My life alongside God's word, volume 3. 'Christian leadership' section.
– by George Taban
Like many other aspects of Christian activity, one of the great dangers for work among the youth or young people in churches is that it may become ‘an institution’ in which the original vision is lost and new generations continue to go through the motions, but without the spirit of the founder or movement. There is a name, there is financial support, there is a programme, but people are not possessed by the same spiritual vision of the founders. They simply keep a tradition, driven more by inertia than by a fresh sense of direction under the compulsion of the Holy Spirit of God. Eventually discouragement sets in, impetus is lost and the movement confronts a crisis or, what is worse, extinction. Sadly, this can be true for both churches and para-church organisations in Africa and particularly in South Sudan. But how can we avoid this trend ourselves?
Rev. Celestin Musekura said, “Africa has the greatest potential for global influence through her natural resources. She has a people who are hardworking, resilient, die-hard, optimistic, ingenious, creative, and religious. Looking at the current state of Africa political and developmental affairs it is clear that potential will remain untapped because of two major reasons:
a lack of visionary servant leaders
the ‘tribalism demon’ that fuels ethnic violence across our continent
What our nations, institutions, churches and corporation businesses need is a solid commitment to reconciliation and positive relationships across all tribes. Without this, there cannot be a sustainable peace, which is foundational for all kinds of development”.
“For Africa to tap into her potential and navigate successfully past current world challenges, a new kind of leadership is needed. Africa needs leaders who have:
a vision for servitude and
a vision for building communities in which people are empowered to become healthier freer, autonomous and generous.
Our communities should be a places where people care for each other and embrace tribal, ethnic and racial diversity as blessings from God, and not as a curse”.
One characteristic of a good vision is the ability to attract other people to it. Unless others share the vision it will remain only a dream in the dreaming visionary leader’s head. A vision shared and embraced by others, with similar passion, will be able to make a much longer lasting impact. The problem with the vision of many leaders is that it remains just with the visionary and his family, or it is forced upon relatives and fellow tribesmen/women, revealing selfish motives. Other visions die because the visionaries and their allies want to harvest before they plant. Some want to be leaders before first becoming servants. Others die when material interests become their focus, rather than continuing to serve the community and fulfilling the mission of the organisation or church. Listen to Nehemiah sharing his vision in Nehemiah 2:17-18, ““You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace”. I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me”.
To keep our vision and dream alive, we need to build an effective generation of leaders who can embody their visions and pass them on to those who follow on. It is people who have vision, not premises, nor programmes, nor organisations, nor (possibly) partner missions. Effective transmission of vision involves people discipling or mentoring other people who in turn pass it on.
Why are so many churches in our nations today stagnant and not progressing? May be we have not done enough to build or mentor our young people into a newly effective generation of leaders, able to embody the true vision of the church for the nation?
Think about God’s word:
“Praise the Lord. Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in his commands. His children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed”, Psalm 112:1-2. “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts”, Psalm 145:3-4. “… The offspring of the wicked will never be mentioned again”, Isaiah 14:20.
What kind of youth do we want to see, ready to lead our churches and organisations when the time is right? How can we build an effective godly and visionary generation?
Somebody said, “For better or for worse the next generation will be what we are today”. What we want to see tomorrow, we must practice today. Remember what Paul said to the young church at Corinth, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ”,
1 Corinthians 11:1. Our Christian living must be worth copying. If we want to build an effective generation, we must first begin by moulding ourselves in becoming true living stones, before we support others transforming into effective generational leaders. Today’s generation is a mirror for the next generation, for better or for worse.
Vision for an effective generation
A vision is not something that comes from a vacuum. Vision grows from past leaders and the history of the church/organisation around him. While vision can be articulated on paper or tape, transmitting it will always involve other people. Students and graduates who listen and see catch the vision. Pray, and they become possessed by it. They begin to dream with a belief consuming all their heart, soul and strength. Within the Body of Christ, when the vision is discerned as God’s will for us, we become ready to sacrifice and work hard to accomplish it, making the dream into a reality. “Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul. Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law”, Proverbs 29:17-18.
