Previous | Next

Fall 2001 · Vol. 30 No. 2 · pp. 153–61 

Vital Leadership for Andhra Pradesh

E. D. Solomon

Dynamic and vibrant leadership is the need of the hour in the Mennonite Brethren (MB) church of India. This vacuum of leadership displays itself in several ways. Many churches send their workers for training in places which produce managers rather than visionary leaders. Some church leaders are motivated by personal security rather than by the advancement of God’s kingdom. Others have not learned to emphasize people work more than paper work. In many cases, there is concern for winning people for Christ, but without the additional vision for training leaders of apostolic quality.

It is of course not enough to say, “Pray, and the Lord will send his harvesters.”

The prophet Jeremiah warns, “A curse on him who is lax in doing the Lord’s work!” (Jer. 48:10a NIV, passim). How can this vacuum of dynamic leadership be addressed? After a brief summary of the present situation of the MB church in India, this essay will describe some essential qualities of vibrant leaders. Only if the church is committed to the development of such godly nonconformists will it rise to the promise of its calling in Christ.

THE MB CHURCH IN INDIA

The Mennonite Brethren church has its roots in the Anabaptist movement of the sixteenth century A.D. Menno Simons (1496-1561), a contemporary of Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin, was a {154} dynamic leader of this movement. It is with his name that the Mennonite churches are identified today.

The North American Mennonite Brethren Mission began its work in Andhra Pradesh in the year 1899. Because of the work, today we have more than eight hundred congregations estimated at more than eighty thousand members. Since 1958, national leadership has run the church. Like any other church, we have both struggles and joys.

What does the twenty-first century hold in store for us? Someone has summarized the effects of the current century in three words: progress, pollution, and poverty. We would add corruption as the fourth and urbanization as the fifth. The jeans we wear, the soft drinks we drink, the hegemony of the transnational corporation, TV stars, and e-mail have profoundly affected our lives.

LEADERSHIP QUALITIES FOR THE INDIA MB CHURCH

In such a context, how can we produce effective leaders for the MB church of India? It is of course not enough to say, “Pray, and the Lord will send his harvesters.” We do well if we imitate Jesus who consciously sent seventy people on a mission (Luke 10:1-24; cf. John 4:35-38) and learn from the apostles when they urged the believers to “choose seven” from among them (Acts 6:3). They gave people power to play a definite role in producing leaders. We must be in the business not only of believing that leaders are born, but also that they can be found and trained.

If so, what essential qualities would ensure effective leaders? There are many qualities, but we will limit our discussion to three most important ones. First, a leader must be committed to the essentials of biblical faith: recognizing the authority of the Bible for our life and practice, acknowledging the centrality of Christ, and following the servant model of Jesus. Second, a leader must be committed to relationships with family and with the local church. In this section, we will also talk about commitment to doing missions and to upholding the national integrity.

COMMITMENT TO BIBLICAL FAITH

Against all the liberal trends to reduce the Bible to a textbook, we should uphold the authority of Scripture. Christian faith must base itself in the Bible.

The Authority of the Bible

Pluralist advocates, such as John Hick, Paul Knitter, and S. J. Samartha, have gone beyond biblical teaching by accepting the possibility of salvation in other religions and the equal status of revelation in other {155} religious scriptures. For them, exclusive or definitive claims of Evangelical Christianity are absurd. In the first place, against such a broad acceptance we remain faithful to the revealed Scriptures. The pluralist readings are not based on sound biblical teaching but are reactions to the professed superiority and the exploitive claims of colonial rulers. They do not seem to appreciate the uniqueness of God’s work in history.

Secondly, we do not recognize any other authority, including a church tradition such as the Pope, as having the final word on essentials of faith. We uphold the authority of the Scriptures. Thirdly, the church is not subservient to the state but to God and his written Word. Fourth, the Bible and its principles can answer the human quest today and lead people to the saving knowledge about Jesus Christ. Fifth, the Bible tells us that God created humans in his own image necessitating that we work for human dignity.

The Centrality of Christ

A Christian leader must acknowledge that Christ is the foundation of our faith. Moreover, we are called to proclaim the sinfulness of humankind and Christ’s vicarious death on the cross. Some people have become so mystical and philosophical that they miss the foundation in Jesus Christ. Paul says, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11).

