In Luke 18, we read the story of little children coming to Jesus to be blessed. The disciples, who thought the children had little social significance, felt they weren’t important enough for Jesus and tried to push them away. But Jesus said they were worthy of his time. In fact, Jesus said that he desires everyone to come into his kingdom like children.
Many people pass over this story without diving into the implications, yet this is an incredibly important statement by Jesus to help us understand the kingdom and our response to it. I have heard some teachers conclude that we need child-like faith, but the text never says, “child-like faith.” There are two other problems with that conclusion. First, it is incomplete. Faith may be a notable attribute of children, but I think the analogy of becoming like children is more robust. Second, the idea of child-like faith often leads to inaccurate conclusions that we are to be immature and uneducated about our faith.
So what does it mean to enter the kingdom like a child? While the immediate story doesn’t elaborate, there are plenty of other texts, including those surrounding the story, which can help us understand this deeper. Based on these, I believe that God wants us to come into his kingdom:
- Joyfully. Children have a uniquely joyful spirit. You may argue that it’s based on their ignorance. But it’s not their ignorance that makes them joyful. They are joyful because of what they focus on; they are not yet distracted by the cares of the world. We may be less ignorant than children, but we too can have the same joy if our faith is unhindered by fearful distraction. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. It is being produced in us and will manifest if we don’t quench the Spirit’s work. In Matthew 13:44, Jesus tells the story of a man who joyfully sells everything to buy land that has hidden treasure. There was risk involved and the man could have been fearful, but his focus was on the reward. The kingdom is of priceless value, so our inheritance (namely Christ) should bring us great joy. When I come home, my son is (usually) overjoyed with my presence. In our lives, the level of our joy indicates the level of value that we put on God’s presence. Those who joyfully enter the kingdom know that Jesus is the main attraction. Do you find Him more valuable than everything else?
- Expectantly. The children came boldly to Jesus because they knew his heart. The obvious analogy is that God is our Father. We, as His children, should know He rewards. Hebrews 11:6 says that faith requires knowing that God rewards those who seek him. Luke 11:10-12 says that those who ask will receive and those who seek will find, so God gives us the Holy Spirit when we ask. The presence of God is the reward of those who seek him (Matthew 5:6). Before the story of the children is the parable of the persistent widow who expected results. I believe that expectancy manifests itself in the form of persistence. Do you expect to receive more of God?
- Trustingly. It’s amazing how much my son trusts me to catch him when he jumps off the couch (or stairs, bed, or whatever he can climb). Let me first clarify that there is big difference between testing and trusting (every parent knows this well). Testing has a heart of disobedience and defiance. Trust in God assumes his character is good and depends on him for our needs. While we may see ourselves as independent people, we must recognize we can do nothing a part from Christ. This is exemplified in Jesus’ parable, told immediately before the children coming, about the two men praying. It says, “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous…” (Luke 18:9). The first and foremost matter of trust is that we cannot enter the kingdom without him. Trust leads to boldness, like the blind beggar who cries out to Jesus for healing as he passed by (Luke 18:38). Trust is much more than just intellectual knowledge; it is functional. As our knowledge grows, so can our trust. Like the blind man, even limited knowledge can create solid trust if our (spiritual) eyes are firmly fixed on the correct object of our trust.
- Innocently. Children are not perfect, but they have a level of innocence. They are not tainted by the ways of the world. I believe the children came to Jesus with pure intentions. This is related to Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:6-8 that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled and the pure in heart will see God. Purity is the image of a glass of water not mixed with anything else. Those who seek the pure living water of God will be rewarded. We will never be perfect on earth, but we can solely desire God above anything else in the world.
- Humbly. Children are instinctually humble because of their awareness of their limitations. Right before the children come to Jesus, Luke records Jesus saying, “the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14). During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says it is the meek who will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5) and the poor in spirit will receive the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3). Then, right after the story of the children (in both Luke’s account and Mark’s) is the story of a man with great wealth and power who missed the way of the kingdom. God’s kingdom is not like the world’s. Entering is not about power, money or influence. The prideful rich young ruler wanted to follow his way rather than Christ’s. A humble person, meek and poor in spirit, see’s the power of their affection, not their own worth and merit. We become like children when we submit to the authority of Christ’s work for us.
