Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Writer Cheryl McCallum
What is the most important attribute a Christian leader should possess? If you do a quick Google search or browse through your local Christian bookstore you will find a multitude of answers including humility, piety, entrepreneurial skills, and the ability to communicate. I would like to suggest that inner peace is the essential attribute that will see a leader through the ups and downs, pressures and strains that come with their service to God.
Peace is described in the Bible in multiple ways including the cessation of warfare (Judges 11:13), inward serenity and contentment (Ps 4:8), and freedom from anxiety and worry (Phil 4:6-9). The latter two areas are most commonly faced by Christian leaders although some may feel they are ‘at war’ in their context. Much of leadership culture (including Christian) eats away at inward serenity and contentment. Worry and anxiety about numbers, money, promotion, image, and acceptance by important ‘others’ can easily become the norm.
God is the author of peace and it is a gift given to his people through the mediator of peace, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit as a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). It is not an ‘optional extra’ for a disciple of Christ. Peace of mind in leadership is a precious and sacred thing that must be nurtured and protected at all costs. It can mean the difference between continuing or ceasing to serve God, between fulfilment and disillusionment.
There are constant opportunities for the abandonment of peace of mind and leaders are particularly vulnerable. I want to suggest four aspects of Christian leadership that can erode our peace of mind.
I Work For God
Yes, he is still our loving Father, but there can be a subtle shift to view him also as our ‘boss’ or ‘employer’. As volunteers or paid staff we are working for God, he is watching if our work is being done properly, if we are meeting his performance criteria. This is often not a conscious mindset, but it can make us anxious about how God views our performance as a leader. Peace of mind comes when we continually remind ourselves that our acceptance in God’s eyes does not come from our works; we are his beloved child no matter our employment status. Pursuing a spirituality that focuses on who we are rather than what we do can be valuable in resisting this paradigm.
Success As A Leader Is Measured By Growth
Sure, we tell each other and ourselves that numbers and growth are not important in God’s Kingdom but we still spend nights worrying about these very things. There might be some very good reasons—apart from our leadership—why our youth group, church, or organisation is not growing, but no one wants to hear that explanation. Anxiety is fed by declining numbers and lack of growth. How do we gain peace of mind? By reminding ourselves again and again that success in the Kingdom of God looks very different than in the world; faithfulness, perseverance and responsible service are the markers of a faithful disciple. That is not to say we should not be self-aware of our weaknesses and failings as a leader, but these should not rob our serenity.
We Live For The Strokes
Oh, how we love it when there is crowd around us at the end of a sermon telling us how well we have spoken. Or stopping us in the street to inform us our ministry has changed their life. Or begging us to never leave because we are ‘the best leader ever’. Even if this has never happened to you, we can begin to live for these moments. Secretly we want people to love us, or at least like us, and we feel a real boost when we receive their affirmation. But what happens when we get negative feedback? When we hear that we are disliked, even hated? When we make decisions that are unpopular? That is often the trigger for a round of restless nights, of worry and anxiety, of questioning our gifts and abilities.
And the antidote to living for the strokes? Painful as it might be, we have to remind ourselves that the people who love us now will love our successor, they will acclaim her/his preaching, they will give the same strokes. Our contribution is noted by God but quickly moves into the archives of others’ minds. I heard the story of a senior minister who was leaving the church he had planted and led for over 30 years. At his farewell, as person after person spoke of him leaving a gap that could never be filled, he produced a bucket of water. Plunging his hand into the water and then pulling it out he commented that he would be leaving as big a hole as was left in the water. Wise words!
We Own The Youth Group
There is a lot of pressure in Christian circles for the leader to be analogous with their specific setting the church or organisation; and in many cases this identification is beneficial and benign. Where it becomes problematic is when the leader cannot separate themselves from their organisation. I am Youth Group X, without me it would not exist. This can lead to an unhealthy sense of ultimate responsibility that can only feed anxiety in the mind of leaders. What brings peace of mind is a clear and reiterated understanding that, while we do all we can, ultimately God owns the organisation. He birthed it, he has nurtured it, and he has the final say in where it goes. When we are able to rest in this we will be free from unrealistic and unhealthy stress-inducing over-realised responsibility.
Ironically, peace of mind is often the topic of our preaching and teaching, and what we exhort others to aspire to, but it is the thing we struggle with most as Christian workers and leaders. Our witness in this world of frantic busyness, stress, and worry is likely the most powerful when we display a genuine, deep, peace of mind. Let us all seek this in our lives. ●
Originally published in YVQ13: RNR.
Written by Cheryl McCallum. Cheryl is the Principal of Eastern College Australia (formerly Tabor Victoria) and has been involved with the college for over 20 years in various capacities including lecturer, Head of School and Principal. She has also worked for TEAR Australia, UNOH, and as the National Director for the Australian Evangelical Alliance. Cheryl’s passions include bible engagement, biblical equality, and women in ministry. She enjoys reading, travelling, and drinking coffee. She has two adult children, two grandchildren, and worships at One Community Church in Blackburn
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