The contemporary Christian world urgently needs the right leaders. Just as industry, trade unionism, commerce, politics, and international affairs require effective leadership, so we are looking for men and women able to provide capable guidance for our young people, our church programs, and our missionary endeavor. We are looking for Christians who are developing the same traits of character that made the Apostle Paul such a dynamic leader in the early days of the Christian Church. He was God’s man for the Church to lead her forward in outreach and understanding. What can he tell us, centuries later, of the essential characteristics of leadership?
The Apostle was a man of tenacity of mind. The essential mark of a little man is a complete absence of aim; there is no point to which he is moving with resolution of mind and will. Many in positions of official Christian leadership today fail for just this reason. W. H. Murray in The Story of Everest tells us that when one is climbing without oxygen at high altitudes, the mind loses interest in events and objectives and must be spurred on by the will. “The will itself must be primed before leaving camp in the morning by imparting to it a settled determination to reach some chosen point.” The true Christian leader is the man who knows his purpose, who has his eyes on his goal and is determined to press toward it despite the distracting atmosphere of the times and the many difficulties to be faced. Among essential elements of Christian leadership are conception of purpose and concentration on achievement. Paul possessed these to the full. Two supreme aims, two “magnificent obsessions,” were always before him.
He was determined to preach Christ. “Woe is me,” he cried, “if I preach not the Gospel.” The offering of the living Christ to dying men was the inspiration of his life. In a day when Christian leaders seem to be busy “here and there,” the direct offering of Christ receives less and less priority in our thinking and activity. Many consider that in concentrating so exclusively on the ecumenical issue, contemporary Christian leadership has neglected its main task. A Church more interested in herself than in the world outside will suffer judgment.
Again, the Apostle was determined to be like Christ. He expressed his hope “that I may win Christ.” Christian sanctity today is in danger of being relegated to the sidelines of the saints in our stained-glass windows when it ought to be in the very center of our discipleship. Paul saw clearly that “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” was to be the goal of his life and of the life of every convert in the Church.
Performing The Impossible
He pursued these goals with resolution and tenacity of mind, despite many obstacles. His “magnificent obsessions” enabled him to dominate imprisonments, beatings, and shipwrecks, all events that would have discouraged a lesser man. He would have understood the words of a Chindit leader in Burma during the last world war: “The possible will be done at once; the impossible will take a little longer!” Stuart Holden reminds us that “Christianity lives by the supernatural to achieve the impossible.” Such resolution is of the very stuff of Christian leadership.
Neither did personal limitations divert Paul from his sense of purpose. The fact that “his bodily presence is weak and his speech of none account” did not prevent him from “pressing toward the mark.” Great leaders have often had weak bodies. “Down the streets of Portsmouth, more than a hundred years ago, walked a sailor with one arm, one eye, a persistent state of nerves and unable to tread a ship’s deck without being seasick. Indeed, he would probably have been in a home for incurables—were not his name Horatio Nelson. The man’s spirit drove his flesh.” Paul was cast in the same mold.
Conviction of belief also marked the leadership provided by the Apostle. Leadership without conviction is betrayal, at best hypocrisy. There was no half-heartedness either in Paul’s declaration of the Gospel or in his belief in its truth and power. Unconcerned lest he trample on peoples’ toes, he cared not for the religious susceptibilities of his hearers. Knowing his message to be offensive to some but believing it to be the Gospel for all, he did not present it as a valuable insight, a point of view worth considering, a philosophy demanding consideration, or a mere contribution to man’s religious search. He refused any attempt to put Christ on the same level as the discredited gods of Greece and Rome.
Dr. William Barclay reminds us that there were two stages in the religious life of John Bunyan. At first he could only say that the Mohammedans think their religion the best and the Jews think their religion the best, and ask, “What if Christianity be a think-so, too?” The final stage came when he could cry, “O now I know! I know!” Paul’s conviction was of this nature. He believed that his message to the world was nothing less than the statement of what Almighty God had done when he broke in by his Son. He believed that in offering Christ to men he was offering them their only hope for time and for eternity. No apologetic or half-hearted mutterings for the Apostle, then, but a clear decisive statement of the truth with all the power of his Spirit-inspired utterance. There was no shame in his presentation of salvation, through the Cross, to the sophisticated Greeks. “I determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ and him crucified.” To the pragmatic Romans he stated boldly, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe.”
The situation confronting modern evangelism demands a similar quality of leadership both at home and overseas. Some responsible Christian leaders appear to look over their shoulders at the resurgent ancient religions of the world before talking of the “Christian contribution.” Those who stand in true “apostolic succession” believe unhesitatingly in the relevance of the Gospel for the modern world with its morally and spiritually sick citizens.
