The Portrait of a Spiritual Leader (VI)

Simplicity

Nehemiah 5:14-16 (NIV) Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year– twelve years– neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor. But the earlier governors– those preceding me– placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land. Click here for more

Simplicity is one quality of leadership that is perhaps not rated as highly as the other qualities. Some people erroneously think that simplicity is about shunning material things—that’s akin to asceticism. True simplicity is premised on viewing all life from the perspective of God’s kingdom. Simplicity is refusal to live by the standards of the god of this world, which is materialism. Here are some lessons we can learn from Nehemiah’s simplicity:

Down to earth

Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews. Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain” (verses 1-2). A leader who possesses the quality of simplicity is not afraid to associate with all categories of people—whether mighty and sophisticated or lowly and simple. By all standards, Nehemiah was no ordinary citizen. His service in the palace as a king’s “cup bearer” meant that he rubbed shoulders with the king quite regularly.  But he was also very approachable and listened to the concerns of the ordinary people and gave them an appropriate response. When the spiritual leader’s identity is in Christ, they are not afraid to associate with any category of people. They are not bossy but rather, they work with and for the people.

Living Justly

When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are charging your own people interest!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them (verses 6-7). Nehemiah had the audacity to call the “priests…nobles and officials” (verse 12) to order because of the exemplary life he lived. The rich were giving out loans to the poor at very exorbitant interest rates. Consequently, the poor would fail to pay—losing their land, houses or whatever else the owed the rich. Although Nehemiah too was lending money to the people, he and his people refused to charge excessive interest.  He refused to exploit the poor like everyone else did. When we live simply, we have the freedom and authority to stand up for the justice of those who are marginalized in our societies.

Generosity

But the earlier governors—those preceding me—placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land (verses 15-16.) A leader is marked more by how much they give out (literally and not metaphorically) than what they amass for themselves. Leaders know that although their positions may attract privileges, those privileges should be used for the betterment of the people they lead.  In Nehemiah’s case, he noticed that the previous leaders had put a heavy levy on the people in order to subsidize their lifestyle. Nehemiah refused to follow suit; instead he invited his fellow leaders for a sumptuous banquet every ten days (verses 17-18).

True simplicity

How do you exercise this quality of simplicity? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments section.

 

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The Portrait of a Spiritual Leader (V)

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Focus 

When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it– though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates–Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.” But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer. Nehemiah 6:1-4 (NIV)

One of the qualities any leader must have is focus—not being distracted from one’s calling, vision and mission. Nehemiah is an example of a leader who was focused and intentional about his assignment. He refused to be distracted by his enemies. Every day we are faced with a challenge to stay focused on what God has called us to do. Let me share some of the distractions we can encounter.

Good things/programs

This is the easiest to distract us from our mission. Life sometimes offers us  many good things. Some of these things or programs may be even more attractive and appealing than our primary commitments. They may offer better positions, opportunities, or remuneration than the ministry God has called us for. It takes immense discipline and intentionality to keep focused when such situations arise.

The enemy

Satan is diabolically opposed to God’s purposes. He distracts us by making us focus on the challenges at hand than the big picture of our mission. The enemy can use diverse strategies to make us fail in our mission. In 1 Thessalonians 2:18, Apostle Paul clearly says that several times Satan hindered him from going to certain places to preach the Gospel. The encouragement we have is that with Lord’s help we can overcome Satan.

Life challenges

Life is a journey, and so it has its ups and downs. There are times when every leader has to deal with a crisis—whether it is a loss of a loved one, an illness, financial challenge, or a divorce. These challenges can threaten our commitment to our mission. What keeps us going is the assurance that God is with us even in the fire that we might be going through.

Past victories or failures

The hangover of yesterday’s victory or the guilt of past failures can derail us from our calling. The Lord Jesus taught us to pray that “Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11). Yesterday’s victories cannot guarantee today’s success. Similarly, you might have failed yesterday but that’s not a reason for you to give up. Every leader needs fresh spiritual nourishment and strength for the tasks and commitments of each day. God’s mercies are new every morning. Like Apostle Paul says we need to forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead (Philippians 3:13).

Keep your Focused on the Goal.
Like an athlete, leaders need to be stubbornly focused on their mission. Our lives must be wholly committed to the mission God has given us. Like Apostle Paul, we need to say “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Like Nehemiah, when we encounter the challenges that would distract us, we should be able to say: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down” (Neh. 6:3).

Shepherding God’s People

1 Peter 5:1-4 (NIV) To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers– not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.  And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

Feed God’s Flock

Apostle Peter reiterates the same charge that he himself received from the Lord Jesus Christ (see John 21:15-17). The one single most important role of the pastor or elder is to be “shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care” (verse 2). This includes providing pastoral and biblical oversight, discipline, instruction, counseling so that the people of God can grow into Christ-like maturity.  Shepherds need to guard themselves against the negative motivations for pastoral ministry such as working out of obligation, being greedy, or bossy. Instead they should serve because they are willing, eager, and exemplary.  Shepherds should also know that they are really under-shepherds, with the Chief-shepherd being Jesus Christ who will at the end reward those who are faithful.

Do you have a pastoral responsibility in your church (such as pastor, elder, small group leader, women’s leader, etc.)? How do you measure up in light of today’s passage?

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Humble Yourself before God

Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:5-7).

Young people are ambitious and active. But they can also be easily entrapped by pride. Pride may cause them to despise the wisdom of those who are older than them, thus making the pastoral ministry hard. We all need to know, though, that pride is not exclusive to the youth. Pride puts us on the wrong side of God. “God opposes the proud”(verse 5). No one would want to have God as their opponent. In the highly competitive world that we live in, it is easy to get worried about promotions, accomplishments or worldly accolades. Keep in mind that it is always rewarding when God promotes us in His own time. We, therefore, should not be anxious or stressed out about human accomplishments but rather look up to God who deeply cares for us.

Do you sometimes find yourself in unhealthy competition for recognition and promotion? It is wise to wait on God to “lift you up” in His time.

 

 

Shepherd-Leaders

1 Timothy 41-2 (NIV) In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

Anyone who has ever been involved in pastoral ministry knows how exciting it can be, especially when you see the people under your care growing and living their God-given dreams. But not all is rosy in this ministry. It can also be stressful and daunting. Many a pastor does not have a clear job description, let alone a defined work schedule. Many people in the congregation expect their pastors to be as perfect and sinless as Jesus Christ. But every pastor knows how imperfect and inadequate they are (if you doubt ask their spouses). Yet they have to be strong, always being there for those who are hurting—most of the time at the expense of missing their own family opportunities.

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Pastors are as human as anyone else. They hurt, they need, they face temptations, and they struggle. The salaries of many pastors around the world are way lower than those of an average CEO in their contexts. As a matter of fact most pastors in the majority world do not even earn a salary, so they resort to being bi-vocational in order sustain their families. The irony is that their church members expect them to give full-time commitment to their pastoral obligations, even when they are not compensated for their work.

It is alright to have high expectations of our pastors—and we should for every leader. But remember that we can easily confuse unrealistic expectations for high ones. Pastors cannot lead the church to the desired success unless everyone is involved; praying, encouraging and doing what they are supposed to do. Remember that the church is the “body of Christ” and just like you and me, pastors are just a part of that body. For the entire body to be healthy, every part has to do its part.