Receiving the baton

A couple of months ago we did a blog on how we can support new leaders when they take over in our church, agency or team.  This week we’re going to look again at the same topic but from the perspective of the new leader.  How can you make sure you pick up the baton safely and get off to a good start, particularly if you’re following in the footsteps of a significantly strong, influential or much-loved leader?

Believe in yourself.  If you genuinely believe you are called by God to fill this role, you need to be bold enough to recognize that you’re in that role because of who you are.  You have your own set of characteristics and abilities which are different to those of your predecessor.  You don’t need to apologise for being who you are, but to trust that you have come into your position for such a time as this (Esther 4:14).

Take your time.  Before you make major decisions you should wait until you’ve got to know the organization (if you’re new to it) or understand some of the leadership dynamics if you’ve been promoted within it.  You need to take time to become informed before initiating significant change.

You also need to be aware that needing to stamp your mark on the organization is an indication of character weakness, and a response to feeling insecure.

Don’t waste time.  Paradoxically, there is a fine line between acting too rashly and too indecisively, and taking too much time to find your feet can create the impression of indecisiveness among your team.  They need to feel that there is a firm hand on the tiller, even though you’re not changing course.

Let people know you’re listening, but lead the decision making.  Much milk has been spilt over different leadership styles being needed in different situations, but one very good example of leading a very diverse group through potential conflict is the Jerusalem council of Acts 15.  Everyone had their say, then the leader – James – summarized the discussion and made a decision (“my judgment” – verse 19) which appears to be unanimous (verse 22) and is later couched in a press release as “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (verse 28).

You can recover from a bad start.  If it doesn’t start well, don’t panic.  Endurance and perseverance can recover the situation.  After Southampton football club defeated Man U to win the 1976 FA Cup their manager Lawrie McMenemy, reflected that although people were now waving to him in the street in Southampton, three years earlier he’d been used to ducking whatever the people were throwing at him, as he was unable to prevent the team being relegated.  A Biblical example would be Moses, coming in from outside to lead his people to freedom.  The people were opposed to him because of the increasing hardship they faced, and Moses was ready to quit (Exodus 5:20-23).  But it worked out alright in the end.

 

Taking over a new role is not easy.  It will drive you to your knees in prayer – and if it doesn’t, beware of trusting in your own skills and ability rather than the grace of God who provide all you need.

Coffee – a fragrant aroma

Ripe coffee berries

Ripe coffee berries

Fruit is a well-known biblical metaphor.  Jesus tells us that bearing fruit glorifies the Father (John 15:8), and Paul says we are joined to Christ so that we can bear fruit for God (Romans 7:4).  Jesus makes it clear that the fruit is the evidence that we are disciples (John 15:8) – or not (Matthew 7:20).  Whether we understand the fruit to be a metaphor for our activity (Colossians 1:10) or our character development (Galatians 5:22-23), it is clear that if we’re genuine disciples of Jesus, fruit is the outcome.

When we think of fruit, we probably have in our minds fruits like peaches, grapes, apples, apricots or strawberries, which we can just pick and pop in our mouths.  They are the ready-meals of the fruit world.  But other fruit requires a bit of work to it.  While we can eat grapes just as they are, they can also be made into wine.  Apples can be made into pie.  Corn, a slightly different type of fruit, can be made into bread, a much more pleasant form of carbohydrate.  But to achieve this, the fruit needs to be crushed, chopped or ground.  A totally different experience.

Coffee beans

Coffee beans

Another type of fruit is coffee.  Most of us never even seen the coffee fruit on the plant, but we enjoy the end product.  But to get to us, the coffee fruit has a terrible experience.  First, the fruit is stripped off the bean and discarded.  It has no value to us.  The bean is then fermented, and rinsed in large quantities of water.  Then the bean is roasted and, finally, ground up and brewed using hot water.