History is headed towards Jesus’ return when He will fully established His kingdom. Therefore, as leaders in the church now, we would be wise to become like children as we enter and help others to do the same.
We will never lead perfectly like Christ, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to imitate him. Every day we make decisions where we choose to lead like Christ or lead like the world. That said, here are five simple leadership practices we can all implement in our daily lives that will help us be more like Jesus.
Patient to begin
The longer I am in ministry, the more I realize how important timing is. God waited to send Jesus at the right time and Jesus waited on the Father to begin his formal ministry. We know that as a boy he was gifted to teach, yet he waited until he was 30 (Luke 3:23)! Our culture tells us to push for goals and strive for dreams as soon as possible, but this puts our efforts at the forefront, not God’s calling. When we wait on God to open the door in his timing (instead of barging through), it demonstrates that God is the leader, not us.
This sounds obvious, but even our church culture can become consumed with pursuing numbers, growth and creativity more than faithfulness. These are good things, but not if they are the end goal. They are secondary to faithfulness to God’s leading. The gospel, ministry, and missions are all God’s initiatives. He will see them through; we are called to follow. We can do nothing a part from him (John 15:5). Jesus was dependent on the Father and did only what He instructed. Let’s not confuse outward results with eternal impact. If we don’t follow the Lord, our initiatives may be grandiose, but they may not bear the eternal impact God wants.
Prayed through decisions
We make hundreds of decisions every day. In an era of spreadsheets, consultants and analytics, we have many decision-making tools. However, information is not the problem. We lack divine guidance in our decision-making. Are we spending time in prayer for big and small everyday decisions? Jesus fasted and prayed before choosing his disciples (Luke 6:12-13). Today, when hiring new staff, it seems we rely more on resume’s than on prayer. Praying through a decision makes the simple statement to the world that we are not the final decision makers.
We often think humility is just how we think, but it is actually something we do. We have to make an effort to be humble. Jesus did not seek attention and he could have had much more if he wanted to flaunt his divinity. Yet he resisted earthly exaltation. Philippians 2:6-8 says that Jesus made himself low like a servant. He radically eliminated barriers between himself and those following him. He ate, slept, and lived with his disciples. There was no pay scale or moving up the power ranks with him and there shouldn’t be today either. The world knows Christ was humble. So when we fail to portray this in our leadership, our hypocrisy is obvious.
Jesus loved people. He invested in them and loved them like no one else. He elevated the worth of humanity to a new level. We know this, yet somehow the focus slowly turns to systems and programs instead of people, and the work supersedes the relationships that make it happen. Partnerships are not just a tool; they are the point! Programs may be used to facilitate relationship, but never the other way around. Our greatest witness to the world is our unity (John 17:21-23), not our creative solutions. Only people will live in eternity, so if we are going to make an eternal impact it must begin and end with people. Yes, this makes our efforts harder to quantify and measure, but it is far more Christ-like and eternal. For those who are more left-brained, investing in people is more strategic too. Programs work for a while and end. Only people can replicate.
Last month in Nepal, I had dinner with a pastor who spent time in jail for evangelizing. His case is still ongoing and he potentially faces several years in prison. I asked him whether he was nervous about going back to jail. Without hesitating, he simply replied, “No brother, we have already won!” His statement took me by surprise. How can someone view this as a victory? He explained how in jail he was able to share Christ with all the inmates and guards, and I realized that his comment about winning wasn’t ignorant; it was a wider perspective on what it means to succeed spiritually. He knew that whether he went to jail or not, God would use it for His greater purposes.
This embrace of suffering goes against our typical paradigm of leadership, which motivates us to win and lead people to physical wellbeing. But a worldly leadership paradigm fails to consider that God’s view of success is far different from ours. In fact, the Bible says that suffering is a part of God’s plan for believers.