Second, there is hope in Jesus Christ. Jesus is committed to human good. He is going to come. He is the one who defines our faithfulness. He is establishing his kingdom on the earth. We belong to him. He is the pioneer and the finisher of our faith. A leader must have a firm conviction that he or she should be a catalyst for spreading hope in a troubled world.

The late J. H. Jowett, an influential Congregational pastor in England, wrote that Christ brings daybreak in the shadow of human death. When I sit in the darkness, with death in the house, the light of art and of literature have no effective beams. However, when I turn to the Master, he shines upon me, and it is daybreak to the soul. There is no hope in the arms race or in scientific inventions, but there is a glorious hope in Christ Jesus (Col. 1:27). This is our mission.

Third, the leader must firmly believe that Christ truly reconciles us with God (2 Cor. 5:11-21; Col. 1:20), and that he incarnates into our difficult life situations to understand us and to lead us through. What this means to each one of us is that we are called to be ministers of reconciliation, both within society and within the churches.

Fourth, leaders ought to be committed to the purposes of the triune God as revealed in the Scriptures. All of our understanding about God, {156} the Scripture, the Holy Spirit, religion, the kingdom of God, and humanity, including the seen or unseen world, must be based on the worldview of Jesus Christ (Col. 1:16-20).

Finally, while the centrality of Christ is not negotiable, we must be open on negotiable matters like the mode of baptism, holy communion, clergy dress, and liturgical or nonliturgical worship order.

The Servant Model of Jesus

John C. Maxwell, a successful pastor, has said, “Leadership is influence.” Our Lord humbled himself to become incarnate and die on the cross (Phil. 2:6-11). He is our supreme model. Graham Houghton notes that Jesus calls us for service, self-denial, and sacrifice. Humans often misjudge greatness. Jowett writes,

The World measures greatness by money, or eloquence, or intellectual skill, or even by prowess on the field of battle. However, here is the Lord’s standard: “Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:4).

Perhaps sister Gladys Staines preached louder than many of us put together when she said, “I have forgiven the brutal killers of my husband and our two innocent sons.” This could only be said by one following the model of Jesus Christ. In addition, Mother Teresa could witness to India through her service to abandoned infants, the destitute, and the dying on the streets of Calcutta. There are scores of other unsung Christian workers who are doing exactly the same.

COMMITMENT TO RELATIONSHIPS

A true leader must be committed to relationships. He or she should not live as a sanyasi (monk) unrelated to their people. Many times we become so immersed in ministry that we abandon our responsibility to our God-given immediate family. It is also possible that we become international touring evangelists who have no accountability to our local church. On the other hand, one can be good in relations with his or her family and local church but foreign to the concerns of the unity and integrity of the country as a whole. Let us look into these concerns in brief.

The Immediate Family

We must guard our families from spiritual dryness and meaningless social activities. It is possible that we are attracted to the opposite sex in {157} places of work. It is only the consistent fear of the Lord that will save us from sin. Further, if our children do not get pastoral care from us, they will be influenced by the corrupt world. Many leaders have children who are agnostics, caught up in immoral behavior and leading unsuccessful adult lives. They prove to be more troublesome to others than the children of non-Christians. In all of our stresses, the family altar knits the family together.

Houghton compassionately reminds us to question ourselves: “How much time do we spend with our children when they are still young? Because it decides their success or failure in life.” Many times we find a leader’s personal prestige jeopardizing integrity with the family. Sometimes we must say “No” to offers which may fetch fame or wealth, just to be with the family.

Unfortunately, the Indian Christian tradition has left the Christian leader always in financial need. The denominational ethos understands very little about the need for an adequate support of the pastor. It needs the worker but is not willing to pay the price. This leads us to look at the necessity of a leader being committed to the local church.

The Local Church

A leader’s effectiveness is tested by a right relationship to the local community. Many a leader lives with a displaced identity. They cannot stand the test of their local church, so they switch on and off from one church to another. It is important for Mennonite Brethren leaders to know some of the strengths of the Anabaptist tradition. First, the MB church is a missionary church (Matt. 28:18-20). Mennonite Brethren Missions/Services International has missionary enterprises in about forty countries around the globe.

