Leadership in the New Zealand Church

 

What should leadership in the Church entail? Reality talked to four 'leaders of the Church' about their views on Christian leadership in New Zealand.

 

Brian Hathaway resigned as Head of the Science Department at Teachers' College in Auckland to take up a full-time pastoral role at Te Atatu Bible Chapel, an Open Brethren Church which experienced a renewing work of the Holy Spirit and, by the end of the 1980s, had grown from about 120 to about 1,000.

After a stint as Facilitator with Vision New Zealand, Brian became National Principal of the Bible College of New Zealand, the largest interdenominational theological college and ministry training centre in New Zealand. His particular interest is encouraging congregations to integrate evangelism, the ministry of the Spirit and social concern. Much of his ministry is with leadership groups - envisioning, equipping and encouraging.

 

Darryl Gardiner has been National Director of Youth for Christ since March 1999 and is a member of the Asia/Pacific Youth for Christ leadership team.

Darryl has been involved with Youth for Christ for 20 years, nine of them as Wellington director. He was National Co-ordinator of Te Hou Ora for 8 years and ran a boys' home for 16 years.

Darryl lives in Waikanae where he attends the Anglican church. He is married to Sue who is on staff with the Waikanae Anglican Parish as the Youth Team Leader.

Darryl loves fishing and diving, and when he is not in the water he can be contacted by email at [email protected]

 

After being at Christian Life Centre Sydney for ten years and being Frank Houston's Associate Minister for seven years, Paul de Jong moved to Auckland in October 1991 to be Senior Pastor of Christian Life Centre Auckland (CLCA). The church now has a staff of over 40, and an average of 2,000 attending Sunday services. In 1998 CLCA started another church in Doncaster England, which is fully supported by CLCA and its satellite services held in Orewa and Kerikeri. CLCA also hosts the annual Hillsong New Zealand Conference.

Over the years Paul has travelled to more than 20 countries, preaching, prophesying, evangelising and taking part in leadership conferences and training seminars.

 

Murray and Marj Robertson have been leaders at Spreydon Baptist, New Zealand's biggest Baptist church, for 31 years. Spreydon has developed a number of community ministries over the years including recovery groups specialising in care for the divorced, survivors of sexual abuse and support for parents of children with learning disorders. It also runs a Preschool, English as Second Language classes, Music and Movement for Preschoolers and an afterschool programme.

Biennially the church offers a Leadership Conference at no cost to participants. The lastconference attracted 1,000 people from both New Zealand and Australia.

 

 

You have been a leader in the New Zealand Church for many years. What in your view are the characteristics Christian leaders should aspire to?

Brian Hathaway : I would use four words. Christian leaders should be humble, accountable, approachable and relational.

Darryl Gardiner: The same as those mentioned in Titus and Timothy. In today's world we need a strong focus on personal ethics and corporate ethics. This means accountability and openness.

Just because something works does not mean it is right. It is too easy to move into a powerful position where you can abuse that power and those you lead. In fact I would suggest that this is almost automatic in today's society: unless we place ourselves in structures which will identify and deal with this problem if it begins to happen. Ultimately those in leadership must aim to become redundant - if leaders are not replacing themselves they need to look at whether they are doing their jobs properly.

Paul de Jong: Without doubt I believe that the fundamental key is the fact that the leaders are called by God and not pursuers of opportunity or position.

Great and proficient leaders who have been effective over the long haul are those who have also received a clear God-inspired vision that reaches beyond current capacity. Not a 'wish list' or the copying of someone else's inspiration, but a dream that can be articulated and embraced. Leaders who base their leadership on an encounter with God and clarity of vision will discover that everything else will begin to take shape and emerge.

Murray Robertson: Humility and authenticity.

 

We often hear talk of successful churches where 'success' is taken to mean large and powerful congregations. In fact the size of a church is sometimes seen as an indication of the quality of its leadership. Is there any correlation, and is it appropriate to talk of Christian endeavour in terms of success and numbers?

Brian Hathaway : This is a very serious question as it hits at the very heart of our goals. So often Christians take their measurement of success from the world's measurement of success, ie size, power and glamour. I do not believe that this is the way God measures success. Often the 'first' in the world's eyes will be the 'last' in God's eyes. So many people who were first on earth will be last in heaven and vice versa.

