Blog Menu

The Wounds of a Leader

Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_ThomasI have been at New Wine B this week, and at the early morning meetings Simon Ponsonby (from St Aldate’s, Oxford) has been reflected on verses from 2 Corinthians. This morning we reflected on perhaps some of the most challenging:

I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own people, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (2 Cor 11.23–28)

It is an extraordinary piece of personal rhetoric; the middle section (‘in danger…in danger…’) is worthy of Churchill at his best. There is a fascinating connection between v 27 (‘hunger and thirst…cold and naked’) and Jesus’ description of the ‘least of these my brothers’ in Matt 25.40. But Simon brought out a more direct and startling contrast.


He told us of an account he had read of a conversation between two (real, current) ‘prosperity gospel’ leaders across the pond. They were congratulating each others on the millions they earned as a sign of God’s blessing on their ministries. Then one recounted how God had given him a revelation whilst he was flying in his private jet. God (he claimed) asked why he had limited his ambitions. Why only one private jet? Why not two? Did he have the faith? Or was he going to limit what God could do?

Simon went on to tell the story of another ‘prosperity’ leader, and his answer to his critics.

Until you have planted 1,000 churches, as I have, until you have raised 500 people from the dead, as I have, until you can speak like Jesus, I don’t want to hear from you.

He then highlighted the remarkable contrast with the way that Paul proves his credentials, in comparison with the ‘super apostles’, in 2 Corinthians. A good number of the events correlate with Luke’s account of Paul’s ministry in Acts (I am sure there has been an academic paper on the correlation), yet it is striking which part of the account he recalls—not the church planting, not the healing, not the visions, not the miracles, not the raising of the dead or the deliverance from demons, but the wounds and the scars.

All he did [Simon continued] was to lift his shirt, and show his scars. The scars spoke more eloquently than any words could.

Simon connected this with a slightly unlikely contemporary film illustration. He is a fan of the Rambo films with Sylvester Stallone, and in the first film there is a scene where Rambo (a Vietnam veteran) is finding it hard to settle into civilian life and is arrested. Once in the prison, all he has to do is remove his shirt, and reveal his scarred back, and the officers realised the war hero that in reality he was.

All he did was to lift his shirt, and show his scars. The scars spoke more eloquently than any words could.

Paul’s example is entirely of a piece with his longing expressed near the end of his life in Phil 3.10–11:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

It is striking here that Paul does not separate resurrection power from ‘participation in his sufferings’, as if power and suffering were a contradiction to each other, as we so often assume. They were held together in the life of Jesus, and they are held together in the testimony of Paul, as he reflects on his life and ministry whilst approaching his end.


Amy_Carmichael_with_children2Reflection on the wounds of leadership reminded me of the poem by Amy Carmichael which I first heard many years ago, and still find immensely moving. Carmichael was someone who knew the meaning of suffering, and yet continued in sacrificial service, for many years rescuing young girls from temple prostitution in Hindu temples in India. She spent her last two decades mostly bed ridden, using the time to write at least 35 books of meditations and reflections. When she died, in accordance with her wishes, no headstone was erected. Instead, the thousands of girls she had rescued placed a bird bath over her grave, inscribed with the word Amma which means ‘Mother’ in Tamil.

This is the poem she wrote about the suffering involved in discipleship and leadership.

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land;
I hear them hail thy bright, ascendant star.
Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?
Yet I was wounded by the archers; spent,
Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned.
Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar?
Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,
And piercèd are the feet that follow Me.
But thine are whole; can he have followed far
Who hast no wound or scar?

The reason I find this poem so emotional is that it evokes my feelings about the wounds I am aware of that have been incurred in leadership. To be sure, they are nothing compared to the things Paul experienced, but they feel real nonetheless. Perhaps one of the most difficult things in Christian leadership is that, whereas Paul was mostly wounded by his opponents who rejected his gospel, many of the wounds of Christian leaders are inflicted by the church that they have committed to serve.


What do we do with these wounds? One essential response must be to recognise how I have wounded others (mostly unwittingly), and another poem/hymn comes into play here, the Communion hymn ‘Before I take the body of my Lord‘ by John Bell:

The words of hope I often failed to give,
the prayers of kindness buried by my pride,
The signs of care I argued out of sight:
these I lay down.

But even then, my own wounds remain. I am not sure these need to be ‘dealt with’, in the sense of going back to the events and resolving. But neither can they be ignored. Is there a way to ‘lift our shirt, and show the scars’ in a way which does not emotionally manipulate those we minister to and with? And can I recognise the wounds others have incurred, and given them the honour they deserve for staying on the path of faithfulness despite the cost?

