Characteristics of a Christian Leader, Part II
Characteristics of a Christian Leader
Thompson tells of his experiences that brought him to these conclusions (from article #1)
A publisher expects that his writers’ articles will be well written and have substance. Naturally, when an editor reads an article, questions come up: What is behind this writing? How did he come up with these opinions? What is the writer’s experience related to the article?
This year we have asked our writers to give us a formal article, but we’ve asked for a second article that comes from his/her heart and tells us personal experiences in relation to the subject that has been written: how did you come to this understanding? We believe that along with each subject (on pastors’ lives) there has to be life experiences that brought the writer to his conclusions. Our editorial idea is to be able to understand more of a pastor’s heart.
The first writer is Dr. Les Thompson, founder of LOGOI. His article is titled: “Characteristics of a Christian Leader”. In this second article, he responds to questions raised in his first piece. Let’s see how these answers help us to understand much more of his formal article.
Question: Why did you begin with the idea of “permanence” in ministry?
Answer: We live in a mobile world. We have friends that we never know where they will move to next. They lived in Miami, but unexpectedly they called us from Chicago. It seems that moving from one place to another is just a natural way of life. Maybe, because people move so much is the reason they ask me each and every time I go to the pharmacy if my address has changed.
The idea I wanted to express in my article was the importance of permanence. To be a pastor is like being a farmer: you plant the seed, then you fertilize, then you cultivate, then you let it mature so that eventually you can harvest it. When a pastor begins his work and in a matter of months moves on, he gives no opportunity to protect and care for the seed he has planted. Could this be the reason we see so much discord in the church today? There are very few who really take care of the seed they have planted.
Look at the example of William Carey (1761-1834), the father of modern missions. He was born in England and was a humble and uneducated shoe repairman. His heart burned with the desire to be used of God and he spent his time at the shoe shop reading, studying and educating himself. After hearing of the great needs in India, he left his country at the age of 32 to be a missionary. For 40 years – from 1793 to 1834 – he preached, founded churches, evangelized, opened medical clinics, established the Baptist Missionary Society, translated the entire Bible into three languages and the New Testament into four, wrote the first dictionary for the Bengali language, as well as established the first major newspaper of the country – The Times of India. As if this weren’t enough, in order to improve living conditions for the poor farmers, he founded the Agriculture and Horticulture Society. He impacted this country as few have ever done. Interestingly, before he died, he said, “If you are going to talk about me, say that I knew how to persevere.”
Where are men of God today who are distinguished by their permanence? How easy to think that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.
Question: In your article you say, “A sermon reveals much about a person’s private life.” Please, explain this.
Answer: I speak about what goes on in the hours when we are alone, when we are supposed to be studying and preparing our sermons. When I read that 45 percent of the pastors on our continent are addicted to pornography, it agonizes me. During the free hours, when we should be studying and seeking God, we are hiding and sadly getting into all that is totally contrary to what we say we believe and preach.
In no way do I pretend to be a great saint and give the idea that these temptations don’t come to me and that I never waste time. On the contrary, knowing what free hours can do, I have learned to take preventive steps to take advantage of the time and not lose it. An example: When my second son went to seminary, it occurred to me to study the same doctrinal and theological assignments he was taking. He’d tell me on the phone the names of the books, and got them, too. He’d tell me his assignments and I’d do the lessons, too. If I had a question, my son would ask the professor and he’d call back with the answer. How I learned during the three years Daniel was in seminary! And, how wonderful to have this special relationship with my son!
Later, when he graduated and was called to pastor his own church, I had to find another way to keep myself occupied. It was then I decided to dedicate myself to writing books. Now 13 are written (as you can see, I have to keep myself busy so I don’t have time to sin). How important it is to take advantage of our time, first for the good of our own souls and then for the good of those to whom God has called us to serve!
Question: Under this subject, you mention three areas over which a pastor has to have much control: money, women and pride. Can you tell us more?
Answer: Let’s talk about money. Maybe because I have never had very much – at least not the amounts I would like to have, and this is where I have had special struggles. Interestingly, my particular area has been that of tithing (giving back to God what is His). My excuse for not giving offerings was that as a pastor I had already given my life to God so, I thought, He should be more than satisfied.
Alberto Schweitzer, the famous German doctor who went to Africa as a missionary, said, “If there is something you possess and cannot let it go, then you don’t possess it, it possesses you.” This was the truth for me. As a missionary serving God, I had very little money and under no circumstances could I let go of it, not even for the Lord.
Many of you know my story –that my first wife died when she was 28 years old, leaving me a widower with three little boys. Two years later – now living in Costa Rica – I married Carolyn and began to put my life and family together in San Jose (the year was 1962). However, my salary was insufficient to cover all our expenses. The 22nd or 23rd of the month would come and we didn’t have anything to put on the table. These first months of our new marriage had us on our knees, desperately praying and seeing God’s answer. Amazingly, we would receive the exactly amount of money we needed. Going to church on Sundays, when the offering was taken, I would never give anything. I was convinced I was too poor. As a pastor, I knew very well the biblical principles of giving, but this was for people in general, not for pastors. My hardened heart refused to tithe.
