I was having coffee with a good friend a few days ago as we thought about how best we can work together in the Jakartan context. He asked me in a wise manner: what do you feel most passionate about? What are you good at and in what role do you see yourself most comfortable in? He’s got an eye for these things – empowering others is about allocating accurately a division of labor where each individual can do that which he or she loves to do in a context of community.

This was refreshing.

In an Asian context, external image and honor within a society are those which are prioritised. Unlike in the West, where self-expression, authenticity and happiness are the highest values, Asia thinks in terms of authority, social standing, respect, order, and service. This means that often leadership is couched in terms of showing others that they are to know their place lest stability becomes compromised. One need not enjoy what one does, so long as one does what one is supposed to do. One’s feelings or internal thoughts are not encouraged to be expressed.

There is much to commend about this way of thinking. To be sure, integrity involves doing things despite what one feels, and a turn to the self as the source of value can easily lead to subjectivism – as we see in the rampant individualism of the West. Yet we must also heed to the biblical emphasis that God does look at the heart – the subject must align him or herself with the object; duty and desire must be in harmony. This is why it seems to me calling should still be couched in terms of an internal passion that meets some external need, confirmed by a sanctified community. To emphasise one without the other can easily lead one to neglect significant portions of Christian teaching. There is a balancing act that we must perform at every point.

Perhaps we have heard the saying: “we should not limit ourselves” – the leader often exalted is one who does not limit himself or herself to a particular task or vocation, but one who can handle all sorts of tasks. In this model, authority is located in terms of command and obedience to the exemplary individual, rather than empowerment and trust. Though the saying that we should not limit ourselves has a grain of truth in that we have to seek to do our best in whatever we are called to do, it may also lead some to the idol of self-sufficiency and power. Simply speaking, we enjoy it when we are perceived to be capable of all things.

But this is hardly true. No one individual is capable of everything. We are weak, our desires are feeble, and our gifts (as revealed in our talents and passions) are, indeed, limited. God has not designed the church to be an aggregate of individuals in which each member could do every thing. Rather, God has designed the church to be a body. The eye cannot say to the ear “I don’t need you.” And neither can the eye say to the leg “I can do what you do.” Indeed, sanctification involves us being satisfied in what we are capable to do, and not to envy the abilities of others. The church is not an aggregate of talented individuals, but rather a single organism of many members, with Christ as head.

In terms of church polity, this is why I remain convinced of Presbyterianism. Here, the leadership has the great opportunity to display the diversity in unity that sound corporate leadership is supposed to convey.


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