News headlines are dominated by the escalating Syrian and Egyptian crises. Leaders such as Morsi, Mubarak, and Assad attract strong loyalty or generate fierce opposition. Millions of ordinary people are affected by the decisions they make. From a human perspective, things look bleak.
But there is another story concerning leaders in the Middle East. This story will not make the headlines, but it has the potential of helping unleash a movement of the Gospel of peace and hope throughout this troubled region.
Earlier this year, a group of men and women who provide leadership within our Navigator movement in the Middle East met to learn, pray, and encourage one another. Each of these leaders faces daunting challenges as well as tremendous opportunities as they serve families, businesses, neighborhoods, and communities of believers.
During our meetings, we discussed the following question: What factors influence your understanding and convictions concerning leadership? This is a crucial question because the way leaders answer it will reveal their motivation and shape their choices and actions. Without realizing it, leaders who sincerely follow Christ can easily lose their freedom and become captive to cultural models of leadership. Leaders can also become slaves to personal fears and the desire for human approval.
This is not a new issue. Thousands of years ago, another Middle Eastern leader, Paul, faced intense criticism from believers in Corinth because of his failure to conform to their expectations of effective leadership. Their notions of leadership were rooted in Roman and Greco culture, which linked leadership to a hierarchy of status and rank. The culture valued eloquent speech far more than the actual content of what a leader said. Good leaders walled themselves off to prevent others from knowing them well. They did this because people believed weaknesses and limitations undermined a leader’s credibility. Pleasing people, especially patrons, drove the words and actions of many leaders. Comparison and competition were rampant.
It is into this world that the Apostle Paul writes: "What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task" (1 Corinthians 3:5). "So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God" (1 Corinthians 4:1). Later in his letter to the Philippians, Paul begins with the salutation: "Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus . . ." (Philippians 1:1).
Paul is using the language of attachment. Just as a child feels secure when attached to a parent, so Paul sees himself held securely, firmly, and compassionately in a relationship with Christ. This is the foundation of his identity. In Christ, he is free from the demands and expectations of the culture. As he leads and influences others, gaining the approval of people is not important. Instead, he knows that he must ultimately answer to Christ. When asked by two of his disciples about leadership in the Kingdom, Jesus replied, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all" (Mark 10:42-44).
Can you imagine what might happen all over the Middle East if leaders were shaped by this understanding of their identity and purpose?
During the recent leadership gathering in the Middle East, I was deeply encouraged by the way our Navigator leaders are being shaped by the Scriptures and the model of Jesus as they lead Gospel movements in a very troubled and difficult region. May God use these leaders to impact those they serve. May the next generation of Navigators also lead by imitating Jesus, not the culture. As a result, may God’s glory be revealed among the lost.
Mike Shamy was born in New Zealand. Mike and his wife, Audrey, joined Navigator staff in 1980. From 1989-96 Mike led and coached ministries in New Zealand. In 1999 he led the U.S. Metro Mission. In 2004, Mike joined the International Executive Team and provides support for Latin America. Mike is also a resource for developing the future international leadership community of The Navigators.