One thing is certain: leadership involves wounds. I am not sure how the Church of England senior leadership training programme addresses this, but mention it they must.

, , , , , , ,

27 Responses to The Wounds of a Leader

  1. Gavz August 6, 2016 at 10:47 am #

    Thank you. 🙂

  2. Haydon Spenceley August 6, 2016 at 12:00 pm #

    Thanks for this, Ian. It’s human nature, I think, to try and avoid suffering, and I don’t think we’re called to seek it, it finds us naturally enough, but the reminder that participating in the sufferings of Christ is a privilege as well as inseparable from any ‘fruitful’ ministry we might seek or hope for is timely and important.

  3. Neil Booth August 6, 2016 at 12:50 pm #

    Brilliant, humbling and challenging article. Thanks particularly for the Amy Carmichael poem.

  4. Andy August 6, 2016 at 2:14 pm #

    I’ve been reading the book “the Insanity of God” recently which has been incredibly challenging. In one section he is meeting with Chinese house church leaders and the senior leaders identify some potential young leaders who they believe will be excellent leaders “in the future” because up to that point they had not been in prison and therefore they’re leadership credentials hadn’t been tested ! They explain prison for them is equivalent to seminary for us. Quite a different approach!

  5. gill August 6, 2016 at 4:17 pm #

    I think it might be true to say that it is only in the cossetted west that Christians and church leaders feel indignant if they are wounded in spiritual battle. It’s a real and current ministry to say to such people that we are following in the footsteps of one whose earthly life ended on a cross.

  6. David Shepherd August 6, 2016 at 11:16 pm #

    Ian,

    This is an important and worthwhile post. The risk here is that this process of reflection on persecution can stop far short of recognising and accepting how it might occur in our own context of the 21st century West.

    As recorded in the NT, the hostile reactions to the insistent prophetic demand for repentance are helpful in understanding the ‘why, how and who’ of Christian persecution.

    In scripture, we repeatedly read of persuasive prophetic reformers who directly opposed the moral lapses of those who exercised public authority. For example, John the Baptist fearlessly criticised as unlawful Herod Antipas’ marriage to his half-brother’s ex-wife, Herodias. As the ancient historian Flavius Josephus explained: Now many people came in crowds to him, for they were greatly moved by his words. Herod, who feared that the great influence John had over the masses might put them into his power and enable him to raise a rebellion (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise), thought it best to put him to death. In this way, he might prevent any mischief John might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late.

    It’s this combination of charisma and insistent, uncompromising challenge which political, religious and cultural elites find so unsettling: But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

    If anything, Jesus’ ministry drove home even further the guilt of the religious authorities by His patent disregard for their censorious self-serving imposition of man-made decrees which contravened the revelation of God’s will through scripture (see Mark 7:9-12)

    By way of a modern comparison with this prophetic calling, apart from the Bishop of Birkenhead, tell me which other member of the episcopate has demonstrated uncompromising forthrightness and fearlessness in the face of what Justin Welby described as the ‘change in the cultural hinterland’? Instead, the majority approach has been to look for easier and less controversial fronts of Church mission (e.g. pay-day lending, human trafficking, anti-immigration). In fact, anything which is less likely to attract the political condemnation in our plural post-modern society.

    Give me the name of a single bishop other than Keith Sinclair, who has publicly and insistently rejected any connivance at and compromise with homosexual revisionism.

    So, in the current convergence on achieving ‘peace through at any price’ as orchestrated through unscriptural virtue ethics, there’s little chance of senior CofE clergy arousing anything near the level of opposition which resulted in what Paul called ‘the fellowship of His sufferings.’

    As Paul described: It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself. (2 Tim. 2:11-13)

  7. Tina Burgess August 7, 2016 at 3:19 pm #

    I was just reflecting on something like this this morning. At church we sang Guardian – one of my favourite worship songs as it had a prophetic impact on me in recent years. Yet, as I reflected on the sense of being victorious in Christ, my experience shows me that the path to victory is not easy. It is one of struggle and suffering and the victory may not even come in the form of resolution but in overcoming. I like this picture of Paul showing his scars. It keeps it real.

