The above exchange took place at a lunch I had with a few key young leaders. I had invited them to join me in leading LEAD (Leadership Empowerment and Development), an initiative to develop emerging leaders age 40 and below. Quite naturally they wanted details as to what I wanted to do. But activist me had learnt a few lessons about life and ministry since I was their age—they were all around 30 years old—one of which was the fact that community comes before ministry.
This was another insight I had gleaned from the writings of Henri Nouwen. In his book WITH BURNING HEARTS, Nouwen writes:
“I am deeply aware of my own tendency to want to go from communion to ministry without forming community. My individualism and desire for personal success ever and again tempt me to do it alone and to claim the task of ministry for myself. But Jesus himself didn’t preach and heal alone. Luke, the Evangelist, tells us how he spent the night in communion with God, the morning to form community with the twelve apostles, and the afternoon to go out with them ministering to the crowds. Jesus calls us to the same sequence: from communion to community to ministry.”
I think Nouwen is right. Check out Luke 6: 12-19.
Communion to community to ministry. This is a divine pattern we see throughout Scripture.
Ministry begins with God. In communion with Him we receive a vision of what He wants us to do. But ministry in the Name of the Triune God is always to be done in community.
Adam needed the partnership of Eve before he could properly carry out his mandate to manage Eden (Genesis 2:18-24). Jesus gives his Great Commission not to heroic individuals but to a worshipping community (Matthew 28:16-20). Paul reminds us that church leadership is communal (Ephesians 4:11-13) because the body of Christ is communal (1 Corinthians 12).
Therefore I have accepted as a rule of thumb for ministry that the first step in launching any ministry is to build a community committed to that ministry. As a result I also take it that if it is God’s will and timing that a ministry should start, He will raise up a community for that purpose.
I believe the pattern of communion, community, and ministry applies in most human endeavours.
For the marketplace, we could state the sequence thus: vision, community, productivity.
What is the first task of a manager? In a results driven world he or she must make sure that his/her team produces the needed results. And there is no shortage of human resource management approaches out there to help one increase the productivity of one’s team. Yet any approach that ignores the humanity of team members is finally manipulative and non-Christian. And will not work in the long run.
I believe the first task of a leader is to help the team become a genuine community where people respect and trust each other, where the unique strengths of each team member are recognized and celebrated. Unfortunately such concern for relationships is often perceived as “soft” and leaders ignore community building in their rush to get results. As a result, many companies and organizations, inadvertently perhaps, treat their workers as automations. Automations are not creative and need a lot of maintenance. In contrast, a human being on fire for a cause and a community can change the world.
Thank God contemporary management literature seems to be recognizing the need for healthy relationships and community at the workplace. Which is really ironic because I see many churches and parachurch organizations moving towards a rigid “rules and handbooks” approach to managing their workers. And they wonder why many vocational Christian workers are angry and resentful and that so few actually go into vocational church related work.
The only exception I know to this trend is the Eagles Communications organization operating out of Singapore. All their workers I have met are happy working with the Eagles. Many have been there for many years and are probably prepared to give their whole lives to the organization. It should come as no surprise that the Eagles are utterly committed to community throughout the organization. It is a commitment regularly articulated and modelled by their top leaders. More would do well to learn from them.
As for LEAD, I thank God that some key young leaders have responded positively to the invitation to be part of the work. Just maybe it is God’s will and timing that I will spend a key part of the next stage of my life and ministry mentoring young leaders.
What plans do I have for the ministry? Well I have scheduled more lunches and dinners for the team and their spouses/significant others. I believe that out of prayer and significant conversations concrete plans will emerge. But first, community.