Showing posts with label action. Show all posts
Showing posts with label action. Show all posts

23 April 2013

To Egypt and back

Leaders in the church, Part 7
< Herod and the astrologers | Index | John the Baptist >

Joseph takes his family to Egypt to escape from Herod, and later they return and head for Galilee. This shows us how important it is to lead from obedience. But what do we do when the information is incomplete? And what does this say about leaders and about followers?

A painting of the escape to Egypt
When I began my trawl through the New Testament for information on leadership, I had no idea that by the seventh article I'd still be in the second chapter of Matthew!

But that is right where we are, looking at Joseph and Mary's escape to Egypt and then their decision to settle in Nazareth in Galilee. (Matthew 2:13-23)

Once again, dreams are an important feature. I've occasionally been guided by dreams in the past, I wonder if you have too? This time, the angel in Joseph's dream instructs him to take his family to Egypt because Herod is going to hunt down the baby to kill him. As before, Joseph was obedient, he got up and set off in the night for Egypt.

Later, when Herod was dead, he was told to return to Israel (again by an angel in a dream) and was finally guided (in another dream) to settle in Galilee in the town of Nazareth.

Leadership - What can we learn from this about leadership? Right away we  can see the importance of acting on what we hear from the Father.

Leading is not about following our own plans and visions, it's about following the Father's plans and visions. In other words, leading is about obedience. It's not about my wisdom, it's about Father's wisdom expressed in whatever way he chooses.

In Joseph's case the Almighty's will was expressed in dreams, it may sometimes be the same for us. However, the Holy Spirit may choose to speak in many different ways. It's up to us to be alert and notice his communication - whatever form it takes.

Acting on incomplete information - Something else we can glean from this story is that leading through obedience is not always easy.

'Escape to Egypt and stay there until I tell you' meant that Joseph's obedience would be open-ended. Not only would they go to Egypt, they would stay there for an unknown period of time. Presumably he would have found work as a carpenter and there was a large ex-pat Jewish community in cities like Alexandria. Should they settle, build a house and set up a business? Or would it be better to do contract jobs and find temporary lodgings?

Similarly, 'Go to Israel' is incomplete information; apparently Joseph was not told what part of Israel to choose or how long to remain there. Guidance and obedience don't always result in the clarity we might like.

There's also the important matter of using our own brains, wisdom and experience. When guidance lacks detail we may need to depend on our own resources to fill the gaps. Joseph decided for himself that it was unwise to go to Judaea. In a further dream he was warned again and decided to settle in Galilee in the small town of Nazareth. He worked the rest of his life and died in Nazareth without seeing what Jesus would eventually do. We rarely see the end from the beginning.

For us and for others - Leading implies followers. We have responsibilities to others and to our heavenly Father. Here is Joseph having to make decisions that also affect Mary and the infant Jesus. Here's the One who has come as Emmanuel ('Elohim with us') placing his safety in the hands of a carpenter! Even those with great authority (even Jesus) must learn to put their trust in the hands of other leaders.

This is true in the church, isn't it? Christ himself is the head of the church yet he has entrusted his body to the leading of ordinary men and women, not because he needs to but because he chooses to. And it's the same for us.

One of the primary ways leaders come off the rails is when they begin to think people should follow them. Demanding to be followed will never be effective because true authority is always given freely, not demanded. If people don't want to follow you no amount of cajoling or threatening or persuading will change their minds. But if you are worthy of respect and trust they will follow you without hesitation, even without conscious thought.

Joseph was followed into Egypt, back to Israel and on to Galilee because Mary respected and trusted and loved him. And the infant Jesus, the fullness of the Most High in tiny, helpless, human form was also entrusted to his care and to that of Mary. Have you ever thought how truly awesome that is?

And have you ever thought how awesome it is that the Father trusts us to lead one another? Jesus lives in every believer, he has planted his Holy Spirit and nature in us individually. If you lead you are leading people who are filled with the presence of the King of Kings! So be very careful and ever so humble in all you say and do and think.

This is why we are told that few should teach (James 3:1) and none should be called Teacher (Matthew 23:8). And it's why Paul wanted the churches to recognise elders who would be true and faithful (Titus 1:5-9). Much depended on it. Much depends on it still.

Leading by doing - Notice how an angel was sent repeatedly to show Joseph what to do next. He was given dreams that showed him the need to journey and provided clear destinations. There's a clue for us here if we are willing to see it.

If anyone aspires to lead the body of Christ they must lead by their actions, not merely by talking. If the lesson is to love one another then leading will involve practical and sacrificial loving. Isn't that how Jesus did it? If the lesson is sharing the good news in every day life then leading will involve inventive ways of sharing it daily.

Unlike Father, we can't insert a dream into a sleeping person's mind. However, we can insert a dream by demonstrating it in our own lives, by acting it out. In the church we are, I think, surrounded by many, many sleeping people (certainly in Western society). So go and show them the dream, reveal it to them by your actions. You are a leader, in many ways we all are. So get to it!

