Friday, January 27, 2012

John Wesley - Strengthening Leadership

Strengthening clergy and lay leadership

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, Jan 25, 2011

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
By Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Special Contributor

To be leaders in the church today, we must first identify our call to Christian discipleship. No one is able to develop a disciple without first engaging in the process of becoming a disciple himself or herself.

The Apostle Paul was committed to being a follower of Jesus and embodying himself as Christlike in his journey. Only as he worked to be Christlike was he able to invite others to join in the discipleship of Jesus.

Calling is key to the integrity and success of our leadership. Calling is not done in isolation. We confirm our call through the perceptions and affirmations of community.

Wesley’s model

The United Methodist Church traces its roots to the leadership of our founder, John Wesley, a visionary leader who risked moving beyond the accepted structures of his day. The early Methodist movement was not a system of hierarchy and polity but a response to those hungering for faith, suffering through oppressive systems, and seeking the nurture and support of community.

Wesley was effective as he shared his vision, empowered others to live out their beliefs and created structures of accountability for those who labored with him. As we think about developing leaders for the 21st century, we can learn much from his example.

As we pursue the pathway of strengthening leadership, we cannot jump to the latest leadership theories without first strengthening our own prayer life, biblical study and trust in the presence of the Holy Spirit to work through us. Beginning from centeredness in the faith will fortify us for the journey.

Knowing community

There was no Book of Discipline, organizational chart or rules of order in the early Methodist movement. John Wesley trusted his heart and the faith of those around him to imagine what it might be like to spark a passion for Christ. Organization grew out of that as a way to refine the movement.

We have new opportunities that our founder John Wesley never dreamed of. The globalization of the world, the multicultural nature of our society, the ability to mobilize through technology—all of these offer us unprecedented possibilities for leadership.

At the core of visionary leadership is attentiveness to where God is leading. When leaders meet, the basic question should not be “What do I think?” or “What do you want?” or worse, “What do we think the constituency [congregation] wants?” Rather it should be “What does God intend for us?”

Leaders must discern what it means for their particular context to share the good news of Christ with the world. The central task of visionary leadership in the church is to take the congregation, the conference and the denomination to places they have never been before.

It is not the leader’s responsibility to dilute the gospel to please those who do not grasp that God has a mission and purpose for each congregation. It is the leader’s responsibility to share the vision and to be in dialogue with others in helping them understand and refine the vision.

Following God’s call

Visionary leaders need to be open to God’s call to lead from where we are to where God asks us to be. Prayer and group study of the Bible are essential. Visionary leaders need to be in constant dialogue with one another through biblical study and reflection; with the church and community to know the needs; and with God to seek divine guidance for every decision.

Leadership vision extends the call of God from one’s own heart and life to the ministry field. During the early Methodist movement, the ministry fields could be found on the streets of England and in the colonies of the New World. Early circuit riders were tenacious, brave, visionary leaders who literally gave their lives to bring Christ’s love to those settling on the frontier.

The ministry field has shifted over the centuries. My home country of Korea became a mission field at the turn of the 20th century. My conversion to Christianity from a Buddhist home was the result of visionary leaders who were willing to forgo comfort and certain success in their own land for the sake of bringing the gospel to a place where Christ had not yet been revealed. It was not an easy mission.

Reacting to centuries of invasion, occupation and deeply rooted beliefs in Buddhism, Confucianism and Shamanism, the Korean nation did not welcome Christian missionaries with open arms. My own family disapproved of my conversion. Centuries of ancestor worship and engrained beliefs clashed with this new vision.

This same message of salvation is sorely missing in our own communities. Our neighborhoods must be recaptured as our ministry field.

For too long we have waited for those seeking faith to come through our doors, to seek their own answers, to take the initiative in their quest for wholeness. We have forgotten that the church is a vehicle from which to offer Christ’s love; it is a tool in our mission, not the end product of our work.

Equipping our leaders

Though it may sound oversimplified, the primary role of the pastor is leadership of a congregation. Every other task is secondary.

The “call” to pastoral leadership has much in common with the “call” to all Christians: to dedicate one’s life to the service of God through Christ. The call to serve God comes to all, whether it is claimed or not. The call to pastoral ministry is the call to the leadership of the congregation.

Pastors have three major tasks: to lead the congregation in perceiving the particular mission and ministry to which it is called; to develop leadership that is able to help others respond to their call; and to work with lay leadership to equip every member in carrying out particular ministries.

Many congregations have expectations that conflict with the pastoral call to leadership. They expect the pastor to be the one doing the congregation’s ministry rather than leading a congregation to be in ministry. We must continue to proclaim the primary role of the pastor in equipping.

Reaching outside

Leadership is nurtured, refined and directed through the community. John Wesley learned that faith formation is strengthened through small groups. Covenant groups hold us in tension with the draw of the world and the call of our faith. Through reflection with others, we learn where we are being drawn to give witness to our faith. Continued training, growth in spiritual disciplines and supervision all enhance the accountability of leadership.

Principled Christian leaders are called to reach beyond our own walls. We realize that the church no longer draws people into our institutions just by being available. We must be more intentional in learning the language of faith-sharing. Equipping laity and clergy to move beyond the silent witness will help rekindle the Methodist movement of social and spiritual holiness. Leaders must set the tone for our “faith talk” and witness to their beliefs in public ways.

Leading the way in this outward-looking faith is new faith community development. The world has changed so significantly that many of our existing congregations are not designed to be responsive to the current generation of the unchurched. Principled Christian leadership seeks to partner with those planting churches so we can live out our call to make disciples for Jesus Christ, not just to boost our membership rolls.

Renewing visions

The Christian movement is shifting. Our faith has been built in a time of self-preservation. But we can learn much from the global South, where faith is life-sustaining. If you are poor, you go to Jesus. If you are hungry, you go to Jesus. If you are sick, you go to Jesus. Jesus is the source of life; there is no alternative.

Leaders in the church today are called to help us shed our fa├žade and dive deeply into the Spirit so that we might glorify God’s ministry.
That new vision includes a cross-cultural and cross-racial mentality. Our churches will be enriched, our faith lives deepened and our understanding of God’s beautiful creation broadened when we learn to speak one another’s languages, appreciate one another’s cultures and join into one body worshipping our Lord and Savior.

John Wesley was thought to be deranged when he left his comfortable pulpit and the financial support of the state to become a street preacher and to shake up the social norms of his day. Wesley’s crazy actions and ridiculous ideas gave way to a movement that is only in part represented in the United Methodist Church.

Maybe principled lay and clergy leaders of the United Methodist Church today need to have a bit of that deranged boldness in their ideas and actions—if we can open ourselves to a God-sized vision of Pentecostal proportions, relying on the Holy Spirit and being open to the narrative of faith that grounds us in mystery and majestic examples of discipleship.

With God’s blessing we might stir up our congregations, rekindle the flames of social holiness and reflect the power of our faith in new, bold ways.

Bishop Jung leads the Northern Illinois Conference. This is an adapted excerpt from the book 'The Future of the United Methodist Church: 7 Vision Pathways' (Abingdon).

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