  8. David Shepherd August 7, 2016 at 5:50 pm #

    This is what 21st century prophetic oversight looks like: http://www.christiantoday.com/article/the.pilling.report.bishop.of.birkenheads.dissenting.statement/34867.htm

  9. Karen Watson August 8, 2016 at 9:24 am #

    The exploitation of the poor and weak isn’t merely an unimportant side issue. If you think it attracts no opposition, look outside the Church to the massive campaign to prevent Mr Corbyn getting anywhere near power. If we were seen as any sort of effective threat we would earn the same treatment.
    People who are starving don’t have much time for recreational sex and are likely to have little choice about who with. There are plenty of clear anathemas in Scripture about commercial and financial fraud and withholding wages and I’m sure there are those conversely willing to argue that the Unjust Steward was our Lord’s approved example. Perhaps we could consider other popular idols to challenge as well – or just go back to the same old sterile “debate” that’s shoved in sideways to every thread and never brings anything new to change anyone’s mind.

    • David Shepherd August 8, 2016 at 2:22 pm #

      Karen,

      Setting aside your patronizing stereotype that: People who are starving don’t have much time for recreational sex and are likely to have little choice about who with., the issue here is not either-or, but both.

      As Christ described: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.(Matt. 23:23)

      Living faithfully in accordance with the revelation of God’s will through His prophets demonstrates commitment to the First and Great commandment: If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul (Deut. 13:1 – 3)

      But, with a view to loving one’s neighbor, fair enough. Let’s look at financial justice…in the CofE

      The ball-park interest on an ISA (fixed) has been about 2%. And with the recent cut in the BoE base-rate, this will be even less. Nevertheless, by comparison, let’s consider the Church Commissioners’ 2015 financial results. On the fund which grew from £2.4 Billion in 1995 to £7 Billion in 2015, last year’s return on investment was a staggering 8.2 per cent.

      The Church Commissioners contributed £41.2M to the Archbishop’s Council in 2014 compared to £37.4M in 2011. Staff remuneration for the CC ranges from 10 staff earning between £60k – £70k and approx. £330k at the very top.

      Now, some would consider it quite generous that the Commissioners contributed 218.5 million (~0.3 per cent of net assets) to the CofE’s ministry and mission costs. Yet, by comparison, the 44 dioceses coughed up £28.5M for the Archbishop’s Council. That was a proportion of the Parish Share that goes to the National Church.

      Some years ago. it was agreed that the Church Commissioners’ funding for episcopal ministry would be a fixed percentage of the overall distribution to their beneficiaries. Over 2011 – 2013, the funding was increased by 2 per cent for Archbishops and 4 per cent for bishops. The total sum contributed to the Bishops’ Office and Staff Costs was £17M in 2011 and £20M in 2012. This grew to £31.2M in 2013 (Source: The Church Commissioners annual Report 2013).

      You may also be aware that last year, the First Church Estates Commissioner Andreas Whittam Smith, responded to the revelation that the 42 houses used by diocesan bishops had an average value of £2.26m in December 2013, by explaining that: the Church struck a bargain more than 100 years ago that when estates were acquired for bishops, the associated costs of housing and stipends would be paid for. He said: “I think we have to stick to that deal.” (source: Guardian

      Oh, BTW, the report also notes that 11 of the bishops also have chauffeurs – four of whom double up as gardeners – that cost £207,400 a year.

      All of this is dwarfed by the £121M in Church Commissioners’ Pension payment to ensure that all Anglican ministers up to 1998 ordination can enjoy a final salary pension of approx. £13k and a ‘lump sum’ of £39k. Yet, it’s those in the pews on index-linked pensions who get to hear sermons exhorting us on the importance of stewardship and how best to Gift-Aid legacies!

      So, while it’s great to bang on about the commercial and financial injustices of the secular world (pay-day lending, Living Wage advocacy and the like), the CofE’s senior leadership would do well to set a better example.

      For instance, how about the Church Commissioners applying the tithing principle to last year’s whopping 8.4 per cent ROI. But, I’m sure that it’s being re-invested and held in trust for future generations.

      So, let’s try a more innovative proposal. Let’s make 2017 ‘Chaffeurs for Charity’ Year; spearheaded by the 11 Bishops who have them. Or, how about the Church Commissioners taking another look at that 100 year old deal that Whittam Smith described at GS last year?

      Then again, perhaps, all of this is common knowledge, such that, as you’ve said, it ‘never brings anything new to change anyone’s mind’ Let’s go for 9 per cent ROI next year, then.

      No, it’s not so much the debate that becomes sterile as it is those whose mind-sets are prejudiced against all contrary evidence in order to further their relentless political, commercial and ideological imperatives.