Over recent years I have come to see more clearly that God's goal for us is our maturity in Christ (Rom 8:29). It is our 'being' rather than our 'doing' that God is interested in. If this is his goal then we should be seeing all we do in this light, and seeking to measure (if this is the correct word) our success through God's eyes.

Darryl Gardiner: Ha! Some of the biggest charlatans in history have run big churches (and some have run small churches). We tend to measure things by the ideals of the society we live in and assume they automatically apply to us. Society tends to see things that are 'successful' as big and we, too, often transfer this to our view of churches.

A big church cannot be judged as successful based on its size alone. The same applies to our projects in youth evangelism: some projects need to be big to work, and some need to be small. The constant challenge is to ensure that we do not value a project because of its size but rather because of its purpose, which should be consistent with Scripture.

The tendency is to overvalue the big - a big visible presence can make us feel better about ourselves. There is often a lot of hype and excitement and people congratulate us on what they can see. This is not necessarily wrong, but it is by no means a basis to judge whether or not we have been obedient to God in what we have done.

Too often the small projects are undervalued as they are not as visible, or exciting, and yet they can be just as - or even more - effective in their task. Many smaller churches feel this, and sometimes succumb to the temptation to 'be big and beautiful' and to undervalue themselves for being small.

We have taken on a lot of misbeliefs in New Zealand. One is that if God uses something he is happy with it and the thing he uses has his approval. There are many instances in the Bible where God in his sovereignty uses all manner of people and groups to achieve his purposes: there is the story of Balaam and the ass, the locusts in Joel and the marauding armies that swept the land of Israel.

None of these were used by God because he approved of them. In fact we read the opposite. The ass wasn't a godly ass with a godly character and the locusts were not used because of their spirituality. The marauding armies were often evil, and were in turn judged by God. God will use what he wishes.

When God uses us, or our mission group, or our congregation, it does not automatically mean he approves of our individual or corporate behaviour. It is also true that not being successful in people's eyes does not show God's lack of approval. On this basis most of the Old Testament prophets were not acceptable to God as the people did not listen to them or their messages. (We would never see them on Christian television in New Zealand being promoted as the next great thing to come from God!)

Being big and successful (by society's standards) does not mean we are 'more of God' than if we are small and struggling. I am also a strong believer in 'different strokes for different folks'. Some people will need the large and some will need the small. Both needs can be valid.

Paul de Jong: I believe that success is seen in the long term as significance. God always works in seasons and therefore not a lot seems to be taking place during the winter, however, the roots are going down and the tree is preparing for greater productivity.

I have heard some in leadership debate the quality vs quantity issue and yet I find Jesus very clear in John 15 that he is absolutely committed to fruitfulness - pruning to produce more, and removing if not continually more productive. John 10:10 says he came to give life abundantly, which literally means 'superior in quality and superabundant in quantity'.

Numbers alone can be destructive, but if we really are committed to a Kingdom culture of increase and fruitfulness surely we won't be hesitant to measure productivity. I recall Jesus let us know how many he fed and how many lepers he touched.

Murray Robertson: I feel uncomfortable with a lot of talk about 'successful churches'. There is no necessary correlation between numbers and effectiveness. A large church may have attracted most of its attenders from other churches.

When talking about the size of a congregation you need to know how large the community is the church is serving in. I think it is better to measure the number of people who are involved in 'serving ministries' to others.

If a church does its ministry really well it will almost always grow, but churches can grow for other reasons too, which are not necessarily related to the health of the church.

 

There seem to be many 'heroic' leaders in the Church - leaders who major on vision, inspiration, the big picture, self-sacrifice. Is there room for other leadership styles in the New Zealand Church and should we be actively seeking them? What are the pros and cons of each style?

Brian Hathaway: I believe vision, inspiration, big picture and self-sacrifice are needed in leaders. I see these as abilities that leaders need to possess in order to move a group on. However, these abilities need to go hand in hand with the character qualities I mentioned above - humility, accountability, approachability and being relational.

Darryl Gardiner: The answer here is 'both/and'. There is room for the heroic leader but this style of leadership should never be seen as more inherently godly than other styles. The first point, of course, is that regardless of style, the character of the leader is paramount. The level of leadership should never rise above the depth of character, regardless of the skills.