After Saul encounters Jesus on the road to Damascus, God tells Ananias, “I will show him (Saul) how much he must suffer for My name” (Acts 9:16). Some may think this is punishment for Saul, but I don’t think so. It seems to be a prophecy of how God will use Saul to spread the gospel. Jesus says a similar thing when talking about the end times. He says, “you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me…and this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:9,14). This appears to be more than just a prediction of Christian suffering; Jesus says there is a specific purpose for suffering in fulfilling God’s final purposes on earth.
If God uses suffering to spread the gospel, then we cannot fully lead God’s purposes on earth without understanding the role of struggles, hardship, and persecution.
Suffering is not the failure of God to intervene. God himself suffered. He became a man and died for us, on purpose. Because God suffered, suffering has the ability to sanctify us and make us more like Him. This is why following Christ to the cross is not morbid but a joyful pursuit of God’s greater work in us and in the world. If we examine the Bible, we can find many purposes for suffering. Here are just 20 I’ve found:
- Persecution leads to boldness (Acts 4:13,29)
- Struggles lead to selflessness and sharing (Acts 4:32)
- Suffering bears the fruit of joy (Acts 5:41)
- Persecution leads to outward movement and mission (Acts 8:1,4, Matthew 10:23)
- Those who are persecuted receive blessing from God (Matthew 5:10)
- Suffering points to a reward in heaven (Matthew 5:12)
- Death of ourselves can lead to spiritual multiplication (John 12:24-25)
- Suffering confirms we are co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17)
- Suffering confirms our hope (and the best) is yet to come (Romans 8:24-25)
- Suffering shows God’s working purpose in all things (Romans 8:28)
- Suffering reveals Jesus’ life in us (2 Corinthians 4:7-11)
- Suffering allows Christ strength/power to show in us (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
- Suffering helps us grow in holiness like Christ (Hebrews 2:10-11, 12:10)
- Suffering creates empathy (Hebrews 2:18)
- God’s discipline creates righteousness and peace (Hebrews 12:10-11)
- Suffering shows that we are content in Christ alone (Philippians 4:11-13)
- Suffering refines our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7)
- Suffering results in God’s praise and honor (1 Peter 1:7)
- Suffering brings intimacy with God’s Spirit (1 Peter 4:14)
- Suffering confirms our commitment to God (1 Peter 4:19, Matthew 24:13)
With this in mind, I pray that we will gain a godly perspective on our lives amidst suffering, so that like my friend facing trial we (and those we lead) can joyfully say, “Thank you God, for we have already won!”
The Church has everything it needs to impact the world. Unfortunately, if we compare it with secular society, there are several areas where society is leading the Church- ways in which the Church was meant to excel! Part of the problem is our bad theology, or lack of theology, which holds us back from the full potential of Christ’s body. Here are five areas where the Church needs to reclaim its leadership.
- Encouraging Individuality
Freedom (within God’s will) is supposed to be a hallmark of the Church. Instead, the Church is more known for uniformity. In fact, many people leave the church because they are bored or don’t feel they fit in. The goal is to follow Jesus, but we don’t have to look the same. Popular culture is desperately telling people to be unique. God’s message thousands of years ago was that He made us each uniquely in His image (Psalm 139:13).
- Influencing Culture
This is foundational to the mission of the Church. We are to impact the world for Christ by making disciples, being salt and light (Matthew 5:13). However, we see far more disciples of Hollywood, Silicon Valley, TED Talks and Harvard Business School. Leading cultural change for the better should be a core component of the church, but it’s often outsourced to secular society.
- Inspiring Drive and Passion
Being driven for selfish motives is wrong, but being driven is not. Society encourages personal drive for money, power and success. In the Church, are we as driven to make Christ known? The Apostle Paul was relentlessly driven by the glory of Christ in every sphere of his life (Phil 3:7-9). Are we more passionate about the mission of the Church than businesses are about making profit?
- Pursuing Quality
In the business sector, if you don’t perform then you are out of a job. In the church we can’t just drop people, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hold people to a higher standard of quality. We know that ministry is not about production, but our efforts should be to the best of our ability (Col 3:23). It was the Jesuits and Presbyterians who founded some of the best educational institutions. Shouldn’t Christians today create movies, books, music, apps, and websites that compete with the best of society? After all, what we do tells the world how committed we are to the One we serve.
