Leading in Suffering

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:

  1. Persecution leads to boldness (Acts 4:13,29)
  2. Struggles lead to selflessness and sharing (Acts 4:32)
  3. Suffering bears the fruit of joy (Acts 5:41)
  4. Persecution leads to outward movement and mission (Acts 8:1,4, Matthew 10:23)
  5. Those who are persecuted receive blessing from God (Matthew 5:10)
  6. Suffering points to a reward in heaven (Matthew 5:12)
  7. Death of ourselves can lead to spiritual multiplication (John 12:24-25)
  8. Suffering confirms we are co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17)
  9. Suffering confirms our hope (and the best) is yet to come (Romans 8:24-25)
  10. Suffering shows God’s working purpose in all things (Romans 8:28)
  11. Suffering reveals Jesus’ life in us (2 Corinthians 4:7-11)
  12. Suffering allows Christ strength/power to show in us (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
  13. Suffering helps us grow in holiness like Christ (Hebrews 2:10-11, 12:10)
  14. Suffering creates empathy (Hebrews 2:18)
  15. God’s discipline creates righteousness and peace (Hebrews 12:10-11)
  16. Suffering shows that we are content in Christ alone (Philippians 4:11-13)
  17. Suffering refines our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7)
  18. Suffering results in God’s praise and honor (1 Peter 1:7)
  19. Suffering brings intimacy with God’s Spirit (1 Peter 4:14)
  20. 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!”

Five ways society is (unfortunately) leading the Church

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.

  1. 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).

  1. 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.

  1. 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?

  1. 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.

  1. 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?

Leading to the Front

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.

Lessons from a Global Gathering

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!


Live Free, Lead Free

        We believe the gospel is essential to leadership development. You see, Jesus was the freest person to walk the earth and it is no coincidence that he was also the best leader. Free from sin and selfishness, Jesus was able to put others first and lead people into greater freedom. So today, leaders must also live in this freedom to be truly effective.
        Unfortunately, freedom is often misunderstood. Spiritual freedom in Christ is not about personal rights, government regulations, or social status. Jesus showed this through his submission to the Father, taking the role of a servant, and not seeking any advancement of his own- yet he was fully free. The freedom that Jesus offers is freedom from sin, the law, and selfish desires.
        Paul wrote about this freedom in the book of Galatians. Some Galatians were tempted to trust in the law and some thought, like us today, that freedom meant they could do whatever they want. But that isn’t Biblical freedom. Though the gospel frees us from sin, we must daily choose to walk in that freedom by denying ourselves.
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        The chart above shows that true freedom requires faith in Christ and denial of our old nature. Without both, we will continue in a form of slavery. This is why Jesus calls his followers to pick up their cross, deny themselves and follow him. As Paul reminds Jesus’ followers, this is only possible by walking in the Spirit.
        This kind of spiritual freedom is especially important for leaders today, who must pave the way through discipline and self-control. Without living in this freedom, leaders cannot bring the church into the abounding freedom that Christ provided through his life, death and resurrection!

The Problem with Servant Leadership in Church

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.UntitledThe 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.

2Servant leadership is not a form a leadership. Leadership is a form of service.

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.

UntitledIn 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.


The Impact of One Leader

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!

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“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!”


The Most Effective Form of Leadership

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:

  1. It must lead people closer to God
  2. It must lead people along God’s path/plans
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

The Win-Win Christmas Gift

Do you want to make a difference during the holidays and celebrate the season of giving? We might have the right opportunity for you! This November, we are partnering with a creative company called Doxahlogy. They don’t just make beautiful jewelry; they support the work of great artists and ministries like us.

Throughout November, twenty percent of all Doxahlogy’s online sales will go towards Leadership International. These proceeds will specifically go towards training pastors in the rural mountains of Nepal. So the more you buy, the more pastors we can train!