We also need to unpack what we mean by 'leadership' and compare it to what the Bible says. Lots of 'followers' and 'endorsements' do not automatically mean Christian leadership as defined by Scripture.

Jesus (who I think we can safely assume was a good leader) managed to lose most of his followers when he was on the cross, and the same people who welcomed him into Jerusalem with palm branches and chanting called for him to be crucified a short time later. I would suggest that based on some of today's standards, he was a useless leader.

He was in fact a servant leader who stood for truth, justice and obedience to God - whether this attracted the crowds or scared them away. This made him a model leader for us. We need to seek the Lord's wisdom so we can know when to 'attract' and when to 'scare away'.

The strength of heroic leaders is that they can generate enthusiasm and commitment in the early stages. The potential weakness is that they can generate dependency and the work never outgrows the leader.

Paul de Jong: Leadership by its very definition requires leadership. John Maxwell suggests that leadership is all about influence and I would add that leaders are also initiators. Vision, inspiration, the big picture, and self-sacrifice, as you suggested, are therefore some of the absolutes for those involved in leadership. That doesn't, however, mean that other giftings are less important or that those with a leadership gift can do it alone. But we need those with the leadership gift to lead, those with a pastoral gift to pastor, those with an administration gift to administrate.

It is true that there can be many forms of leadership mixes and therefore styles, and yet without a call and vision how can we lead? Some say the trouble is that we need servant leadership, to which I say a loud "Amen!" 'Servanthood' - the attitude of a great leader, is at all costs to serve the people to their ultimate call in God, and 'Leadership' - being prepared to lead and make the calls needed to reach our 'Promised Land'. It's interesting to note that the vote to cross into Canaan went 3 million against 3 and yet the leader made the call, as it was the best for the people.

Murray Robertson: If the question means "do we need other models of leadership than the corporate model?" the answer is emphatically "yes". In fact I'm not sure how well corporate models of leadership really fit in our culture anyway. A larger church will obviously require a different style of leadership to a smaller one, but the style needs to be biblically faithful and culturally authentic.

What about hierarchies in the Church? YWAM's Floyd McClung has emphasised that there are no pedestals at the foot of the cross - that we are all just people with different gifts and each as valuable as one another. How do we have leadership without some lording it over others?

Brian Hathaway: Ultimately a leader is a person who creates an environment where others can flourish. Only leaders can legitimate the environment of an organisation.

Christian leadership is all about making it possible for other people to achieve their potential in God. It's about equipping people, it's about recognising, releasing and developing peoples' gifts. It's about bringing people into maturity in Christ.

Where this is happening people will sense satisfaction and fulfilment. When this is present 'lording it over them' should not be necessary.

Too many congregational leaders convey the view that people should come to church and be part of the church's (ie leader's) vision when really it should be the other way around. Leaders should be saying, "what is your vision in God and how can I help you achieve it?"

Darryl Gardiner: Albert Lee of YFC in Singapore says that while we recognise that leadership is our responsibility, servanthood is our position. I also believe that our beliefs and statements are only as significant as our actions.

So how do we act as servants when we are leaders? Too often we act as CEOs of large corporations where we leave behind our old tasks as we climb the corporate ladder. The higher up we go the less menial tasks we do. In the kingdom of God we are never too big to clean toilets or stack chairs.

We also have to avoid too many symbolic acts of servanthood such as footwashing ceremonies. While these have a function, if they are not representative of our daily lives they can do more harm than good.

One of the best pieces of advice I have heard is "Never believe your own publicity." I would add "Have friends who never believe your publicity even when you do!" We tend to lord it over others when we think, either consciously or subconsciously, that we are better or more mature or spiritual than those we lead.

This can also be a result of insecurities or fears or jealousy. It can be hard to admit these to ourselves and we need others who see us as peers, and are prepared to help us through these difficulties, as well as telling us to "snap out of it" when necessary.

I think it was Spurgeon who said we are just beggars showing other beggars where to find bread. It is too easy in leadership to forget that we are beggars, or to pretend that we are no longer beggars. In the end, our actions show what we really believe rather than our words.