About four months later, we got to the middle of the month and the money was gone. We prayed as always, but nothing came – not a penny. I went to a friend and asked to borrow and promised I would pay him back the next month. That month our youngest son got sick. We had to take him to the hospital and with all those expenses and the medicines, all the money was gone for that next month. I went to another friend and asked for a loan and then had to go back to explain my problem to my first friend and ask for an extension. Now came the third month and things were impossible. By the fourth month, I was drowning in debts. And now I began to ask, why hasn’t God heard my prayers? Why doesn’t He supply my needs as He promised?
I went to a friend, Ruben Lores, pastor of the Templo Biblico in San Jose. I told him my problem. His first question was: “What about your tithe? Have you been giving God what is His?” When I told him how I felt about giving tithes as a minister – that I’d given Him my life and that was enough – he began to laugh. “Your idea is from the devil. It has not come from God,” he said. “All of us need to give our offerings to the Lord. This is a way of expressing our faith and dependence on Him.” He reminded me of the destitute widow in Luke 16 when she gave all she had, and of Jesus’ pleasure to see her dependence on God. I asked, “And what is the lesson you have learned from this?” His answer, “All we have, to our last cent, comes from the Lord. With our offerings and tithes, we express to the Lord not only our thanks but our total dependence on Him. This is exactly what Malachi explains when he says if we don’t give our offerings to the Lord, we are robbing Him.”
You can imagine my repentance. I felt as if I were a horrible thief. But God is a great forgiver. He heard my confession. When the next month came and my meager salary arrived, the first thing I did was take out the tithe (and a little more) and I took it to church. God and I settled accounts. In marvelous ways, He helped me get through my debts. Now, 45 years later, I thank the Lord I had this experience. I learned one of the most important and basic Christian principles. I, as a pastor, have the responsibility to teach others the principle of giving. Now I can say that without a doubt one of the greatest joys in my life is giving God my tithes and offerings without stinginess. And, if you couldn’t guess, in all these years, not one month has God failed in providing what I need. What a great truth: leaders fail when they have mistaken ideas about giving.
Question: There’s not enough space for you to tell us about all ten of your particular article points in Characteristics of a Christian Leader. Talk to us about one more. I’m interested, Dr. Thompson, in your solemn assertion that Jesus Christ calls by name those He wants to be pastors. I would like you to talk more about this as well as your call.
Answer: I was in Cuba at a convention at Los Pinos Seminary (founded by my father and Rev. Lavastida). It was 1944 when I felt a special call from God. I was 13 years old and I’d just had a spiritual experience: my Christian life was pretty superficial and my parents discovered several wrong things I had done. My mother confronted me, “Leslie,” she said, “the way you are behaving makes me think you really don’t know the Lord. If you did, you would not be doing these things.” That night I couldn’t sleep. My mother had hung a scripture verse over my bed, “Thou, God, seest me,” (words that Hagar said when she was abandoned and dying of thirst in the desert with Ishmael and God helped her. Gen 16:13). I, too, was helped that night. I was assured that Jesus forgave my sins.
A few weeks later, we were in a church conference. Because of this experience of being forgiven and my new faith, my heart was open and ready to hear God and follow Him. In one of the services they preached on dedicating one’s life to God. While the sermon was preached, I felt as if God were talking to me and asking me to give my life to Him for His service. When the end of the sermon came they asked if any had promised to serve the Lord and obey Him and wanted to go forward. With great joy I walked to the front. There were 6 or 7 of us young people that day. I felt in the depths of my soul that God has set me aside for special service. From that day onward I knew I would be a missionary.
Professors did not give me my calling. My several uncles who were pastors did not come and put their hands on me and pronounce me “pastor.” My father and mother did not give me my call. In my soul I knew my call came directly from God. That call was verified in a town called Johnstown, Pennsylvania and that verification came when I was 19, on a summer vacation from Bible school.
A friend of the family got me a job at the Johnstown Bethlehem Steel mill company. A few days on the job, I was surprised when a man named Carl Frick came up to me and said, “One of the bosses of the company, Ted Fairchild, told me you’re a Bible school student and I want to talk to you. We’ve been without a pastor at our church for a long time and we haven’t found anyone to help us. We know you are still a student, but would you come and be our pastor for us the summer?” I looked at this man – rough, simple, unpolished, but obviously a real Christian – and again I felt as if God were speaking to me. We exchanged a little bit of information and shook hands. I promised to be with them the following Sunday.
That was an unforgettable summer. The members of the church were either coal miners or workers at Bethlehem Steel Mill. The majority of the 45 people attending the church were twice my age. I’m sure I didn’t look anything like a professional pastor —I’d barely begun to shave! But each Sunday when I got up to preach I felt the touch of God on my life and the blessing of the Holy Spirit. I preached Sunday mornings, I went back to preach Sunday nights. And taught on Wednesdays. At first, we had plenty of room for everyone. Gradually, the seats began filling up. Divine grace was evident – young people accepted the Lord, so did several adults and the older believers celebrated the greatness of God’s Word with me, in spite of my youth. It was a visible proof that God had set me apart for ministry.
At the end of the summer, with many hugs and a few tears, I said goodbye to my first congregation and returned to finish my seminary studies with more confidence than ever of God’s call on my life. Even though I was formally examined later on and officially ordained by my denomination, my real “ordination” took place that summer in that little church outside Johnstown. And, as a special blessing, the son of Carl Frick, is a pastor today in West Virginia, called of God during that summer of my beginning ministry.