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11 April 2024

Leading like Christ


CMS Australia Regional Mission Director Elizabeth Richards served as a CMS
missionary with her husband Malcolm in DR Congo from 1988 to 1994 and 2005 to 2010. She reflects on why CMS aims to grow godly leaders for the church and the world:

Equipping Christians as leaders in the church and the world is a core aspect of the CMS vision to see a world that knows Jesus. To do this we partner with churches and Christian organisations to train and mentor godly leaders who will serve Christ with their whole lives and who will also raise up and equip others.

I have the joy of meeting with CMS partners around the world, hearing how God has prepared them for their current leadership roles. I get to meet many servant-hearted leaders who demonstrate God’s love through their own self-sacrifice. For example, the pastor who willingly gives away his clothes when visiting a parishioner who has nothing, or another who goes with their family to live in a remote village to plant a church where none exists, even in the face of persecution.

Where the gospel is proclaimed, churches form and grow, and these churches need well trained leaders from within their own culture. That is, people who understand the Bible, can teach and minister, who can share the gospel with those around them, and pass it to the next generation.

Christians who will take up leadership roles in society also need to be equipped and encouraged. Christians who are government leaders, university lecturers, medical doctors, school teachers, and other professional leaders can have enormous influence. CMS missionaries using their professional skills can have a key role in nurturing, training and supporting God’s people in this way.

 

What is Christian leadership? 

As Christians our authority for understanding leadership is the Scriptures. Healthy Christian leadership is servanthood. Our example is Christ, the suffering servant:

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21)

The Bible teaches that the way to be a godly leader is not the way of the world. When our authority comes from scripture, we acknowledge that all power belongs to God. A godly leader does not look for self-serving power and control. They follow Christ’s example, humbly serving the people in their care, enduring opposition and seeking to live a godly and obedient life.

There are warnings in the Scriptures for those in leadership of God’s people. It says in Ezekiel 34:2, “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?’”

God cares about his people, the sheep. Those designated as shepherds must account for their actions before God.

Christ-centred leadership is not the norm in most cultures, and to train people in this model of leadership takes time and investment. Christian leaders need to be carefully selected and carefully trained.

 

Where and how we work

Many of our CMS partners have identified a shortage of trained leaders. This is often due to rapidly growing churches, urbanisation and poverty. CMS missionaries work in the areas of training and developing leaders for both within and outside the church. For example, CMS missionaries teach in Bible schools and other institutions, mentor and disciple new graduates, mentor other staff, and occasionally take on overt leadership roles while training andpreparing a replacement. We generally do not send people to be the leaders themselves. To directly send leaders might seem to solve a short-term problem. But it can create other challenges such as sending unintended messages about trust, appearing to support Western dominance, and may not contribute to developing the Church.

We recognise that it is only with sound training and ongoing encouragement and support that national church leaders will be able to speak with a relevant voice which in turn teaches and equips local Christians for godly maturity and a desire for outreach.

CMS missionaries are sent to work under local leadership and to enter another culture with humility, as cross-cultural learners. It takes time to learn language and become competent in communication, relationship building and in one’s assigned role. Such humility and vulnerability acknowledge that we enter someone else’s culture at their invitation and without judgment, and is an expression of servanthood. Missionaries are sent to serve using the gifts and experience that God has given them. In this way missionaries are setting an example of the servanthood intrinsic to servant leadership.

Here are three ways in which CMS is helping equip Christian leaders around the world:

  1. Teaching the Bible
    Many CMS missionaries are teaching God’s word in Bible schools, Bible colleges, and through theological courses like MOCLAM. Whether at a certificate level or a university degree level, the aim is to teach the Bible clearly with cultural sensitivity. We long to see students understand the Scriptures in a way that impacts lives and equips people to teach, preach and disciple others. Graduates of these schools, courses and colleges become evangelists, pastors, Bible school teachers and youth leaders. Some may eventually become college principals, bishops or denominational leaders, or church planters.
  2. Modelling godly leadership in the workplace
    CMS workers are also involved in training Christian leaders who will work outside the church but use their skills to be a godly influence in their workplaces, in turn training others and modelling godly leadership. Examples include training physiotherapists in Namibia, establishing a palliative care program in Nepal, and working with a team in Kenya involved in teaching conservation and new farming methods.
  3. Study scholarships
    To assist our partners to raise up the next generation of leaders, CMS offers study scholarships through the Mission Support Fund (MSF). These scholarships enable people (who would otherwise have no possibility of studying) to attend colleges and universities, and then use their new knowledge and skills to serve in their churches. Many students who have received MSF scholarships in the past are now serving in ministry as pastors, diocesan secretaries, or Bible school teachers, and having a significant impact in their churches and communities. Of one such former recipient, his Bishop said, “His theology studies have changed him in many ways. He is a confident leader, who works tirelessly. He is a good preacher and teacher—a reliable, future leader for the Diocese. He is a spiritual role model to many.” 1

 

A long-term perspective

It is a great privilege to be a part of raising godly people to take on leadership roles, whether in church or in society. I have met with many people now in leadership in different parts of the world who can testify that they were at some point mentored, discipled, taught, or influenced by CMS missionaries.

Dr William in DR Congo was trained by former CMS missionaries Graham and Wendy Toulmin and is now teaching and training the next generation of dentists in DRC. The current director of the university student ministry in Spain studied the MOCLAM course with former CMS missionary John Lovell. Many of the current leaders of GBU France were discipled and trained by a generation of CMS missionaries including Paul and Sandra King, Libby Leach, and Owen and Catherine Chadwick. The list of similar stories is countless!

At times investing in leadership development brings disappointment and grief—people move, those who have committed to training change their minds when they count the cost, people must be asked to stand down from leadership due to ungodly behaviour, or godly leaders die.

Malcolm and I first met Desire in Goma (in DR Congo, formerly Zaire) in 1989. He was part of the youth group, attended youth conferences where we taught, and later became a youth leader. We encouraged him as he completed theological studies, married, and took on more leadership roles within the church. We were delighted when he was elected as Bishop of Goma and attended his consecration in 2016. We were deeply saddened when he died suddenly
in 2020.

Such challenges and disappointments are important reminders that God’s plans do not depend on just one person. God brings about his purposes in situations where our human perspective can see no solution. God raises up the right people at the right time. Our job is to be faithful in the roles God has given each one of us, including looking for, and encouraging godly leaders.

 

Going forward

As part of our vision to see a world that knows Jesus, CMS will continue to invest in leadership development. We will send workers to new and existing locations to train, teach and to mentor. We will continue to provide scholarships for further education, and we will work with our partners as they select and encourage future leaders—so that God’s church continues to grow. These leaders need our prayers to stand firm and to remain godly, humble and servant-hearted amidst the challenges and joys of serving the body of Christ until Jesus returns.

 

PRAY

Please pray that God would raise up leaders who know and love the Lord Jesus Christ, and who will stand firm as they serve, teach, and disciple others so that God’s kingdom grows.

 


1 Survey of MSF recipients by CMS Australia, December 2022.