The churches of tomorrow will not rise above her present structures. A local or national church cannot rise above her pastors, or the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students above its leaders. Likewise a nation cannot rise above its president or politicians. See a leader – see the church. See a father – see his son. See the president – see the nation. See a church leader – see the youth of today and the leaders of tomorrow.
Leaders must have a clear vision to which they are taking their followers
Reportedly Helen Keller was asked, “What would be worse than being born blind?” She replied profoundly, “To have sight without vision”. Sadly too many people are placed into leadership positions, who have little or no vision for the church, or the next generation they are raising, or the people they currently lead. If they were asked, “Where are you taking this church/organisation?” they would not know!
What happens when there is no vision?
Without vision, there is:
a waste of energy
a loss of resources
a misuse of time
people are scattered in all directions
production towards a target falls
dreams are missed
personal agenda(s) begin to surface.
Martin Luther said, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I will still plant my apple tree”. So we must keep on working to build an effective generation. It is our responsibility.
What kind of generation do we want to see?
To build an effective generation we need seven attitudes:
1. An exemplary leadership
The success of any institution depends on its leaders, not on the structures. A leader plays the key role in any organisation/institution and so in the church. Our present generation is desperate for leaders with lives others could follow. In our Christian communities and churches today complaints about the shortage of quality leaders in the ranks are high. A shortage of leaders quickly creates a shortage of followers. And a shortage of followers produces a shortage of future visionary leaders. We need many ‘apostle type’ of leaders in our generation, people who can lead by an example. “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia”, Paul said, see Acts 20:17- 32 especially verse 18. How many of our leaders today in churches, para-church organisations, Mother’s Unions, etc., have the courage to say those words? Many of us are afraid to say them because we know that many fingers will legitimately then point at us. We need leaders like Joseph – a man of integrity, Genesis 41:37-40; Daniel – a man who was not corrupt, Daniel 1:8-21. We need men like Charles Finney – who when he stepped into any place, set people repenting before he had said anything!
In Sudan and South Sudan today are there leaders in societies, churches and even nationally who are exemplary? Are there people we can quote? Do you have names you can think of? I don’t think we have so many good people? We should not disappoint the next generation. As mentioned before, a church or a nation will not rise above their pastor or leader. The next generation of living stones will only be what we are today, if we don’t change for the better. So change we must!
Leadership shortages among Christians are the most serious crisis of all we face today. It is the godly influence of the Christian community that prayerfully holds back the forces of evil in our cities and nations. The shortage of strong, effective, godly, Christian leaders is tremendously weakening our ability to stand effectively against the forces of Satan. The results will be devastating. “The good influence of a godly citizen causes a city to prosper, but the moral decay of the wicked drives it downhill”, Proverbs 11:11, (The Living Bible).“When there is moral rot within a nation, its government topples easily; but within honest, sensible leaders there is stability.” Proverbs 28:2, (TLB).
A nation full of godly people is far more powerful against the forces of evil in the world than all the world’s greatest weapons of war combined together. This is why Satan has been working overtime trying to undermine the effectiveness of Christian leaders. Examples are powerful. There are people powerful in words but their lifestyles are questionable. We need to have leaders with the holy character of our Lord Jesus.
2. Holy Spirit structured structure (!)
Our programmes and organisation must be Holy Spirit guided. In a study David Watson wrote entitled, “The importance of the Holy Spirit in our present Church structure”, He did a comparison of the Church – the people of God – in Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, if God were to remove the Holy Spirit from their ‘churches’, 90 % of their activities would collapse. Everybody would know and the difference would be noticeable. In our churches today, should the Holy Spirit be withdrawn, 90% of our structures and programmes would still go on and no one would know or notice hardly any difference at all! There is too much of men and too little of God in what is happening amongst us. To build an effective visionary generation, we must quickly realise that the everlasting influence of anything is only brought about by the work of God the Holy Spirit. It is what the Holy Spirit of God leads us to do that counts in our Christian service. The work of God can only be done by God Himself, along with co-workers He calls and appoints, people who work as servants. Are we led by the Holy Spirit or led by our own ego in what we do? It is very unfortunate today that our young people are being influenced far too much by men’s ideas, and oftentimes nobody is able to question it.
