My post this week was delayed because of a leadership conference in Hungary. Among those present at the “ELF” conference were some of the brilliant and powerful leaders in European and British Christian circles today. I was impressed and sometimes very moved by what was offered. And I felt some grief as well. Let me fill you in.
John Lennox, for one, was an absolute delight as he walked us through the book of Daniel during the morning Bible studies. He’s an Oxford professor in mathematics whose lively and informed faith sparkled with the clarity of a sharp mind and the power of a filled heart. I’m sure his talks will be offered on the Evangelical Leadership Forum’s website: be sure to chase it for a listen. You won’t be disappointed.
I also had the privilege to speak for a few moments with Michael Green, a British evangelist, academic, and writer. He was sipping coffee alone during a break so I approached him to ask about John “Bash” Nash.
In the early 1940’s Nash was the marking figure for a remarkable group of Christian leaders who emerged in the UK. John Stott, Dick Lucas, and Green, among others, were high school students in those days in “public schools”—the odd label for elite private schools meant to train children of the upper classes.
Why was I curious? During my earlier days in London I’d heard of the impact Nash had on Lucas, then the pastor of my London church home. I had asked him the same question: what was it about Nash that made such a difference?
Both Green and Lucas offered the same answer. Nash was a devoted believer who had a heart for spiritual reformation in England and the world. By their twin accounts he was an otherwise ordinary man who had an extraordinary focus on Christ and a selfless care for others. He reached out to these bright young men mainly through Christian camps held between school terms. At those retreats he and the camp staff offered the boys a vision of Christ and a sensibility for their country’s need for Christ—all in the context of food, thought-provoking conversations, sports, and moments of laughter.
Green smiled as he recalled that Nash knew he, unlike many of his classmates, was from a family of limited means. So Nash happily and quietly subsidized some of his expenses to be sure Green could be included.
I also need to say something about my grief. In any conference where hundreds of Christians are together—especially in settings where elitism can be in play—some of the brightest and strongest personalities start to show off. Their pecking-order instincts are quick to dismiss those who don’t measure up to their own gifts and aspirations. Membership in their clans is limited to their own kind or to those who submit to them.
What did I make of my separate reflections? Just this. I often write about love as crucial in changing lives. We were made by God to be relational: to be other-centered lovers just as God “is love”. True spiritual leadership is only found in the love we meet at the cross of Christ, the love now poured out in our hearts by his Spirit.
Yet just as most of the spiritual leaders in Christ’s day were glory-focused—seeking the glory of men and not God—we still have the DNA of self-glory in some of the most gifted leaders in today’s church.
God’s love in Christ offers the better pathway of the two options I met in Hungary. It is seen in an instinct to embrace not only the bright and able but also the weak, the ordinary, the poor. It is a spreading goodness that displays a Spirit-based spirituality; a way more promising than that of clannish glory.
My Cor Deo colleague, Peter, told me more about John Lennox on our way back from Hungary. Peter recounted a conversation with him at an earlier conference about our relational aims at Cor Deo and Lennox was immediately enthused. He said that he had been encouraged and supported as a young Christian by David Gooding, an older believer who poured out his own life and faith to him. Nash and his men. Gooding and Lennox. A pattern was forming!
Life-building devotion towards others will always be found in genuine spiritual leaders. Such lives always have a clear focus gained by seeing Christ in faith; a faith supported by others who are also gazing in the same direction. One generation reaches out to support the next. While selfish pride supports growing pride, selfless love encourages more love.
I thank God for his love in Christ and for those who share that love freely with others. I thank God, especially, for Art Branson who shared his gaze at Christ with me when I was a teen.
May the sort of love that moved Nash, Gooding, and Branson spread to many others. Call it real leadership!