Talk on Servant Leadership at the 22nd National Bible Workshop

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By Mr. Mike Perreau, Director General of the United Bible Societies

February 7, 2018 – 22nd National Bible Workshop

Here’s what’s taking place globally and what might be taking place both in research as well as context of the books on leadership that we might come across. I think it provides for us something of the conditions in which we as leaders have to navigate. 

 

Here are some thoughts to give you context.

 

1. The conditions in which we are operating. We operate in the future taking place right now, that is, the future is here with us and amongst us. If I were to describe something of the future then let me use this acronym to summarize it to you: F-ast, U-rban, T-echnological, U-niversal, R-adical, E-nvironmental.

 

And I end with a plural, S. for S-piritually hungry.

 

Of the many young people that populate our world, in the Philippines, and many other developing nations there is a significant percentage of them under age 25 that are spiritually hungry. This is the world in which we operate. When we think of the missiological opportunities and challenge, they can be summarized in three phases: Urban, unreached, and underrepresented people.

 

And those kinds of people exist in your nation, too. If you think in terms of the urban, today in 2018, they are some 10 cities which have more than 10 million people. But in the next 12 years, by the year 2030 that will reach from 10 cities to 30 cities. And in the next 10 years beyond that, it will increase from an average of 10 million people to an average of 40 million people. Urban migration has tipped more so now. We have more people living in the urban settings than ever before than in rural setting.

 

So the question we have to ask ourselves, are we urban ready? Look around you. When I walked here in Cebu City, everywhere I saw buildings, everywhere I saw cranes. It’s just a matter of time. The Manila traffic reminds me of the city that is growing ever so fast.

 

The question for us is, “Are we urban ready?” And what tools has God given us in order to reach that particular community of urban people? The Bible from Genesis onwards refers to places—urban ‘big’ places, of flourishing gardens. Yet often our urban places are broken places of loneliness. Do you agree?

 

So we need to be the people that bring to those particular urban places something of the green garden that God designed—where flourishing, and nursing, and nurturing to take place. The poor people do not make cities poor. The poor people go to the cities in order to find hope, and to find employment. That’s what makes those cities so vibrant and also so challenging.

 

We also live missiologically. We have 16,000 people groups globally. Yet with all the technology and digital tools at our disposal we still have some 6,000 people groups who have never encountered a believer, who have never encountered someone who reads the Bible, and who does not know what it is about. Would you believe that of those 6,000 people groups, 5,000 are from Asia. So, we have a task to do. It’s not about finished, is it? 

 

The third issue of our missiological challenge is the underrepresented people of the world. I showed earlier a short video clip, depicting one of the underrepresented peoples of the world, the deaf. 

 

Do you know that there are some 70 million deaf people around the world speaking 400 sign languages, but not even one sign language translation has been completed for a full Bible? We are about to do that—we are about to work and finish the first translation of a sign language. Then we can then start to use that to help the other sign languages.

 

When the Book of Revelation talks of every tribe and every nation and every language, doesn’t God mean also those with sign languages? Yes. 

 

When you go back in your communities you will find them. I looked up the population of the deaf in the Philippines, it’s quite high in terms of global average. So these are just examples of the underrepresented peoples and there are many more. Women, for instance, are underrepresented groups in some countries. So these are missiological challenges and the opportunities of our time. 

 

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2. In terms of observation. We are now here now here in an environment of what we call the Bible landscape is before us. Dr. Nora Lucero mentioned to you the four components that make up the Bible landscape. (1) There are parts of the world where the availability of the Bible is a challenge. In those places, our response must be about making the Bible available to translations that might need to be done. (2) There are parts of the world where the affordability of the Bible is a challenge. In those places, we have to mobilize our resources to make available, Bibles that are affordable for people like the MTBO Bible. (3) There are parts of the world where the accessibility of the Bible is a challenge. We have to use all of God’s creative thoughts and skills to reach those out. Places such as where it’s treason to own a Bible. There are still places where the Bible is banned. I met someone who was 95 years old and her husband was jailed for 17 years for just owning his Bible. She lives in the Yuna Mountains. (4) And there are places in the world where the credibility of the Bible is a challenge, and in those places like countries with more developed economies we have to be confident and competent in speaking from the Bible.

 

So in your nation, you are likely to find places where the credibility of the Bible, or the accessibility or the affordability or the availability of the Bible is a challenge. It’s not simply about one that fits all. So what is that for you in the communities you serve?

 

Part 2: What defines good leadership?