Paul, an exemplary leader, knew the gift of God in Timothy because he mentored Timothy. He urged, “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you”, 1 Timothy 4:14, read
3. Meetings with the glory of God
When Isaiah saw the glory of God, he was changed and his ministry was never the same again, Isaiah 6:1-8.To build an effective generation, we need to develop people who seek after God wholeheartedly. We see more scribes in churches, missions and Christian Unions than we see seekers after God. We need to personally experience the glory of God like Moses, Exodus34:29-35; Ezekiel 1:28-2:1-8, etc. Only people who have had this life-changing experience will urge you this way. Those who have only read about it in others will not. When people genuinely encounter God in this deep and special way, they will be transformed in their lives, and it will show!
4. Upholding the authority of the Bible, God’s word. The world needs something or someone more to rely on. The non-Christian world is searching for better leaders and programmes to meet the ever increasing demands of hunger, illness, poverty, war, displaced people, and so on. Seemingly intractable problems.
Christians know there are three kinds of authority:
God’s authority – the Bible, which is His word.
We need to help the younger generation to uphold the authority of the word as the one and only final authority in all matters of life, doctrine and conduct.
5. Strongly keeping the unity of the body of Christ.
There are too many divisions in our time; it seems more than any generation before us? There are power struggles within churches, divisive attitudes toward tribalism in church and community, and abuses of so many children during war and peace, plus lots of other evil things happening all around us.
Division weakens the body of Christ. To build an effective next generation of Christian leaders, we need to look beyond denominational, racial, ethnic, family and social barriers. We need to accept one another as people in the church regardless of where we (and they) come from. Tribalism must be carefully, prayerfully and respectfully broken down. If you know the Lord Jesus then you are my brother or sister in Christ. This is a very close relationship.
I heard of one pastor who shared this example from South Africa during the time of apartheid. A child of a white family went to play with some children. When he returned home, the mother asked him what was the colour of the children he played with? The child replied, “I have not seen the colour. Let me go and see”.
We need to be colour blind (tribal blind?) in our relationship with all of the other people God has made.
6. Putting evangelism and mission as the top priority
Reaching people with the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ must be the top priority for any church programme. The world needs a generation of leaders, both in the public sector and in the church, who are soundly saved and have a genuine burden for mission work.
From Genesis to Revelation God uses young people to fulfill the great commission. Think of Joseph, Genesis 37:2, 45:5, 50:20; Miriam, Exodus 2:4,7,8; David, 1 Samuel 16:11-13, 14:33,42; Josiah, 2 Chronicles 33:1-4, 14; 2 Kings 23:21-23; Jeremiah, 1:4-10; Mary,
Luke 1:26-38, especially the last verse; Timothy, Acts 16:1-3; 1 Timothy 4:12. So developing godly mission-minded young people is key for the future.
7. Supporting yourself and your vision locally and sustainably
We are capable of sustaining the work among our young generation by supporting their activities, 2 Corinthians 9:6-8. We need to build a generation that entirely depends on indigenous funding through generous giving of local Christians, forming local partnerships with groups of Christians and churches. Anything from Christian brethren abroad should be supplementary and complementary, and must not be depended upon by itself. Genuine ownership of ministry and the responsibility it brings with it, must be taken in Africa and by Africans. Do you think this is possible? Yes, together we can. Our God is more than able, 2 Corinthians 9:10-12. As you are involved in youth ministry, help them to make history. God often calls people like you and me, who are obedient, to fulfil His great purpose for the world by supporting someone else as they reach after their God-given vision.
Change must begin with you and me
If you are to make changes in any system, either in government, church or any other institution, it must begin with a person – you and me. We people need to be willing to make our lives count for God and hence be His co-workers in bringing change in our nation and churches, 1 Corinthians 3:6-9. Each young person can speak about his/her own history. We do have newly emerging leaders in our churches who need to be equipped for their works of service by ministry, Ephesians 4:11-14. We need to pass the baton on to next generation. I hope and pray that God may inspire and challenge all of us (who are present runners in our own race and fighters in our own battles), to invest time, vision, physical and spiritual energy into those followers who will soon lead everything. Do for someone else now what God used someone else to do for you at the beginning of your lifetime of visionary Christian service. See the potential as God sees people. Then strive to realise it.