The British military leader of the last war, General Bernard Montgomery, not only believed firmly in his own strategy but was able to “get it across” to the troops under his command. These men gave of their best because they sensed the conviction of their leader and clearly understood from him what was to be done. Paul’s leadership was of the same caliber. He could state his beliefs clearly and relevantly, and men understood what he was saying. We are committed to the task of persuading men of the power of the Christ in whom we believe passionately. They will only believe when they see our conviction. The rank and file of the Christian Church will respond to the challenge of evangelism when Christian leaders echo the words of the early evangelists, “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
The Whole World In View
Yet another characteristic of the leadership provided to the Church by the Apostle was his breadth and largeness of vision. Paul was anything but a short-sighted Christian when he looked out on his world and his faith. Free from the narrow-mindedness and insularity of the first-century Jew, he turned his eyes on the whole cosmos; he grasped God’s great plan for history. In his writings and speeches he declares Christianity to be no mere sect of ancient Judaism but the fulfillment of the best Jewish hopes, the consummation of God’s revelation, the final answer to the world’s religious longing. His was a “big” Christianity, not just a local religion of which he was the roving sales representative. He saw history to be the sphere in which a sovereign God worked out his purposes. He saw the Church, despised and ridiculed by many, persecuted and hated by some, to be the very Bride of Christ. Though the wise dismissed his Master as “the Galilean carpenter” and treated Him as a nonentity, Paul saw him to be “the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation.”
Mankind today is being forced to think “big.” The rapidity of jet travel and communications has brought the other side of the world to our own doorstep. The infinities of space are explored by the rocket probe and the radio telescope. No longer can we hug the skirts of our own nationality to us in cosy and irresponsible isolationism. The leader “in the steps of St. Paul” is the Christian who has lifted up his eyes and who, seeing the greatness of his faith, his Lord, and his task, communicates this largeness of vision to his fellow Christians. Here is a Christianity tailor-made for the expanding universe of the space age.
The military leader must see the war as a whole and see each battle or skirmish in the light of the campaign and ultimate victory. So often our preoccupation with local problems has tended to limit our vision to the isolated battle, to make us narrow-minded and petty, to blur our vision of the great cosmic struggle between Christ and the forces of evil. We lead the Church in the local engagement, but we are ignorant of the other spheres of conflict, of the state of the war as a whole. True leadership sees that the fight is not just against local difficulties but against “principalities and powers,” sees the conflict in the mission fields, discerns the same struggle in every page of church history. True leadership encourages the local congregation to think of the real enemy, the bitter struggle, the far-flung armies of the Cross, and the ultimate triumph of the Lamb.
Yet another characteristic of this great first-century leader was the warmth of his love. He was bound to his churches by his deep affection. The man who could write to the Philippian believers, “For God is my witness how I yearn for you all with all the affection of Jesus Christ,” was neither cold-blooded nor aloof. The warmth of his love is clearly revealed in his ready memory of and interest in names. The long lists at the end of several of his letters are not merely of academic interest but reveal a man who cares for his fellows, whose greatest desire was their spiritual welfare. We are often told that the most important matter to a man is his name; yet how forgetful the busy pastor can be, how casual and disinterested the Christian leader can become. Do we wonder at our people’s lack of response?
Paul’s prayers reveal his love. He could write to the Thessalonians, “We give thanks to God for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers.” Throughout his letters we have his prayers for the spiritual welfare of the people whom he loved so dearly. The quiet saint with his prayer list is cast in the same mold of leadership. The pastor praying through his congregational list is the true leader of the flock.
His love led him to encourage others. Harrington Lees writes, “St. Paul had a genius for friendship. No man among the early Christians can have had so many friends as Paul. His powers of leadership gathered others around him, so that, quite early in his missionary journeys we read of ‘St. Paul and his company.’ ” He inspired and encouraged these men so that they gave of their best for Christ and his Kingdom. With a complete absence of superiority or condescension he could speak of them as “my brother” or “my fellow worker.” Never thinking of himself more highly than he ought to have done, he lived for those whom he served as a bond-servant of Jesus Christ. Too frequently Christian leaders can give the impression that the Church exists for them rather than they for the Church. Love finds glory in giving, whether of encouragement, friendship, or self. D. E. Hoste, Hudson Taylor’s successor as director of the China Inland Mission, claimed that the true sign of leadership was whether anyone followed. The believer will always respond to the heart of love.
I held tight in my hands
A red Stehman Winesap,
Freshly picked from an autumn dawn.
I tested its body for a hardness
That took a strong bite
To make it crack and wet my lips.
It passed this test;
But I could not eat with pleasure
Until I felt I improved it.
So I started to peel off its
Few specks and scars.
“No use taking a chance with infection,” I said.
(I’m a careful eater, you know.)
But each cut of the knife made a new
Imperfection for me to peel off—
Till now I’m down to the core
Which is clinging to my sticky fingers.
All the rest is a pile at my feet
That the fleas are at already.
I’ve had too much of apple peeling;
All morning lies before me
But my appetite is gone.
For a few specks I cut it all away.
Now must I start over with the seeds?
I’ve peeled too long, too much;
With the scars went the best.
Now I’m left with the core, and the seeds,
And the heap at my feet.
GLENN M. LEHMAN
James Taylor is the pastor of the Baptist Church of Ayr, Scotland. A graduate (M.A.) of Edinburgh University and the Scottish Baptist College of Glasgow, he is a member of the Ministerial Baptist Union of Scotland.
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