Leadership Lessons from a Feast

Bringing questions to God is often what’s so needed

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For too long in many of our churches we’ve taken on the model that leadership is one leader up front with the best public speaking—and certainly that can be an important role—but it is not the only way leadership is done. Empowering leadership that is more communal can be more effective in many situations, but it’s just not as flashy and doesn’t get accolades in our individualized media culture. 

Scripture gives us the example of the disciples who were unlikely candidates for leadership and mission when chosen by Jesus. They were a diverse bunch—fishermen, tax collector, zealot, hospitable sisters, and others. The disciples likely didn’t see themselves as leaders and often misunderstood the mission. But as they walked with Jesus (sometimes faithfully, sometimes not), they learned and grew.

The feeding of the five thousand in Mark 6 gives us key lessons of what it means to follow Jesus and to lead and serve others. The disciples were looking forward to debriefing with Jesus about their short-term missions trip. They just had an amazing season of ministry—preaching, healing, casting out demons as Jesus had instructed before sending them out. And now, as Jesus invites them to “come with me by yourselves to a quiet place,” crowds of people come to hear Jesus and stay all day as he teaches (Mark 6:30‑35).

The disciples ask Jesus to send the people away so they can all find food to eat. Instead, Jesus asks the disciples to feed them. Picture yourself as one of the disciples—Jesus has just told you to give the crowd of twenty thousand something to eat. Is it surprising that they respond with perhaps a bit of an edge? It would take half a year’s wages to feed them!

But they have five loaves and two fish. So Jesus has the disciples organize the crowd to sit down in groups. People are now curious, expecting something, and the disciples are wondering too. “Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all” (Mark 6:41).

Imagine being in that line of disciples getting the food from Jesus; the last one in line might be doing the math: Five loaves, two fish, bunch of disciples … there’s not gonna be enough for me, much less my section of a hundred people. But as they take the food to folks and then go back for more from Jesus, maybe they start to realize that there is enough for them. Jesus has made what little they had into something big.

The disciples had to trust that Jesus was leading, that they would bring what they had and themselves, and Jesus would be able to feed all of them. When you look around, you can see so many needs today too. Maybe you see it in your own family, your church, your campus, or your community—the needs can be overwhelming. The injustices of the world are many! All that my friends and I have are these meager resources. And what I have, what my fellow disciples have, is decidedly not enough.

Even better, Jesus had asked the disciples communally, “How much bread do you have? Take a look” (Mark 6:38 CEB). Jesus uses our gifts in community. Jesus takes what we give him together and multiplies it. (One can read this passage also to be that the miracle was that the people shared what they had and this is how there was enough. This is a miracle along the lines of the Acts 2 community—arguably an even bigger one!) How many gifts have you all together? How much learning, how much faith, how much leadership? Maybe it doesn’t feel like much; it doesn’t feel like enough for whatever need or challenge you see in you, in your community, in our world. But Jesus takes the offering and does the work. And like many Asian Americans throwing a party, Jesus makes sure there’s enough for twelve baskets of leftovers.

We are fed as we feed others. Imagine being one of those disciples, carrying your basket of food to your groups of fifty and one hundred, as you see there being enough food for people to eat. Maybe you start to smile as you see folks enjoying the food and realize that your stomach is also starting to rumble. You grab a little bread and fish out of the basket you’re holding and eat too. The Scripture says they all ate and were filled. The disciples are included in that all. It’s not a situation where the disciples have to have everything figured out (they clearly don’t) before they begin to serve.

And Jesus takes care of his followers as they are serving. Don’t get me wrong—leadership can be hard, and I find that I’m often being stretched to grow. But remember, God isn’t a taskmaster, and God provides for us in the midst of challenges. Jesus cares for his followers. He is not expecting them to take care of his needs—he takes care of theirs. As we serve others as God has called us to, we know that God is the one who provides for us.

Faithfulness in relationship, not success in performance. God invites us to be faithful, not successful. Maybe you know this academically, but living it out in your life is still hard for you. I teach on this and it still surprises me how hard it is to live like this. The model-minority-myth programming to be successful has been so ingrained in me!

Faithfulness isn’t about performance, how well we do something. It’s the faithfulness in relationship. That means living in relationship with God and honoring God with our lives. And faithfulness also includes being able to be honest with God about our questions, our fears, our sadness, and even our anger. Do you hear that edge in the disciples’ voices when they answer Jesus? “We only have five loaves and two fish.” I’ve heard this taught before as the disciples’ doubt or unbelief. I think it is— they are doubting, perhaps being sarcastic. But what I love about this interaction is their honest asking of Jesus—they bring their doubt to Jesus. This is what separates them from others who might doubt or have unbelief but don’t press in and ask Jesus more questions.

In my own life and the lives of many Asian Americans I’ve worked with, it’s the bringing our questions to God that is often so needed. We can put pressure on ourselves to figure it out or “just get it together.” But over life’s journey we will face challenges and might find ourselves questioning whether God is with us or loves us, or whether God sees our pain. Faithfulness to the relationship means bringing our honest feelings to God in these times.

Adapted from Learning Our Names: Asian American Christians on Identity, Relationships, and Vocation by Sabrina S. Chan, Linson Daniel, E. David de Leon, and La Thao. Copyright © 2022 by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA and Linson T. Daniel. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com. This excerpt is adapted from Chapter 10, “Bringing Our Leadership,” written by Sabrina Chan.

  • Sabrina S. Chan

    Sabrina S. Chan, a daughter of immigrants from Hong Kong, is national director of Asian American Ministries for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. She is an ordained minister and earned a master's degree in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary.

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