Man with a Message
We chat to Dr Tim Tucker, CEO Message Trust SA
Tim’s new book Grab a Towel has just been released. It is one of CBD’s top essential reads of 2018. We are making the book available at the special price of R115.
CBD: There are so many books on leadership, Tim, why this one? What need did you perceive?
Tim: Yeah, there are plenty of books on leadership based on a biblical framework, but I hope this one stands as something fresh because it’s very Christ-centred, bringing forward the model of Christ when He said, “I’ve given you an example that you should follow”… and to ask what is that example. And then the principles in the book are not just generic, but have been born out of ministry in the South African context. We’ve been working with raising leaders from the margins… sort of like Jesus did. So the book emerges out of The Message’s experience of trying to be the sort of leaders that those who are forgotten, the hated, the marginalized might want to follow and emulate. And I also think as a critique of a top-down leadership model and presenting a bottom-up leadership model that might speak to grassroots… any level, actually.
CBD: Although you’ve written about a process of servant leadership learned in the context of the Message Trust’s work, the principles apply in in every context: church, workplace, family, right?
Tim: The challenge is to ask, are we leading biblically in any context, or are we simply adopting popular models out there and trying to put a proof text on them. I think the Bible provides a Christ-centred model which the Holy Spirit must illumine to enable us to apply to our context, whatever that may be, within this generation.
CBD: So how does the book fit into the vision of the Message Trust and what the organization is working towards in South Africa and elsewhere?
Tim: Well, to help reframe the concept of leadership, as mentioned, but also to celebrate the kind of leaders we’re seeing emerge, you know, gang leaders, ex-prisoners, former drug addicts who are now having an influence in their communities. Ultimately, as the Message we want to disciple those people into effective leadership such that the church takes courage that the gospel is at work and will take those steps towards that kind of influence available to us… to see the world stimulated to ask questions about the kind of impact they see at grassroots level.
CBD: Can you tell us a little more about the kind of impact you’re seeing in the context of the Message Trust?
Tim: I’ll go with yesterday, our prayer day, where out of 30 people probably 50% or more have criminal records. I mean, this is our team, this is who we work with. So something that came out of yesterday… MK is someone who works in Nyanga, the murder capital of South Africa. He has a criminal record, we’ve worked with him over years now, he has a great job at PEP stores, managed to get out of Nyanga, but has now moved back in to try to reach others for Christ. He works with Nyanga Baptist church, leading a soccer team on the ground where all 24 team members have committed their lives to Jesus, and now attend a local church with their family members being impacted as well. This is the ripple effect that happens with the deep investment in someone like MK… working with someone who can be an urban hero of transformation, able to reach others we can’t.
CBD: I love that right at the beginning of you book you say that character comes before charisma, competence and credentials as a leadership requirement. You point out that today leadership is often mistakenly associated with the last three. But you’re raising up leaders in a context where character can be seriously flawed, or even non-existent! Considering that character takes time to develop, as you write, how are you able to raise up leaders fairly quickly? Do you operate on a deep level of trust?
Tim: Great question. But without wanting to sideline the question, I think that leaders who maybe don’t have the level of disadvantage of some of the guys we work with are just more sophisticated at masking their lack of character. Often we can hide behind our credentials, submerging our flaws, whereas a gang leader might have charisma but everyone knows his flaws, including himself. So we have great raw material to work with, people who know their challenges. There aren’t any barriers to break down. But what’s key is going deep, following the example of Christ who spent three years with his disciples who, in the end, still betrayed or abandoned him. But that depth meant their recovery was quicker, and we see that in the character growth of emerging leaders we work with… that they struggle but the depth of investment means a stronger recovery and further growth. I’ve seen it numerous times where we’ve thought someone has blown it, but actually the depth of investment pays off.
CBD: You write that true leadership is when we serve someone else to the point of their success. Have church leaders imbibed too far the idea that we have a calling and our fulfillment is to live that out? Whereas the principle you take from Christ is that our fulfillment in living out our calling is the success of another person?