- Adapting Creatively and Contextually
We know that there are moral boundaries for how the church operates, but the church is meant to be extremely adaptable- able to thrive in any culture at any time. The Great Commission makes it clear we are to teach and baptize to make disciples (Matt 28:18-20), but there are many possibilities for how we can reach, teach, and equip the saints. Yet with all of our resources (including the Holy Spirit in us!), we still get spiritual myopia. It is often our tradition that blinds us to new possibilities. Society contextualizes movies, business plans, and technology to reach the masses. How creatively is the Church doing the same?
Earlier this month, I joined a group that was biking across South Africa. Not only was I able to make new friends, I also got to introduce the group to our work training leaders and caring for vulnerable children. Over the seven days that I was with the team, I rode over 350 miles. You should know that I am not a biker so that probably doubled the amount of miles I have ever ridden! Needless to say, I had a lot to learn.
One event sticks out in my mind as particularly formative. It was early in the trip about midway through the ride. I had stuck with the lead group for a while in the morning, but was growing tired and slowly fell behind. At one point I was about a 100 yards behind the group, which felt like an insurmountable distance to catch up. At that time, our South African group leader Mark came up from behind me. Apparently he had been watching me and knew I was falling further and further behind. With two simple phrases, he changed everything for me on that ride. He rode up next to me and said, “Follow me, Ill take you there.”
Instantly, I gained new confidence. Mark got in front of me and I fell in line behind him as he shielded me from the oncoming wind. With that, my pedaling grew easier and my hope was restored. I kept my head down and carefully followed the cadence of his pedals, matching his rhythm and speed. Slowly, I noticed that we began to gain ground. And after a while, to my astonishment, we caught up to the group.
You may be able to guess why this memory is lodged in my mind- it characterizes so much about the struggle of leadership when people fall behind, teams fall apart, and you must lead people back to success. So what happened in those few minutes with Mark and how can we do the same for others? I believe there are three very simple things, which I learned on that ride: target, tactics and teamwork.
Target: The first problem was that I had lost my target while trailing the group. More specifically, I had lost hope of getting to the target. I no longer even wanted to catch up. My target had become status quo and staying behind. Without Mark calling me back to the main objective of reaching the group, I would not have had the motivation to do so. His simple vision of “getting there” was enough to renew my goals.
Tactics: I am not a cyclist, as I mentioned, so I didn’t have the knowhow to catch up to a more experienced group ahead of me. But Mark did. All I had to do was follow his lead, match his steps and tactics. He took a slow and steady approach to catching up. It was so steady that I hardly noticed I was going faster. This kind of strategy and pace are necessary to move people to a better place. People need more than just a target, they need a strategy to get there.
Teamwork: The final piece of the puzzle was teamwork. I was unable to reach the lead group by myself. I had tried to keep up, but was unable to because I had not yet learned how to ride in a pack. In this case, I needed Mark to draft the wind for me and show me how to cycle more efficiently. When he shielded me from the oncoming wind, my pedaling became 20% easier and I was able to keep up. Moving ahead requires other people, not just for motivation but for longevity. Every good biking team knows that teamwork is imperative to keeping pace, conserving energy and going further.
This event also provides a great image of Biblical leadership, specifically of Christ who said the same words to his followers two thousand years ago, “Follow me”. The difference is that His goal is to take us to God and godliness. We are all subpar with God and falling further behind. Perfection is the goal, but our efforts to get there alone always fail. We need a Guide who can take us there. That person is Jesus, but we must learn to follow Him. We need to learn to walk like him, live like him, and love like him. We need Him to bear the wind for us and we need His Spirit to inspire us with hope. If this is how our wonderful Savior leads us, then we must learn to do the same with others.
