Sunday, August 31, 2008

I'm about to be replaced!

I'm about to be replaced!

The nominators have done their work, the induction service is all planned and ready to go and the rectory is looking spick and span.

Which has got me thinking - what should we be looking for in our leaders. I guess this is specifically aimed at church leaders, but US readers might like to keep it in mind as the presidential elections come up soon.

As I thought about being replaced, and thought about Mark (who is replacing me), my mind turned to 1 Timothy 3, and the qualifications for overseers that Paul lists there.

"The saying trustworthy. If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil."  (1 Tim 3:1-7, ESV)

'Leadership' is one of the big buzzwords amongst Christian training institutions - especially in the developing world. Everyone thinks leadership is a good thing. Everyone thinks leadership is something worthy of spending time training for. Everyone has got their own theory and set of key elements of leadership.

Its interesting as you read the briefs of leadership schools or courses, its often about equipping a person with a set of skills. Skills like problem solving, strategic thinking, targeting and marketing, getting people to do what you want them to do, mediation and motivation.

And yet when Paul lists the characteristics he wants in a leader, its character, not competency that comes to the fore. Before they can set the vision and run the committee and raise the funds, Paul wants the leader to have a character that is shaped by the gospel. He wants people whose hearts have been transformed by the gospel - because the position of gospel leadership requires a gospel shaped life. 

Did you notice that in that passage, only one of the categories that Paul lists is a competency? 'Able to teach'. The other dozen or so are all character issues.

We all know of leaders who have failed. Often when we think of them and the ministries they were involved in - its a point of great sadness that they are no longer leading that ministry. But nine times out of ten, their failure in leadership has not been a competency issue, but one of character. They have failed to be hospitable, self controlled, not a lover of money or the husband of one wife. Over and over again we see that if you want to be a gospel leaders, you must first and foremost have a gospel heart and a gospel shaped character - because if you don't, it will quickly be exposed.

As we head off to the mission field in Latin America, and into a position of leadership with MOCLAM, its really important that we reflect on these character requirements. We can spend so much time on language study and developing skills in promotions and leadership and resource management - its easy to get caught up in all of that. But if we get all those skills, but don't have a gospel shaped character, then its all going to come crashing down pretty quickly.

I guess in the end it comes down to the fact that as Christian leaders, we need to make sure we're not 'in it' for our own glory, but for God's glory. We need to make sure that people don't notice what a great leader we are, but notice what a great God we serve.

If you're in Christian leadership - keep working on your character. If you're under a Christian leader (and we all are at some stage), lets keep doing what we can to encourage our leaders - to be the leaders God wants them to be, not the leaders the world says they should be.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Competing for the imperishable wreath

The Olympics are great - but its a good thing they are only on once every 4 years otherwise my average yearly productivity would certainly drop. My favourite moment so far was the Handball game between Denmark and Russia. Denmark scored after the final bell to snatch victory - really exciting. I'm looking forward to the men's marathon - it'll be the stuff of real legends I'm sure.

We were deputising at St Andrew's Cathedral this week and had a great time. On Sunday night we visited the FIX congregation, and I was reminded of these verses from 1 Corinthians 9.

"Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly: I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to other I myself should be disqualified."  1 Cor 9:24-27

One of the things that emerges during Olympic competition is the sacrifices that the athletes have made to get to where they are. While those sideline interviews with parents and friends of athletes are a bit irritating, they are also revealing, because the friends will tell us what its really like for the athletes. The crack of dawn training, the pain, injury and frustration, the extended periods away from home and the personal criticism that comes when expectations are not met.

And why do they do it? For the victory. For the medal. For the chance to become a household name. For the wreath.  Of course all of these things will fade away and perish.

At FIX on Sunday night the name 'Dean Lukin' was mentioned. People my age and above remembered the South Australian tuna fisherman who won gold in the superheavyweight weightlifting in LA in 1984. But there is now a whole generation who has never heard of Dean Lukin. In the years to come there will be a generation who have never heard of Michael Phelps, Libby Trickett and Stephanie Rice, let alone the people who get knocked out in the early heats.

In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul uses the athlete as a model for the Christian. Its a 'how much more' sort of argument. They are disciplined and self controlled for a perishable wreath, for momentary glory - how much more should we be disciplined and self controlled for eternal, imperishable glory.

Just as the athlete trains hard and is disciplined in what they eat and going to training and all that - we are to be disciplined in godliness.

For some of us, the Olympics provide that spark of enthusiasm we need to get out and run around the park or swim a few laps or get the bike out of the garage. That's great - I'm partial to the odd bit of physical exercise myself. But Paul wants the Olympics to take us not just onto the physical training track, but into the godliness gym as well, and be disciplined in our godliness.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Yodeling and sin .... is there a link?

I have been forced this week to consider if there is a link between yodeling and sin?

Perhaps  I should explain.

On Monday night I was watching 'Enough Rope' ( where Andrew Denton was interviewing Mary and Melinda Schneider. I know you know this, but Mary Schneider is Australia's (and perhap's the world's) Queen of yodeling. Melinda is her daughter and is a country singer.

It was an excellent interview - lots of really good thoughts about parents, daughters etc.

To close the show, Melinda sang a song she had written called 'Be yourself, everyone else is taken.' It was a song about, well, being yourself, not letting anyone else tell you what to do or what you should be.

On Tuesday night I went to Bible study. We've been working through 'The Blueprint', an excellent series of studies on basic Christian doctrine. This week, we were doing 'Sin'. As we looked at the classic 'sin' passages like Genesis 3, Rom 8:5-6, Eph 2:1-3 it made me think again of that phrase 'Be yourself, everyone else is taken.' And I wondered if that in fact is the very essence of sin?

When Adam and Eve disobeyed the command of God in the garden, isn't it them saying 'I want to be myself'. When the Israelites rebelled against God and turned against him, despite his constant and loving provision for them, weren't they saying 'we want to be ourselves'?

But as Christians, we have been redeemed, bought out of this desire and need to be ourselves. As Christ dies and rises again, he redeems people for God so that they are no longer slaves to individualism and self expression, but are now slaves to godliness and righteousness. No longer do we want to be ourselves, instead we want to be Christ's.

"But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification, and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."  Romans 6:22-23

Its a great challenge isn't it. Our society says self expression, following your dream, being yourself is a great end (I'm sure we'll hear all about it during the Olympics), but as Christians we're not to pursue our own self, but our fruitful slavery in God.

Now, lets see if Mary Schneider is on iTunes......