Today, there was some sad news from the isle of Rhodes where ferocious wildfires are wreaking havoc. The news mentioned that there were no confirmed deaths, but a 38 year old shepherd had gone missing. He had gone into the danger zone to try to bring out his sheep and hasn’t been heard of since.
This may sound like a nice sermon illustration about the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for his sheep and this is of course true, but perhaps there is a slightly less comfortable application for the church today.
I recently read a book from Paul Hattaway about the church in China’s central Henan province, and two stories made me think. One was about Zhang Rongliang, whose life story is told in the book “I stand with Christ”. He was mentoring a group of Christian leaders and evangelists. One day, the group was asked to attend a meeting in a different area. However, they were so poor that they had no bikes and no money for public transportation. They always walked to meetings, but this time the location was too far off.
To enable them to go, they told how Zhang Rongliang sold his only cow and gave them the money. It was an example of generous and sacrificial leadership. Cows are very valuable, both as a source of milk, and for their ability to pull the plough. Selling your only animal means you lose a reliable source of nutrition for your family and have to work much harder on the land.
Another example of sacrificial leadership came from the same book. It recounted a Christian meeting which was raided by Chinese police. A foreigner present shared what happened: “The police formed a tight circle around the Christians and mercilessly thrashed them as hard as they could. Old women were kicked in the head with steel-capped boots, and jaws and ribs cracked as battons were yielded with brute force. Through the dark room and surreal atmosphere, I could see the senior pastors shielding their flocks from the worst of the blows by placing their bodies between the officers and the defenseless believers. The shepherds were willing to lay their lives down for their sheep.” (Henan, page 246)
Through the years, a lot has been written on what makes a good leader. Vision, efficiency, innovation, charisma, decisiveness and so on. Christians may add to this that a Christian leader needs to be a ‘servant leader’ often meaning they need to wield their authority in a way beneficial to the people they lead. But sacrifice is a quality not often mentioned, although I believe there are Christian leaders all over the world doing just that, often quietly and invisibly. I can think of no more powerful leadership quality than this.