Tim: I can’t generalise too much, but we do see in many churches a perception that the congregants are there for the benefit of the leaders. And as much as the church activity is consumed by congregants, so the leadership are honoured. The danger then is that the healthiness of a church is not measured in terms of how they’re helping one another and the community, but rather in terms of size and number of programmes. That’s the danger of a worldview that has infiltrated the church, that our leaders are superheroes fuelled by a large following. It can become self-serving. I think naming the danger is really important, and holding up a mirror to any threat to true servant-hearted leadership. Personally, being the product of a solution-based mentality, I have to constantly remind myself that that’s not by purpose, that I’m to be the shoulders for someone else to stand on… to serve that person.
CBD: In my experience, Tim, when God saved me out of severe brokenness 20 years ago, I really struggled to find a pastor who could embrace me in the way you describe. In fact, when opening up to one church leader, he took a step back and said that he preached the word and God did the rest!
Tim: My observation in South Africa is that the word ‘pastor’ has become synonymous with being a Christian professional. We need to redefine that word, rediscover the word ‘shepherd’, or ‘counsellor’, so that the expectations for that person with the job description are realistic to their giftedness, rather than expecting them to be what we anticipate the position to be. So the essence of this book, and my last one actually, is really talking about a call to discipleship in language that will hopefully stimulate more thought, and will help deal with the bottlenecks that a top-down leadership model can create.
CBD: One of the hallmarks of servant leadership you describe is the sense of a God-given vision, and you helpfully describe how your own vision developed over many years of patient discerning how God was leading. Well, in today’s culture of instant everything, is that a message young people can easily apply?
Tim: Well, it’s a biblical model, Moses being a great example of having a sense of purpose but learning how that works out over time through brokenness, failure and restoration. I mean, there’s so much material in the Bible! Just think of Jacob and his vision of God’s ladder, yet he still bargains until twenty years later he wrestles with God and only then submits. Does that mean we discount the journey as irrelevant? No, I think hindsight allows us to see the process in a different light. Does it mean we shouldn’t do vision brainstorming sessions? I think they’re healthy and helpful, especially for corporate vision. But my personal experience is of how God led me through stages – even though I look back now and see mixed motives – that inspired me to learn more about the calling he’d placed on my heart, so that eventually when an organization like the Message approached me five years ago, it was actually a wonderful moment where my reflections on the golden thread of God’s leading enabled me to ask if I could live out this calling, and grow further in it, through the opportunity the Message was holding out. And I think that’s the Biblical way of developing a God-given vision.
CBD: The principles or ‘hallmarks’ of servant leadership in your book are very practical, and with each one you answer the question as to how to apply them whatever the context. You refer readers to more helpful material on your website. Will the Message Trust be offering workshops to help people or churches get their teeth into the material?
Tim: There is a level of facilitation needed, so we’re doing the book with all the staff here at the Message Trust, and we’d love to work with others and see it move towards a practical outworking, where young people are empowered and the church is equipped. I mean, this is the vision of the Trust, so it’s part of our mandate and, yeah, that would be really exciting.
Tim has been involved in frontline mission in Africa in various forms since 1998. Grab a Towel is his second book, the result of a ground zero search and implementation of biblical principles to engage and transform the toughest mission scenarios. CBD recently chatted to Tim at the Mess Cafe in Observatory, Cape Town, about his book and the work of The Message Trust SA.
Tim’s book is available at the discounted price of R115.
In Conversation with Vaughan Roberts
Vaughan Roberts is an author and speaker, and the Rector of St Ebbe’s Church in Oxford, UK. Currently in South Africa as a keynote speaker for the GWC Reformation Symposium (29-31st Aug), he is also scheduled at various other platforms and training initiatives during his visit.
Grant: Could you give us a heads-up on what you’ll be speaking about at GWC?
Vaughan: Well, it’s an academic conference, and they’ve got all sorts of very learned academics doing very learned academic things. I’m neither academic nor learned, so they’ve given me the topic Luther: the Man, which is gloriously open. I’ve studied Luther so much this year, but in the end I’ve focused on the particular spiritual struggles he faced. He struggled with assurance, doubt, depression and guilt throughout his life. What’s very helpful is that he reflected on that theologically. He found things that helped him which he then passed on – he was a great pastor. So I’ll be passing on some of the lessons he learned to help us engage with the spiritual struggles we face in life.
Grant: Concerning spiritual struggles, you write on the thorny issues facing us today, like the transgender and assisted suicide debates. Do these resonate in the South Africa you’re seeing?
