On the inside of the door of my office, there are a number of statements regarding the task of leadership, made by people, some rather extraordinary characters, through the ages. I keep them on the inside of my office door as a symbol of the reminder of the ministry to which I am called as I leave my office.
The first is from Jesus, the call to Missio Dei, God’s Mission. From John 6:38, ‘to do the will of him who sent me.’
The second, a call to lead into unity by Henry Ford, ‘coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.’
Next is to lead with vision, from, of all people, George Bernard Shaw, ‘You see things and say, “Why?” But I dream things that never were and I say, “Why not?”
Next is to lead with persistence. From Winston Churchill, ‘Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never.’
Lastly, to lead with tough love from, perhaps surprisingly, Napoleon Bonaparte, who said, ‘A leader of whom it is said, “He is a nice man”, is lost.’ Oh, for a tougher skin.
I used to have a list of characteristics of leadership. I don’t know what happened to that list, and I no longer remember all of the characteristics. I do remember two characteristics. One is vision, having a vision, having something to aim for, knowing where you are going and being able to help others go in the same direction. The other is persistence. When the going gets tough, the tough keep going, not aimlessly, but toward the vision, a consistent persistence.
I don’t want to talk about leadership today, but I do want to talk about these two factors of leadership that continue to be implanted in my memory. Having said that, I would like to argue that every Christian is called to leadership. If it is our task to lead other to Christ, then we are all called to leadership. If it is our task to lead transformations of community so that it might reflect, more and more, the kingdom of God, then we are all called to leadership. In fact, if you are a Christian, you are a leader.
But, I don’t need a list on the back of the door to remember them. I know that in leadership I need to know where we are going and be persistent about getting there.
So we meet with Jesus in the reading this morning; you can almost picture it. They are walking through Jerusalem and they can see, from anywhere they go, the Temple, sitting on the Dome of the Rock, on top a hill of an exposed single rock. The disciples are admiring it, speaking about how it was beautifully adorned with stones and gifts dedicated to God.
In response, Jesus promises that they will experience hardships, from nations and individuals, from outside Judaism, the Gentiles, and within Judaism, from those who do not know them as well as those who know them intimately. He says, ‘Beware you are not led astray’ and finally, ‘By your endurance you will gain your souls.’ Vision and endurance, or persistence.
One of the reasons we can get so led astray is because we do not know where we are going. Someone once said, ‘If you do not know where you are going, any road will get you there.’ I am clear about where I am going. And it is not a place. It is a person. The person of God, who is revealed by, and is manifest in, Jesus Christ. I am not interested in getting to heaven, or achieving something. In the same way that gospel singer, Amy Grant, sang, ‘I want people to say that I had my Father’s eyes.’ My greatest wish would be to be known as a man of God; a person who expresses an intimate understanding of who God is, living a life that expresses the nature of God. Everything else comes out of this. Anything else is short sighted.
Vision is not simply, as Bernard Shaw would have it, concerned with coming up with new and creative ideas, but it is an assurance of where you are going, of what you are aiming for, that allows for new and creative ideas of how to achieve it, and even, as Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral would say, ‘Possibility Thinking’.
Too often, we have failed God because we have had a vision, even for the things of God, rather than the God of things. We get led astray. It is at these times when those we invite to lead us need to be thick skinned as they call us back to a vision, the vision.
I need a vision. I can’t operate, floundering around hoping that I am getting somewhere. This does not mean that the journey is important, and perhaps the most important thing, but I need to know where I am going. When I am involved in Diocesan functions and meetings in parts of Melbourne, I have to sit down with my Melways and work out where I am going; how to get there. Thank God we have the Melways of life, the Bible to help us in this matter.
And when I know where I am going I can be persistent.
My wife, Sandy, sometimes calls me stubborn. I get very upset about this. I am not stubborn; I just know where I am going. I am persistent.
In his letter to the Church in Thessalonica, Paul is not writing to those who are not a part of the faith of Jesus Christ. He is writing to Christians. The problem with those in the Church in Thessalonica was that they had a limited vision, the kingdom coming. Now that they were children of the resurrection, they expected that Christ would soon return, as the angel had promised, and establish his kingdom. They stopped working and expected those around them to meet their needs. They had lost sight of the real purpose to which they were called. Get on with the job says Paul.
What we do is driven, inspired, motivated, by what we believe.
How well we continue to fight for, work for, put in action, will also express what it is that we believe.
How weak, ordinary, and unrealised we are when we do not have a life that includes God in it, or even the absolute purpose of it. What is really amazing, in that patient persistence of working toward our vision, that which we truly believe, we do not lose who we are, we will actually find our true identity, our true being, as individuals and as a church, in the one who created us, ‘By your endurance you will gain your souls.’
Let’s grow a Christian community for all, through nurturing our relationship with God, which will inspire us to nurture relationships with our neighbours as we would those with whom we share in this community faith. Relationship with God is our vision; everything else should be the fruit of that relationship.