Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Pastor as a Transforming Leader (Pt 4) – Characteristics

In this segment, we will look at the characteristics that make the transforming leader effective in his organization of the people in carrying out their God-given vision.

A very important, if not the most, feature of the transforming leader’s ministry is his relationship with his congregation. He is able to nurture a special leader-follower relationship that induce devotion and emotional attachments that stirs up a drive to accomplish greater things for God’s Kingdom in pursuit of their shared vision. The following are some characteristics that result from this feature.
  1. Esteem. The pastor should prompt respect and regard from those whom he leads. It makes his task easier to mobilize people towards the vision and I am sure followers will bring to bear great effort to the vision and expect no other reward that to emulate their leader and take pleasure in a shared victory. However, while many may admire qualities such as excellent oration, outstanding intellect or charismatic character, I think to have a good relationship with his followers, the pastor should manifest gifts of grace that displays God’s workmanship in him, such as nobility and godliness. Leaders who exhibit a good blend of both will appeal to their followers.
  2. Trust. The pastor inspires trust because his followers believe that he prayerfully pursues God’s agenda and walks according to God’s ways. They trust in his competence, uprightness and strength of character. His followers affirmation of his leadership should however be balanced with the leader’s honesty, accountability and humility to the trust engendered. In this way, a cultic situation can be averted where the leader induces slavish and blind devotion. Many Christian leaders, such as John Wesley, Hudson Taylor, etc. have had their ministries expanded because they were able to inspire their trusting followers to carry forth their visions into other areas.
  3. Love. Charismatic leadership has many qualities in it – persuasiveness, eloquence in handling God’s word, knowledge, faith, self-sacrifice. Yet Paul tells us that it is worthless if without love (1 Cor 13:1-3). The love described is agape (self-sacrificing) love and the leader should model this to his followers so that they too may reciprocate in love to him and to one another.
One aspect of a pastor’s ministry is to influence people for good. In this regard, he works to expand God’s kingdom by inspiring others to the same vision. One such example is Hudson Taylor who remains the most widely used of God missionary in China's history. During his 51 years of service there, his China Inland Mission established 20 mission stations, brought 849 missionaries to the field (968 by 1911), trained some 700 Chinese workers, raised four million dollars by faith (following Mueller's example), and developed a witnessing Chinese church of 125,000. It has been said at least 35,000 were his own converts and that he baptized some 50,000. His gift for inspiring people to give themselves and their possessions to Christ was amazing. Today his legacy lives on through the work done by the Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF). This aspect of influencing/inspiring others remains very important in pastoral ministry if the pastor’s vision is to have any lasting impact in the life of the church.

The Bible addresses the church as the body of Christ (Romans 12:4-6). In any team endeavour, solidarity enables the team to manifest its strengths and its people to effectively use their gifts and talents. Just as Jesus prayed for all believers to be united (John 17:22-23), the pastor should make a core belief of his ministry. Groups have dynamics in their relationships and often these dynamics are affected and perhaps even upset when new members join as others leave. The pastor should remember to repeat the vision so as to ensure the complete unity of the people. When he is diligent in keeping the people united in one common purpose, creativity abounds and dynamic energy is exuded with the result of people having synergy and enthusiasm to attain the goal set.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Pastor as a Transforming Leader (Pt 3) – Vision


I sincerely believe that all transforming leaders are led by a vision and the vision has to be a God-given one. This is because as a spiritual leader, the pastor’s people are God’s people and his duty is to steer them towards God’s purposes. Whatever dreams and visions the pastor may have will have to be subordinated towards God’s will in the ministry he has been entrusted with.

Basically, having a vision means forming a picture of a future reality and being willing to work in the present towards the reality of that future. I personally think this should form part of a pastor’s theology – being future-oriented. God himself desires change. After all, He looked at the formless chaos and decided to form the universe and man, bringing beauty and excellence out of nothing. Even when man sinned, God did not maintain the status quo but gave us a hope-filled future through the work of Jesus on the cross. Much of the Old Testament prophets, as well as New Testament writers maintained an eschatological outlook (Isa 4:2-6, Ezek 34:24-31, Joel 3:16-21, Zeph 3:11-20, Matt 25:31-34, Mk 13:26, 1 Thess 4:13-17, Rev 21:1-5,). Thus, as God’s obedient servants, we too should envision how we can qualitatively work towards redeeming the future for God’s purposes. Most important of all, to be a leader, we have to look at and to our Supreme Lord for the vision.

