Category Archives: Leadership

A Whole New World

This weekend, world leaders will convene in Washington for a global summit, with the primary agenda of fixing the financial system of the world, no less. If the right people show leadership, that might actually happen, but why stop there?

Britain’s PM, Gordon Brown, ambitiously envisioned a “new world order” this Monday, calling upon Europe and America to be “internationalist not protectionist, interventionist not neutral, progressive not reactive and forward-looking not frozen by events.” This echoes this article in Newsweek on November 3, calling for an actual world bank to replace the IMF. In times of crisis, the status quo is questioned, creating a window for change. Now is a time of crisis, but also a time of change.

Our current world order was in large part forged on the ruins of World War II. Most global or regional institutions that we take for granted today had their foundations laid in the aftermath of the war: the UN, IMF, WTO, EU, NATO, OECD. Not merely acronyms, but the framework of the world as we know it.

Changing these things is difficult. Once something is institutionalised, a certain inertia becomes ingrained, and changes are mostly incremental, bogged down by endless debate and compromise. The UN reform process or recent years’ failed attempts at modernising the EU are cases in point.

The problem is it’s a new world out there. Neither WWII nor the Cold War defines the challenges facing the world today. As Fareed Zakaria has repeatedly pointed out, power centres are shifting; globalisation is changing the face of the world, threatening to render the current world order obsolete if it’s not adapted to suit the 21st century. In order to maintain and spread peace and prosperity globally, we need strong and functioning global institutions. And they need to be geared to the challenges of today, not those of 60 years ago.

Brown states that “uniquely in this global age, it is now in our power to come together so that 2008 is remembered not just for the failure of a financial crash that engulfed the world but for the resilience and optimism with which we faced the storm, endured it and prevailed.” It just might work. The election of Barack Obama in the U.S. is a sign that the world is ready for change. Obama cannot and will not change the world alone. But the momentum is there. This may be the time when world leaders finally step up the challenge of securing the future of the world.

United States of the World

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Congratulations, Mr Obama. You have earned perhaps the hardest job in world at the moment, and you have a healthy majority of people believing you are up for it. I am one of them.

After the Cold War, the U.S. emerged as the world’s only superpower; the single most powerful force (in any respect) in the world. That this situation is gradually giving way to a multi-polar world with American influence waning is true to a degree. The rest of the world is rapidly catching up and increasingly playing along the rules which America invented. But the recent financial crisis has showed us that the need for a strong USA is as great as ever.

What the world needs is leadership from the leader of the world. Not callously wielded military might and arrogant attitudes. No, real leadership that reaches out and inspires. In John McCain’s loser speech he was very gracious and noble toward his opponent, but Obama obviously steals the show with his performance.

Obama’s victory speech nourishes the hope of many that he in fact can and will reach out. Toward the many different people that he mentions in his speech: “young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled”. He promises to enforce the ideal of America as a land of equal opportunities, regardless of race, colour, religion or sexuality.

Just as importantly, Obama reaches out to the world. A special mention of those in “forgotten corners of our world” (Australia might be one of them) is sympathetic, but also telling of the foreign policy to come. Of an American president who might finally realise that in order to win friends and influence people, it’s not a smart policy to be the class bully. Obama eloquently stated that “the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.”

What both the U.S. and the world needs now is a new vision and real change. No single person can do this alone. But Barack Obama might just be the man who can get the wheels into motion and help set the course for the world in this century.

Naser Khader: A Fallen Angel

Just over a year ago Denmark was cheering on a new political party that aimed for nothing less than revolutionising the state of political affairs. New Alliance was founded with lofty goals of doing politics in a new way, minimising the influence from the ultra-right-wing Danish People’s Party, and having a truly liberal and global outlook. On top of that rode Denmark’s new political darling, Naser Khader, a Syrian-born Muslim with secular and democratic ideals who for many demonstrated a fresh breath of air to decades of trench wars on immigration policy.

In the end, however, the ideals were all they could deliver. The early grassroots approach to policy yielded no detailed or coherent vision, and the party became mostly an uneven melting pot of wannabes. In last year’s general election they managed to secure five seats in the parliament, but status quo endured and the sitting centre-right government could continue unaltered into a third term. Two of the five quickly left, one to become independent, the other to join one of the ruling parties. And this week, a third was forced to withdraw from the party, also becoming an independent for the time being. From such highly lauded beginnings last summer, they are now down to two, with no chance in a million of retaining their parliament seats.

What went wrong? Apparently the catch-all approach backfired, and trying to fathom everybody eventually meant reaching no one. There never was more than a vision; no strategy, no planning, no organisation to back it up. Naser Khader’s personality was what started it all, but also what brought it down. In politics, seemingly, ideals can only get you thus far, after that skills are needed. Skills which it became clear in the election campaign that Khader did not possess, after all.

I think the vision had lots of merit. But from there it was pretty much downhill when the vision turned out to be backed by nothing but hot air. In the lyrics for the musical Evita, Tim Rice put it eloquently like this: “You let down your people, Evita. You were supposed to have been immortal. That’s all they wanted. Not much to ask for. But in the end, you could not deliver.”

