March 11, 2012

In Step with Christ (4): Coworkers

by Rev. Jeremiah Cheung

There is a story that goes like this: After the Lord Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, he met the archangel Gabriel. Gabriel asked the Lord Jesus, “Lord, have you accomplished your task?” The Lord said, “Salvation has been completed, but the work of saving souls is not yet completed. I entrusted that task to the twelve disciples.” The archangel, with an attitude of doubt, asked the Lord Jesus, “Can they do it?” The Lord Jesus said, “If they cannot, I have no other way to get it accomplished either.”

Of course, this is just a story. Yet, when we recall the past 2000 years of church history, we are filled with gratitude, for these twelve fishermen who had no education or exceptional status were able to spread the gospel throughout the world. This is not man’s doing, but God’s. We really have to admire the Lord Jesus’ foresight and strategy. He left us a wonderful example of how to choose our coworkers.

Brothers and sisters, no matter how talented or powerful you are, you cannot do all the work alone. Just like Moses. I don’t think we can find a man like him in a hundred years. Moses was truly a genius. Read the Five Books of Moses and you will discover that he was an architect, a writer, a physician, a military strategist, an apologist, a historian, a zoologist, and a political scientist. Did such a man need coworkers?

Moses told the Lord, “I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me.” As a result, the Lord chose seventy elders to be his coworkers. If Moses needed coworkers, how much more do we? There is only one person in this world who doesn’t need coworkers, and that is the Lord Jesus. What have we contributed to the entire task of creation? We have contributed nothing! The Book of Romans says: “Who knows the mind of the Lord? Who is able to give him advice?” The Psalms say, “The Lord God alone does marvelous deeds.” God does not need coworkers.

However, the Lord Jesus selected coworkers on earth, not because he needed coworkers, but because the Lord wants to give us the opportunity to work with him. We must truly be humble for the Lord does not need us, instead, we are the ones who need the Lord! The Lord told the disciples, “… apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5) How can we not be humble? Now, what is humility, what is self-abasement and what is arrogance? Sometimes we do not quite understand these terms which results to our speaking carelessly. Low self-esteem is feeling discouraged and useless upon realizing you are more inferior in some areas than other people. Humility is not becoming proud even when you find yourself better in some areas than other people. Pride is despising or looking down at others when you find you are better than others in certain areas. We dare not be proud even when we find we are better than others in certain aspects because we know that everything comes from God. The Lord does not need co-workers yet he set for us an example on how to choose co-workers:

I. Prayer

Verse 13 “Jesus went up on the mountainside.” What did Jesus do on the mountainside? Luke 6:12 says, “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.” Jesus went up to the mountainside to pray and he spent the whole night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them whom he designated apostles. Jesus left us a very good example – we need to pray and ask the Lord for the coworkers we need. May the Lord forgive us, for we often neglect this important principle. When we need coworkers, we simply go find people. In fact, we sometimes coerce people into helping us in the ministry; we forget that Jesus spent one whole evening to pray about choosing coworkers. V.13 says “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted.” What does this mean? Jesus prayed until his will and God’s will were aligned, and we can even say this – Jesus submitted completely to God’s will in selecting the 12 apostles. Those of us who have particularly quick minds may be asking, “Then how come Jesus selected Judas?” I tell you, if Jesus did not pray, he might not have simply chosen a Judas, he might have selected 11 Judases. Do you know the difference between praying and not praying?

When we pray for anything, we transfer the matter into God’s hands; the Lord will then take responsibility for anything that happens regarding the matter. If we don’t pray, we will have to take full responsibility for our decisions. In the area of marriage, you must pray for your future partner. I am not saying that if you do pray, you will have a perfect husband or a perfect wife; that is impossible, because there are no perfect people in this world. I’ve heard some people say: “There are two kinds of good people in this world: but the first is already dead, the second hasn’t been born yet.” There are no good people in this world anymore – this statement isn’t exactly wrong. Because Jesus said that in this world, apart from God, there is no one good. Don’t ask for a perfect husband, or a perfect wife, or a perfect coworker.

