Brian Stiller

Podcastor

Author

Global Ambassador @ WEA

Brian Stiller

Podcastor

Author

Global Ambassador @ WEA

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What Advice Would You Give Your Younger Self?

November 10, 2019 Articles

As my 80th year gets closer, it’s clearer to me now in responding to that question than it might have been some years ago. But to answer it, I need to review my growing up, nurturing elements and challenges I faced as I engaged in ministry. I begin first with my world in the 1940s and 50s.

Life for us all, is a merging of personal skills, family, friends, and peers, all within changing cultural landscapes. I was raised in the home of the superintendent of the Pentecostal churches in Saskatchewan. Dad inherited a divisive problem of heresy, which in 1947 split our churches. It was enormously troubling, but remarkably it created a longing for loving unity and true fellowship.

I learned watching Dad and I was privileged. How many young people have that kind of tutoring? And living in a family of two brothers and two sisters was an enormous gift. Today the five of us hold on to this lifetime of sibling love.

What then do we learn from our life experiences?
Life is a journey on which excursions come as a surprise. People we meet, ideas which push up against ours, circumstances that break into our lives. My father taught me how to allow God’s world to become my horizon. Ideas and experiences upset and realign what we assume is right or wrong, best or mediocre. What is exceptional as a follower of Jesus is that our calling is an opening to an eternal future in which our todays are but moments on his forever path.

People intersected my life, and by them I was changed: Bernice Gerrard – by her preaching I came to faith: Homer Cantelon – I observed a man who loved God; Ken Bombay – I learned of the Lord’s calling; May English – she taught me how to preach; Harry Faught – he encouraged me to trust the biblical record; Mel Sylvester – he believed in me, pushing me to lead; and so many more. When wrestling with Christian faith, its legitimacy and trustworthiness, I was given a book by Francis Shaeffer: Escape from Reason. I saw that all of life was the Lord’s. Serendipitous. An act of the Spirit.

The point is, all of us journey on pathways, some of them chosen by others and some we self-choose. Then we encounter people, circumstances, movements and ideas which shape us, some distorting and others enhancing. Some bruising and even destructive, while others are remarkably fortuitous and transforming.

As I reflect on what I might say to a younger me, I see that what has come my way created a composite, a mixing of life experiences, mentors, failures and opportunities. Can I influence this mix? Can you? Some of them we can’t. They just come, and we have nothing to say about them. But there are choices we make, ones that are direction-setting. I look through this mix to locate advice I would give to my younger self.

As I sort through my life in ministry, I’m trying to locate an essence, a central factor which, now as I look back, was a primary learning principle which took hold and helped direct what I did. From the start I loved the idea that God’s love was made evident in Jesus. Also, I was deeply moved by preaching and its ability to shape people in life and witness. While those were bedrock values, there was something else guiding my choices of vocation and designing my strategy as a leader. It took me years to locate this, a motivational driver I’ve never heard anyone describe as theirs.

It is this: in leadership, carefully build institutions. As much as the message of Christ was at the core, and while our outlook was centered in the Gospel, as I now understand my task, it was to build sustainable ministries around vision and mission.

This might seem strange and lacking power and vision. It doesn’t. Vision and passion are what drives one to build a sustaining ministry, essential to the furtherance of one’s mission. I saw charismatic leaders, great ideas, social and spiritual movements lose strength and momentum because they weren’t surrounded by an accompanying ability to organize, to build into their work financial sustainability which enables them to mobilize into further action. My advice comes from that understanding.

That lesson from my life journey was been built around four periods in my vocational calls. In fact I wrote a book on it: Find A Broken Wall: 7 Ancient Principles for 21st Century Leaders.

As I isolate one thing I would tell a younger me, let me give a quick biographical overview of what I did do.

Building institutional strength began with Youth for Christ in Canada. It was about to crash and burn. We wrestled with finding a way to serve its original mission: Geared to the times, anchored to the rock. The challenge was to find a way of speaking the Gospel to young people living in a world radically different from that of my teenage years.

A few years later I was challenged to take a really big risk: The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Its mandate was stellar and compelling, but it had become a series of committees and accumulating files. This was my sweet moment. Taking an idea and crafting a plan and generating national momentum

Then a decade and half later came the shocker: Lily and I were home watching the Blue Jays lose, when I got a call. The oldest Evangelical college and seminary in Canada was going bankrupt. For over a decade and half, rebuilding became my preoccupation, for a school now called Tyndale University College & Seminary.

I was almost 70 when I got a call to help the World Evangelical Alliance (formed in 1846) to serve as global ambassador. That original role morphed into helping rebuild its leadership model and seeking to shape a financially sustainable plan. Strengthened as a global ministry, it is viable to help 600 million Evangelicals in their witness and voice.

These four life moments are descriptive of the workings of an underlying principle in leadership, which is the basis for what I would say to a younger me.

Don’t be afraid to risk. Be ready to do the hard work needed in building that which lasts.

Brian C Stiller
Global Ambassador, the World Evangelical Alliance
2019