At 20schemes, we want to recruit men and women who understand that they need to have godly character if they are to succeed long-term in ministry. We find that there aren’t too many who apply to us who are lacking in self-belief and confidence. Maybe they’ve read all the latest books on reaching the poor. Their friends and family have told them they’ve got all sorts of spiritual gifting and so they think they’re ready to be unleashed on the schemes of Scotland.
But we try to graciously warn each person that, sooner or later, their true nature will be exposed in the heat of battle. What is important to us is who they are rather than what they know. There are many who come to us intrigued by our missional approach to life. By that I mean the fact that we are deeply involved in one another’s lives on a daily basis and seek to teach and model high levels of spiritual accountability in our community. That looks good on paper, but the reality can be something of a shock to the system.
All of our faults and weaknesses can be laid bare before one another, and sometimes it isn’t pretty. I often have to remind people that it’s what a person is like behind closed doors that gives you an insight into who they truly are. When we are living out genuine community, it is so much harder to pretend. It’s like living in the Big Brother house. Everybody is on their best behaviour in the early days, but eventually the cracks begin to appear. One’s true nature comes racing to the fore. So, how do we work on our character?
We’ve had some over the last decade who think they can do it by:
1. Reading books. But knowing the Puritans is not the same as being one.
2. Lots of ‘personal quiet times’. Again, the fruit of the Spirit is an easy thing to replicate in a room on our own with nobody to annoy us.
3. Christian counselling. The amount of people who take up counselling as a means of hiding their insecurities and weaknesses is frightening.
4. Countless conferences. Some like the spiritual high of being with thousands of other ‘stranger Christians’. There is no real emotional investment and we can still hide our failings.
5. Biblical knowledge. This is a tough one because so much of evangelicalism gives too much credence to biblical knowledge. It is so often confused with spiritual maturity. Bible college students are often the worst. They hide glaring character defaults behind a comprehensive knowledge of infralapsarianism.
Listen to the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:1–8:
You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.
We who want to engage in housing-scheme ministry must be motivated, primarily, by a desire to please the Lord. Not others, and not ourselves. We must constantly check ourselves, for our hearts are deceitfully wicked above all things (Jer. 17:9) and so sly that sometimes we can be fooled into thinking that our motives are nobler than they really are. Too often, people charge into housing schemes with their little Bible college certificate and dreams of ‘ministering to the poor’. If we want to plant and lead healthy churches, then we must have a right estimation of ourselves. We need to know ourselves, because in this game we are going to get found out when the dark days come.
Look at the battles they faced at Thessalonica. They were treated badly and opposed forcefully. Now, I have no wish to paint a completely bleak picture of the ministry, but it is fraught with difficulties. Real courage is required to enter the ministry. Look at Paul's response to their problems in verse 2: “we dared to tell you his gospel.” They kept on. Not because they wanted the fleeting praise of man, but because of a deep desire to preach the gospel of God.
Danger of Praise
One of the greatest dangers for young men and women entering any kind of ministry today is the need to be liked and accepted by their peers and those they are trying to reach. To be clear, this is not to undermine the importance of elders being above reproach and well thought of by outsiders (1 Tim. 3:2, 7). I’m not endorsing a kind of brash leadership that takes no concern for what anyone thinks. Nor do I think that’s what Paul is arguing here.
But I am saying that there’s an issue if a leader constantly seeks approval for every decision they make. In verse 4, we read that Paul’s aim, and that of his fellow workers, was to please God who tests our hearts. When forceful opposition comes, when fruit seems in short supply and our efforts feel like they are falling on deaf ears, it is only being motivated by a desire to please God and preach His gospel that will sustain us.
If you want to plant a church on a housing scheme, or if you want to learn, or if you want to come and reach and disciple women, then come. But don’t come expecting congratulations or a round of applause (verse 6). Don’t come expecting to fulfill some deep psychological need for self-worth. Don’t come to be loved and respected.
Come honestly and openly, ready for genuine community that can sometimes leave us feeling a little beaten up as we often deal with the blackness of our own heart issues. Don’t come pretending you have it all sorted. Come, like Paul in verse 7, gently and humbly, with an attitude of service, not with all the answers and thinking you’re going to ‘fix’ us. Come with the gospel and an open life. Come willing to share your weaknesses and frailties and model how you are working them out by his Spirit under Christ in community. Come and share your lives with us (verse 8).
Leaders We Need
At 20schemes—and in poor communities across the world—we need leaders who are godly, strong, courageous, full of conviction, aware of their limitations, constantly checking their hearts, God-pleasers, and gentle, loving shepherds of their people. Our responsibility is not to get despondent about how far from this we feel we are but, instead, make a resolute commitment to turn back to the cross and continually throw ourselves on the mercy of God. We must not forget to feed our own souls and tend to our own hearts in the business of this life. Seek good and godly accountability where possible.
A godly leader isn’t a person who has ‘arrived’ and has all the answers, but rather is a growing disciple of the Lord Jesus who is constantly seeking to honour Him and promote His gospel in the face of opposition, ambivalence, and their own sinful tendencies.
God help us.