Growth of Godly Character in the life of the Leader
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22
“Everything in me wanted to give up. I could hear the blood pumping through my veins in a pained discourse as I plodded my final heavy steps around New York. “Why on earth did I sign up for this?” I thought. My mind went back to the initial innocent enthusiasm I had felt as I signed up for the marathon run. The training and preparation had been good and I had run off with joy and gusto as the gun sounded, joining thousands of other yet un-pained heroes on their first energy filled steps. However, after 40 kilometres, the dark macadam had sucked out my last ounces of strength and conviction. I had absolutely nothing left except the reality of my suffering…and my will to hang on and finish.”
The above story, apart from being an expression of my love of running, is also a condensed parable of my last 30 years of serving the Lord in World Horizons. Leadership is definitely not a short–term project. It is not a quick euphoric, miracle filled sprint, but a slow plodding marathon. It is said that when people asked the famous pioneer missionary, William Carey, the secret of his success, he answered:
“I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.”
It seems that the slow “iplod” principle of the past needs to be incorporated into the fast paced “ipod” or “ipad” principle of today!
The above passage from Galatians gives a list of God-given qualities necessary for godly character. I would like to make an appeal to one of these “fruits” as being a fundamental attribute for leadership success, and a factor that has underpinned my own journey – μακροθυμία makrothumia !
A leader needs longsuffering!
It is made up of two words, makro – long, and thumia – passion.
Serious leadership is marked by its ability to engage in the long-term – the years of language learning, the years of investing into people, and the years of longing in prayer. It will also engage the geographical and cultural “long” – far away, inhospitable desert areas or mega cities, unreached people groups, and distance from loved ones.
Leadership is also about manifesting passion. Passion is what makes people want to follow you. It is much more than the worldly passion of human energy and more like the Christ like sacrifice which is “sold out” to God’s purpose. It is the “heavy breathed” prayer for the lost, the impassioned Gospel on our lips and the daily dying of serving others.
In some countries the Lord has been working powerfully and many vigorous churches have been established. Growth can be rapid, and baptisms of new converts a common experience. It can be very hard for leaders sent out from these places into more Gospel resistant areas to come to terms with a much slower pace of progress. Persevering through the barren times is also part of the gift of makrothumia. You may also be confronted with your own “dark night of the soul”, when the heavens seem shut, the Word and prayer barren, and sin so present. This is when you need the sheer will to not give up, but to push through and finish the race.
There are eight remaining attributes of the “love fruit” of Galatians. I think I could probably sum these up with one phrase from the parable of the sower in Luke 8:1-15
“But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”
A leader must have a noble – kalos, and good – agathos, heart. This heart attitude must be linked to love of the Word of God. When I first became a Christian I committed to read through the whole of the Bible every year, and the early teaching I received at World Horizons also encouraged deep personal meditation on the Word of God.
We discover that a heart for Christ, filled with His Word, must also – as we have already seen, persevere – hypomone. This is the same endurance that “stays under” the yoke, doesn’t give up, but pushes through to fruitfulness.
As a final encouragement I would like to leave you with a couple of key principles from 2 Timothy 1:8-9
“So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life– not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.”
Every leader needs a “called character” – a deep sense of calling and purpose. Jeremiah knew that he had been given a prophetic vocation even before the day he was born, and the apostle Paul in the New Testament was also gripped with a conviction of his own destiny:
“But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace…” Galatians 1:15
Paul’s testimony here also underlines the second key principle of “grace”. Grace is the leader’s energy! Paul’s entire character was consumed by a deep revelation of grace. Even when he got overwhelmed with his “work”, he knew that it was the power of grace – and not perspiration, which really kept him going.
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” 1 Corinthians 15:10
Grace keeps you from getting destroyed by the bitterness which can often come from life’s conflicts. Keep your cutting edge of grace so that you can scythe off every bitter root that attempts to establish itself in your heart, and set you against precious brothers and sisters.
“See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Hebrews 12:15
So be encouraged and strengthened in your long distance, noble hearted, grace empowered leadership!
This has been my own leadership refrain over these past thirty years –
“Not I…but the grace with me!”
May it be yours to.