Contributed by Ruth Yong
It was a highly-anticipated seminar that drew about 400 businesspeople, executives and professionals to Swissotel The Stamford at 8am on 9 July 2009. Speaker Dr AR Bernard was no stranger to many of those present — the Leadership Conference by Dr Bernard is an annual event that began in 2005, and it has become a must-attend event for many who have heard him speak before.
The conference saw many “newbies” encountering Dr Bernard for the first time, and by the end of the first day, they were fast fans, despite having come to the conference without much fore-knowledge as there was no detailed program provided.
Dr AR Bernard is the founder and CEO of Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, New York. A former banker, he is the President of the Council of Churches of the City of New York, and sits on many boards including the NYC Economic Development Corporation Board. He has been named a “New Influential – 25 Leaders Reshaping New York” (Crain’s New York Business, September 2009) among other accolades.
Gifted with an audacious, cerebral ability and perfect clarity of articulation, Dr Bernard has a gift for shaping listeners’ thought processes with his words. “The crisis we face today is not the economic crisis nor the financial crisis, but a crisis of character,” he says. Adam’s sin against God was not the sin of disobedience, but the sin of idolatry, proposed Dr Bernard.
“Idolatry is defined as seeking security and meaning in someone or something other than God.” The problem of idolatry caused us to be separated from God. This separation led to alienation, which is expressed by men through aggression and violence in society, resulting in conflict, confusion and chaos.
“I’ve learned that we must constantly check our source of meaning and security to make sure that it’s anchored in God. Do not be distracted by our challenges, successes, wealth and fame,” says Choong Kar Weng, Director of Macy Home Furnishings in Kuala Lumpur.
On the topic of being salt and light in the marketplace, which is the key message in the Leadership Conference year on year, Dr Bernard reiterated: “To relate to our human society, we need to influence them, not convert them.” This is a controversial statement, as it is a long-held Christian mission to “make disciples of the world”. But Dr Bernard pressed home the point that it all begins with relationship-building. “As agents of influence, we need to build relationships with human society. Building relationships require us to serve the human society with an attitude of excellence. Honor those we want to influence, as this gives us the power of access (favor) and the ability to foster relationships. As demonstrated in the lives of Joseph, Daniel and Abraham, they were people of power and influence because God was with them.”
Take-home principle: Relationship precedes ministry.
But before a Christian can actively and effectively engage culture, says Dr Bernard, his foundation needs to be unshakeable. This foundation includes understanding the character, holiness and goodness of God, and the presence of God that is the Holy Spirit, who is absolutely necessary for any ministry that aims to be successful. A Christian must have the character of God to succeed.
Having the character of God is to practice a life of personal consecration, whereby the individual establishes and maintains spiritual, moral, ethical and physical boundaries, roles and divisions to protect the relationships that he/she builds.
Without such godly character any success cannot be sustained — this is evident in the many failures of prominent personalities in the world.
“In order to practice Holiness, it takes trust in God,” says Dr Bernard. “A person who leads others to trust God enough to obey Him, must himself trust God enough to obey Him.”
Many temptations exist in the marketplace: we often choose to deal with the marketplace using the world’s method of resolution than to trust God and to believe that His way works. Every compromise we make is due to a lack of trust in God. If we do not place our trust in God, then we will have to place it somewhere else. Where we place that trust, will determine what guides us. Thus, we need to build a depth of character within us, more so as leaders in society.
As we practice personal consecration, we are in essence, employing disciplines in our relationship with God. Dr Bernard described the pattern of consecration as “ebb and flow”. He said: ”Life is cyclical, it has a recurrent, rhythmic pattern of coming and going, growth and decline, time to work and time to rest!”
Every stage of a life takes a person to a new level of knowledge, authority and responsibility. Each level requires a deepening of one’s character. Hence being aware and prepared for these stages by setting smart goals will guide one toward achieving his missions, goals and objectives.
Dr Bernard’s two-day seminar left his audience overflowing with inspiration and new goals that they could not wait to get to work on. There was no character left unquestioned.
“As a business owner, stewardship means servanthood,” says attendee Dr Eric Chiam, owner of DaySpring Medical Group. “Our staff look to us for decisions and guidance, they are in truth more impacted by our character which is in turn dependent on our relationship with God.”