Questions:

  • What would have happened if Joseph had ignored the dreams in his leading?
  • Can you think of examples of local leaders in your own life who show the way?
  • How might you lead, or lead more effectively?
  • Had you considered that when you lead you are leading people who contain Christ?

See also:


< Herod and the astrologers | Index | John the Baptist >

20 June 2012

Belonging or activity?

Belonging and activity are both essential for healthy church life. As individuals we need to be widely connected and part of close family with Jesus. Belonging and activity are at the heart of all we are and do.

Belonging and activity
In the world of on line collaboration we can think in terms of social networks, like Facebook, and platforms for activity, like Wikipedia. Facebook connects people who know one another - family, work colleagues, neighbours. Wikipedia is a place where strangers collaborate on building an encyclopaedia.

Of course belonging and activity overlap to some extent, and relationships change. It's possible to make friends with others editing the same article on Wikipedia, and Facebook includes pages for people who share common interests.

But even if the distinction grows a little fuzzy in the middle, it's still a valid (and useful) distinction.

In terms of church life we see the same thing. Sometimes we have a sense of belonging, we see other believers as our church friends and family. Jesus tells us to love one another, we are called to care deeply. But we think in terms of activity when we work on projects of various kinds. We may do this alone or with others. Jesus tells us to feed the hungry, take in the homeless and give water to the thirsty.

If belonging becomes dominant in our thinking. If we think the purpose of the church family is solely to be together often for close community, for encouragement, and for worship we may miss opportunities for wider connection. One of the failures of church in our day is the silo mentality that fails to communicate across the divide - even in the same town. It's like family life becoming so important that we never speak to our neighbours! And we may also miss opportunities for practical action in our own district or worldwide.

But when activity looms too large we may focus so much on mission or helping the poor or praying for our nation that we have no time left for meaningful, local belonging. Either we feel we have no brothers and sisters or we abandon them through busyness.

We need both... belonging and activity... family and projects. One of the joys of a life following Jesus is that the two can (and should) be combined. But they are distinct.

Belonging and activity
The diagram (repeated here for convenience) shows the four possible combinations. At upper left are those who are well connected but don't do very much. Those of us in the lower right are actively and abundantly engaged in activity but have no roots in the church family. At greatest danger are those in the red area, loners who do little or nothing. And the best place to be is in the green zone, supporting and supported by close local church family and connected widely, but also busy with whatever tasks Papa has provided.

Pray for the right balance in your own life and in the lives of those around you. Encourage one another to move to or remain in the green zone, the place of healthy belonging and activity. Also pray that the places of belonging and the activities will be those chosen by the Father and revealed by the Spirit. Only by remaining in Papa's love and doing the things he shows us can we live in true peace and joy.

Note: I have made some changes in the light of Ashley's helpful comments (see below). The diagram shows that some people might be disconnected (ie alone, not in community) even though they may be active in prayer or other ways. Parts of the the text suggested otherwise.

18 November 2011

About us

Is it possible to write a short statement that captures who we are in Christ? It will need to describe much more than what we believe; instead it should outline our attitudes and behaviour in our day to day living.

An early creed
There are plenty of creeds out there, statements of what we believe. A creed tries to crystallise the main, significant and essential points of our faith. But faith is only part of the story, just as important are the attitudes and actions of our daily lives - the practical outworkings of our faith.

This is a first attempt to write out such a statement. It's not so much a statement of faith, more a statement of intended living.

I wrote a first draft some months ago, but I was encouraged to revise it and publish it by Ross Rohde's recent article on 'Viral Jesus'.

One of the problems with any written creed, and perhaps a potential problem with this statement too, is that agreeing to it or even saying it can become more important than following Jesus. Mere words can never be more important than a person, and no other person can be as important as Jesus.

Here's the current version; it would be good to have some comments. What do you think of the statement as it stands? Can you suggest improvements? Do the two main points (unity in the body and activity in the world) come over as clearly as they should? Are there other things that should be included? Would you feel able to use this statement or a similar one to describe your own life and witness?
We follow Jesus, meeting locally in a number of different places, and we recognise that we are each part of the Church in the places where we live. As far as Christ is concerned, his people are one people in every village, town, city or nation and we choose to have that same perspective because he is the Head and we are his body.
For this reason we recognise as our brothers and sisters all who have turned away from sin, believe in Jesus Christ as King, and intend to put him ahead of everything else in life. For our part we do not want matters of doctrine, tradition, understanding, personality, language, race, status or indeed anything at all to come between us and any other part of the local Church.
In following Jesus daily we want to bless the communities where we live. We wish to grow in grace and in love for one another, for our neighbours, and even for those who may oppose us. Our love compels us to share the good news about Jesus whenever we can, not only in words but also by the way we live our lives.

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