On Christian Leadership
by Rev. Charmaine Braatvedt
14th July 2013
Acts 27:13-44 The Storm and the Shipwreck
This past week or so has been a dreadful week for crashes and natural disasters. The one that stands out for me is the plane that crashed on the San Francisco runway. Perhaps this is because not two weeks ago Geoff and I landed and took off from San Francisco airport as we made our way home after our two month sabbatical. As I read about this terrible accident I am struck by the heroic behaviour of those who came to the rescue of the passengers and crew.
As is often the case the discipline and training of the rescue services makes all the difference in the outcome of the rescue attempts. Read:
(CBS News) Many of the survivors aboard Asiana Flight 214 crash owe their lives to the swift and heroic actions of emergency personnel who were on the scene within minutes.
This was the scene that met the more than 100 first responders who rushed to Saturday’s crash site: burning wreckage with passengers trapped inside, and very little time to help them.
Lt. Crissy Emmons, of the San Francisco Fire Department, said: “When the situation goes bad, it goes bad really fast. Entering the plane we had seen the amount of fuel that was dumping out of that wing, I knew that we had to get those passengers off the plane.”
Lt. Dave Monteverdi, also of the San Francisco Fire Department, added: “My first reaction was, like, it wasn’t real. And when you get to the scene, it kind of like clicks, and you just start, your training takes over.”
Among the heroes that morning, an Asiana flight attendant, Lee Yoon-hye, who literally carried passengers to safety on her back. Many passengers climbed out of the plane unaided. But some were unable to escape on their own.
When Lt. Emmons walked to the back of the plane to see who was there, she said she “saw multiple patients in different states. Some looked like they may be semi-conscious, one gentleman was groaning, one person looked trapped to me.”
Monteverdi, who ran up an escape chute to get into the cabin, remembers one passenger in particular.
“He was just moaning and moaning,” he said. “We were hoping to get a back board and clear him out. And that’s when you could see the dark smoke was coming toward us. And we pretty much just had to grab him and go.”
Looking back over this report the words that I find encouraging for the victims of the crash are words like “swift and heroic actions”, “responders rushed to help them”, and the words of David Monteverdi “in such a crisis your training takes over”.
Today being Sea Sunday the readings are about the sea and the dangers of the sea.
The Epistle reading in particular tells of a shipwreck that almost led to the death of 276 people!
Using this story of Paul’s shipwreck set for today, I want to explore
- Christian leadership,
- the relationship between Christian leadership and faith
- and the way Christian leadership functions in a crisis.
I’d like to say from the outset that Christian leadership is something that all Christians are called to exercise in their spheres of influence, no matter who they are. Whether you are a mother or a father, a school child or cleaner, a doctor or a hairdresser we are all commissioned by Jesus to lead by example, to live our lives in such a way that our behaviour and disposition points others in the direction of Jesus.
Our Church mission statement says it nicely:
We endeavour to be a faith community that attracts all people into a relationship with God and inspires them to serve. This is the call to Christian leadership.
In today’s story we see Paul a prisoner. By worldly standards he is not well positioned for leadership. Yet in spite of his worldly circumstances, he in a sense becomes the captain in the story.
Let’s take a look at Paul’s leadership.
- Paul is courageous. He displays confidence in what he knows. He knew the seas and the seasons. In Acts 27: 10 we read Paul warned them “Men I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo and to our own lives also.” “This is not a good time to sail. Let’s delay our departure!” How confident of Paul, a prisoner, to speak up and contradict the captain and the centurion!
Such confidence has to be grounded in sound knowledge. What a shame that neither the captain nor the centurion Julius was prepared to listen to him. Nonetheless, Paul has modelled for us the first principle of leadership, do not be afraid to speak up when you need to, if you know what you are talking about, be courageous and say what needs to be said.
- Paul is encouraging. Even in the midst of a crisis. He remains positive and supportive. In verse 22 we read: “Now I urge you to keep up your courage because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed.” He is able to be encouraging and positive in such dire circumstances because his encouragement is founded in his faith in God. And Paul is happy to share that faith especially in a time of crisis. He says in verse 25 “Keep your courage men for I have faith in God.”