      The Greeks captured the latter perfectly in a single word: sklerokardian,…which we transliterate to hardness of heart.

      And that’s why, at a time when New and ethnic minority churches are experiencing growth, the CofE is still in decline.

      • Karen Watson August 9, 2016 at 3:28 pm #

        David: it was you who, in the post I was responding to, seemed to be writing off mere concern with poverty and inequality as somehow cowardly and even approval-seeking, compared with the brave souls battling each other over sex. If this is not so, I am glad to hear it.

        Perhaps (if Ian is willing) you can start a new thread on the finances of the Church of England – it’s clearly something you are passionate about and Heaven knows any organisation that hired Sir Philip Green as a consultant has a lot of thinking to do!

        And keep it on topic if you can.

        • David Shepherd August 9, 2016 at 11:09 pm #

          Karen,

          However it ‘seemed’, I specifically took issue with the majority emphasis on what I described as ‘easier and less controversial fronts of Chuirch mission’.

          It is cowardly to focus on wrongs that resonate with secular sympathies, while sidestepping controversial issues which don’t.

          John the Baptist didn’t care a hoot about secular sympathies when he refused to affirm as marriage Herod Antipas’ unlawful sexual relationship with his half-brother’s ex-wife.

          That’s why Herod imprisoned and executed him. JTB bore the mortal wounds of a leader for his stance on marriage.

          So, contrary to your patronising parting shot, I’m very much ‘on topic’.

          • Andrew Godsall August 10, 2016 at 9:34 am #

            John the Baptist also had the humility to question whether he might actually be wrong about something…….

          • Karen Watson August 10, 2016 at 4:14 pm #

            That’s twice you’ve dismissed any attempt to express a view or make an honest suggestion as “patronising”. It must be a really effective conversation stopper for you elsewhere but I’ve seen it overused to the point where it loses all effect. And it’s an accusation that is born of pride – “how dare you patronise ME?” To paraphrase a famous quote: Reverend, you’re no John the Baptist.
            It might be of interest to explore one day the fact that the marriage he was upholding so passionately (Herodias to Philip) was itself both incestuous and abusive (she was still a child when it took place). Few if any modern Churches would have a problem with her divorcing him (although Josephus clearly did – he seems to have been scandalised that the *woman* was instigating the split), although they’d differ on her right to a remarriage.
            But again, that is probably material for a separate thread.

          • David Shepherd August 10, 2016 at 6:49 pm #

            Okay, so you think that, instead of prematurely shutting down as patronising the notion that ‘people who are starving don’t have time for recreational sex and are likely to have little choice about who with’, I should have engaged with such a broad-brush assertion about the hungry.

            Fair enough, so let’s explore why you think hunger renders a person largely incapable of choice over their sexual partner? Why are they any less sexually discriminating that those who are well-off?

            In terms of your rhetoric, the Bentsen-style put-down works through the privilege of long-time personal relationship. Since you’ve had none with JTB, your retort ends up as a meaningless self-blunting mess.

            Also, you’ve missed the point of JTB’s censure completely. Herod was the head of a dynasty, which had converted to Judaism long before and he, like his forbears, held himself forth as King of the Jews, while abdicating responsibility for upholding the Jewish faith in his personal life. It was hypocrisy.

            The focus of John’s denunciation was not as much about divorce per se, as it was about Herod Antipas’ re-marriage, which contravened the very laws that, as the self-proclaimed Jewish leader, Herod had a duty to uphold.

            Also, Herod had ‘without a cause’ repudiated his first marriage (to King Aretas’ daughter) and paid a hefty price for it.

            Given that Herodias was related to both Herods, it was no less incestuous for her to marry Antipas.

            On that basis, I seriously doubt your sweeping assertion about modern churches: most would still have a problem with the re-marriage to a half-uncle after divorcing another.

  10. Phil Groom August 8, 2016 at 6:33 pm #

    There’s a tragic irony here Ian. You observe, “many of the wounds of Christian leaders are inflicted by the church that they have committed to serve” then comment, “one essential response must be to recognise how I have wounded others…”

    Will you ever reach that point, I wonder? Or will you always resort to name-calling and blocking on twitter when you encounter those you disagree with or people who won’t play by your rules? Will you ever hear the wounded cry of those you hold at bay and drive away with your homophobia-lite?

    • David Shepherd August 8, 2016 at 8:30 pm #

      Phil,

      I’ll interject here and Ian can delete.

      Try asking Simon Sarmiento about blocking me on Thinking Anglicans since 2012 for doing no more than disagreeing and exposing the flawed arguments of those lionised in their comment threads, such as Tobias Haller, Erika Baker and others.

