Saturday, September 08, 2012

Three-Fold Reminder for Christian Leadership

Title: Three-Fold Reminder for Christian Leadership
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 8 September 2012
That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;” (Philippians 3:10, KJV)

Christian leadership is not easy. We can all say that easily. Living it is hard. Those of us who have assumed a position of leadership can attest to this challenging role. For some leaders, they feel unappreciated or underappreciated. Worse, whatever they do, the naysayers and the complainers are always on a lookout for negative things, and conveniently forget the positive aspects. This tempts many leaders to fall into a sad state of joyless service. Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t. Having served in church for many years, I am familiar with the behaviour of various kinds of church people. In smalltalk they proclaim the goodness of fellow brothers and sisters. In private, they complain. They despise. They gossip. Such hitting under the belt behaviour does not glorify God. That said, how good Christian leaders respond CAN glorify God. This is where I want to begin.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul not only continues to serve God’s people fervently, he continues to let his service be focused on the Person of Jesus Christ. Imagine being imprisoned, being prosecuted unfairly by worldly authorities, and being a suffering servant for God, how can this apostle rise above the torment? Paul has this single-minded focus. Whatever is gain to him, he considers it loss for Christ. Whatever confidence he has about his worldly skills and knowledge, he prefers to be more confident in Christ. Why? Three things strike me.

Firstly, “that I may know Him and the power of his resurrection” puts his objective clearly forward. It has been said that if there is a why, we will be creative enough to find out the how. Why then do many people continue to look for the “hows” and the “whats” of Christian ministry at the expense of the “Why?” Perhaps, we all need reminders. We need to be taken to task about how central is our focus on Jesus. If we are willing to let all of our thoughts and our works be centered upon glorifying Jesus, our preoccupation will move away from the worries and the challenges of Christian ministry to the joy of serving Christ.

The greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions, and not on our circumstances. We carry the seeds of the one or the other about with us in our minds wherever we go.” (Martha Washington, wife of George Washington)

While perspective can motivate us, let us be focused on the resurrection of Christ, to be the chief hope of it all. It is real. It will happen again.

Secondly, do not ask why it is hard to be a Christian leader. Ask for strength to overcome the challenges of Christian leadership. If we wear the hat of “avoidance” of difficulty, it is only a matter of time before other kinds of difficulty will come. Instead, wear the hat of willingness to suffer, just like Christ. Be joined to Christ in the fellowship of his sufferings. Christian leadership may be difficult, but at least we have a Model of Suffering to follow. That is Jesus. Suffering humbles us. It cuts our arrogance down to size. It pushes us to seek the True Source of Comfort. The Holy Spirit. The great Martin Luther King Jr suffers greatly, often fighting alone against an establishment that is overwhelmingly white. Yet, he continues to press on. He says,

Everybody can be great... because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.

Love overcomes a multitude of challenges.

Finally, remind ourselves who we are serving. Fix in our minds and in our hearts that the reason for our serving is also a personal journey of counting the cost of discipleship. “Being made conformable to his death” reminds me of a stubborn mule being forced to do things against its will. Discipleship according to Dietrich Bonhoeffer is this:

When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow Him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time—death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, SCM Press, 2001, p44)
The words of Bonhoeffer continues to echo in my mind what true discipleship entails. That I must decrease, that others may increase. My brothers and sisters in leadership, press on. The three calls for you are as follows.

  1. Knowing the Word of God.  Are you reading the Bible daily? When was the last time you embark on a program to read through the Bible in 1 year?

  1. Growing in Love of God. Are you serving with joy? When was the last time you feel like you want to quit? Have you prayed for God’s strength to lead and to guide you through?

  1. Showing in Discipleship and Witnessing for God. Discipleship is not an option. We are called to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. It is not how much we have given to God. Perhaps, for many of us, it is a question of how much we have NOT given to God.

My brothers and sisters, I am praying with you. May we grow to be more like Christ, learning from the Apostle Paul. May our focus for Christian leadership reflect Philippians 3:10 word for word.


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