- Paul is wise and he is prepared to make the hard calls. Verse 27:31 he tells the centurion quite plainly: “Unless these men stay with the ship you cannot be saved.” Astonishingly the soldiers recognise the authority in Paul’s voice and obey him by cutting the ropes that held the lifeboat and letting it drift away.
- Paul is nurturing. He demonstrates a sensible compassion, a mother-like nurturing, as he urges the men to eat. “For the last fourteen days you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food you haven’t eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food You need it to survive.” Verse 33,34.
- Paul leads by example. He doesn’t ask the men to do anything that he himself would not do. Having urged them to eat, he eats himself. Verse 35.
So we see that Paul displays stunning leadership qualities throughout the whole crisis. So much so that when the sorry travellers reach land, the centurion spares not only Paul’s life, but the lives of all the prisoners.
Christian leadership is most often needed and valued in a time of crisis, difficulty, tragedy. You as individuals and we as a Church are expected by God and by society to offer some kind of leadership in stormy times. We are not expected to fall apart when things get rough we are expected to offer the world some kind of leadership through the rough.
See the men in the boat as Jesus sleeps. They panic and fret and fall apart. Jesus comes to their aid but can barely disguise his disappointment.
“ Where is your faith?” he asks incredulously.
Which brings me back to Lt. Dave Monteverdi’s words: “My first reaction was, like, it wasn’t real. And when you get to the scene, it kind of like clicks, and you just start, your training takes over.”
If you have not done the training there is nothing to click in and you do fall apart. That was the lesson the disciples learnt that day on the boat when the storm blew up. They had been relying on Jesus’ faith, they did not have enough of their own.
We are all called to Christian leadership as followers of Christ. The whole church is called to moral and spiritual leadership. We too must train ourselves for this calling. It doesn’t just emerge of its own accord.
Take a look at Paul.
There are two aspects to Paul’s life that resource his leadership. The first is that Paul had trained his mind. We are told that he was a rabbi so we can assume that he would have learnt the Scriptures almost by heart. From his letters we know that he was diligent and disciplined in the habit of meditating on the teachings and the life of Jesus. The key word here is “disciplined”. The word disciple and disciplined come from the same root word. To be a disciple of Christ we must be disciplined.
Paul says in Romans “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The Second aspect of Paul’s life is his great faith in God. The greatness and strength of his faith comes from regular disciplined exercise of that faith. It is worth remembering that if we do not practice taking little steps of faith daily as we walk through our day, then when a crisis comes we will find it difficult to take the big leaps of faith that we may be required of us.
In the passage, Paul’s faith in the vision that God gave him is a powerful motivator as he manages the crisis of the shipwreck. “Do not be afraid you will not lose your life” he says. “Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve, stood beside me and said ‘do not be afraid….I have given you the lives of all who sail with you.” Paul’s testimony in this crisis is inspiring to them.
Paul’s knowledge of God and his faith in God has prepared him for a time such as this and so it is that he is able to access the power of God which is dynamic and potent.
William Barclay makes the point: “The one who has Christ in his or her heart and life, has access to great power.” We access that power only when we are disciplined in the daily pursuit of learning about God and in the daily exercise of small faith steps.
Furthermore Paul is able to lead the men because he is led by God. He has courage because he trusts not in himself but in God’s faithfulness and power. So it is that he courageously leads the sailors and the prisoners through the dangers of the sea to safety.
Now here’s what I think we can learn from Paul about Christian leadership.
1. It doesn’t matter who you are, what your status is, where you are in the social pecking order, you can and are called to lead from wherever you find yourselves. Paul was a prisoner, of the lowest status, yet he did not let that put him off taking up the mantle of Christian leadership. You are Christ’s hands and feet. His disciples are the ones who together form the church, whose calling it is to be the spiritual and moral leaders in a broken world.
2. Your leadership needs to be developed. This happens through training and discipline. It is incumbent on us to study the word of God, to be disciplined in our prayer life, to live according to his word that we might be confident in our faith.
3. However, faith is not just a head thing, it is also a lived thing. It is experiential. In order to experience the grace of God through faith we must take steps of faith daily, steps of trusting in God’s provision, guidance and protection. Being a disciple is risky though it’s a calculated risk for when you have faith in God you have confidence in his faithfulness and grace in all circumstances.
So, do not be afraid. Keep up your courage. Have faith in God and may that faith constantly resource your Christian leadership in the world whoever you are and wherever you find yourself.