      Try looking up some of the on-line abuse heaped on Peter Ould because his life choices and posts challenged the requirement to conform to a gay identity.

      Compare the heavily moderated Changing Attitude blog, where I’ve often waited for days for even a short comment to be approved.

      Compare the fact that despite your complaint about being blocked on Twitter, you can post your uncensored reproof here.

      In fact, go and post a question on the Thinking Anglicans blog about their moderation policy and blocking.

      And then you or they can come back to Ian’s blog and post your unmoderated response here

      Now there’s the real irony of heresy-lite!

    • Ian Paul August 10, 2016 at 11:50 am #

      Phil

      I see that you have posted a long and abusive comment about me and David Shepherd on the Changing Attitude Facebook page. Since I cannot comment there, I suspect some would call this ‘cowardly.’ But I am more concerned about the lies and inaccuracies.

      I wonder if you could provide support for the idea that I ‘hold people at bay’ in relation to the friends and colleagues I have who are same-sex attracted?

      Could you provide evidence for the notion that I have an ‘irrational fear and hatred of gay people’?

      You comment on CA FB that I ‘became abusive’. What I tweeted was: ‘Phil if you have an issue then engage on the blog. Stop trolling us on Twitter’ and ‘Here’s an idea: instead of psychologising, why not address his arguments?’ Could you explain how this constitutes ‘abuse’?

      You then claim ‘I went to post a brief reply, to suggest that if David has an issue with Simon, he should take it up with Simon; but both my comment and this reply had been removed: an unmoderated blog? Really?’ You then claim that the posts were reinstated…but that this hasn’t changed your view.

      Neither post was deleted nor reinstated at any point. Would you have the integrity to retract this lie?

      I realise that this is not really what the post is about, but your comment does raise the question about exercising a modicum of honesty.

      thanks

    • David Shepherd August 10, 2016 at 10:11 pm #

      Phil,

      Yet further irony in crying foul about Twitter blocking when there’s no ‘right of reply’ for those criticised on the Changing Attitudes Facebook group.

      But, then again, trawling out pejoratives (as Colin Coward did(, like ‘abusive’ to describe Ian Paul’s or Peter Ould’s writing shows that it’s easier for those fearful of an honest debate to play victim than to engage with serious scholarship.

      In fact, it shows how untenable your position on this really is.

      And that’s why I would happily to debate in a live impartially moderated public forum the scriptural, scientific, legal and ethical arguments with any of the celebrated commenters, clergy or lay, from Thinking Anglicans, or Changing Attitude, or LGBTI Mission.

      My lack of formal erudition should allow my debating opponent to turn my arguments into mincemeat.

      But I doubt that any of you will risk embarrassment in a public forum. And we all know why.

      Er, because a public debate on this would be…(‘what’s the magic word?’) abusive.

      Again, Ian can delete, if need be.

    • David Shepherd August 14, 2016 at 8:55 pm #

      Still waiting, Phil.

      It’s been a while, but I’m happy to take up the challenge of a debate (even on Thinking Anglicans) with Tobias Haller, Erika Baket, or Jayne Ozanne, or all three.

      So, let me know when that can happen, either here or through a post on the Changing Attitude Facebook group.

  11. Ian H August 9, 2016 at 10:29 am #

    Thank you…again…Ian.

    “But even then, my own wounds remain. I am not sure these need to be ‘dealt with’, in the sense of going back to the events and resolving. But neither can they be ignored. Is there a way to ‘lift our shirt, and show the scars’”

    Lifting my own shirt though with a different purpose…. and without details here… I think that severe wounding is never ‘dealt with’. It becomes part of who we are.

    I’d suggest:

    First we need to acknowledge that we are wounded (not merely ‘have been’) and have some compassion for ourselves. Not selfie indulgence but some self care and proper self love.

    Second, that wounds in the service of Christ (and possibly however they come about) may make us more Christ-like in our compassionate dealings with others.

    Third, wounds get scar tissue over them they don’t cease to exist. They may not look as awful as before but there can be a remaining vulnerability which is easily accessed. Wisdom may be needed about what we take inane what we don’t.

    Fourth…. Diocesen pastoral care can be non-existent. How many bishops even have this on their agenda. Of course there are many calls on their time but, in my view and theology.l this should happen. My own (mercifully brief) ‘crash and burn’ elicited no episcopal contact whatsoever.