 

Another observation besides those particular challenges that we see is, as leaders we have to navigate through our times the work that has been done on leadership. Significant writing has been done. It’s one of the most well-written of issues, and whether we read books from the secular context or from the sacred context there are some commonalities. There are many to read. Where do we even draw from? Which do we think will suit us?

 

I have observed that in all those books, they have wisdom to offer but they also have their own limitations. Firstly, I’ve observed that all of these books perpetuate themselves through trends. Or fads, if you like.

 

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If you were to ask anyone at this moment in different places where they may be leaders, it seems as though everybody is reading [Patrick] Lencione’s book. He talks of leadership and ”dysfunctionship”, what he calls disorder in communities and organizations. So trends and fads do come and go. They have their purpose for the moment and then they move on. 

 

My second observation is that they do have a tendency to be ‘interculturally weak’. And what I mean is that we live in a world order which can best be summarized as communities where shame and honor prevail, or right and wrong prevail, or how power and influence prevail. You live in those types of communities and some of those all three might be perpetuating in your communities. But I see that a significant number of those books and research have at least gravitated more towards power and influence, and less about shame and honor.

 

My third observation is that many of these books tend to center on the word “I” as opposed to the word “we”. It tends to be individualistic. But I don’t want you just give you my critique of it. I’d like to offer to you that these books have some merit and they are useful. If I were to summarize those particular books in simple terms then this would be the summary that I will offer to you.

 

To put it simply, in simple terms, it seems like the leaders that make the difference are positive, are personable, are pragmatic, and politically astute.

 

Part 3: Good leadership centered on God

 

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Now I want to share with you four areas that we remind ourselves. And as we remind ourselves, we also take it into application. And these are the Book, the Word of the Book, the Person of the Book, and the Pattern of the Book.

 

First is the Book, the centrality of our Book. The Bible is full of human stories and when I’m asked to share the human experience, it’s impossible to avoid the human stories, human relations that are embodied in these stories. The story of a perfect God working within a group of imperfect people, ordinary and sometimes disobedient people. It’s a group of people who needs God’s love. And it’s a story of God’s love for redemption and transformation.

 

We all know that but what does that mean? It means that relationships are messy. It means it’s important and is worthy enough to persevere with those relationships. So as leaders, persevere with the relationships you have. You cannot as leaders simply think that it will flourish on its own. It’s a messy business. So work at it. But it also means that God’s way is different from our way—our role may not be about the badges we have, the job titles we have, the organizations we have, or the seniority we have.

 

Secondly, the Word. The Holy Scriptures, God’s Word, is alive and is living in us and through us. And one of the most critical things is that His Word is there to break the silence—to break situations where there’s no hope. From Genesis to the Book of John, we see that. What were the first words that were spoken? “In the beginning…” And what were the subsequent words that were spoken? “God said…” It wasn’t God did. It wasn’t God asked a group of people. It was “God said, let there be light. God said, let there be water.” So “God said” is not our said. What God said is alive and powerful.

 

And then we see from the book of Genesis as we travel through Christmas, we saw again right in the middle of our celebration, “In the beginning, the Word was made flesh.” From Genesis to John, from Malachi to the New Testament, 400 years of silence – that means your great grandmother, your grandmother, your mother, yourself, your children, and then maybe your great grandchildren. 400 years of silence. If you had to have 400 years of silence in your nation, what would that feel like? Unimaginable for me because it feels as though no hope was left. If God’s Word was not available, if we couldn’t hear Him, He was silent. And right in the middle of that hopelessness, He breaks through the silence with His light. That’s the power of God’s Word, isn’t it? That’s the power of the Word that we have the privilege of being advocates for.

 

What does it mean for us? It means that when trust God’s promise, we should also trust God’s power to do things more than we have imagined and confound us. We must be leaders who trust His promises and His power.

 

We must be people who speak from the Bible and not just about the Bible. And we must embrace a set of intentional spiritual disciplines that really embody us as leaders. What are your spiritual disciplines? What is your intention in your own journey?

 

My wife Deborah has introduced me to two wonderful apps that I find worthy because I’m someone who travels a lot alone. God speaks to us through His Word. God speaks to us through others. And God speaks to us through the circumstances we find ourselves in. So as leaders we must cultivate a spiritual discipline that is intentional.

 

The other important issue for us is the Person of Jesus. And here is how I can best summarize to you as leaders: Jesus calls us to come, to follow, to wait, and to go. His leadership is four-fold. What do we have in common as leaders tend to do? We come and go. We came right here and we’re going to go soon. How often are we following and waiting? Because of our busyness, we tend to short-circuit the four-fold rhythm. So we need to have the discipline of that. Grace and grit must go hand in hand. Grace without grit, what would it have made Paul? Grit without grace, what would it have made Paul? We need grace and grit. So we are being called through Jesus, to draw near His throne, to know Him and not just about Him, and to reflect something of Him every day of our lives.

