By Caroline Friend. Caroline is a church leader with a passion to share life and explore faith with those outside the walls of traditional church, mum of two, wife of a community worker and keen allotmenteer.
I remember it like it was yesterday. My lungs burned, heart pounded, the mud squelched through my green flash trainers and as the rain trickled down the back of my neck, I thought ‘long distance just isn’t my thing’. Like many others I hated cross-country running at school – I always saw myself as a sprinter.
So it was many years later that I was struck when the prophetic word was spoken into my life, “Caroline, I feel God is saying I am looking for leaders who are in it for the long haul”. The word was one of invitation, looking for ‘never quit, digging deep, through thick and thin’ commitment to Jesus-shaped leadership.
Hebrews 12:1 states “let us run with endurance the race God has set before us”.
In his book Courageous Leadership, Bill Hybels talks about ‘developing an enduring spirit’ which he believes begins with making your calling sure; knowing deep within what God is asking you to dedicate your life to. Remaining focused on fulfilling our calling means we avoid ‘vision drift’, spreading ourselves too thinly and then burnout. Hybels also challenges leaders to develop the courage to change; leaving behind unhelpful and destructive thought patterns and behaviours. In the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-38) we see Jesus surrounded by safe people. Hybels encourages leaders to seek out safe people to share their hearts and lives with because leadership can be a lonely calling. Ultimately it is about viewing all we are and do through an eternal perspective. Hybels concludes “Heroic Christian leaders throughout redemptive history have always looked at the difficulty of their short term struggle against the backdrop of eternity”.
In my local context—a rural market town where generations still live in neighbouring streets—family ties are strong and the community looks after its own. As an ‘incomer’ I recognise the importance of being ‘grafted into’ this local community. This has been a long process of developing trust and relationship. Over the past 14 years I have been rooting myself in the local community and I still just about get away with it because of the fact I married a local! I am struck by the need of rural communities in particular, to see that we are indeed in it for the long haul, rooted and grafted not transient and temporary. In John 1:14 (The Message) we read “the Word become flesh and moved into the neighbourhood”. Jesus didn’t take a holiday home or a camper van. He moved in with intention, compassion and patience and was fundamentally relational in His approach. For around 30 years He blazed a trail and left a template for us to follow.
It strikes me that, in our post-Christendom culture, God continues to call leaders who are in it for the long haul – those who are fully invested, fully present and fully committed to the communities they serve. If we do that, then we will see His kingdom grow one person at a time.