“If by leader we mean one who holds a position of authority and responsibility, then every Christian is not a leader. Some are—some are not. But if by leader we mean a person who enters into a relationship with another person to influence their behavior, values or attitudes, then I would suggest that all Christians should be leaders. Or perhaps more accurately, all Christians should exercise leadership, attempting to make a difference in the lives of those around them” – Walter Wright
KONY2012 – A TEST CASE FOR LEADING MISSION
I watched the Kony2012 video with my wife the other night. We found it moving and exciting, but, like so many initiatives (both non-Christian and Christian) that it so sadly misses the point; the root of the problem.
(If you know nothing about it, Joseph Kony is the world’s most wanted war criminal, responsible for 26 years of brutal violence in Sudan and Uganda, including the abduction of over 30,000 children and 66,000 youth, used to build up his vicious “Lord’s Resistance Army.” If you want to watch the video sweeping the internet, with 75 million hits its first week; or at least gather its message in its opening 5-6 minutes, just click “play.”
I enjoy when people stir up the pot on a large scale. It shows what God made us capable of when we are willing to break free from the malaise of entertainment and comfort addiction. However, in our efforts of addressing justice and poverty alleviation issues, it is important for us to be equally motivated and well informed of the many layers beneath the surface layer. This particular video dwells right on the surface layer. And that is surely by design, because in order for an emotional appeal to touch the largest number of people, its message must be singular and clear. When everything makes sense, people get motivated. But, of course, it’s never that easy. Kony2012 serves as a great test case for those wanting to do truly healing work (which should be all of us). To do this, we must do the necessary work of examining and addressing the layers beneath the surface. Let’s start digging…
SUB LAYER ONE – EXAMINING THE DETAILS OF THE CAUSE AND POTENTIAL PARTNERS
Invisible Children, the group behind the Kony2012 video, is not without its detractors, and for valid reasons. One such example is this blog devoted to critiquing Invisible Children. Here is another, and here yet another. And in fairness to Invisible Children, here is their thorough and open response to many of the criticisms. (In fact, shortly before I published this post, I discovered a fascinating criticism from secularists who suspect this entire mission may be a “covert Christian mission.” (Gasp! That would be horrible if Christians were behind it!) If that is true, that excites me. While I have mixed feelings about Christians ever being “covert” about their faith, there certainly is a place for it, such as smuggling Bibles into China, and the like.)
Even a quick overview of these articles teaches us two lessons about examining and addressing the layers beneath the surface of any mission.
- Empower yourself and the impact of your work by knowing the full array of actual details about the problems, the cause, and the proposed solutions.
- Be very discerning in who you partner with, knowing if their values, strategies and desired outcomes align with yours.
SUB LAYER TWO – LEARNING HOW TRUE POVERTY AND INJUSTICE ALLEVIATION REALLY WORKS
Removing one leader, even the world’s worst war criminal, is not a bad place to start (i.e. Hitler). I want swift justice very badly for Kony, too. This cause is appealing enough to move masses of people. That’s a good thing. But it isn’t enough! Outside of “getting” Kony lies the real work– the type of work that, sadly, disinterests a majority of the masses (such as this, for example). Since Christians are in mission for the long haul, let’s be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves, as our Lord instructed (Matt.10:16).
All too often the world’s efforts (including those of churches and Christian agencies) in causes like fixing evil governments, feeding the poor, rebuilding cultures and even taking mission trips are proven to do more harm than good. More harm than good?? The thought of our best efforts doing more harm than good should alarm us enough to earnestly examine this sub layer.
To do this, I recommend picking up two excellent books that have addressed this vital subject in the last few years: Corbett and Fikkert’s, When Helping Hurts (which everyone serious about following Jesus should read), and Bob Lupton’s Toxic Charity, a hard-hitting and very practical addition to this discussion (recommended for everyone leading any kind of relief work).
Space here doesn’t allow a full examination of each book, but even an overly-simplified description of each will sufficiently make the point.
First, Toxic Charity argues that continuous one-way giving creates toxic relationships where one has the resources and one has the need, and perpetuating this situation only feeds the pride of the one and eats away the dignity of the other. Numerous practical methods exist to eradicate those problems, if we would just do the work to implement them; which sadly, most agencies do not. This is immensely important. Do we want to continue giving just enough to make us feel good about ourselves and cause minimal discomfort to ourselves? Do we want to continue giving strategies that merely perpetuate entitlement, dependency and loss of dignity, when the wisdom is out there to reduce this with a bit more effort? Or, do we want to be Christlike with our action?
When Helping Hurts, describes poverty and injustices in terms of broken relationships on multiple levels: personal, economic, political, social and man-made religious systems. Helping rather than hurting requires proper diagnosis of both the cause and solution of the problem. If the cause of the problem is a lack of knowledge, then we must educate; if oppression by powerful people, then we must work for social justice; if personal sins of the oppressed, then we must evangelize and disciple the oppressed; if a lack of material resources, we must give material resources. If a mix of the above problems, the appropriate mix of solutions must be given. Money or justice alone are almost never the appropriate solution, and even harmful in many (most?) cases. Rather, bringing shalom – peace, dignity, empowerment, salvation – in a manner suitable to the given particular problem is the helping that actually helps.