Instead, we must pray, then God will take full responsibility. Parents often worry about their children. But, have you prayed for them? If you say you have indeed prayed much for them; then, be assured God will take responsibility for them. Agustine was a great theologian, but during his youth, he lived a corrupt life. His mother prayed unceasingly for him and shed much tears because of him. One time, she sought the counsel of the bishop. The bishop assured her: “With a mother who prays and shed such tears for her child, the Lord will surely save him.” In the end, the Lord used a verse in the Book of Romans and brought Agustine back. Have we prayed for our children? We need coworkers, have we prayed about the need?

II. Calling

Mark’s Gospel records, “Jesus… called to him those he wanted.” Luke chronicles, “When morning came, he called his disciples to him.” Matthew writes, “Jesus called his twelve disciples to him.” Jesus called them. He issued the call. Our Lord never rejects anyone, neither does he compels people. He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” He said, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.” He said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” The Lord Jesus issues the call, whoever is willing to respond to his call may come to him. This applies with the call to ministry, too. The Bible says, “The Lord Jesus called to him those he wanted and they came to him.” Peter said in 1Peter 5:2-3, exhorting those serving the Lord, “ Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”

In this passage, there are three important contrasts for the people God calls to serve him: 1. Not under compulsion but willingly 2. Not greedy for money but eager to serve 3. Not lording it over but being examples to the flock. We take special note of the third, “not under compulsion but willingly.” I am the pastor of the church, I have to shepherd more than a thousand sheep, I really cannot do it on my own, but I am especially thankful for the co-workers by my side; they willingly come alongside me to work and do their best whenever I call upon them. Without them, I wouldn’t have the ministry I have today. I would like to especially make mention of our interpreters (Alex, Peter, David, Poshan, Irene). Sometimes, I would call them impromptu, but as long as they can, they will not find excuses, I am really very touched.

Let me tell you two testimonies: Once, Elder Stanley Sy was scheduled to interpret for me. Later on, I found out that because of his work, he had to go to Singapore; yet he arranged to come back on Saturday to interpret for me on Sunday. After interpreting for me, he left that afternoon for Singapore again. With such co-workers, won’t you be touched? Another time, I was to speak at a young professionals’ camp. Sister Poshan was to be my interpreter. I was supposed to speak on the first night of the camp. But I couldn’t find Poshan. I asked the people in-charge if Poshan was already there and they told me that she had work that day so she will fly from Manila after work. After work, she rushed to the airport, hurried to the venue from the airport and dashed into the conference hall at the last minute. Won’t you be touched with such co-workers?

The Lord Jesus needed to pray for his co-workers. After he prayed, he called them; upon hearing his call, they came to him and so the Lord Jesus appointed the 12 apostles. The Lord wants willing workers. Anyone who is willing to serve God may come, there is surely suitable work waiting for you.

III. Training

After the Lord appointed the 12 apostles, he did not immediately send them out. The Bible says, “…that they might be with him….” Before he sent them out to preach, the Lord first wanted them to be with him. What does this mean? It refers to living together. Living together is the best way to train the disciples. The Chinese say it is easy to get together but difficult to live together. We all know that we learn by example. But the real example is not in the church context but in the home, because in the home, we can’t hide anything.

This year I turned fifty. On my birthday, the church deacons held a surprise birthday party for me. I was really touched by the love and support they gave me. However, in the middle of the party, they asked my children to say a few words. My eldest daughter said, “All of you see my dad on the pulpit looking strict as he preaches, but at home he is very funny, sometimes he would sing and dance.” Later on, a co-worker told me, “Pastor, I didn’t realize that you know how to dance!” Actually there are many aspects you don’t know about me because we don’t live together under one roof. When I officiate weddings, I tell the groom, “Tomorrow, you will begin to know the person you married. Is she afraid of cold or hot weather, does she snore… because you will live together from now on.” The Lord Jesus was together with his 12 disciples. The Lord wanted his disciples to learn from him – how he treats others, how he resolves problems. This is true discipleship training.