How to Keep a Church Alive

Last weekend, Århus Café Church was away together on a spiritual retreat for the firstbut definitely not lasttime in our history as a church. We had lots of fun, enjoyed good music, prayer, inspiring teaching, and just hanging out together.

Regina and Juris Rekisgood friends, and founders of the church plant “Korinta” in Rigaprovided awesome inspiration and challenged the group to go out and do something for God and make a difference for Århus. The reaction is overwhelming; a great number of people have indicated willingness to be more committed, and lots of good ideas have surfaced. So the big question now is: how do we as leaders keep this flame burning?

The obvious answerwhich a friend gave me todayis that it’s not our responsibility, but God’s. As leaders we are called to do the tasks we are charged with. But so is everybody in the church. We are responsible to God, and committing ourselves to Him as leaders should be our foremost priority.

Even so, it can seem daunting. In the parable of the talents, Jesus says: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21 NIV) I feel in some ways that God is telling us: “OK, well done so far. Now let’s go to the next level.” Which is going to be fun, but challenging.

Church growth comes from the grass roots, and we have a strong and committed core of people with a passion for turning Århus Café Church into something really big. Our job as leaders will be not to stifle that passion; but to facilitate initiative, ministry, responsibility, and growth in every member. And to inspire them to continue to grow as disciples.

A great responsibility, indeed, if it were ours alone. Fortunately, it is not we as leaders who create growth, but the Holy Spirit. Paul writes: “I planted the seed. Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7 NIV)

Back to Reality?

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More than two weeks have now passed since the Adventist Church session in Denmark. The unprecedented hike in visitors to this blog is over. Has interest waned also in the future of the church? I certainly hope not.

But we have a tendency to focus on the grand event, the important thing, the parties, and forget the mundane. Take sports. I love watching the World and Euro Cups in football (soccer), but can’t really be bothered to follow regular matches. The super-bowl is fun, but I’d never watch NFL every week. (Others will, of course, disagree on this.) Same goes for politics. It may be interesting to follow in an election year, but how many of us actually care in between?

Sometimes religion suffers from the same tendency. We care about the future of the church because it’s right there, screaming us in the face. But then we go home and go back to work, and life goes on. It is good, then, to know that we have a Union board set aside for seeking God’s guidance for the church. And whatever your opinion on clergy, it is good to know that at least some people spend their time building God’s kingdom. But what about the rest of us?

And one thing is church politics, but what about spirituality? It can be tempting to build your life as a disciple on events, too. Longing for that spiritual retreat, the camp meeting, the summer camp, or whatever, that “fills us up” in order to go on. Or living from Sabbath to Sabbath, waiting to be “filled up” in church.

Don’t get me wrong, these things can be good, and even necessary. But I believe Jesus wants to be lord also of the mundane. Being a committed Christian is a full-time thing. Not sitting piously in the corner all day, for we need to work to keep the world spinning. But it would be a danger if we built our faith on the expectation of the next big thing. In stead, we ought to build on the rock that is the Word of God – everyday.

DUCH Session – The Road Ahead

The 9th session of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Danish Union of Churches, ended today at 14:00 pm. The last day was mostly a continuation of the good mood set forth during the last two days.

Thomas Müller was elected Secretary (vice president). Thomas has been youth director for the last six years, and media director for the last three. In the latter, he was my immediate boss, and I have had many a fruitful cooperation with Thomas. Furthemore, he has been coordinator for church planting in the last couple of years, and been a great support for us in Århus Café Church. His appointment may signal enhanced priority in this field. I look forward to this.

Daniel Birch (my brother) was re-elected as Treasurer with only 1 (one) vote against.

And finally, the new union board was approved. Contrary to many other unions, here the majority are lay-people. I believe this is definitely the right way to do it. And the list looks very good. A wide representation of positions, from right to left, but most are people who have a vision for the church and have demonstrated a will to cooperate – if not earlier, then at least at this session.

We owe all these people our support and prayers. As Lasse Bech points out, the work is not done; the challenge is not over. But it’s time to go. Time to go out in the world. Time to start working together for the sake of those who do not know Jesus.

P.S. The last five days have seen a record-breaking number of visits to my blog. Thanks for reading, I hope it has been informative. Several of you commented in person in Nærum, and some on the blog. As for the rest of you, I don’t know who you are, but you are more than welcome. Feel free to leave me a comment.

DUCH Session – Structural Change

Apart from the election of a new president, the best thing that happened today was the passing of the structural commission’s proposal. I cannot go into details here, but the group, led by pastor Lasse Bech, have done a tremendous job, and the ideas put forth here have potential for truly changing this church for the better. The need for change has been evident for a while, and the commission has been working a couple of years. These organisational reforms may help us refocus, help us manage according to God’s will, and help us to look ahead, not behind. There was opposition, sure, but the referendum was clear in favour of the proposal, and the document will provide a vital help for the new leadership.