Paul de Jong: Another big question, but there is a real difference in how God sees us and the responsibility we carry as we fulfil God's plan for our lives. The Scripture teaches that those who preach the word are worthy of double honour. "But," people say, "I thought we were all equal?" Well we are, but with responsibility comes honour.

Often we, the Church, have got it wrong, because leaders carrying authority are not themselves under authority, and so things go wrong. The account of the centurion in Matthew 8 gives us a great insight into creating faith by showing that true authority, and a right to lead, comes by always being under authority.

The one called to lead is no more special to God than a new-born believer, but with their responsibility and God-given authority comes an obvious level of honour. As I have said, to stop this from becoming driven by power-hungry people, all godly authority must be under authority.

Murray Robertson: Hierarchies only exist to be pulled down! Some hierarchies are steeped in tradition, others are relatively recent. The antithesis to hierarchies are people who genuinely seek to lead for the good of the community.

 

There are churches where what the pastor (or leader) says goes, and in some cases people have learned not to think for themselves at all but to be told what to think and what to do by those in leadership. Why do you think this has happened? What are the attractions of this model? What are the deficiencies?

Brian Hathaway : Some people prefer to let other make decisions for them. They are more comfortable in this environment. However, I believe that this is a sign of immaturity, both in the leader and in the follower. Such a relationship is very ego-massaging for the leader and generates power which is extremely intoxicating and, I might add, addictive. There are two major problems with this arrangement: first, followers never grow up, secondly, if the leader falls (unfortunately, an all too frequent situation in New Zealand churches over recent years) people are destroyed, or take ages to recover.

Darryl Gardiner: Simply, these are models that should be declared for what they are: wrong. Whatever the attractions, they are still wrong.

Paul de Jong: I believe the model for churches to become increasingly more effective is the ability to work as a team. That means there must be a captain and there must be input from every member. If it is a 'do what I say' model it will end up very narrow and unproductive. This is usually the result of a leader's insecurity.

However, God has always appointed headship. In the Godhead, the Father carries that role, in marriage the husband, in our bodies the brain and so on. We in the Church, particularly here in New Zealand, have a problem with this, but without a clear distinct sound, con-fusion will reign.

A husband can't demand submission, that's the wife's role, but as he seeks her best he will at times need to make a call. So, too, leaders have no right to 'lord' it over their people but will at times need to make a call, and the people need to choose whether they will continue to follow.

Total agreement all the time is a non-reality which we need to talk much about and find keys to find a way through. I believe a good godly leader will only need to say "this is it" about one in every ten decisions. The rest the team will have already bought into.

Murray Robertson: The cause may be psychological inadequacies on the part of the leader causing him or her to be controlling. Or the congregation may have grown lazy and let it happen. One appealing thing about this model is it gets rid of committees!! The deficiencies are obvious.

 

We have seen some leaders become glamorised personalities. Is there room for fame within the Church?

Brian Hathaway: Some leaders actively seek and cultivate glamour and fame - it is linked to the cult of personality. Such leaders often become the focal point of their congregation and their church's publicity.

Glamour and fame in today's society are largely a function of communication tools and the media. I think Jesus is the model here. He seems to have often been at pains to ensure that fame was not an issue. John the Baptist also had a good handle on this when, referring to Christ, he said, "He must increase and I must decrease."

Darryl Gardiner: Having never been famous I am not sure. I think that when fame is given by others, and not believed by the recipient, there is a place. (See my previous comment on believing your own publicity.)

The tension results from the fact that many people need role models to look up to and inspire them, but that God says in Isaiah that he will share his glory with no one. In the end, the role of leaders is to point others to Christ. As John the Baptist said "He must become more and more and I must become less and less." I think this is one of the struggles of the faith. When we stop struggling with it we are in trouble.

Paul de Jong: Absolutely not, and the greater the Christian leader the less self-glory and promotion will be seen. The reality, of course, is that with effective leadership comes profile and yet it is the responsibility of the individual and their oversight to ensure they don't read their own mail, if you know what I mean. True humility is the ability to say "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me".

Murray Robertson: There is no room in the Church for 'glamorised personalities'. But some people, simply by doing what they do, like Mother Theresa or Billy Graham, will become famous. That's quite different.

 

Has the New Zealand Church developed its own style of leadership or are we too dependant upon foreign cultural models?

