There are hundreds of definitions of leadership. Although there are many different facets of the same diamond, a true visionary leader must have crystal-clear focus. The various lists of attributes of a leader extant today have one thing in common: all such attributes are positive.
Many bemoan the fact that so few true leaders have emerged in recent years. Robert Quinn in his book, “Deep Change” gives the analogy of the “self-centered little boy, holding tightly to his swing.” It seems many would–be leaders compromise their Christianity somewhere along the way. Were we to substitute the term “strong, mature Spirit-led Christian” for the word “leader,” we would arrive at the same conclusions concerning preparedness.
Potential leaders emerge less frequently in the 21st century because so few are willing to count the cost, make the decision to build the tower, and then lay a foundation they are not able to finish. This is often due to a fear of failure. It is this fear in the mind of many ethnic leaders that stifles creativity, vision and leadership.
With this in mind, three areas must come into focus:
The Leader and the Cost
Applied to Native American family ministry this means furthering my self-indebtedness to my People. In the natural, I owe them nothing. In the supernatural, I owe them everything. Paul’s indebtedness to both “the wise and the unwise” was not by chance—but by choice (Romans 1:14). I willingly choose to commit to educate and thereby empower Native American couples to enjoy dynamic, Spirit-filled, happy marriages. I owe them because of my indebtedness to Jesus Christ. Their care “comes upon me daily” (II Cor. 11:28), just as Paul chose to feel a sense of indebtedness toward the Greeks and Barbarians.
But is this concept of indebtedness surreal? Is it one’s mind playing tricks in order to face missionary challenges? Not at all. You know you are indebted to those you have chosen to mentor when you minister to them in your sleep, when you daydream of ways to improve your ministry, when you spend quality time preparing to minister, when your mind is clearly focused on your mission, when you are Spirit-driven with a crystal clear objective, when you know who you are, when your interest in God increases and others interests decrease, when you pray for new tools to sharpen your teaching skills, when you bring your body into subjection and begin to train it as a weapon against Satan, when fasting begins to appeal to you and food begins to lose its appeal, when prayer becomes true communication and you seek new ways to safeguard your time with God. At this point, the concept of indebtedness is taking a firm hold.
The Leader and Personal Crisis
The second area I would address is from Blackaby’s book, “Spiritual Leadership”. It concerns the leader and personal crisis. Blackaby points out how that crisis—like failure—can be a powerful motivator in leadership development if we learn from the crisis. Crisis can either crush or inspire one’s resolve to succeed. As Oswald Chambers spoke to a group of Egyptians in 1911, “If we are ever to be made into wine, we will have to be crushed. Grapes become wine only after they have been squeezed. God can never make us into wine if we object to the fingers He uses to crush us with.”
A crisis hit our family in 2003 and our only grandbaby died. I was quite a different person after that. What we read in theory is far different than what we come to know experientially. When an 8-month-old granddaughter dies in your arms and takes her last little breath as you are holding her, only then can you preach to the broken hearts of your People. When you have watched the vital signs on a monitor grow fainter and weaker every minute, until the electronic beeps become as silent as the infant you hold, only then can you say to the Apache mother who has miscarried, “I can relate to your loss.” After you have preached the graveside service over a three-foot white casket, you can relate to the Navajo couple that has lost their baby to SIDS. The wound that changes your ministerial life is not one that is self-inflicted, nor is it one you could prepare for. Blindsided, you reach out to the Jesus you have preached about for three decades and yes, He is there. Your perspective is positively and permanently changed.
The Leader and Culture
Another area that has impacted my ministry focus the most is the leader and culture. Tom Claus in “Indian Leadership in America” brings this out when he asks, “Why has Indian missions failed? It has failed because the human dignity of the Native was not respected.” Missionaries from the inception of missionary endeavors have continued to preach Anglo culture as part of the Gospel message. In 400 years of outreach, the missionary has not helped to restore the identity and dignity of Native Peoples. How interesting it is that the same race that brought us the Gospel also brought the concept of “manifest destiny”—that our lands were here for the taking. Perhaps they might have been reached more effectively if overt genocide had not been part of their agenda. Being a quarter Cherokee, I have seen a lot of abuse of power in over 20 years in this ministry. Becoming Native deep own in one’s heart is the key.
Many missionaries to Indian America have little or no concept of the history and traditions of the tribes they are supposed to serve. Claus is correct in that “the Church must take an aggressive, positive and assertive position on treaty rights if it ever hopes to gain credibility.” It cannot regain it, because it has never gained it. I hear Native People laugh when they hear of other nations breaking agreements with America. America has failed consistently in the negotiation of over 700 treaties to keep even one here at home! The irony is that most of these treaties are still in effect but never enforced. This does impact the worldview of our People. One must ask, “How are treaties between Indians and the United States different than those between the United States and other nations? Furthermore, it begs the question, “If a Native makes a covenant with the Lord Jesus Christ from an Anglo perspective, can we blame him for suspecting a hidden agenda?” In view of the record, we cannot.
This is an insight to the world-view of the 21st century Native. My pastor, Tommy Barnett, often tells his staff not to inform him of a problem without an accompanying suggested solution. This is good advice in any culture.
My solution to the challenges of cost, crisis and culture is complex, as there are deep wounds among our Native people that bandages cannot fix. What is needed is workers who will take the time to learn from our Native people and ask them how they feel these challenges can be approached. Considering the uniqueness of each of our 562 tribes, this can only be done cross-tribally.
Paul reached a level of satisfaction in his ministry that he had run the race and completed his course. Too many missionaries in the Native community are satisfied with their own level of productivity—of meeting stereotyped standards. Far beyond any feelings of self-accomplishment, a leader in the Native community today must help others to develop a sense of satisfaction in their accomplishments, beginning with producing in others a level of self-worth.
Cost, crisis and culture. What is the catalyst of the three? Christ. Were there no Calvary, none would calculate the cost of ministry. Were there no cross to bear, a crisis could destroy our ministry. Were there no cultural concerns, there would be no people to serve and mentor.
The Lord Jesus Himself has urged us to calculate beforehand the cost of leadership. He has not indicated that such calculations are optional.