Second, about twenty to forty thousand Mennonites were martyred during the sixteenth century, by Roman Catholics and Protestants, for their distinct beliefs. Especially they were persecuted for their stand that the church and the state are separate entities and that we do not go to war. They believed themselves to be members of another world: the kingdom of God. “We are resident aliens” is the famous phrase used to describe this position. Thus, third, following Christ’s example we are pacifists. We do not go to kill people. Rather we will serve the wounded soldiers. This has made world powers think twice in waging wars of mass destruction.

Nation-Building

Often Christians are blamed for their “unpatriotic concerns.” We are said to be bent upon converting people by erasing our cultural harmony. {158} They say that we do this subtly compared to the Muslim bluntness. Such persons, said the late Devi Lal, chief minister of Haryana, must leave India. Are we really the betrayers of the nation? What do we mean by nation-building?

Gurajada Appa Rao, a revolutionary Telugu poet, wrote, “deshamante matti kadoi, deshamante manushuloi” (a nation does not mean dust of the earth but people of the nation). If a Christian worker strives to uplift the status of the people, is that unpatriotic?

Ebenezer Sunder Raj, one of the best Indian minds I have read, says, “Patriots are found across the community fences.” He quotes Devadasan who noted that it was the Christians of Travencore State who demanded the merger of their state in India, while the one person who resisted the merger and wished to continue with the British imperialism was Sir C. P. Ramaswamy Ayyar, a devout Hindu leader. The true patriot in this case is plain. Sunder Raj goes further to demonstrate that Christian workers are the ones who changed tribal headhunters to become sane human beings. The education they imparted to them enabled them to question those who violated human rights against them.

Christian workers like E. Stanley Jones and C. F. Andrews have influenced freedom fighters like M. K. Gandhi. Can this be unpatriotic? We must question, however, whether we are doing it today. Houghton, a leading missiologist of our time, dreams that India should be won for Christ when he says, “I want to see the cross hanging in the Lok Shaba Hall (Parliament).”

Perhaps we must confess that when the nation faces calamities like the super cyclone in Orissa in September 1999, and the severe drought situation in Rajasthan and Gujarath in the summer of 2000, we have done little. When our nuclear war capabilities were tested, called Pokhran II in May of 1998, how did we as Evangelicals respond to the sanctions of the United States against India? Christians, though not true of every person or institution, are easily blamed as spectators rather than seen as the builders of the nation. We would like to suggest that the following be done:

  1. Preach the gospel of Christ with authentic and credible witness. Pope John Paul II also shared this vision on his visit to India in November 1999.
  2. Reduce more tribal languages into writing through Bible translation, which will give people enlightenment.
  3. Create awareness among the masses regarding the evils of corruption, poverty, and the dangers of population explosion. {159}
  4. Do a better job of voicing environmental concerns, which are spread through the acts of global neocolonists. Our poor agricultural farmers must be supported against multinational corporations like Dupont which rob them of their groundwater by rigging giant bore wells. The deforestation, poisoning of rivers with effluents, and harm of sea life must be registered against all odds.
  5. Anthropologist Paul Hiebert urges us to use Indian architecture, music, and drama, as long as we find them to be Indian rather than Hindu. In addition, we can show public loyalty, for example, by singing the national anthem and celebrating Independence Day. He goes on to say that the church must stand with marginalized people.
  6. Finally, Mahabubnagar district in the state of Andhra Pradesh is always drought prone and people are dependent on rolling “Beedis,” the rural cigarettes, for their livelihood. The owners exploit them to the utmost. Any protest against the system would enhance closing of the factory leading to the starvation of their children. So, what should the church do? In our thinking, it should establish alternative factories where export-quality items like soaps, candles, gunny bags, and hand looms can be produced. Without this, the church is irrelevant to the human cries of the day. Another possibility would be influencing the government to complete the “Indira Priyadarshini Jurala project” and demanding irrigation water for this district. We need to produce political leaders of Christian integrity to work for the welfare of all people.

COMMITMENT TO CHANGE

A leader’s personal excellence must be seen in an openness for and championing of change. The future of any organization is dependent upon it.

