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Monday, August 16, 2010

Leadership...or Followership?

I am always amazed with the creativity and persistence of the Christian community. Consider leadership. A quick check on finds over 2000 books available on Christian leadership. All the great authors have chimed in on the latest findings and current studies of what works and what doesn’t in the field of leadership. I’d like to become a better leader, but when I survey all the choices I have no idea where to begin! One of the hottest trends is coaching. There are 646 books available on “Christian Coaching.” There are books on Faith Coaching, Life-Centered Coaching, Leadership Coaching, Transformissional Coaching, Coaching by the Book, and a veritable onslaught of others. They all promise to be just what I need to mature as a Christian leader. I’m not sure. Coaching reminds me of pre-season football practice in the late Nebraska summers. My old football coach was a guy who thought he knew everything about the game, and was too old and out of shape to play. I’m not done playing yet. And besides, he always stood on the sidelines and yelled at everyone. I’m not sure coaching is my thing. So, what is?

Recently, I discovered something I like better than coaching, perhaps, even better than leadership. It didn’t come from a guy with his necktie too tight who sits in a windowless office high up in an ivory tower. There are not 10 principles to follow. It’s not a secret—known only to me. I can’t think of a ten-dollar word to describe it. And, I’ll never write a book about it, so I’ll just call it followership.
Peter knows what it is. And so does Jesus. The very first words that Jesus spoke to Peter along the shores of Galilee were, not about leadership, but: ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men’ (Matt. 4:19). Jesus was determined to make followers…not leaders. When Jesus set out on earth to make leaders…He made followers. He didn’t write shelves of books with catchy titles. He didn’t come up with principles to follow, or tricky secrets modeled after the godless business leaders of the day. He simply uttered the words, Follow Me. In the midst of Peter’s busyness, the voice of Jesus was heard. The sound of His voice rose above the sounds of a fishing village. The business of cleaning fish, repairing nets, scrubbing boats, the noisy banter of the fish traders—even the clinking of coins could not drown out the call of God in Peter’s life. “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And, Peter did. The process of followership had begun.
Peter continued to struggle with that process during the earthly ministry of Jesus. His priorities wandered between two worlds: his and God’s. Many times he failed. We all do. But, what strikes me most, is the fact that when Jesus wanted to make a leader out of Peter, His first words and last words were identical. Becoming a follower of Jesus is not the beginning of the process—soon replaced by worldly principles—it is the whole process! What started along the shores of Galilee with the call to ‘Follow Me’, ended in the same place…with the same words.
After Peter’s infamous three-fold denial (and subsequent crucifixion of the Lord) Jesus catches up to Peter in the same place…the Sea of Galilee. He’s doing the same thing: fishing. After a miserable night of empty nets, then, a miraculous catch of fish, Jesus issues a call to renewed fellowship and forgiveness. At the end of this conversation, which centers on the priorities of life and ministry, Jesus reminds Peter of something we desperately need to learn about leadership.
Peter is on the threshold of becoming the leader of the church in Jerusalem. He is about to become the central figure in the training of men and women for ministry. What was the final message to Peter, personally? In the last recorded words that our Lord spoke to Peter personally, he says, “You follow Me” (John 21:22).
There you have it. Simple enough. The life and training of Peter is bracketed—in the beginning and the end—with one central command. ‘Follow Me’. That’s my kind of leadership.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Archippus...a Small-town Cowboy Preacher

Recently while scanning some verses one really caught my attention. I have read it many times before. But, for some reason this verse really jumped out at me. It connected with me in a way that it never has. It comes from Colossians 4:17:

And say to Archippus, "Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it."

At first reading, one might relegate this passage with a bunch of others that speak truth to those in leadership positions within the church. And it would fit well there, indeed. But a closer examination reveals just how fitting this verse might be to those who serve in rural communities. The first clues are found in the description and name of the man.

We learn from Philemon (vs.2) that Archippus comes from the household of Philemon and lives in small town Colossae. He is quite possibly the son of Philemon. Paul refers to him as a fellow soldier. The word translated fellow soldier is συστρατιώτης . The picture is that of a soldier with a cause similar to the writer (Paul). We can surely say Paul viewed Archippus as a man with equal convictions and zeal for Jesus Christ, as himself.

Our next observation as to the identity of Archippus is his name. It is actually a compound word comprised of two simple words arche, or leader, and hippos, or horse. His name literally means master of horses. Could it be that Archippus was a cowboy? We don't really know, but cowboys are masters of horses! And, Archippus was plowing the spiritual soil of his small-town sowing seeds of the Gospel. A rural-minded guy in a rural place. But not all was good.

Colossae might not have been the most desirable place to serve the Lord. Once a thriving community along a well-established trade route, Colossae had seen better days. The bustling trade center was now a few miles to the west in the wealthy city of Laodicea. The population declined and despair rose. How easy it would have been for Archippus to gaze at life in the neighboring city of Laodicea. The people, wealth, and cultural attractions would be an ideal place to minister. Opportunities abound in places where people exist! It is so easy to put our eyes on places and things around us, rather than on what is before us. Archippus needed a reminder. We all do.

As Paul closes his letter to the Colossians, he adds a personal message for Archippus. He tells the Colossians, "And say to Archippus, "Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it" (Colossians 4:17).

First, Archippus is told to fulfill his ministry--the one he received in the Lord. Our ministries are from God. They originate from Him and they are entrusted to us--as a stewardship (1 Cor. 4:1,2). The word fulfill is from the Greek word πληρόω which means to complete in every detail, ratify, accomplish, and perform. It means to be filled to the brim--lacking nothing! The word fulfill is a present active subjunctive. As a student of God's Word, this should make you rise up on your heels. Here's the idea: Fulfilling your ministry is something to be continual and on-going in your life, but it means there are conditions associated with it. Why do some give up before the work is finished?

Giving up on ministry is an all-too-common occurrence in today's world. Especially for those who serve in the shadows. The spotlights of mainstream evangelicalism never seem to shine in the cracks and crevices of rural North America. Reports of mega suburban ministries with multiple staff and outrageous budgets fill the pages of their favorite magazines. Occasionally one wonders what it would be like--to work around such gifted people. To have auditoriums packed with successful, educated people. The mind begins to wander. Before long, the pastor slips quietly out of town. God has called him away, he says.

The key to fulfilling is found in the words take heed. Those words are translated from the Greek βλέπω which means to see with your mind's eye; to perceive, understand, contemplate, discover, to weigh carefully. It's a hard concept to grasp. The premise Paul makes is this: When I carefully consider the enormity of my calling to ministry...when I get a grip on what the LORD has asked me to do...then I am on the way to fulfilling the ministry. We are to keep our eyes focused on the task and understand the big picture. I trust these words will encourage you...and motivate you to keep going in your place of ministry. A cowboy preacher in the small town of Colossae needed these words. And we need them today as well.

You may not be a small-town cowboy preacher from Colossae, but you have been given a ministry to fulfill. And that fulfillment begins with eliminating the disillusionment that plagues our vision and looking to the ministry that God has given you.