Tag Archives: Christian leadership

The ends of the world as we know them – suicidal tendencies of our civilizations.

So many articles (here, here, here, here, here, and here) try to address the main questions in our world today. The many attempts to explain what is going on in our day and time is really like treading water in an empty pool… in 2005 the editors of the New York Times choose to promote a book written by Jared Diamond called “The ends of the world as we know them.” Later on Diamond won the Pulitzer prize for his non-fiction book, “Guns, Germs, and Steel.” In 2005 this same Diamond published “Collapse; How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” (Check his lecture at the University of CA) which became like a historical bible for many students helping to describe history in a new perspective.

I came across some of this information as I recently started to read (again) about the decline of civilizations. Because let’s be honest; we are in the middle of the decline of our (Western) civilizations… and, to quote a real expert on that: “There is nothing new under the sun!” Ecclesiastes 1: 9-10 “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time”.

civilization

The fact is that history repeats itself… Therefore we need to learn from history. We are on the verge of a total new time of transition and will have to learn to deal and live with new facts and new life about, and in our world. Why? Because the worlds as we now know them will not be there in the near future…

During my MA in Intercultural Studies I was interested in researching the upcoming and fall of cities and societies. The main expert on this I found to be Arnold Joseph Toynbee (April 14, 1889 – October 22, 1975) Toynbee was a British historian whose twelve-volume analysis of the rise and fall of civilizations, “A Study of History”, 1934-1961, was a combination of world history, a meta-history based on universal rhythms of rise, flowering and decline, which examined history from a global perspective.

Toynbee argues that “self-determining” civilizations are born (out of more primitive societies), not due to racial or environmental factors, but as a response to challenges, such as hard country, new ground, blows and pressures from other civilizations, and penalizations. He argues that for civilizations to be born, the challenge must be a golden mean; that excessive challenge will crush the civilization, and too little challenge will cause it to stagnate.

He argues that civilizations continue to grow only when they meet one challenge only to be met by another. He argues that growth is driven by “Creative Minorities,” those who find solutions to the challenges which others then follow.

While Diamond in his book from 2005 emphasizes the need to fight the environmental factors (which I don’t want to minimize) he agrees with Toynbee that “civilizations die from suicide, not by murder” when they fail to meet the challenges of their times.

I find these thoughts very challenging and provoking… It is like waling the tightrope; too little challenge will lead to stagnation, too much will crush us! However, the point of interest for me is to be part of the “Creative Minority” which finds the solutions to our challenges today!

Looking back throughout history (His Story = God’s Story) makes me dare to believe that the people of God, the Christians can be those minorities… as they have been throughout the history of our world. In so many ways and in so many cases history writers (most often male and part of the ruling majority) have silenced and hidden the accomplishments of the remnant of God’s people in their societies who were part of laying foundation and proposing structures and values which carried whole civilizations through the transitions of challenge and change.

I appeal to sensible women and men of God who are willing to pay the price to be part of this “overwhelming minority” which somehow, some way will be used to bring hope to a fallen and suicidal world as they in humbleness and soberness live out the fullness of life through Jesus Christ in this dying world!

That’s the Way I see it!

John

Advertisements

Ministering as a leader in a leader-hostile environment…

In the latest article on Livets Ord in the Christian Daily “Dagen”, we read about “Power” or more specific about leadership. I am one of the leaders in a multi-cultural church with a majority of Swedish members and others representing approximately 40 nations. Within this context we are learning a lot about leadership. As leaders in our different churches we are called to contextualize our way of being Church, being leaders and also how we present the message that God has entrusted to us through His word. Like I said, we are learning a lot about leadership (mainly through mistakes) as we are facing expectations, demands, theological viewpoints and experiences of cultural emphasized ways of leadership.

First of all it is important to conclude that there is more to leadership and even Biblical leadership that what we perceive to be true within our Swedish cultural context. There are many people in our churches who are used to the fact that leadership is exercised through consensus. Actually we are brought up in that kind of social environment which, if one dares to be honest, is far removed from the Biblical perspective on leadership. I dare say that we have a leadership hostile environment within the nation which has also permeated the Church in Sweden.

I have lived and ministered in five different nations (Holland, Sweden, USA, the Philippines and Japan) and besides that ministered in another 15-20 nations. In all of these nations there have been very different perspectives on what Christian leadership (or Biblical leadership) is all about. Even within our own church we have the two extremes with groups of people who have the deepest conviction that the pastor is to tell what is to happen while at the same time we have many who will always look for total consensus in vision, decisions and processes.

The fact of the matter is that many of our opinions about leadership in Sweden are culturally, rather than Biblically determined. It is not strange that a leadership style as practiced by Ulf Ekman is questioned, evaluated and scrutinized until the bone by many of us who are culturally inclined to go against any form of leadership which is not based on consensus. To my opinion; Sweden is a leadership hostile environment! Many of my Swedish (!) colleagues who are part of other church traditions than Livets Ord express so often their frustration how difficult it is to be a leader in a church in Sweden, and many actually leave the ministry because they cannot cope with the mechanisms of leadership within the rather rigid structures and praxis that we have formed within our churches.

Having said that, how do I look at leadership? Here are some pointers:

All the effective leaders I have encountered-both those I worked with and those I merely watched-knew four simple things:

1. The only definition of a leader is someone who has “followers”. Some people are thinkers. Some are prophets. Both roles are important and badly needed. But without followers, there can be no leaders.

2. An effective leader is not someone who is loved or admired. He or she is someone “whose followers” do the right things. Popularity is not leadership. Results are.

3. Leaders are highly visible. They therefore set examples.

4. Leadership is not rank, privileges, titles, or money. It is responsibility.

Another main question is what do these leaders do?
Regardless of their almost limitless diversity with respect to personality, style, abilities, and interests, the effective leaders I have met, worked with, and observed also behaved much the same way:

1. They did not start out with the question, “What do I want?” They started out asking, “What needs to be done?

2. Then they asked, “What can and should I do to make a difference?” This has to be something that both needs to be done and fits the leader’s strengths and the way she or he is most effective.

3. They constantly asked, “What are the organization’s mission and goals.

4. They were extremely tolerant of diversity in people and did not look for carbon copies of themselves. It rarely even occurred to them to ask, “Do I like or dislike this person?”

5. They were not afraid of strength in the people working with them. Whether they had heard of it or not, their motto was what Andrew Carnegie wanted to have put on his tombstone: “Here lies a man who attracted better people into his service than he was himself.”

6. One way or another, they submitted themselves to the “mirror test“-that is, they made sure that the person they saw in the mirror in the morning was the kind of person they wanted to be, respect, and believe in. This way they equipped themselves against the leader’s greatest temptations-to do things that are popular rather than right things.

7. Finally, these effective leaders were not preachers; they were doers. I read a story the other day about a student who had read different historical books, he said: “Every one of these books says that the Great War was a war of total military incompetence. Why was it?” The teacher did not hesitate a second but shot right back, “Because not enough generals were killed; they stayed way behind the lines and let others do the fighting and dying.”

Dear friends, if we want to look at this difficult and complex subject of Biblical leadership let us ask ourselves; “Am I willing to die for the sheep that God has entrusted us/me?” If you can say “Yes” you might be on your way becoming a leader God has set His heart on!

That’s the Way I see it for now… God bless you,

John

PS… Check my article about leadership and an invitation to become a member of an union for pastors here in Sweden. DS