by Lew Rinard
George Verwer cared deeply about those serving under his leadership; a lasting impact from his leadership style was the enablement of those he led to grow and develop their gifts as leaders following Christ.
Alan was a difficult person. We lived in the same house in Kathmandu for several months, and he could never get to dinner on time. The rest of the team usually waited a half hour or more every evening. He would always explain that he couldn’t stop work—that there was simply too much to do. When we suggested that he should just stop at the end of the day, he’d respond, “I’m messed up; it’s because of my father.” Alan could also be argumentative. He had become a strict vegetarian because an outing to a Muslim restaurant for meat curry ended in a heated disagreement. When he reflected on what had happened, Alan explained, “I think God is telling me to stay away from meat.” And he did for a number of years.
He was difficult to live with and work with, but he had a warm heart and truly desired to follow Jesus Christ. So despite his antisocial tendencies, he repeatedly signed up to work with Operation Mobilization (OM), a very team-oriented mission agency. He was a trained mechanic and had a lot to offer an organization with a large fleet of old vehicles.
But he had frequent conflicts with his co-workers, so over the years he’d spend a year or two with OM, followed by a return to secular work, only to join OM again because he wasn’t satisfied with where his life was going.
When Alan was home in England, he regularly distributed literature and talked to people about Jesus. One day, George Verwer, founder and (then) international director of OM, had knocked on his door, asking if they could go out evangelizing together. George knew of Alan’s struggles and wanted to encourage him. Alan spoke of this often—that a man in leadership, with so many burdens on his time and resources, would take a day off to spend time with him. George had nothing personally to gain from this, but he believed it was a worthwhile use of his time.
People vs. Activity
My first perception of George Verwer’s leadership was in the summer of 1977 during an OM conference. As George was preaching I came to a sudden realization: “He really cares about us; he’s not just interested in getting some work out of us this summer, he wants us to survive and grow to spiritual maturity.” This was the kind of leadership I experienced during the four years I spent with Operation Mobilization. The leaders were concerned to see us grow spiritually and develop our gifts and seemed more concerned about our long-term survival and growth than about accomplishing their goals through us.
Many years after leaving OM, a pastor in my denomination was told it was time for a change in leadership so he needed to leave. He had been pastoring for over twenty years and had taken on some difficult jobs for the denomination. He had served on a number of general conference boards and preached the word and provided pastoral care for those in his church. But apparently he didn’t fit into the denomination’s leadership plans.
I spoke to him three years later, and he told me that after he submitted his resignation, not one leader contacted him to find out how he was doing. There had not been a single attempt to make sure he was okay, even though it was generally known that he had left the denomination and was no longer pastoring. His impression was that they simply didn’t care.
The person who pushed for his resignation was known as a “leadership guru,” but his approach to leadership was the opposite of George Verwer’s. I suspect he would attribute this to a difference in personality, and George’s approach did not come naturally to him. For George, caring for people in trouble was not a matter of personality. He knew that God had shown him mercy and grace beyond anything he could imagine, and this motivated him to show mercy and grace to others.
George’s approach to leadership was a matter of Christian discipleship, not personality. It was a result of the work of God over many years of following Jesus Christ. It was an issue of obedience:
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Col. 3:12-13)
Two Approaches to Leadership
These are two very different approaches to leadership. One is concerned about leading those under his or her care to grow and develop their gifts as followers of Jesus Christ. The second is focused on accomplishing his or her goals and sees those on his or her team as useful, but expendable instruments for accomplishing them. The first approach seeks to build up and disciple all members of the church, including those in leadership roles, while the second is focused on bringing new members into the church. The first approach, in other words, has a larger, fuller vision for making disciples.
Jesus warned against the danger of adopting the world’s assumptions about leadership when he said, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you” (Mark 10:42-43).
In addition to specific issues he was addressing, Jesus was saying that leadership among his people is fundamentally different from leadership in the world. Oswald Sanders expands on this:
Bishop Lesslie Newbigin even goes so far as to question how far the conception of leadership is one that we really ought to encourage. It is so difficult to use it without being misled by its non-Christian counterpart. The need is not so much for leaders as for saints and servants, and unless that fact is held steadily in the foreground, the whole idea of leadership training becomes dangerous. The pattern of training in Christian leadership must still be that given by our Lord in His training of the twelve. (1980, 219)
The second type of leadership follows the North American corporate world in its treatment of people as a means to an end, as a way of fulfilling one’s goals (often described as a “God-given vision”). This kind of leadership doesn’t have time for people like Alan or the pastor I mentioned earlier. Instead, they are seen as obstacles to achieving the vision. And those who are important are important primarily for their instrumental value, their usefulness. The real priority is measurable growth focused on bringing new people into the church. Those who’ve already been counted, or who have moved into leadership roles, are expendable.
Because it doesn’t seek to care for and lead those already inside the church or in positions of pastoral leadership, this approach is inconsistent with Christian discipleship. It reflects the ambition of success-driven leaders, who, in pursuit of their goals, have lost sight of the centrality of grace and mercy in the Church and forgotten the long-suffering patience of Jesus in training his apostles. It forgets that making disciples doesn’t mean completing a long list of projects in Jesus’ name.
Rather, let us work to be the former kind of leader—seeking to lead all those under our care to know and follow Jesus Chris for a lifetime.
Sanders, Oswald. 1980. Spiritual Leadership. Chicago: Moody Press.
Lew Rinard worked with Operation Mobilization in Europe, Asia, and with his wife on the M.V. Logos. The Rinards, while raising their four children, served in pastoral ministry in eastern Pennsylvania. Lew currently works with people who have severe mental illness.
EMQ, Vol. 50, No. 1, pp. 78-81. Copyright © 2014 Billy Graham Center. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.