Courageous Leadership

Andrew reflects on the values and ideas from some gospel leaders who demonstrate countercultural courage in their leadership.

Recently at Carey we have been working through a pastoral leadership module called 'courageous leadership.' Each week we've been visited by some remarkable people who've lead people, churches, and organisations with incredible courage.


We've been visited by Ruby Duncan, a retired missionary and social worker who shared her incredible life journey with us. John Catmur from Māngere Baptist shared his radical journey of pursuing his pastoral role using the metaphor of a mission worker, taking to the streets every morning and praying, prophesying, and walking around the community.


Two reflections however, which have stuck with me the most: they all centred around how some of these leaders saw people. Most profound from our courageous leadership module was the way in which a courageous leader views their flock.


Original Blessing


My Dad has this phenomenal ability to see the best in people. Even when friends, colleagues, or neighbours clearly had their dark sides, he always had this insatiable ability to refrain from judging people or condemning them. He was often drawn to those who most Christians might be put off by, people who for some would leave a bad taste.


I am in great envy of this gift. I could not be more the opposite; people suck! I find that my default setting can often be to see the worst in people. It seems natural to me to criticise, to become jaded and tired.


Sometimes I struggle to turn up on a Sunday to love people. Sometimes I find myself with less energy to remain patient, growing sometimes frustrated and tired of giving out. When I am not on guard, I struggle to be patient and kind.


Dave Tims, who is part of the the Baptist order Urban Neighbours of Hope (who knew we had an order!), spoke about this: what if we saw people not through the lens of the original sin, but through the lens of the original blessing? What would change if we choose to instead read humanity predominantly through Genesis 1 rather than Genesis 3?


In class, I came across a debate that exists in our common interpretation of the fall narrative and theology’s large weight placed upon it. In essence, how valid is the large freight of theology and worldview the Christian church has put on a small text from the beginning of Genesis? Is the Old Testament as concerned about it as we are?


Walter Brueggemann, an Old Testament scholar, referring to Genesis 2-3, famously put it like this, “No text in Genesis (or likely the entire Bible) has been more used, interpreted, and misunderstood than this text. This applies to careless, popular theology as well as to the doctrine of the church.”


Now, this is a strong approach. But one does not have to subscribe entirely to this point of view to understand the important question it is portraying: do we put too much importance and freight on the fall? Is that really what the text is even about? The Old Testament only refers to 'the fall' as we imagine it twice in the entire canon. The whole idea of 'the fall' is a post-Biblical image which takes its place right at the top of our typical gospel presentation.


Traditionally, we read the story of Adam and Eve portrayed as these great, almost super-human parents of humanity who fell far from their perfected state into sin and evil at the turn of some forbidden fruit.


But what if one took the original blessing more seriously than the original sin? People and humanity is broken. We know that. It doesn’t take one very long to figure out that is the case - and that hurts. It’s messy and it’s painful and it’s sad.


Yet, truly courageous initiative instead seeks to see people different, to see them as ‘very good,’ the creatures in God’s likeness which they are. It is not a naive rendition of the human condition, but a bold different way of perceiving. This is not easy! It takes radical, countercultural courage.


What if we saw people not through the lens of the original sin, but through the lens of the original blessing?

Dave commented that the people of Manurewa, which him and his wife work alongside, have been told that they are broken enough times. When you enter a place instead of looking first at people's brokenness, but first searching for the Spirit’s redeeming work, everything changes. You look out for the acts of love and kindness, for reconciliation and generosity. They might be found in the most unlikely of places.


But when you seek them, loving people becomes less a first nature instinct, but a second nature choice. Courageous leadership means hanging out with broken people who hurt you, and choosing to love them anyway, not because of our own merit, but because of the creative and redemptive action of God in Father, Son, Spirit.


A Community of Transformation


One other thought that stuck out with me was shared from Hamish Baxter, the current pastor at Royal Oak Baptist. Previous to his current church, he'd pastored a very broken community of faith, and worked for a number of years with people who hurt him and his family.


Hamish gave a really interesting definition of leadership: “Leadership is energising a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world.”


Transformation means change, and people hate change! Change often means loss, which often means pain. It requires giving something up, moving on from past memories, feelings, and comforts.


Hamish encouraged us that when people begin to lash out, maybe it’s not as personal as you might think. As a leader, energising a community towards transformation, one should expect pain! There should be growing difficulties and stiff joints, ruffled feathers and stubborn stuck-in-the-muds. Transform and change hurts, but it’s what the gospel is all about. In this process of transformation, that community of people might just transform their surroundings.


There should be growing difficulties and stiff joints, ruffled feathers and stubborn stuck-in-the-muds.

Courageous leadership means to take the brunt of that out-lash, and to love people anyway. It means to continue energising people in their role to play in the Kingdom of God, even when things get tough, and to view them through the eyes of Jesus’ sacrifice. It means really making the most of our ‘Father-in-heaven’ goggles, seeing people the way He does, through Jesus - blessed, set apart, holy, and redeemed.


This, for me, is really courageous. It is not easy. It flies in the face of what the world tells us about leadership.


If people hurt you, give up on them. If things get tough, leave that place. These are the values thrown to us by the world; if your own sake is at stake, then get the hell out of there.


Yet under the gospel we are called to something different. We are called not to hate or to hold a grudge. We are called not to keep score or to bring people down but to forgive, to move past, and to reconcile. Just as Christ holds nothing of our own transgressions against you, we are called to hold no one else's actions against us.


I write these easy words on paper yet I am still battling to live them out. Churches can be nasty places, yet they remain God's chosen place. Strahan Coleman of Commoner's Communion said something at his speaking tour recently, "Church is about hanging out with people who hurt you, and loving them anyway."


This takes courage. May God give us the grace to choose to boldly love his people anyway.


Andrew is currently studying to become a Youth Pastor at Carey Baptist College. He loves coffee and loves to chat - if any of this stirs something inside or you have thoughts to contribute, you can contact him at andrewclarkhoward@gmail.com.


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