PREACHING at the morning
worship of the General Conference of The Methodist Church in Singapore
on Oct 21, Bishop Dr Hwa Yung of The Methodist Church in Malaysia
drew attention to the tensions between leadership and servanthood
in the Christian context.
He said the need for the very best in leadership is increasingly
recognised everywhere, while many churchmen rightly speak of,
and emphasise the importance of leadership in the church..
However, the language used, the concepts with which it is worked
and the underlying motivations are often borrowed from secular
leadership studies. If the church follows this path uncritically,
Christians may be misguided, he cautioned..
The emphasis in Biblical teaching is first, and foremost, servanthood
and not "leadership". If this is not clearly taught
and internalised into Christian lives, any talk of leadership
will tend to encourage self-seeking ambition. .
He pointed out that Bishop Stephen Neill once said "that
ambition in any ordinary sense of the term is nearly always sinful
in ordinary men. I am certain that in the Christian it is always
sinful, and that it is most inexcusable of all in the ordained
minister". (Quoted in Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 1994,
"The one ambition that the Bible encourages us to seek after
is to be a servant, rather than striving to lead.".
Bishop Dr Hwa Yung, who was elected
the Malaysian Methodist Bishop about 10 weeks ago on Sept 22,
referred first to the Lord's reply to the ambitious brothers,
James and John, whose mother had asked for them to be seated in
places of honour: "
the Son of Man came not to be
served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many".
(Mk 10:45). .
This is further illustrated by the (Greek) vocabulary used in
the New Testament, particularly "leadership" in the
way the world uses it..
One of the words, archo (rule over), is clearly used negatively
to mean "lording it over others". In contrast, the two
pairs of words used to describe the ministry, diakoneo (waiting
at tables), diakonos (household servant used for "deacons");
and douleuo (serving) and doulos (slave) are used more than 40
times in the New Testament and sum up its teaching on Christian
ministry as servanthood..
Bishop Dr Hwa Yung drew lessons from Paul's sermon to the elders
at Ephesus (Acts 20:17-35) citing humility, which underlines the
importance of willingness to do lowly and needful tasks, rebutting
our natural instinct to seek that which enhances our public importance.
.Bishop Dr Hwa
beware of self-seeking leaders. Train godly people 'willing to
A person's life and priorities show how much he understands about
being a servant. Humility is also shown in appreciating the contributions
of others, he said.
Phil 2:3 tells us to regard others as "better than yourselves",
an important reminder against the unconscious desire to think
of our giftings and magnifying our sense of self-importance. Related
to this is the appreciation of the value of the ministry of others,
especially those with whom we have disagreements, and to know
the value of self-effacement - to be a Barnabas..
Related to humility is compassion (v.19), he said. It is easy
to have passion in ministry; it is much more difficult to have
compassion, which together with empathy, are always very precious
in Christian ministry. It is easy to scold, rebuke and criticise
the sinner, but how often have we wept for those who have not
A third characteristic is faithfulness (v.19b). Despite severe
testing by the enemies of the Gospel, Paul was determined to preach
the total demands of Gospel - "the whole will of God".
There is a danger of preaching a partial Gospel for the sake of
popularity or wanting to be a "nice guy"..
A fourth is the absence of self-seeking ambition (v.32-35). Although
Paul speaks of the absence of covetousness for money, the same
principle applies to other types of ambition, like sex or power,
and applies equally to pastors and lay leaders alike..
Finally, sacrifice. In obedience to the leading of the Spirit
(v.22-24), Paul speaks of the willingness to pay the cost, whatever
it is. It is unfortunate that this is not much understood in the
present day, especially among the younger generation who have
grown up with so much..
Bishop Dr Hwa Yung concluded by emphasising that the church needs
leaders, but is often cluttered with the wrong kind. Again quoting
Bishop Stephen Neill: "If we set out to produce a race of
leaders, what we shall succeed in doing is probably to produce
a race of restless, ambitious and discontented intellectuals.
tell a man he is called to be a leader is the best way of ensuring
his spiritual ruin, since in the Christian world, ambition is
more deadly than any other sin, and, if yielded to, makes a man
unprofitable in the ministry. The most important thing today is
the spiritual, rather than the intellectual quality of those indigenous
Christians who are called to bear responsibility in the younger
churches." (Quoted in Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 1994:148)..
"We should aim at training godly men and women who are
willing to be servants, and if God adds to such the gift
of leadership, then we can all rejoice together."