This month I (Caleb) was able to attend Lausanne Movement’s Younger Leaders Gathering (YLG) in Jakarta. It was a privilege to gather with about 1000 leaders and mentors from over 140 countries around the world, and an honor to help facilitate the prayer room and evening of prayer during the event. The purpose of the gathering was to teach, pray, connect and collaborate with ministries around the world to propel global mission. After some reflection, here are a few key takeaways from the week:
- Understanding God’s Story is a great cure for our idleness, idolatry, and infectiveness. During the gathering, we discussed the grand narrative of the Bible. It was powerful to see that the more we understand what God is doing, the more we are forced to step outside of ourselves and engage in missions.
- All Mission is God’s. The Great Commission is impossible without the Holy Spirit! We (especially in the West) need to realize that God is the initiator and leader of all successful mission work. Therefore, we all need to wait, listen, and respond more. That is why prayer took such a central role during the gathering.
- Globally, the church is succeeding despite challenges. Where we see the biggest opportunities in missions, there are also some of the biggest obstacles like persecution. But God is raising up incredible leaders who are making huge strides with the gospel and reaching the unreached.
- Unity is not just a strategy, it is a part of God’s goal! This is a unique time in history when the church needs to be more unified than ever. We have to realize that we will not succeed alone because our unity affects both our progress and our testimony.
- Our brothers and sisters need our involvement. We need to support our brothers and sisters around the world. Technology, communication, and transportation are making this possible, but we must engage with wisdom. It’s complex, so let’s enter every situation with humility, discovering how we can best serve the body of Christ.
Halfway through the gathering, during the evening of prayer, we all took a white stone and wrote what God is speaking to us. Then, at the end of the week, we took someone else’s stone to commit to prayer. To me, this is a beautiful picture of how God is fulfilling his mission through our diversity and unity. It is humbling to know that God is using people like you and me to reconcile the world to himself, but our confidence is in the Cornerstone who brings us all together. So, while our generation may have a huge task ahead of us, I am excited to see what the Lord will do!
Our paradigm for servant leadership is wrong.
When servant leadership became popular, it was a positive alternative to the domineering and power-driven leadership we often see in the world, which wasn’t just a problem in the secular workplace. The church also had leaders who’d become overly dignified. Like anything else, the excitement of power and spotlight had drawn many people into ministry leadership. So servant leadership found its place among emerging leadership theories by promoting a more humble view of leadership that flipped the “leader on top” mentality upside down.
Though well-intended, the servant leadership theory extended an incorrect paradigm. This “leader on the bottom” view simply took a secular view of leadership and tried to fix it, instead of redefining leadership biblically.The first problem with this paradigm is that it keeps an artificial division between leaders and followers (everyone else). Whenever there is a division like this, there becomes an “in” crowd and an “out” crowd. Though it may seem prestigious to be in the leader’s circle, it’s no surprise that ministry leaders today are more isolated and lonely than ever.
Because of the division between leaders and followers, it perpetuates the idea that leadership is a special blessing or final stage for elite Christians. Yes, there are qualifications for leadership (1 Timothy 3), but checking off boxes doesn’t automatically make one a leader. Leadership is given by God (Ephesians 4:11). The truth is that not all are called into formal church leadership, but we’ve made leadership the pinnacle of Christian success for everyone in the church. When a spiritual gift like leadership (Rom 12:8) is exalted, it only leads to favoritism and belittles other spiritual gifts, making them appear less valuable. Leadership is just one of many gifts. In fact, the Bible says we should give special honor to parts of the body that receive less recognition (1 Corinthians 12:23).
Even our terminology “servant leader” unduly puts the emphasis on the noun “leader”. The “servant” part becomes the adjective, making it seem that some leaders serve and some don’t. If a leader has to be told they are supposed to serve, they may not be the right person to lead. The emphasis should be on servanthood- some lead and some don’t. When we tell leaders they should serve (instead of discovering servants who are called to lead), people may get the impression that leaders are the only ones who serve. In reality, every person in the church is called to serve (1 Peter 4:10). By narrowing service to leaders (and praising them for it), we are bound to see less engagement in the rest of the congregation.
Everyone in the church is a servant in the kingdom. So actually there is only one kind of leader- a servant. The Apostle Paul said, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord… Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:4,5,7). Some are called to teach, some to encourage, and some to give generously, etc. The point is that each person has a spiritual tool that makes them uniquely able to bless others.