Vaughan: Oh definitely, it’s a global world isn’t it? Wherever you are in the world, there are some currents that affect us all.
Grant: Are you speaking to these during your visit?
Vaughan: Well, just this morning at the minister’s training, we’ve been looking at what I call – picking up on Dale Kuehne’s phrase – the iWorld where individualism reigns. That has completely changed how people are looking at sex and marriage in now largely individual terms, looking for something that will give them a sense of freedom and fulfillment. And that is a massive challenge to Christians, because a lot of Christians have adopted this worldly mindset, that life is basically about finding fulfillment. What the Bible has to offer in response to that is not simply a set of moral laws – which the world doesn’t want anyway – but a wonderful liberating gospel. So we need to think deeply how do we engage in such a way that, to use Glynn Harrison’s little phrase, we’re promising a better story. That’s a really fine book, by the way, don’t know if you’ve seen it? A Better Story. It’s worth getting hold of.
Grant: Speaking of really fine books, when reading yours, one senses a deep compassion driving them as you engage on questions of gender and sexuality. Has the church struggled to express this compassion during the sexual revolution decades?
Vaughan: It’s hard to generalize because different Christians and churches have responded in different ways. It’s hard to get it right, so some have rather gone with the flow. I know plenty of churches who’ve just adapted to fit in with the culture. Others have been adamant that we have to take on the culture and have been quite aggressive. Others have simply withdrawn to preserve their purity. Yet we’re called to engage in a way that doesn’t compromise the truth of God – not lobbying verbal grenades from afar, but in the context of relationships. The Lord Jesus is our model. He never compromised on truth, he did not withdraw, he engaged, he got involved, he loved them… but he did call them to repent. Our temptation is to shout truth from a distance, but that’s not what the Lord Jesus did. Like him, we need to be loving, truthful, practical.
Grant: Do you enjoy writing?
Vaughan: Whenever I write a book, I always think I’m never going to do it again ‘cause it’s such hard work. But then, maybe nine months or a year later, something bubbles up that I want to get out. And that’s basically how things have developed.
Grant: Do you have a sense of your writing being a God-given calling?
Vaughan: Well, I hope so! In retrospect, after I’m done with the hard process of writing, it’s a wonderful thing. I mean, here I am in Cape Town, as a result, 6000 miles away from home. People are reading my books. I appreciate that it’s got a big reach.
Grant: In your book Faith in a Time of Crisis, you encourage those who face sexual struggles to see restraint as a gift from God, a sacrifice. Considering how far sexual licence has slid, do you think that’s a message people can embrace today?
Vaughan: It’s a huge challenge, but we don’t start there. Our message to the world is not “Deny yourself sexually”. Our message rather is about Christ, and how He’s given Himself for them. It’s only when someone considers who Christ is and what He’s done, that they’ll even consider any change that might mean denying themselves. So the no’s of the gospel flow from the yes’s. And the yes’s are God’s massive love for them.
Grant: In Assisted Suicide you warn how categorizing people – in this case, the terminally ill – has, throughout history, led to a licence to treat people differently. You mention the Holocaust. It strikes one as ironic, because so many sub-cultures today intentionally categorize themselves in order to find their identity, for example, the LGBTI groups. In our desire for equality, humanity is becoming increasingly splintered. How on earth are we going to bring humanity back to seeing itself as a whole?
Vaughan: Our identity comes from Creation. We don’t have to find an identity. But if we just emerged by accident, then of course I will latch onto anything to give myself an identity because I have no intrinsic value. So our identity mark has become hugely significant in our search for meaning. It has also become very well defended because that’s all we’ve got. And that identity has become defined by difference. But if we start with Creation, then God has already given us value by creating us in His image. We are much-loved creatures distinct from the rest of the created order. And that means that every single human being has a common humanity and a common dignity because we’re all made in the image of God. Of course there are differences, male and female, cultures, backgrounds, but fundamentally we share a common humanity. That’s how we should recognize one another, rather than emphasizing the differences. And then in Christ, there’s an even deeper connection, not just in our common humanity, but relationally when we become brothers and sisters and share a fundamental union in Him. In Christ we really find who we are… and then we find each other.
Grant Griffiths enjoyed chatting with Vaughan at CBD’s bookshop in Belvedere Road, Claremont, Cape Town on Friday, 25th Aug.