Nevertheless, I would like to qualify the word ‘vision’ here. This should not be understood here as a ’The Word of the Lord came to…” variety of commissioning of the pastor to go forth as God did with the prophets in the Old Testament. Rather, vision may be properly interchanged with dream, mission, purpose, direction, plan, objective, long-term goal, etc. Therefore, a vision projects a future condition, presenting a picture of a changed organization and compels action. Thus, a vision may emerge as the pastor reflects on God and His designs for the church. This vision will undoubtedly be influenced by factors such as values, characteristics, strengths, weaknesses, etc as well as communication and feedback from leading members of the church. Although I refer to the pastor only, I think it is also important to note that the pastor should not seek a vision for the church in isolation. Rather he should do this in concert with a team of leaders and matured Christian members of the church, through fasting, prayer and fellowship.

Having defined the vision, the pastor will have to communicate it to his congregation. This is because the church is not an autocracy where the leader speaks and people obey but a community called to serve God’s purposes for this world. Therefore, it is important for the church to be co-partners in the vision. Transforming Christian leadership requires this shared sense of destiny. Hobgood (The Once and Future Pastor) tells us that “there is no point in a pastor’s giving voice to a vision of the church’s future direction if there’s no one to hear and no one to get excited by it.” The wise pastor will not pitch his vision over the heads of his congregation but at their hearts to gain acceptance. Therefore, getting the church people to buy into the vision requires loving patience with warm, open communication. The Bible describes God’s people as royal priests, a holy nation, precious, etc. That means they are equally important to God as the pastor is and he should never lose sight of this truth.

What the pastor needs to keep in mind is that the vision is God’s vision and that change is God’s work. The pastor’s job is to just faithfully communicate this vision to the people. Perhaps a better way to articulate this is to say that the pastor is to be the channel through which God’s vision is imparted to the people. I believe that the key is to encourage followers to grow in their relationship with God. As God’s channel, that means the pastor has to maintain the following:

  1. Be faithful to his prophetic office. This office is sometimes described as “an extraordinary ministry of special inspiration, of discernment of the meaning of events already revealed, or in some cases, yet to be revealed (Blackaby in ‘Spiritual Leadership’). Preaching seeks to “inspire, devotion dedication, loyalty and discipleship to Christ.” Through the preached word, we encounter Jesus, the revealed word. With the help of the Spirit, it results in changed lives.
  2. Be faithful to Christ in his own life. The pastor also has to give a good witness of God’s work in his own life lest he cause members to stumble resulting in a negative reaction to any vision by him.
When these two components are adhered to, it will allow for Spirit-inspired communication of God’s vision and result in the Holy Spirit affirming the vision’s authenticity in people’s hearts. Perhaps, this is why we can see Paul as a great biblical example of an effective communicator of God’s word. His life (2 Cor 4:8-12) and his message (1 Cor 2:4-5) was a demonstration of God’s power at work in a Spirit-inspired leader and resulted in much fruit in his life in inspiring others into expanding the Kingdom of God.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Pastor as a Transforming Leader (Pt 2) – Character

In the secular understanding of leadership, more often than not, leadership is defined by the results obtained while the leader’s character is not given much, if at all any, prominence. However, in the church, this should not be the case. Character should be the most important criteria if not the most. That is why we should give it prominence by looking at it first in our study. The character traits that we see in an outstanding leader stems from his identity and the best model to form our identity as a pastor-leader should be Christ. In the Bible, the two clearest images that we see of Christ are servant and shepherd.

A Christian leader must have a heart that is attuned to his followers’ needs and welfare. In secular society, we often hear the maxim “you need to break some eggs to make an omelet.” The implication is that it is justified for lives to be broken and people hurt in the attainment of an objective. Yet Jesus never saw it that way which is why he introduced the concept of the shepherd-leader.

When Christ painted a picture of the relationship of himself with his followers as shepherd and sheep (John 10), it was a picture that his listeners could relate to. Even in the Old Testament, God is seen as a shepherd (Gen 49:24, Psalm 23) respectively by Jacob and David. What was the shepherd’s duty in those days? In a dry and rocky land, he had to look for grass and water; he had to protect his flock from the weather and from bandits and wild beasts. He also had to look for and recover any sheep that had strayed away. Sometimes in carrying out his duties, he had to travel far from human company living alone with maybe just a bag containing his necessities. Very often, the sheep pen was a cave in the hills with only one opening and the shepherd himself slept across the opening. Robbers and wild beasts had to go through him if they wanted to plunder the flock. This paints a picture of what a true shepherd is - devoted, selfless and fearless at the same time.

