I have a lot of respect for leaders who stay working in a business or organization for more than ten years. In order to do so they have built a tremendous trust account with their people, have adapted to the many changes that take place, and have re-invented themselves at least two or three times.
It is for these reasons that I was so delighted to spend time with a great leader – Stanley Mehta. He is, and has been, Senior Pastor at Bombay Baptist Church located at the southern end of Mumbai near the Gateway of India. He has been here for thirty-one years and is fifty-nine years old.
The British rulers, using Indian labor, constructed this architectural statement between 1913 and 1924. It was to commemorate the visit to India of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. The locals here refer to it as the Taj Mahal of Mumbai.
Interestingly, the congregation of Bombay Baptist Church would have watched this construction take place for the church was formed in 1896.
Across the street from this charismatic Baptist church is the Imperial Mansion. In fact, within walking distance of the church are: homes of two of the wealthiest people in India (one of them in the world); a beautiful beach area frequented by Bollywood stars; and then less than fifteen minutes away is the underworld of the brothels of Mumbai.
This is a very complex community in which to ‘be the church’ due to the extremes of socio-economic cultures as well as a very diverse ethnic blend an languages spoken here.
The sanctuary itself seats five hundred people on plastic chairs that are stacked against the walls to use the auditorium throughout the week for other purposes. Today they have 4,400 attending on Sundays with services in English, Hindi and Tamil.
How do they do this? Well in 1987 they started training lay people in the church to minister in house churches and today they have over 25 locations for Bombay Baptist Church throughout greater Mumbai. With 70 staff and 65 committed volunteers it was easy to discern that my new friend Stanley is a great leader of people. Then when he let me in on his organizational structure that makes all this happen I was even more impressed.
Stamina and Giftedness
To stay put in a complex neighborhood situation like this requires stamina. In a formal role that demands you provide leadership, you’ve got to deal with the people thing. In fact, your impact, your effectiveness, and your performance depend on your ability to influence, work with and/or through others effectively. As obvious as this sounds, it is the primary failure of most leaders.
Stanley is not a failure. This man taught me so much in two hours I went away amazed and wondering how some of his strategies and methodology might speak into our church situation in downtown Vancouver.
What a joy to be with someone who is so committed over time. I am silenced just thinking about all that has been accomplished in his neighborhood.
So, just before leaving I mentioned to Stanley how moved I was by their commitment to the community (I have in my journal a list of all the services they do as a church in the city).
“Carson”, he replied, “Jesus told us that we are to be about loving God, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. In our churches we are good at loving God in our worship and our prayers. We are not very good at loving our neighbors.”
I was quiet on the drive back to the hotel as I drove by his people, his neighborhood, and ponder these words.