Charles Hewlett says over the years he has learnt that saturating himself in the love of God is one of the most important things that he can do as a leader. He shares here some thoughts from two writers who he has leaned on for ideas in this regard.
In his book Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen writes that we have to actively claim our ‘chosenness’—that I am a child of God and that he is for me. I have been greatly helped through a three-step process Nouwen outlines:
1. Beware of the destructive message of the world, and expose it for what it is
As a leader it’s easy to question your self-worth when the eloquence and charisma of the pastor down the road starts attracting members from your congregation. To feel rejected when the world discards your gospel efforts as irrelevant, even offensive. To believe that you are of no use, good for nothing, when the selection panel questions your capabilities.
Nouwen states, “Every time you feel hurt, offended or rejected, you have to dare to say to yourself: ‘These feelings, strong as they may be, are not telling me the truth about myself.’”1
I know the truth about me. God shaped and formed me in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13); he created me, by Christ Jesus, to join him in the work he does (Ephesians 2:10); he actually pays great attention to me, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on my head! (Luke 12:7); and absolutely nothing can get between me and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced me (Romans 8:38-39).
As Nouwen says, “Our preciousness, uniqueness and individuality are not given to us by those who meet us in clock-time—our brief chronological existence—but by the One who has chosen us with an everlasting love, a love that existed from all eternity and will last through all eternity.”2
What message do you most listen to?
2. Surround yourself with people and places that remind you of your true identity
People? My friend Steve always reminds me that I am a child of God. It happened again just recently. Only five minutes into our lunchtime conversation he’s quoting Luke 10:20 to me: “But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven” (NLT).
“Charles,” Steve exclaims, “it’s not what you do for God but what God does for you—that’s what we want to get excited about!” I love him!
Places? For me it’s the doors that have been opened by my profoundly disabled children—to communities of truth like Oaklynn Special School, Wilson Home Respite Villas, the Drop in Centre at Elevate, and James’s flat.
First, these communities value me for who I am and not for what I can do. It’s enough for them that I am just present—they hug and smile at me unconditionally. Second, these communities show me what heaven on earth really is. They only function because the people serving within them think of others and not self, they choose service over power, and give up comfort for discomfort. Third, these communities remind me so clearly of why God created me, what it is that he has called me to do: to love the broken.
Can you think of a place that reminds you of your true identity?
3. Celebrate your chosenness constantly
For Nouwen this means saying ‘thank you’ to God for having chosen you, and ‘thank you’ to all who remind you of your chosenness. He notes, “Gratitude is the most fruitful way of deepening your consciousness that you are not an ‘accident’, but a divine choice.”3
This can be a battle. Sometimes I think it’s easier to be critical and sceptical, rather than being appreciative and thankful.
I found myself doing exactly this during our recent LEAD Conference in Lower Hutt. After the first evening I began to question my decision to go with fewer keynote speakers and allow more time for discussion. I went back to my room filled with uncertainty. “What if people don’t like it?” And it wasn’t long till, “My ideas never work!” and “The whole conference will be a disaster!”
However, before I had reached back home, three churches had contacted me with a very similar message: “We were ready to leave the Baptist union of churches but as a result of attending the conference we have decided to stay and to start contributing.” Wow! It wasn’t hard for me to find the good and to be thankful. My sense of inadequacy quickly changed. I walked back into my office with a fresh realisation that Jesus Christ was the head of the church, and that he was graciously choosing to outwork his purposes through my unique skills.
When/how do you celebrate your chosenness?
Carson Pue warns, “There is a subtle erosion that begins to take place in many of us leaders, and we begin to question God’s intentions for us. We come to misunderstand what God intends of us and begin to compensate by ‘doing’ more. By doing so, we lose track of some of the most important things in life and faith.
“We become less convinced that it is all about being a son or daughter of Christ and that the cross is central to our identity as leaders. Our busyness and success in ministry trick us into thinking that it is all about us—when it is all about God.”4
Pue (pp. 53-54) helped me to understand how my day-to-day ministry can be transformed when I saturate myself with the reality that I am a child of God.
For example, knowing that I am totally accepted by God and justified by grace means that I no longer have to strive for praise, acceptance and approval from others.
Being secure in my relationship with my heavenly Father, and knowing that he cares for me, means that peace is much more prevalent than anxiety and self-doubt.
Competition, rivalry and jealousy of the success and position of others can be replaced with humility and unity as I value others and am able to rejoice in their blessings and success.
Counterfeit affections (like addictions, compulsions, escapism and busyness) can be replaced with times of quietness and solitude, resting in God’s presence and love.
And confidence in my own abilities and cleverness is swapped with assurance of his blessings towards me.
How liberating for a leader to be a child of God!
Story: 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.”
- Henri J M Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World (USA: Crossroad, 2014), 59.
- Ibid, 58.
- Ibid, 60.
- Carson Pue, Mentoring Leaders: Wisdom for Developing Character, Calling and Competency (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 52.
Unless otherwise specified, Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright ©1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.