Jesus is the Reconciler of those broken relationships; He is building His Kingdom, through us, His church, and our mission is to join Him (2 Cor. 5:18-20). In light of this biblical truth, the authors of When Helping Hurts define poverty alleviation as, “The ministry of reconciliation: moving people closer to glorifying God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation…The goal is to restore people to a full expression of humanness, to being what God created us all to be, people who glorify God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others and with the rest of creation.” This restoration can be brought about through an unlimited number of means, but only fully with one ultimate end in mind, the expansion of God’s Kingdom through the life-saving and transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Maybe on occasion God will lay it on your heart to simply give generously, without discretion or restriction. But, if Jesus is our all-encompassing treasure and His mission is our life’s mission, then we cannot remain that casually detached as givers. Serving and loving people like Jesus must aim to fill them fully with shalom, with dignity and reconciliation with God through Jesus. And, that brings us to the final and most important sub layer.
SUB LAYER THREE – ADDRESSING THE REAL ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
Christians, we must must must realize that pouring our energies into causes like feeding the poor, helping children, fixing evil governments, and rebuilding cultures fall short if those are the end goals rather than the means by which we bring the end result of reconciliation with God, eternal healing, peace and liberty from sin through Jesus.
Though it may include removing an evil man from power, Jesus has given us a much greater mission than this. Our mission is to make disciples of all nations; setting every captive in every nation, wherever we have influence, from neighbor to foreign land, free to glorify God and grow in the experience of the incalculable blessings of His grace.
Christians, we have a cause so exponentially and vastly greater than Kony2012: to bring reconciliation to God through JESUS to Africans; to our neighbors; to the world!
But here’s the really cool part. Bringing a Joseph Kony to justice could very well be one way God uses you for His mission to bring His reconciliation through Christ to the world. You could be on Jesus’ mission through being directly involved with this cause; including praying for the war-torn country and families of Uganda, and for the arrest of war criminals.
Understand, though, that the plan God has already established, to use us in the mission fields of our home and community, is no lesser cause. He has already called us to critical actions like visibly honoring Christ in our workplaces, discipling our children, serving our neighbors, supporting foreign missionaries, visiting widows and orphans, providing meals for people in need, being a youth leader, a food bank worker, or leading a small group.
Planet Earth has known millions of great Christian leaders, past and present, who gave and give their lives to this eternal cause. By design, God has called the vast majority of His followers to do it in less visible ways than producing a video that gets 75 million views in its first week. But, there is also a place for the BIG, highly visible movements led by Christians.
One incredible example is Rick Warren’s PEACE Plan (“Plant churches; Equip leaders; Assist the poor; Care for the sick; and Educate the next generation”), by which he is seeking the mobilization of a force that will eradicate the world’s largest enemies – spiritual emptiness, corrupt leadership, disease, poverty and illiteracy. If you want to watch a moving Christian video (and a much shorter one), please watch this video by clicking “play” on the video titled “It’s Time” at www.thepeaceplan.com.
Many other good examples of highly visible movements abound, in Christian leaders who are on mission to affect culture for Christ, Christian movies (which are actually improving in quality), good Christian best-selling books that proclaim Jesus and motivate His followers, and even the rise and opportunity of social media.
The Rise and Opportunity of Social Media
Many of us can proclaim Christ to a larger audience through Social Media than we ever could before. The Kony2012 video begins with an insightful depiction of the power of social media. There is a place and a need for “social media missionaries.” Like the Apostle Paul, who used all the technology of his day to its fullest to bring Christ to the nations, this generation should employ our best modern technology for that same purpose. From producing excellent films like Kony2012 to diligently posting good content, we can proclaim our love for our Savior. Posting links, pictures, sermons, Scripture quotes, and not being ashamed to display something Christ-honoring under your “religious views” – there are a million ways to exalt Jesus and edify each other through this wildly influential modern technology.
Global Injustice God has Placed before LCCC
For those of us at LCCC whose hearts are tugged in this serious direction of global injustice, let me direct you to matters that God has already placed before us. Many of the missionaries we support are on the front lines facing these injustices. Our role as their sending church is to face it with them by supporting them and keeping them spiritually uplifted and accountable. Pray about this, and then learn how you might get involved with one or more of them!
I have written about the prevailing injustices in Niger, a country in which the Holy Spirit has directly led our church for the mission of reaching the Tam*jaq people. Did you know that the Nigerien government has allowed French and Chinese exploitation of the Nigerien people and land for hoarding valuable plutonium and oil? The people of Niger receive almost nothing in return. If you want to know more about this, download and read chapter 10 of my unpublished book Missions for the Church in the 21st Century. LCCC family, this is one cause that should be close to our hearts in prayer. And if someone wants to take it further, do let us know, and may the Holy Spirit’s power and boldness be upon you!
Leading Small Groups Into Jesus’ Mission
Admittedly, I detoured somewhat from the original direction of this blog series on leadership :). But, I felt strongly led to this, and I am pleased with the opportunity this diversion presents to demonstrate that in Kingdom work, leadership is not confined to a select few with a title, but to those at every level and through every means imaginable, as long as the end of their influence is to bring glory to God and redemption to mankind through Jesus.
However, to be true to my primary audience (those wanting to enhance their small group experience) I will present in the next post of this series the most comprehensive, insightful and inspiring collection of ideas and means for small groups to accomplish Jesus’ mission that I have ever produced. I think it will be an indispensable tool as our groups continue to mature in the area of being on Jesus’ mission together.
So, watch for that. In the meantime, care to share with everyone your comments, ideas or questions about this post? Such public dialog is, after all, a good use of our modern technology.
Blessings on your Homes,