Suddenly being fruitful doesn’t sound quite so attractive.  And many of us are no stranger to processes like those the coffee bean undergoes – we often feel like we’re in deep water, walking through fire or being ground to bits.  When things like this happen, we can often wonder if we’ve got it all wrong, and begin to doubt our faith.  We discussed the theology of this last week, but suffering is an ever-present reality in the lives of most Christians, and is clearly the biblical norm.  All the writers of the New Testament letters expected their correspondents to be undergoing varying degrees of difficulty, if not active persecution.  One even tells them to ‘count it pure joy’! (James 1:2)  This is because even though the process is unpleasant, the outcome is good.  James tells us that as a result we will be ‘perfect and complete’ (James 1:4).

Photo courtesy of ace barista Simon C Bright

Photo courtesy of ace barista Simon C Bright

The careful processing, roasting and brewing of a fine coffee results in something remarkable.  A simple berry has been turned into a refreshing drink which invigorates and stimulates.  Taken in moderate quantities it is beneficial to concentration, alertness and general health, and may even contribute to longevity.  Even its aroma is attractive.  The next time we undergo some sort of trial, let us remember what the coffee goes through to bring some joy into the life of its drinker, and remember that our suffering is part of the process of bringing joy to the Lord, as in the flood or the furnace we are made more like Jesus.

Singing in the rain?

Gene Kelly in "Singin' in the Rain"

Gene Kelly in “Singin’ in the Rain”

England has a reputation abroad for being an unnecessarily moist country.  Yet in some countries moisture is welcomed.  I have been in Africa when the rains break, and seen people stop their cars and get out and dance in the puddles because they’re so glad it’s raining.  That wouldn’t happen in Manchester.  Where people are still in touch with their farming communities, they recognise the need for rain.  No rain, no food.  So they are grateful for the rain.

It’s the same in the Bible.  Rain is generally used as a sign of God’s blessing (except of course, in the Flood).  It’s part of the covenant with Israel that if the people obey God, the rain will come (Leviticus 26:3-4).  When they don’t, it doesn’t.  And if you’ve ever been to Israel, you’ll know the value of rain.  It’s a dry land where every drop is cherished and irrigation systems are carefully designed to use no more water than is absolutely necessary.  Likewise the withholding of rain is a sign of God’s judgement (e.g. 1 Kings 16:29-18:1), and clouds without rain are the ultimate picture of disappointment (Proverbs 25:14).

The English don’t like the rain.  Where we live, it’s usually cold, insipid and persistent, and it interferes with the cricket.  Unlike tropical countries, where there’s a regular cloudburst which clears up quickly, here it can go on dribbling for days with barely a centimetre falling.  Sometimes it’s even hard to know whether rain is falling or whether the air is just full of damp.  The moisture nags its way through our clothing and into our bones.  The only thing we enjoy about it is that it gives us something to moan about.

This year the English have had a lot to moan about.  Having just endured the wettest spring since records began, the whingeing Poms have had a lot of practice.  We’ve moaned about the weather so much that we’re now even moaning about people who moan about the weather.  How does this square with St Paul’s injunction to the Thessalonians to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)?

Surely we should be cultivating an attitude of thankfulness even when we’re cold and clammy and our barbecue has just been cancelled.  Can we here in England be thankful that we live in a country where the grass is green and we can turn on a tap without wondering whether water is going to come out of it?

We who are mission workers have many opportunities to moan.  We struggle with intermittent electricity and water supplies, the challenges of bureaucracy, the dangers of travelling, setbacks in our ministries and so much more.  A closer inspection of what Paul wrote reminds us that we’re not giving thanks for the circumstances, but we’re remaining thankful despite them.  The early church did not give thanks because they were persecuted, but because they had “been considered worthy” of suffering for Jesus.  James is no masochist when he tells us to count it ‘pure joy’ when we have trials – he’s encouraging us to look beyond the trials to the perfection that lies beyond (James 1:2-4).

Let us lift our eyes above our immediate troubles and give thanks to God for all that he has done in our lives.