 

It doesn’t matter how short. It might be when you are in the supermarket paying the cart. It might be when you are walking to the bus and you see someone. It might be at the water or coffee machine. It might be so innocuous, such a short moment but it is important we reflect something of Jesus. That’s what servanthood and leadership means.

 

So what does it mean for us, the Person of Jesus? It means everything! We are to be relevant to the society and relevant to the communities we serve but we do not compromise on our root, our Rock. We must be relevant but we stay rooted to the Word. It means we are at the very fundamental heart of servant leadership, hope givers and change makers. That’s critical. If there’s only one message that you need to take away, that is your main purpose is to be givers of hope and makers of change in your community.

 

And what about the Pattern of God’s Way? God is a God of order and if He is, then He creates a certain pattern. Here’s a summary of how I see that pattern transcending itself: He gives us vision. And after He gives us vision, He gives us experience of depth of that vision, then that leads to certain seasons in which we have to face desert times. And then after that desert time, we find ourselves separated from the very vision God has called us to. We lose our heart. We get isolated. We get uncomfortable. And then we are reintegrated into the very vision He has called us to.

 

Have you ever been disappointed? Have you ever been discouraged? Have you ever fought isolated and misunderstood? Welcome. You are now leaders. That’s how God makes us. That’s what He does. So these are the patterns in which God does. “Moses, lead my people.” “Joshua, possess the land.” “David, unite the kingdoms.” “Solomon, build a temple.” Then Abraham was too old, 100 years. Moses was in exile. Joseph was in prison. So each of them experienced desert. But what are they purposefully for, when people like us suffer? It means that there are seasons for growing and seasons for resting. It means that we need to know when it’s time for us to face the battle.

 

You know one of the things I find about leaders? Once they like the leadership, they don’t know how to let go. The power gets to them. It’s as important for the leader to know, I have done my time. Now, pass it on. I may never get to see the Promised Land. But I have created the impression of that for the prospect that that next person might see the Promised Land. That’s legacy building. That’s what leadership is about. We start things we may never see. Are we prepared for that? We go through the dessert time to shape us, prepare us, and yet the vision that God has put in our hearts, we may never see. But we must have that trust that God will make it materialize.

 

We all know that but what does that mean? It means that relationships are messy. It means it’s important and is worthy enough to persevere with those relationships. So as leaders, persevere with the relationships you have. You cannot as leaders simply think that it will flourish on its own. It’s a messy business. So work at it. But it also means that God’s way is different from our way—our role may not be about the badges we have, the job titles we have, the organizations we have, or the seniority we have.

 

When that servant girl, called Mary Jones, who walked 25 miles barefoot just to hear the Bible being read 240 years ago, she would never have thought that now we are working in 244 countries, distributing 34 million Bibles, translating hundreds. But she had hope. She was only a servant girl. So what does it mean? It means that in that moment, in that pattern of leadership, God is looking for people with three ingredients: sacrifice, generosity and faithfulness. And if you are a leader and you cannot connect with sacrifice, generosity of heart, and faithfulness, then you are still going to be pushed through the desert and the discomfort and the isolation because God is not finished with you and I. We need to go through shaping and preparation.

 

There are seasons to start something, there are seasons to consolidate on something, there are seasons to grow something, and there are seasons to finish something. No one can perform, perform, perform in a world that is demanding performance all the time.

 

I know an old lady named Mary. When her ancestry has come to faith from a Muslim background, they were ostracized and separated. But she had hope and the vision that one day she will be in a position to read the Bible. But there were two problems. Firstly, there wasn’t a Bible in her language. And secondly, she couldn’t read because she was illiterate. But she had hope and kept that alive. She sold cakes in the corner of the street hoping one day she might be able to read and write. But if she couldn’t, she would at least make sure that her children could read and write. She got married, and then she managed to fulfill one part of her visions, and that part is that her six children managed to go to primary school and junior high school. They were able to read and write. But Mary died, never having learned to read and write, and never managed to read the Bible.

 

Her daughter Edna had the same hope and vision. But she was able to fulfill one thing. She was able to read and write. She also hoped that children could go to university and reach that extra mile. Edna died having been able to read and write but yet there was no Bible in her language.

 

Edna’s eldest son managed to get up to the entrance of the university. When that day came, they were refused university education because of their race—because they had changed faith and they were on a different minority group. He refused to take his family’s savings and supported himself through school. He went to work as a waiter, wiping the tables. But because he was a minority, he didn’t get paid, except he had a meal and only the tips. And then the travesty came.

