There is much important discussion happening about COVID-19 and the future of ministry and mission. Charles Hewlett shares why he thinks it would be a tragedy if we blindly step straight back into what was before.
I hope that Baptist churches will be prepared to reprioritise existing activities and give space to innovation. However, as we do this it is essential that we continue to keep our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus. 1 Peter 2:21 (NLT) reminds us, “He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.” Jesus reveals to us the things we must value, what our priorities should be, and how we should act.
Here are five things about Jesus that are currently shaping my leadership practice.
When we have our eyes on Jesus, we see someone who is deeply moved by the suffering of others—a person who clearly entered emotionally into people’s situations. When that man begged Jesus to heal him of his leprosy, “Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him” (Mark 1:41, NLT). When the crowds were confused and helpless because of corrupt leadership, Jesus “had compassion on them” (Matthew 9:36, NLT). When a large crowd following him ran out of food and were hungry, Jesus said, “I feel sorry for these people” (Mark 8:2, NLT). Luke records that when Jesus approached the city of Jerusalem, “he began to weep” (Luke 19:41, NLT).
I wonder when your compassion last caused you to weep. Was it because New Zealand has the highest death rate for teenagers in the developed world? Or maybe because Māori are over-represented at every stage of our criminal justice process? Maybe it was because one in five children live in households without access to enough food? Or because 40% of New Zealand police time is spent attending family harm incidents?
Heavenly Father, we thank you that not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without you knowing. Jesus, thank you for reaching out your hand and touching the person with leprosy. Holy Spirit, please soften our hearts. Awaken our compassion and help us to weep again.
When we fix our eyes on Jesus we see someone who was others-centred. Jesus was a person driven by service. When James and John requested positions of power and comfort, Jesus replied, “But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43‑45, NLT).
How destructive the need for power and prominence can be! “I’m happy to serve, but as long as I get noticed” or “If it’s not done my way then don’t expect me to be involved.”
When we fix our eyes on Jesus we soon see that real power is found in loving service, and not in dominating others. It is about being prepared to take second place, and to give up our rights for those of another person.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for loving others so much that you sent your son into the world. Jesus, thank you for setting aside the privileges of deity and becoming human for our salvation. Holy Spirit, help us to look out for one another’s interests and not just for our own.
3. Valued all people
Over the years it has been interesting to watch people’s attitude to my disabled children. My children often get defined in terms of what they can’t do or what they don’t have. “Isn’t it a shame that they can’t…” or “It‘s such a pity…” people say. And sadly, many struggle to see beyond the wheelchair and the disability to the person who is sitting in the chair. They can’t begin to imagine that Janelle and James may have something to offer or give to them. And I watch them get excluded—socially, in decision making, with resource allocation, and often in people’s priorities.
When we fix our eyes on Jesus we see someone who spent time with those who were deemed unsuitable or inferior. He was a person who actively reached out to marginal groups. There were no boundaries between insiders and the outsiders. All people were valued.
Heavenly Father, we thank you that every human being is fearfully and wonderfully made. Jesus, please forgive us for the times we have looked down on people and written them off as useless. Holy Spirit, help us to look hard for goodness, and to value people not only for what they can do.
4. Challenged the status quo
When we read our Bibles it’s made clear to us that justice is at the heart of God. It’s not just some new trendy interpretation of the gospel the emerging generations have concocted. Psalm 82:3 (NLT) reads, “Give justice to the poor and the orphan; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.” Isaiah 1:17 (NLT) reads, “Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.”
So it is of no surprise that when we fix our eyes on Jesus we see someone who was prepared to challenge the status quo. He was a person who protested and brought awareness to gender inequity, religious hypocrisy, political corruption, racism, hate, prejudice, exclusion and social injustice. Luke 11:42 (NLT) reads, “What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.”
Heavenly Father, we acknowledge that your Kingdom is founded on righteousness and justice. Jesus, thank you that your gospel has the power to bring down social and economic oppressors. Holy Spirit, give us both wisdom and courage to confront evil. Help us to make right what is wrong.
5. Restored broken lives
When we fix our eyes upon Jesus we see someone who restored broken lives. I like the fact Jesus wasn’t just all talk and no action. When he saw a large crowd, he not only had compassion on them, he healed their sick (Matthew 14:14). When Jesus came across the man with the evil spirit he didn’t run away. Rather, he spoke and “the evil spirits came out” (Mark 5:13, NLT). When people confessed their wrongdoing to him he didn’t just judge them and say how bad they were doing; rather he said, “Be encouraged…Your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2, NLT). Jesus’ actions resulted in transformation: he actually restored what was broken.
Instead of just feeling sorry for the homeless, let’s work with others and provide permanent, secure and appropriate housing. Instead of just blaming the government for unemployment, let’s help people find a job. Instead of judging others in financial hardship, let’s assist them to regain control of their finances. And instead of just talking about what is wrong with the mental health system, let’s proactively help people receive the support and tools they need for coping.
Heavenly Father, we claim the promise in the Bible that you will make all things new. Jesus, thank you that you have provided a way for our relationship with God to be restored. Holy Spirit, give us creativity, energy and the resources needed to bring renewal to the people and places we are part of.
While I am excited about the opportunities for the church post-COVID-19, I am not overly interested in the programmes, technology and configurations we must adopt. As national leader I won’t be prescriptive on these things… and anyway that’s not how Baptist ecclesiology works!
However, I will be obsessive about the type of people we must be and the foundational values that must shape the way we act. Compassion, service, valuing of others, confronting oppression, and restoration are not optional extras for the follower of Jesus.
Contributor: Charles Hewlett
Charles is the national leader of the Baptist Churches of New Zealand. He is often heard saying, “I love Jesus. I love the Bible. I love the gospel. I love the church. And I love mission.”
Scripture: Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.