In the church, we need to think more biblically about leadership and then live it out. This means creating a culture where all saints serve and promoting equal value and interdependence between unique kingdom-building gifts. Then the church will radically demonstrate a kingdom culture that is less about us and more about the King.
On April 23rd, 20 students (pictured below) graduated from our training in Ghana. Among them were 10 Leadership Foundations students and 10 Biblical Foundations students. The Leadership Foundations students were the first in Ghana to pass through the 7 leadership courses, spanning 16 months. Below is the testimony of one of those graduates, Mr. Appaw Yeboah, who has planted seven churches in the last five years and plans to plant two more this year!
“I am Appaw Yeboah a product of Leadership International Bible Training Centre in Sunyani, Ghana. I am a Director of Kuapaye Enterprise Limited, a printing press in Sunyani, Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana. I am a member of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, Sunyani District.
I thank the Lord to be among the first Leadership Foundations Graduation Class in Ghana held on 23rd April, 2016.
I was introduced to the Biblical Foundations program by a graduate of the Bible Training Centre. Through discussions and interactions with other students I became convinced to enroll into the training programs. I had the burning desire to do the work of God, so I saw it as an opportunity to acquire the skills needed. I was looking for something good which would not take me away from my professional work.
The truth is that, the training has opened my mind and understanding about so many things ranging from teaching, preaching, praying, organizing, managing and doing the work of God. Now I enjoy and love doing the work of God and serving in the church. I am totally convinced that I am fulfilling my calling, by the Lord’s grace.
The training has helped me personally and in the positons that I hold in my church and business (Kuapaye Enterprise Limited) in diverse ways. I am proud to be a product of the training school.
I am now the District Evangelism Coordinator for my church. By the Lord’s grace, I have led the evangelism team to plant 7 churches the last five years. We are praying and planning to plant two (2) more churches by the end of this year (2016).
I thank the almighty God for making it possible for me to attend this school, and for the wisdom and understanding he has helped me to acquire. I also thank the board of directors and the management team for establishing such a special and splendid institution.
…may the good Lord richly bless you all! Thank you, Amen and Amen!”
Leadership is hard to define. There are thousands of definitions out there and hundreds of methods. But at the end of the day, most people agree that it is about getting people somewhere (hopefully somewhere better)! For most people, this means that the leader takes followers to a destination that they choose, and they do it their way. If we take this as the common framework for leadership, then Christ-like leadership should break the mold in three specific ways:
- It must lead people closer to God
- It must lead people along God’s path/plans
- It must lead people God’s way
These key differences make Christ-like leadership serious business! They affect why we lead, where we lead, and how we lead. Fortunately, Jesus showed us what this different kind of leadership looks like- it’s called discipleship. And I believe that this kind of leadership has much to offer our world’s current methodology. So, based on the list above, I think discipleship has these three major implications for our leadership today:
- It points to God. This is why we lead. Christ-like leadership (discipleship) always brings people closer to God. Jesus discipled everyone he met- even if it was a brief encounter. He interacted with them and pointed them to truth in love. He didn’t waste any opportunity to show people the Father, whether it was a criticism, message, or miraculous sign.
- It is holistic. This is where we lead people to. God’s plan for mankind is complete redemption. Jesus’ interactions with people did not dismiss their basic needs. He often emphasized their spiritual need, but he also cared for physical and social needs too. Discipleship is holistic in nature because it leads to the fullness of Christ.
- It is relational. This is how we must lead. Discipleship requires authentic relationships. One cannot move people to God effectively without walking alongside them. The body of Christ is meant to labor together because we cannot be conformed to God’s image by ourselves. We need others.
The bottom line is that discipleship is the most effective form of leadership. We know this because that is what Christ did and the impact of his leadership has transformed generations for two thousand years!
In our culture today, which is dominated by systems and programs, we must consider whether we are compromising the leadership model of Christ. If we simply want to teach people more information, give certificates, and get the next group in the door, then our cultural methods may work. But if we want to see life-transforming results, I think discipleship is the only way.