 

One day, he found himself in the middle of riots and face to face seeing some of his community after them. Finally he decided he leave, and with all his savings he travelled through countries he never been to and explored before. He found a new home in a different country, and there he found the generosity of strangers. He met a stranger who befriended him and who taught him how to speak better English, and who showed him that sanitation is not a hole in the ground but is a seat. Simple things like that. But he never left that hope held by his grandmother and mother to be able to have a Bible that he could read one day.

 

Why am I telling you this story? Because you and I have those stories. Those stories of servanthood and leadership are not the qualifications that God has based us. Mary was my grandmother. Edna was my mother. I am that eldest boy. Deborah was the person who helped me. And that is the person of 40 years we celebrate our wedding anniversary this year.

 

Part 4: Concluding points

 

So let me conclude with just these thoughts to leave you with in terms of the human experience of our leadership. First, leadership is more learned than taught. You can read all the books. You can go to all the universities in the world. But leadership is more learned than taught. The question you and I need to ask ourselves is, are we teachable, teachable by the Master? It’s life-long. We don’t become leaders and stay like that because who we become is what really matters to God. God is more interested in our character than our accomplishments. Remember that.

 

Secondly, leadership is inside out. It’s not outside in. It’s not tools and techniques. It’s inside. What’s taking place inside of us. And you know what? Failure and vulnerability are defining moments. Failure is not final. Don’t give up. Failure is a place where we don’t get abandoned by God, where He can come into the dessert times of lives and be tender with us and teach us. Like Jeremiah in the watching tree to show us when the season is coming. And we are all trophies of grace. We are all walking around with wounded hearts. But what God wants us to walk around with is with healing hearts. That’s what being a leader inside out means.

 

Friends, abundant living is not the absence of adversity. It’s victory over time. So embrace those famines. Embrace those defining moments. Yes, it’s okay to be vulnerable. God can do a great work. But beware of the demons – the demons of doubt, the demons of delay, the demons of discouragement, the demons of distraction. Those demons are prevailing but stay true.

 

Thirdly, servant leadership is about community, not about self. Whether that community may be an organization, our church, our dioceses, our businesses–they are an expression of God. Communities needed to be embedded in sacrifice, in generosity, in faithfulness. We are to be change makers and hope givers in that community–legacy builders, investing in our temporal, our material, our invisible account for the eternal, not for our gain. Fill God’s people with His Spirit; more than fill your churches with people. Better a handful of God-filled, Holy Spirit-ed people than a roomful of unspirited people can do and change the world.

 

Fourthly and finally, leadership is four-fold. We are called to come, to follow, to wait and go but that means is that we are called to be leaders, managers, and pastors but all of these underscored by our relationship to our God. All of them. I’d like to suggest to you this thought in the communities or organizations you serve or in yourself: there are four areas of capital—like the metaphor of four wheels to a car. We have our intellectual capital and we have our physical capital. Our intellectual capital gives us the capacity for thinking and planning. And our physical capital gives us the hardware—maybe the property or the energy and the time. But those two things only lead to what we do, like the fruits on a tree. But we are also made up as an organism of relational capital and spiritual capital. Our relational capital is the interactions we have, within and also the community. And our spiritual capital is rooted in our faith – they are the values that permeate through us. And those relationships and those spiritual capitals are who we become.

 

We need all the four capitals. You know what happens in people’s lives and organizations? We overuse two and we underuse some. So the question I want to ask you is when God has given you those four assets of capital, are you making use of it? Or are you so focused on your intellectual capital, on your physical capital and not your relational and spiritual capital? We need all four. A car driven on two wheels is going to topple over or go way out without the other two wheels. We need all four in the journey of leadership we are in.

 

I want to close by offering these words from the Bible and maybe use this, if you will allow me, perhaps as a pause moment as we close and put ourselves into a place of reflection. These are words from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians:

 

Father, You remind us that our very lives are to be a letter that anyone can read by just looking at us. Father, You remind us that Your Son Jesus Himself wrote not with ink but with Your own living Spirit, not chiseled into stones but carved into human hearts. And Father, You taught us that we are to display that love, we are called to the living Word in our community. So help us, Lord. Help us with your promise, your power, and your provision, to fulfill the mandate that you have placed in each of our hearts through Your Son. In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Maraming salamat po.

 

 

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I think this is very helpful to every readers. The word of the Lord are the food of our soul which we always need every minute of our life. I dont often read the Bible but everytime i open it, God was always like in front of me and speaking as what is something i'm just needing to hear. He speaks to me and i can feel it. A million thanks to You my Lord.

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