Brian Hathaway : I have talked to maybe hundreds of leaders around New Zealand. Many struggle with trying to copy the overseas high fliers who have been paraded through our country, when God hasn't equipped them for the type of role these high fliers have.

We do not learn from each other enough in New Zealand. We put down tall poppies here, but import them from overseas. That's stupid! I observe that the high pressure North American culture which often throws up a certain style of leadership and from which we take many of our cues, is in many cases not appropriate for a more laid back New Zealand style.

Darryl Gardiner: If it comes from a large church in America, or a book has been written about it, we tend to follow it. These models are not all wrong, but neither are they necessarily better, or the 'only' models.

We do need to develop our own style of leadership based on Kiwi culture, but we also need to be aware of the problems related to our culture. New Zealanders have a 'knocking' attitude and this needs to be dealt with in leadership. We do not want to change one flawed style for another, believing it is better because it is our own. We should learn from many varied styles, while keeping focused on the development of character and a biblical \world view.

Paul de Jong: I don't believe leadership has a lot to do with a country's culture but more to do with principle. I value culture as long as it doesn't violate what I call 'biblical culture'. I believe there is a lot of what we call 'Kiwi culture' that actually fights against biblical leadership and we need to do a lot of rethinking and changing if we are going to impact this nation with the reality of Jesus.

By the way, I think we can learn a lot from other countries and I always feel sad when I hear people say that we don't need leaders from other countries coming to tell us what to do. Effective leaders seldom tell you what to do, but share keys and principles of effective change. If we don't need others then we are saying we have achieved everything we need to. How narrow is that level of thinking?

The key is to follow the vision given to you by God and learn how to become more effective by the principles learned by others who are further down the track.

Murray Robertson: I think we have some good indigenous style leaders and others who seem dependant on external inspiration. The main line churches seem to draw their inspiration from the UK and their leaders sometimes speak with toffy English voices, while the Pentecostals often seem to draw their inspiration from the USA and some of their leaders seem to like speaking in Yankee accents. It all feels very strange!

 

Because of the excesses, or abuses of leadership they have experienced, some groups have shied away from the idea of leadership altogether. What are the benefits of leadership being exercised correctly? What is the downside of leadership not being exercised?

Brian Hathaway : Leadership is God-given gifting (Rom 12:8).To ignore it, or fail to recognise it, is to dishonour the giver of the gift and to try to do things our own way rather than God's way.

I view a leader as a catalyst, someone who facilitates the healthy functioning of a group. If you don't have leadership the group won't go far, people will be frustrated and maturity in Christ will be severely restricted.

Darryl Gardiner: Such a reaction is often nothing more than that: a reaction, rather than a thought through biblical alternative. Groups which say they have no leadership,do, it is just packaged differently.

Good leadership will enable people to grow in their faithfulness to God, both personally and corporately. It will also teach people from the Bible, and encourage them to learn from it themselves along with others they are journeying with.

Good leadership will help us learn to critique ourselves and our society in the light of the Gospel. Good leadership will enable a group to achieve the tasks they have set.

Ultimately good leadership will develop people who no longer need the leader in order to grow. To quote Lao Tsu, "and when they have finished they [the people] will say, 'We have done it ourselves'." We would add "by the grace of God and for his glory."

When leadership is not exercised, nothing happens in the lives of individuals or groups. Like a terrible tramp in the bush, the slowest person sets the pace with no-one able to help them speed up.

Paul de Jong: Without leadership everything will finally come to rest at the lowest common denominator. With leadership, we will reach beyond our known world. It is true that leaders have failed and will continue to fail, but we had plenty of plane crashes before we learned to fly. At times we still have a crash or two, however, we couldn't do what we do without planes today.

Since the beginning of man and sin God has understood the need to have leadership. The sooner we come to terms with it and learn how to lead effectively the sooner we touch a world needing to discover the love and life of Christ.

Murray Robertson: A group without a leader reminds me of a cricket team without a captain, when on the fall of each wicket the whole team has to get together to process their feelings about who should bat next.

If the goal of the church is to address the needs of its members then a small group without a leader can function adequately. But any church that is going to move into the community effectively in mission is going to need to recognise someone with a leadership gift working in a leadership role setting a God-given vision before the congregation.


| Top | Home | Back to Index of Issue 40

|