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India & Principles of Leadership

Recently I spent two weeks in India observing an indigenous church planting movement. Operation Agape is a dynamic ministry of Indians reaching Indians in a holistic manner that is proving very fruitful. I was part of a three person design team that took 24 European emerging leaders to northern India to see if we could discern some movement building principles that could be imported back to Europe. This was the final experience of a 15 month European emerging leader training. I was fascinated by the simplicity and clarity of the vision and execution of this ministry.  I was also amazed and grateful for how well they served us.  We were not merely spectators, but full participants for four days of house church visitation.  Here are three observations I made as I was blessed by their leadership.

1. The overall vision and goals were crystal clear.  Dr. Alex Abraham is the director of Operation Agape.  In a genius move by Dr. Alex we spent our last day hearing about their vision and missional approach.  This was after four days of observing and participating in the mission with them.  This provided a double learning opportunity.  We finally were able to put meat on the bones of what we had observed in action.  We were able to get the “whys” and “hows” nailed down.  Dr. Alex humbly asked us to critique our experience according to their stated vision and approach.  He wanted to know, in our opinion, were they living out their stated objectives?  What came through loud and clear is that from top to bottom every leader in the organization clearly understood the vision and mission and lived it out with great enthusiasm.  And we could see it, smell it, hear it,  and taste it in our hands on experience with them.  Operation Agape knew what God had called them to do.  They talked about their vision a lot in many different ways.  They equipped every leader and follower towards that vision.  And they gave every willing person an opportunity to engage in the mission in a meaningful way.  I think most of us could have stated their vision for them before we actually heard it articulated.  We observed it and experienced it.

2. The missional approach was defined and executable.  Every project they do is based on PEACE.  P stands for proclaiming biblical truth.  E stands for equipping and training quality leaders with character and competence.  A stands for assisting the poor.  C stands for caring for the sick.  And E stands for educating the next generation through formal and non-formal schools.  This was lived out across several different strategies and through a strong patterning effort.  Even within the house churches themselves each committed follower knows that PEACE is the plan.  Every member also understands a very simple, but powerful communication strategy for proclaiming Christ: listen to the other person’s story, tell them your story, tell them Jesus’ story.  We were constantly being reminded of simple, yet profound and effective, approaches to carrying out the organization’s mission among a wide variety of it’s leaders and followers.

3. The number one objective of every leader was to raise up more leaders.  Nothing stood out more than the concept of rapid mobilization through the empowering of new leaders.  Every house church was expected to multiply itself.  When six leaders could be identified they were put through a one year training program that consisted of theological and practical leadership development.  Once the training was completed, four new leaders would be sent out to the next neighborhood and two would remain at the existing house church. In this manner they could ensure leadership continuity and supported expansion at the same time.  The rest of their leadership training was “on the go.”  These new leaders were mentored, monitored, and further equipped for what they would face in these new settings.  What was clear is that they did not wait for some day, but empowered leaders as soon as they could be identified, prepared, and released.  They rightly placed a premium on character and spiritual vibrancy, but not on experience or some indistinguishable leadership marker before they empowered them to lead.  Dr. Alex strongly believes that the best trainer is leading itself.

I was deeply impacted by this brief experience in India. There are leadership principles to be observed and learned where ever you go.

The Culture of Horn Honking

medium_5475747169This is simply meant to be a light-hearted post, nothing worthy of deep thought or reflection. I am an American who lives in Italy and just returned from a 13 day visit to India. I am fascinated by different cultures and how societies work. You can often pick up on differences by how different cultures utilize similar means. For this post I will explore the use of the car horn.

In the U.S. I will argue that Americans largely use their horns to warn or complain. We honk when we want to make people aware of danger. We honk when we feel a great wrong has been done to us on the road. Someone has violated the law (as we see it) or someone has made us very angry with their driving methods. But on the whole (maybe apart from New York City) we are not a culture that regularly communicates through our car horns. That is different from Italy and India.

I have lived in Italy for the past five years. And now we are actually in transition to return to our home culture in the U.S. Italians love their cars and their car horns. It was a little unsettling when we first moved here to constantly hear car horns. My observation is that Italians use the horn as a regular means of communication, but mainly out of being annoyed. If you wait more than two seconds after a traffic light has turned green, you will get a long blast from a car horn behind you. Italians are a very passionate people. Therefore their communication is passionate as well, verbally and through their car horns. But it doesn’t mean anything negative. They simply express their “in the moment” feelings readily. The car horn is just an extension of their present feelings. You have to understand this here or you will think everyone is simply rude. But they are not, they are just temporarily annoyed with you and letting you know. You can still be best friends and enjoy a cappuccino together.

India has almost a billion people. Apparently, every one of them owns a car. I have never seen this kind of traffic or heard so many horns in my life. But my observation is that the communication pattern is different. Americans honk out of anger and “injustice.” Italians honk out of annoyance and to simply express their temporary emotion. Indians see driving like Americans see snow skiing. At least this is my grid for understanding their “car honking” culture. It is like an American snow skier simply saying “on your left” or “on your right.” Skiing etiquette dictates that you let the skier in front of you know that you are about to pass them on the hill and to let them know which side you are on. I think it is the same way for Indians. They drive all over the road and use any lane available to them, no matter which way the direction of traffic is suppose to be going. But they will clearly let you know that they are “on your left” or “on your right.” Their facial expressions never change-for the honker or the one being honked at. The trucks even have hand painted signs on the back that say “please honk.” They are not angry or annoyed. They are not informing you of some law you have broken. They are just using skiing etiquette. For the passive passenger-like me-the whole experience can be quite frightening and confusing. But once you see how skilled the average Indian driver is to navigate traffic in his own context-and you see more clearly the “horn honking culture” at work-you can relax-a little!   That is just how I see it.

Here’s to life in the fast lane, going the same direction, seat belts buckled, using our horns to their greatest end!

(photo credit)