I praise the Lord for the four years of training I had in the Overseas Theological Seminary. The little that I have accomplished in ministry I owe a lot to the four years of training that I had in the seminary. We lived together with our seminary president Rev. Donald Lau. We ate the same food his family ate, we woke up the same hour they did. Because we have our devotions together, we had to wake up at 6 o’clock in the morning. It may not be very early, but during winter, it was so difficult to rise up. But since our teacher led a good example, we cannot but rise up too. I believe I have shared this story before, maybe some of you have not yet heard it or you might already have forgotten it.

One day, the school’s septic tank broke down. All the filth was floating up. The government service personnel could only come the next day. And we all stood there looking at each other. Suddenly the president changed his clothes and jumped into the drainage, we were all dumbfounded. All of us just stared. But suddenly a senior also jumped in, afterwards, one by one they all jumped in. And I had no recourse but to also jump in. I tell you, if the president didn’t jump in, I wouldn’t have jumped in. This is modelling, this is training. Actually discipleship training isn’t that difficult, there are four steps to pay attention to: 1. I do, you watch. 2. I do, you help 3. You do, I help 4. You do, I watch. As long as you are willing, we will train you, someday, you will be the one to train others. In this way, the church can be ensured of co-workers. Don’t do everything by yourself, train others to work with you.

IV. Authority

When the disciples were sent out, the Lord gave them authority to cast out demons. The Lord gave them authority and power. There is a difference between authority and power. Some people may have authority but they do not have power. A nation’s president has authority, a boss has authority. But some presidents, and some bosses do not necessarily have power. One time I heard some women talking about in-law relationships. A grandma said, “The world has changed. Before, daughters-in-law were afraid of their mother-in-laws, nowadays, it’s the mothers-in-law who are afraid of their daughters-in-law.” Another woman added, “The mother-in-law is afraid of the daughter-in-law, the daughter-in-law however is afraid of the yaya (nanny).” I thought it made some sense. How come, since the yaya has the least authority? How come the one who has the most authority is afraid of the yaya? It is because she has power. She may not have any authority but she has power. She has the power to care for the baby. If she refuses to take care of the baby, the daughter-in-law would be frantic.

After Jesus prayed, he called the men that they might be with him. And then, he sent them out, giving them authority. With the authority he gave came the power to cast out demons. The Lord gave them authority and power. Now, we understand more clearly that we must learn to divide up the work. We must not do all the work by ourselves; however, we must know what true division of labour means.

I mentioned two concepts before: 1. Delegation and 2. Empowerment. How are these two different? Delegation is assigning the work but not giving any power. Empowerment is giving the work and also the authority, allowing the subordinate authority to make decisions. If you don’t do so, the person will have to consult with you regarding every little decision he has to make. Allowing the person authority to make decisions within his bounds is empowerment. Co-workers, true division of work is empowerment not delegation. Some leaders only delegate, but they make the decisions on every matter. This is not division of labour.

Of course, there is some danger when you allow a person to make decisions for he may make the wrong decisions. But we mustn’t be too worried, for 1. There isn’t a leader who never makes mistakes. 2. Good leaders grow and learn from their mistakes. As long as we are willing to take the responsibility, learn from our failures, mistakes are good. 3. Let him make decisions within the scope of his authority. In this manner, even if he makes a mistake, the outcome won’t be that serious. Because the church is growing, it needs more and more equipment. The church had already come up with a policy, that is within a certain amount, they allow me to make decisions regarding the purchase of any equipment. This is an example of giving a person power to make decisions within the scope of his authority. Only in this way can the work be more efficient.

The Lord Jesus gave us a good example of how to choose and train up co-workers:
1. Pray first. Through prayer, we ask the Lord to send us co-workers.
2. Make the call. Tell the citizens of the Kingdom of heaven its needs. Do not force them but tell them the needs, because heaven’s citizens have a duty to it.
3. Training. The best training is on the job training – learn while you work.
4. Authority. Give authority, allow co-workers to learn to make decisions.