Friday, September 20, 2013


Spending ten days in community with young, up-and-coming leaders of the township, I have been meditating on leadership in broader terms. Our East Mountain vision is to identify, raise up, and grow the next generation’s leaders for the enrichment of the Body of Christ in Africa.

Leadership is our goal. Shepherding is our theme. The Good Shepherd is our model.

And then our cultures get in the way.

Meditating on biblical shepherds: Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and David--each with strengths and foibles--is a powerful path for understanding what Jesus meant when He told Peter to feed His sheep and care for His lambs.

But we are in the 21st century and the photos of Bedouins that we study seem like something from a time warp. Nobody does that these days? Do they? Really? 

Books abound on leadership--many offering solid principles and perceptive advice. There is so much to tell young leaders of today. We have to be watchful, however, that our pursuit of excellence does not become informed by our milieu, and the cultures we know and value.

Shepherding is light years from coaching and managing and implementing action plans. A shepherd is not guiding a team, he’s caring for a flock. He is not running a department, he’s looking out for the weak ones. He’s not CEO of a corporation, he’s the door to the sheep fold and protector against lions and bears.

Once again, Nelson Mandela’s example comes to mind. He was aware of the magnitude of the burden he carried. The least of those in his care was his concern: and the welfare of his people was his business. He paid a high price to put his flock before himself and his family’s welfare.

Leadership has become a larger-than-life job in the modern world. Leaders are important movers and shakers, women and men of power. Their concerns are the goals and victories of the team, the profits and losses of the company, the inevitable bottom line. Leaders of the world are honing skills, eliminating the weak, streamlining the process, and producing better products to wipe out competitors. Their path is strewn with the bodies of those who served them and wore out or were cast aside.

Against this backdrop, at East Mountain we are trying to infuse the gentleness of the shepherd. He is not counting victorious games or profit margins or acquisitions. He is encouraging the potential, protecting the weak, strengthening the inter-connectedness that makes a flock a healthy flock. He’s guiding, protecting and providing.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

"What is my role?" more thoughts on Mandela

We have heard with joy that Nelson Rolihlahla (Troublemaker) Mandela is home from the hospital. He is still on the life support that he needed in hospital, but he is home. The Lord still has work for him to do. Or we still have more to learn from him.

These past months I have gained much from reading his Long Walk to Freedom. He was an uncanny leader, one from whom all leaders today could take some advice. Yesterday I was struck by his awareness of his role. 

Most leaders reveal by their actions that they believe their role is to lead, to show, to guide, to command, to order, to discipline, to coerce, to rule. They wouldn't put it in so many words, but their actions make their role perception abundantly clear.

Mandela's cell on Robben Island.

During a particularly difficult time on Robben Island Mandela described the political feuding among African National Congress, Pan-African Congress and Black Consciousness Movement. Mandela was the leader of ANC in the prison and a number of ANC members had been brutally beaten by the other groups. It reached the point where a trial was set for the island's administrative court and an outside lawyer was brought in. Mandela was asked to be a character witness for his own members. He was happy to testify for his comrades, but realized that speaking out for them would heighten the bitterness.  He reflects:

"I regarded my role in prison as not just the leader of ANC, but as promoter of unity, an honest broker, a peacemaker, and I was reluctant to take a side in this dispute, even if it was the side of my own organization. If I testified on behalf of the ANC, I would jeopardize my chances of bringing about reconciliation among the different groups. If I preached unity, I must act like a unifier, even at the risk of perhaps alienating some of my own colleagues." (p 580)

More than a decade of imprisonment on a windswept island under brutal conditions with insensitive authorities had helped Mandela perceive his role as leader. But this kind of awareness comes from a place deep inside a person. Other men in the same conditions did not gain this level of understanding. As he commented:

"Prison was a kind of crucible that tested a man's character. Some men, under the pressure of incarceration, showed true mettle, while other revealed themselves as less than they had appeared to be." (p. 539)

One of the outcomes of Mandela knowing his role was the positive results of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission initiated during his presidency. If Mandela had not had the reputation of an honest broker and peacemaker, he could not have asked this of South Africa. But he modeled what he requested.

This leads me to ask myself: am I aware of my true role in the Kingdom of heaven? Am I living out of the resources I have gained in the crucible?