    I’m preaching on 1 Peter 3 in a couple of weeks time… I’m illustrating it with Janani Luwum. ‘They are going to kill me. II am not afraid’.

    • Ian Paul August 10, 2016 at 11:53 am #

      Thanks Ian. It is always tricky making broad criticisms of dioceses or bishops, but my experience (and that of others) does suggest that there is some work to be done in relation to pastoral support of clergy…

      • Ian H August 10, 2016 at 5:44 pm #

        Yes… Tricky it is and sometimes expectations are impossibly high. I think my general disappointment, clearly highlighted by my own experience, is that pastoral care of the clergy doesn’t always move out of the centre to the coal face. Isn’t it a major part of a bishops calling?

  12. Dick from Africa August 12, 2016 at 7:10 am #

    Thankyou for this perspective on suffering and leadership.
    It is amazing that the suffering incurred through faithfulness is ultimately a badge of honor for Christians.
    Nowhere is this more clearly brought out than in the book “The Plausibility Problem” which you recently reviewed, and which I have now read.
    The author makes clear that suffering is the badge of the followers of Christ whatever the particular thorn or weakness of the flesh given them as they endure in the faith. ,

  13. Jules Murphy August 12, 2016 at 7:27 am #

    See how these Christians love one another…

    Thanks for this piece, Ian. I too enjoyed Simon’s teaching last week. (And yours, thanks) I was affirmed and challenged in equal measure; but mainly challenged about how to minister faithfully at an academic and secular coalface. Many of us fear men more than God – and given the lashings we can receive from our own, that’s hardly surprising.

    Working in an academic environment where Christians are already largely vilified, it nevertheless frustrates me that our CU don’t engage in social action, political lobbying on trafficking, or anything to do with green issues. So no brownie points there, or credibility among their peers. But this seems to be a deliberate tack taken by UCCF. Sadly, however, nor are they particularly interested in theological engagement for the purposes of being salt and light. They are very keen on mission though, when it gets to that week of term. Trouble is, hardly any of them know any non- Christians to invite to anything. Or why being a Christian is good news for them and everyone else. The bunker mentality is prevalent. And fear of wounds.

    I can see it is daunting enough for many students even to own the name of Christ in this environment. If I am silenced on some topics by the University’s E & D policy, how can I expect them to be any different? We are already assumed to be homophobic bigots. I find building non-superficial non-judgmental relationships works best in my own ministry, but do pray for rhinoceros skin and a backbone of steel for me!

    That’s why I’m so grateful for you and others who are prepared, like the apostle Paul, to speak the truth in love – and you bear the scars, as I know does Simon.

    • Jamie Wood August 14, 2016 at 6:11 pm #

      Jules, I take your point about UCCF and CU’s, but ….

      First, let’s suppose that UCCF functions a bit like a church, to the extent that many Christian students look to their CU’s as the main place for fellowship and direction in the Christian life. Then, just like a church, UCCF has to do some kind of evangelism – at the least, all students are called to “hold out the word of life” (Phil 2:16) and to “be able to give an answer” (1 Peter 3:15). But I suggest only some students are called to political action on trafficking – and if they are, why should it be under a CU banner? If there is an anti-trafficking campaign that already exists, maybe a secular one, why not just encourage your members to join it, instead of saying that the CU needs to do it corporately?

      Consider the recent “Remain in Europe” campaign (Stronger In.) It was actually weakened by the Labour Party refusing to commit to it, saying instead that it’s members should devote their energy to the parallel “Labour reasons to Remain in Europe” campaign.

      Second, we don’t gain credibility by what causes we are involved with. We gain credibility by being honest people.

      Third, quite apart from any anti-Christian flak from outside, the Christians make it tough to be a Christian student. You are supposed to (I) get hugely involved in your CU, meetings, meetings (ii) form a Christian viewpoint on your subject, whether Fermat’s Last Theorem, the effects of micro-finance on developing economies or 19th-century French Literature (iii) have some kind of a social life involving non-Christians (iv) do some exercise (v) engage in social action of some kind and (nearly forgot) (vi) focus on your studies, maybe 1500 hours a year. Only supermen and superwomen need apply.

  14. Mark Downham November 1, 2017 at 4:58 pm #

    One thing I do really like about Simon Ponsonby is his practice of the Evangelical Spiritual Discipline, ‘Advance Aflame’ – the practice of Advancing All Ablaze, of Burning, Always Burning (Leviticus 6:13) – there are very few Evangelicals living who have achieved this Spiritual state where people burn at your touch – he is one.

Leave a Reply