Thus, while the leader seeks to advance God’s Kingdom, as a shepherd-leader, he should be willing to move at the pace of the weaker members. Sheep, by nature, suffer from defective vision as well as stress and fear. That is why Christ portrayed his followers also as such so as to affirm his own shepherding vocation. From the shepherd’s image given earlier, we can see that compassionate love should be the distinguishing mark of the shepherd. In Mark 6:31-34, we see Jesus modeling this example of a shepherd-leader. He had asked his disciples to come away for a retreat with him to find rest. However, many people got wind of his destination and so, Jesus finds even more people clamoring for help as he reaches his destination. Yet Jesus “had compassion on them” (Mark 6:34). The implication for a shepherd-leader is that success in ministry is not to be at the cost of people’s lives. Instead, my belief is that the leader should be willing to subjugate his own interests to the needs of his followers and be willing to even slow a project’s pace if it means that the weaker ones can also partake of the vision and share in its success.

Stowe in ‘The Ministry of Shepherding’ describes shepherding as a challenging opportunity but paints an interesting outcome – like shepherd, like sheep. He tells us that “the godly shepherd can produce an exemplary godliness in his flock. His faithful discipleship will be mirrored in theirs. His ethical patterns will become theirs. Through shared concerns for this common cause, they will be welded in a spiritual union until the commander and unit are almost one and the same thing.”

The Bible describes the church as a living organism, the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27, Eph 4:12). That means Christ is the head and all believers, including the pastor-leader, simply his servants, playing equally important parts to build up the body toward maturity and extending God’s Kingdom. Thus, the leader does not lead but serves Christ by leading, i.e. his primary objective is to serve his master.

In the Old Testament, all the great men of Israelite history are called servants. Although secular society rejects the idea of a leader as servant, biblically it is not an inferior calling. In fact, in the New Testament, Jesus makes it very clear that leadership is about serving and not being served (Mark 10:45). He then models it (John 13:1-17) showing that leaders are servants who stoop to minister from the servant’s position and bring cleansing to the body.

In the following examples, we can observe some secular presumptions of leadership that should not be carried over into our theology of pastoral leadership. The study is based on Matt 20:25-28.

1. Relationship with the led. The ruler is ‘over’ those he leads. He is above and distinct from those that he leads.

2. Command. The secular leaders ‘lord it over” and “exercise authority” over their followers. This is a command-type authority telling others what to do, demanding conformity of behaviour.

3. Mode. Secular leadership involves issuing orders and passing on decisions the leader has made.

4. Power. Behavioural conformity is obtained by levying sanctions and coercive means.

Instead, the example of the Lord shows that the pastor-leader should be humble in heart and submissive to God. According to Finzel in ‘Empowered Leaders’, the servant-leader’s purpose is not his own glory but to make the worker successful. He should consider that the church members are there not to serve him but the mission of the church and that his role as leader is to facilitate their effectiveness in the fulfillment of the church mission.

Finzel emphasizes that servant-leaders must be willing to live lives filled with submission on many levels: submission to authority, submission to God, to principles of wise living, etc. Inability to understand submission indicates arrogance and self-sufficiency. Again the best model held before us is Jesus who always acknowledged his submission to the Father’s Will (John 5:30). Another biblical example of submission to emulate is Joseph, who was totally submitted to God’s Will no matter what circumstances, prison or privilege, he found himself in. “The Lord was with him” (Gen 39:3, 21) and this enabled him to serve God well. In fact, even after his elevation to Prime Minister of Egypt, Joseph remained submitted to God’s Will. As a result, he could forgive his brothers and reassure them of his forgiveness, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Pastor as a Transforming Leader (Pt 1) – Introduction

One thing to note as we look at any church around us is that it is always purposely formed. It could have been due to the vision of a denominational pastor who sees the harvest in an area not exposed to Christ. It could have started with a few families gathering for Bible study, mutual fellowship and encouragement. They then later decide to gather for regular worship and eventually form a church. It may also be the result of a Christian layperson who disciples a group of young people. Later, these young people win others to Christ and, in due time, they set up a church so that they will be able to worship together regularly. As time goes on, they, and we have many such examples, also become blessings to the world outside their gates, as they build schools, community outreaches, charity homes, etc.
Although there may also be other reasons for churches being formed, one thing should be very clear – the church’s existence is due to a person or a group of like-minded persons having the vision of transforming the environment by expanding God’s kingdom in their midst. From this then, we need to note that for the church to perform the mandate given them by Jesus (Matt 28:18-20); she (I prefer to use the feminine pronoun in referring to the church) needs to pay close attention to the issues of leadership. This is because to form a community, one needs to have one or more persons committed to leading people to form these communities.

