One of my favorite experiences each year is attending the Christian Community Development Conference (www.ccda.org). In my opinion, there is no better cross section of people that demonstrates what it really means to live as a transformed person that loves God and loves our neighbor with equal passion. I tell every person at River City that they should try to attend if at all possible – just being around so many wonderful people catalyzes new things each year.
As part of my DMIN program I am required to keep a journal that records some of the helpful content and meaningful moments of the conference. I am just finishing my edits on that, and thought I’d share some of the distilled lessons I learned. If you are someone that is already connected to the CCDA community, I am hoping these ideas will inspire and encourage. If you are not, but value ideas like justice, reconciliation, and community development, I think you will find many of these excerpts intriguing.
My first collection of quotes comes from Dr. John Perkins, one of my heroes of the faith and mentors-from-afar. I am devoting an entire chapter to his life and legacy in my upcoming book, and pull out a pen and paper (ok, laptop) whenever he starts talking. He did a Bible study with some of the DMIN students before the conference began, and there were a number of insights he shared that impacted me. I will give some of the quotes below with a little bit of follow up commentary from me:
“Justice is the most important motivation to God. Justice is so important to God that it required the Cross in order to satisfy the justice demands of God.”
“Reconciliation is the first move towards justice (2 Corinthians 5).”
“Leaders need to understand the times they live so that they can make the proper applications based on the information that God has revealed.”
“Many of today’s leaders are wimps. They aren’t willing to lay down their lives for the cause. Jesus said the true mark of the great Shepherd is that he was willing to lay down his life for the sheep. God could do something powerful with people that would seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and lay down their lives for the cause.”
I wish I could convey these quotes with the passion and conviction that Dr. Perkins communicates with, but hopefully at least part of him comes through. His ability to teach Scripture in a way that connects the very heart of God to justice and reconciliation is something that has really impacted me, and that connection finds its way into almost every sermon and Bible study he gives. Though the first two quotes are brief, I think they are right on. I believe that is true, that justice is the primary motivation of God. That is why I cringe when justice is seen as an afterthought for Christians – I think that God has reconciled us, anoints and commissions us to reconcile based off of that new reality, and I think justice is one of the primary visions that drives a reconciler.
The third quote is one that he went on for awhile, and as he riffed on it I remembered the first time I heard him share something similar. At the first meeting I was ever at with Dr. Perkins he commissioned a group of us young leaders, and he finished with this benediction: “God always hears the cries of those who are suffering. The most important task for a leader is to hear those cries, and to join with the people to solve the most important and pressing problems that they are facing. There is nothing more important you can do with your life than to apply the gifts God has given you to the greatest challenges of our day.” Those words often replay in my head, and still serve as a compass for the organization of my life and priorities. I think there are a lot of elements that go into the process of becoming a meaningful leader, but I think Dr. Perkins is right when he insists that this should be at the top of the list. If we are not taking the gifts that God has given us and applying them to the mission of Jesus, then what good were the gifts? And if we aren’t spending our energy and initiative on collaboratively solving the great problems of our day, then what are we spending it on? These are vexing questions for me, but good ones.
The last quote also had a real impact on me, particularly at this point of my life. There is a universal temptation for human beings to seek their own self interest, and this temptation is no different for those of us who serve in ministry positions. As influence and impact grows, so does the temptation to give in to the pursuit of self interest. When he said that most leaders today are wimps I was thrown off, and even temporarily defensive. But as I reflected on that quote, I found myself really identifying with what he said. Jesus didn’t use his influence and impact to advance his own interests; he did it to advance the interests of God. And if the interests of God meant he had to lay down his own life, then so be it. I found myself longing to be a person more connected to the agenda of God, and less connected to my own personal ambitions. I want to be a person that, in the words of Dr. Perkins, seeks first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, willing to lay down my life for the cause…