasted maybe ten minutes. Then, seven years later, I was speaking at another missionary retreat and this same man was there. He reminded me of the conversation years prior (which I had forgotten), told me that it was a turning point for him and that he did attend and graduate from a seminary, and for the past few years had been serving as a missionary in an Islamic nation where he was being greatly blessed by God.

Every leader faces leadership moments. Some are obvious because they present large and unique opportunities, often stemming from a tragedy or disaster. For an American president it may be a 9/11 attack or a huge domestic concern. For a parent it could stem from rebellion in a child or a devastating medical diagnosis for a spouse. Ministry leaders confront leadership moments, large and small, with some frequency, and it is our decisions and actions during these moments that often define us for those we serve. As you develop your own leadership skills, it is helpful to understand organizational leadership and the details of developing and communicating vision. But don’t forget those moments, which are often unplanned and unanticipated, but which will define your true leadership for those you serve.

Helping Others Discover Jesus, Part 6 – Friendship

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The Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples: Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners? On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:11-12).

Paul said: Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible (1 Cor. 9:19).

One of the striking things about Jesus and His disciples was whom they chose to befriend. In short, they befriended those who needed God, and who knew they needed God. The basis of their friendships, as revealed in Scripture, was the spiritual quest to know God. Did Jesus have other interests in common with the “tax collectors and sinners” with whom He dined? Perhaps, but Scripture does not record chit-chat between Jesus and sinners, or between Paul and sinners. Jesus didn’t befriend people because of their common interest in the Jericho Juggernauts soccer team! Jesus befriended those who needed God, and we see the same in His disciples.    

Amy Carmichael, the legendary missionary to India, wrote a little booklet titled God’s Missionary, in which she shares nuggets of experience and wisdom. One that I most remember is her discourse on friendship and the importance of extending true friendship to the people with whom you are sharing the gospel.

Carmichael said that the Indian people knew whether you loved them and cherished their friendship based on how you spent your “free time.” She said that missionaries who only spent time with Indians during “working hours,” and spent all of their non-working hours with other missionaries or westerners, sent the message that the Indians were not their true friends. Not only did they send this message, it was one that was easily read by the Indian people, who considered themselves the “projects” of these missionaries. They were the subject of their work, but not their true friends.  Friends are those with whom you recreate and enjoy dinner and “after-hour conversations.” She further observed that missionaries who developed true friendships with the Indian people were better accepted and loved by the Indians, and their ministry was more fruitful.

As we help others discover Jesus we must ask ourselves, “Who are my friends? Are all of my friends followers of Jesus already? Are they all church members? Do I have meaningful friendships with unbelievers?” And related questions are, “How to I determine who my friends are? Do I seek to make friendships, true friendships, with people who don’t know Jesus?” And, “Is my friendship and love for my unbelieving friends unconditional, or is it conditioned on their coming to Jesus soon and very soon?”

Friendships are typically formed around shared interests and values, but for those who would help others discover Jesus, our ambition to make disciples must permeate every aspect of our lives, including our friendships. Friendship with a sinner puts you in a position to guide them to Jesus as life happens to them and to you.

Sociologist and historian Rodney Stark says that the growth of the early church to majority status by the 4th Century was largely aided by their friendships with sinners, especially during times of plague and disaster. The recent mudslide in Oso, WA, in which 43 people died, has resulted in many others coming to faith in Christ as Christian friends in the communities of Oso and Darrington ministered to their unbelieving friends and neighbors. One of the first people I helped come to know Jesus was my college roommate, a close friend. Currently I am building a friendship with a young man whose life has spiraled downward because of poor choices, and I’m praying that God will use our friendship to bring the prodigal home.

Do you have friends who have yet to reach Jesus on their spiritual journey of discovery? If not, let’s make some new friends!