This article suggests that just sending forth any person who volunteers will not do. In fact, leadership or administration is mentioned as a gift of the Spirit in Romans 12:8 and 1 Cor 12:28. Tidball in ‘Skilful Shepherds’ tells us that the original word translated as leader means a “ship’s helmsman” and refers to the gifts necessary to steer a congregation. It therefore has to do with “the sensitive uniting of people towards a common goal”, which is God’s agenda for this world.

Therefore this article, posted in parts over the next few days, looks at the pastor as someone who, more than guiding and protecting the flock, although these are also tasks of prime importance for a church leader, also has to be a transforming spiritual leader. This means that he, through God’s empowerment and guidance, is able to transform the hearts and minds of those to whom he ministers so that they will catch his God-given vision and strive to fulfill the visions that the transforming leader articulates. I think Henry and Richard Blackaby clearly define it by quoting Robert Clinton’s book ‘The Making of a Leader’ that “the central task of leadership is influencing God’s people towards God’s purposes.”

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Jesus, our Ultimate Priest

From the Old Testament, we know that the priests were not exceptional models of morality and integrity. Aaron built the Golden Calf (Exodus 32-34), his sons Nadab and Abihu disobeyed God by offering unconsecrated incense. That was at the beginning of the priestly ministry. Later, in 1 Samuel we read that Eli’s sons, were also corrupt and were replaced by Samuel. The sins of the priests were one reason for the exile (Micah 3:11; Jer 1:18; Ezekiel 22:26). Psalm 110:4 promised a future messiah “The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek." The Ten Commandments were not just about God’s Law but a sign of his covenant with Israel. They were to be his people and he would be their God. But Israel broke this covenant over and over until God allowed them to be conquered and taken into exile. Yet, despite their unfaithfulness, during their exile, they get a wonderful promise. Jer 31:33 says "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the LORD. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

God does not change and, in his grace, God shows a future where his people will not break the new covenant because God will write the law on their hearts. The old covenant had been engraved in stone; the new covenant will include a revolutionary change in will, heart, and conscience. It will be an internal covenant. The law now becomes a principle of life (cf. Ro 8:1-4), a part of the nature of God's people. That is what we learn from Romans 8:1-4, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” The core of the new covenant is God's gift of a new heart when we are born again. The motivation for obeying God's law is inner knowledge of his will, coupled with an enablement to perform it - all founded on the assurance that sins are forgiven.

The priests of Israel were but dim shadows of the one Great Priest of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. The writer of the book of Hebrews understood this perfectly. That is why he said confidently “They (meaning the priests) serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle, ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.’ But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises.” (Hebrews 8:5-6)

Therefore, throughout the book of Hebrews, we see the writer emphasizing the perfection found in the priestly character of Christ:

• Heb 5:5 - Christ as Priest is appointed and chosen by God

• Heb 7:20-22 - He is consecrated with an oath

• Heb 7:26 - He is sinless

• Heb 7:23-24 - His priesthood is unchangeable

• Heb 9:25-28 - His offering is perfect and final

• Heb 7:24-25 - He intercedes continually for his people.

So we can see that the priestly role of Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of the priestly ministry that began with Aaron and his sons. Looking at what we have learnt, in a sense, Christ did not supersede the priesthood although he did away with the old system of offerings. Just as Aaron is a type of Christ, we are also a type of Aaron’s sons who are to carry on Christ’s priestly work. Christ instituted the church, that is his body, to be the priests today. That is why 1 Pe 2:9 says “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” As Christians, we have a priestly role to play. We worship God as one body to proclaim the true God to a world that does not know him. We offer our prayers and our lives as sacrifices to show pre-believers what it means to live in a covenant relationship with God. We also offer God’s Word to people to help them find healing and blessing from God. That is what we do as a royal priesthood and holy nation – mediators between God and man.