The church in Nepal is small but growing. Estimates show that over 90% of the country is still unreached, and historically those who are Christian have been oppressed by the Hindu majority. Since the earthquake in April, God has been moving in a great way. Many doors have opened and the church is now able to reach out and bless the broken and hurting. People’s hearts are more receptive to the gospel and churches are seeing new growth. Unfortunately, many rural pastors have no formal ministry training. They are struggling to sustain a growing church, shepherd their people, and effectively teach the Word of God.

With your help, we can answer this great need. It costs about $20 to take a pastor through our biblical leadership course. So for every $100 that you spend, you are equipping a pastor in Nepal to reach a community with the gospel! Pretty amazing right? So don’t hold back. Go ahead and shop your heart out (for friends, family, and yourself of course) at You’ll be getting amazing Christmas gifts and spreading the gospel in Nepal. It’s a win-win!



Transition and Growth

A photo of Caleb and Anna Davison in the snow.

Caleb and Anna Davison

Dear Friends,

We are happy to announce the addition to our staff of Caleb Davison. Caleb will be joining us Aug. 1 as Director of Leadership Development.

He and his wife, Anna live in Denver where Caleb is getting his Master’s degree in Leadership Training at Denver Seminary. Caleb and Anna met in Haiti doing relief efforts after the earthquake there. Anna is a nurse, from Wales and Caleb is from Virginia and was working with Samaritan’s Purse.

Caleb graduated from Va. Tech and then worked for Samaritan’s Purse in Haiti and Ethiopia before moving to Kenya where he and I met. As friends and partners in church development focused on serving people infected or affected by HIV/Aids, Caleb and I found another common cause – training church and community leaders to lead like Jesus.

We are excited to be working together to take our Leadership Foundations around Africa and other countries around the world. Caleb will be identifying indigenous partners in developing countries that would like to implement our training and also be serving US churches and donors who would like to support the training of leaders in various countries. Caleb and Anna will be raising their own support and funds for the training materials, national staff and travel necessary to provide this service. Please prayerfully consider joining their support team.

Our training material has just been translated into Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia and we’ve had new requests for training from Nepal, Guatemala and the Philippines. Please join us in prayer and financial support to respond to these opportunities.

The student scholarship program of StorySong continues to bless hundreds of children in Africa. Just before leaving Kenya, Mark & Kalle Wagner visited the Adventure School in Nairobi where we provide funds for teacher salaries and food for the students. Most impressive was that each of the 200 students introduced themselves to us and shared their favorite Bible verse! Our scholarships provide not only access to education, but to the Gospel.

President Obama just left Kenya for Ethiopia. Two countries I’ve worked in for 30 years. While in Nairobi, his helicopter actually landed and took off from Rosslyn academy, just a few blocks from the UN and the US Embassy. Rosslyn is where all our sons’ attended high school. Without getting into the political implications of this first visit to Kenya by an American President, the most interesting article I read on BBC about this trip was about scholarships. Here at Leadership International we are in the scholarship business. Providing education for local leaders and vulnerable children.

40 years ago a Kenyan economist and politician set up a foundation for education, with a scholarship program. Obama’s father received one of those scholarships to the University of Hawaii where he met the mother of our President. There are many other well known beneficiaries of this scholarship, including Kenya’s first Nobel Peace prize winner. Scholarships change lives, improve the health and economy of communities, for generations.

Mary, Johnny and I are back in the USA now. We are thankful for a smooth transition and look forward to re-connecting with you later this year.

When we attended the orientation program this month for our last son going off to college, one of the speakers shared a good definition of transition.

“Anything that results in a change of routines, rules, roles and most important – relationships – is transition, and adds stress we need to acknowledge.”

As the summer winds down and many of us put our kids back in school, send them off to college or marriage, move to another city or country – let’s pray to the Prince of Peace who says that “He will keep in perfect peace, those whose mind is stayed on Him”.

For the Kingdom,

Larry Warren

Here is a fun selfie photo of Larry and Mary.

Thanks for your ongoing support of this ministry.  We are grateful for your prayers. If you would like to make a donation to help train leaders and transform communities, you can DONATE ONLINE NOW

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