Let us begin with a story. The only daughter of a pastor fell in love with a Hindu, a seeker in Christ. Knowing that there were incidences of love marriages in the family, the girl gathered strength to inform her parents about her interest in the boy. They rebuked her and asked that she change her mind. However, she did not.

Meanwhile, the young man’s parents approached the “Padri” for an alliance. The pastor refused outright, saying, “Either all of your family become Christians or else you may have no relations with us.” The girl felt rejected since there was no hope for an arranged marriage. Losing patience, one fine day the lovers ran away from their home to a cosmopolitan city and got registered for marriage.

Upon hearing this, the pastor broke down. His family did not know {160} how to handle such disrepute. Neither did the community of believers prove to be of great help in his season of discouragement. Therefore, the pastor soon left the parish which had come to know the Lord through his missionary zeal. He went to live in a nearby town and rarely visited his church. Only at his death was he reunited with the whole of the church.

What would avoid such a shattering of a pastor’s family? Perhaps some in-service training and a change in attitude. People needed to help him think about cost-benefit factors. The solution could be a Christian marriage to the boy without requiring the conversion of the whole family.

Then what are the benefits of change?

One of the powerful adages cherished by those at the South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies is this: “Without change there can be no breakthroughs; without breakthroughs there can be no future.” It requires a personal change, first, toward leadership of influence. It is better for the leadership to know that it takes a group of people to change the world. An anonymous writer has said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Stephen R. Covey, the management guru, calls this kind of teamwork “synergy” (Covey, 262-74). This kind of participation always brings mutual challenge. It is open for change. It is innovative, and it ensures efficient work with a minimum effort. Synergy has the idea that “the whole is greater than the several parts.” Covey cites analogies from nature, e.g., plants synergize through their roots. Also, a man and a woman synergize to give birth to a child. For Covey the greatest values this principle produces are fourfold. First, it makes a value difference. Second, it asks us to respect the differences amongst us. Third, it helps us to build on our strengths. And finally, it molds us to compensate for our weaknesses.

Some people resist change and are not convinced of the need for it. They may not have confidence in the leader. Therefore, one of the pastor’s roles is to prepare the congregations to bring about changes. The goal for leader and people is to become new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).

CONCLUSION

God’s kingdom urgently needs influential leaders, ones who trust the Bible, rely only on Christ, and serve as he does until society changes. This places high demands on leaders. As Christians, God also calls them to responsibility to family, church, and nation-building. Only in Christ {161} do we become new creations. And, leaders need strategically to select and train future leaders.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Cherian, George. “Globalization and Development,” National Council of Churches Review 68, no. 8 (1998): 587-604.
  • Covey, Stephen R. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Fireside, 1989.
  • Hick, John, and Paul F. Knitter, eds. The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Towards a Pluralistic Theology of Religion. New York: Orbis, 1987.
  • Hiebert, Paul. Interview by author, July 2000, SAIACS, Bangalore.
  • Houghton, Graham. Leadership for the Twenty-First Century. Bangalore: SAIACS, July 2000.
  • Houghton, Graham. Class notes, “Leadership for the Twenty-First Century.” Bangalore: SAIACS, July 2000.
  • Jellema, Dirk. “Menno Simons (1496-1561).” In The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, rev. ed., gen. ed. J. D. Douglas, 650. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1978.
  • Jowett, J. H. My Daily Meditations. Bangalore: SAIACS, 1990.
  • Raj, Sunder. The Confusion Called Conversion. New Delhi: TRACI, 1986.
  • Redekop, John. “Anabaptists—Basic Beliefs” (brochure). Trans. into Telegu by E. D. Solomon. Shamshabad: Suvarthamani, 1999.
  • Samartha, S. J. One Christ—Many Religions: Towards a Revised Christology. Bangalore: SATHRI, 1992.
The original version of this essay was written for Dr. Graham Houghton’s course, “Leadership for the Twenty-First Century,” at the South Asia Institute for Advanced Christian Studies (SAIACS), July 2000.
E. D. Solomon, a member of the Mennonite Brethren church in India, was a research student at the South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies, Bangalore, when he wrote this essay. He recently began doctoral studies in the United States.

Previous | Next