A man will seize one of his brothers in his father’s house, and say, “You have a cloak, you be our leader; take charge of this heap of ruins!” But in that day he will cry out, “I have no remedy. I have no food or clothing in my house; do not make me the leader of the people.” – Isaiah 3:6–7
When a nation experiences God’s judgment, no one wants to become leader. Formerly leadership in Israel had been a desirable role because leaders used their positions to enrich themselves (Is 1:23). But in the future when God’s judgment falls on these disobedient and ungodly people, Isaiah prophesies that no one will want the responsibility. The need for leadership will be urgent, for all those in leadership roles will be killed in battle or taken away in exile (Is 3:24-26). In these hard times, the bar set for leadership is very low. You have a cloak – you’re qualified! But the desire for leadership roles will also be very low, down to nil. There will be no benefits to leadership, only responsibilities. No one will have any solutions for the problems they were facing. Whatever resources they have will be needed to take care of their own personal needs.
I am reminded of “The King’s Speech”, an excellent movie I watched earlier this year. Set in the context of the Second World War in England, it clearly portrays George VI’s reluctance to assume the role of King of England after the abdication of his older brother.
Within mission organizations, I have also noticed a reluctance to be put into a field leadership role, whether as a team leader or a country leader. Often this reluctance is due to an unwillingness to surrender one’s personal ministry to become ensnared in the administrative tasks connected with a leadership role. A missionary feels called to a particular ministry among the people of the host culture (e.g., church planting, leadership development, empowering the poor), and one’s time and energy is totally absorbed in the task, leaving little enough time for family and personal health and development. As the missionary passes the 5-year mark on the field, he experiences an increasing freedom in the language and starts capitalizing on the trust that he has built with his national co-workers. The ministry has become both fruitful and personally fulfilling, although demanding and exhausting.
Then an invitation comes to assume a leadership role, often from international leadership in the home country. Although initially, the missionary may be pleased by this expression of confidence in his ability, the reasons to decline the invitation quickly overwhelm that initial sense of gratification. The cost in terms of time and energy of assuming a leadership role seem to far outweigh the benefits. In fact, what benefits are there? You don’t get an increase in salary. Particularly in our egalitarian mission organizations that insist on a democratic process in decision-making, leadership often does not feel empowered to make decisions. Rather leadership just means you are saddled with the responsibilities of negotiating acceptable compromises for a group of strong-willed, conviction-firm, Bible-believing individuals — individuals who have thus far successfully resisted any attempts to compromise their calling, or else they wouldn’t be on the mission field.
Coupled with the stories of dealing with overflowing e-mail inboxes, immature short-termers, culture-stressed language learners, and unending requests for financial help from national pastors, the prospective mission leader begins to look for a diplomatic way to say “no” to this “invitation”. How could I even think of surrendering even a portion of the time that I give to my ministry calling, and get involved in the messy, time-consuming and seemingly very unfulfilling role of leading a mission team? Even if I was able to reduce my time commitment to my personal ministry, where would I find the emotional energy and the wisdom to deal with this whole new range of problems generated by the amazing complexity of a multi-cultural team living in a cross-cultural context?
I wonder how often our leaders would echo the words of the prospective leader with the cloak in Isaiah 3:6-7. They feel that they also have no remedy or extra resources (time, money, energy) to provide support for other missionaries. But for missionaries to join the chorus of these reluctant leaders in Isaiah 3 is to entirely miss the profound differences between our situation and those of the man with the cloak.
It is true that in ourselves, we have no remedy to deal with the problems of our teammates on top of the challenges and demands and spiritual darkness in our own personal ministry. But we are not under judgment like the nation of Israel in Isaiah 3! Our invitation to lead does not come from a shivering group of refugees hiding in the ruins of a devastated city, but from men and women of God who have prayed and carefully considered both the character and skill requirements of a leadership role. Their voice of invitation will may well be the calling of the King of Kings, and our Lord, who is entirely capable of supplying all the resources we need for leading effectively.
Jesus said to His disciples, whom He appointed to leadership roles for His church:
I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. – John 15:15–16
We have the Holy Spirit and His resources! If we lack wisdom, we have the promise of James 1:5 that God will supply it in bountiful measure. We have the assurance that God never calls us to a task that He has not prepared us for in advance (Eph 2:10, 2 Tim 1:6-8).