George Verwer's Spirit-led gut instinct leadership

George VerwerCRE

As the founder of the missions organization OM International, George Verwer (July 3, 1938-April 14, 2023) was easily one of the most influential Christian leaders of the last century. He served OM with distinction, and he inspired countless other Christian leaders all over the world.

His leadership was marked by what I only know how to call: a Spirit-led gut instinct. Whatever complex or global issue that confronted him, he always dared to act, and his actions were almost always right.

George also always paid attention to where the winds of the Spirit were blowing, and as a maturing church emerged in the Global South, he put his efforts into helping the church become sustainable. George was one of the first white missions leaders to fully empower nationals to lead the efforts he initiated in the majority world. George was not only incapable of racism but he never treated anyone less than him.

Along the way, he trained, inspired, and knew — from the north, south, east and west — the majority of the most influential Christian leaders reaching the world with the Gospel during the explosion of Christians in the Global South. In many cases, their lifelong ministries were initiated at the personal invitation of George to join him on a short trip to reach some part of the world with the Good News. He personally touched the lives of more than 100,000 mission leaders, impacting countless tens of millions of lives.

OM's work in India would eventually become OM's most significant work globally, both in personnel and scope. The work George initiated in India was more extensive than all the rest of OM's considerable work in the rest of the world combined. From the very beginning, George's Spirit-led gut instincts led him to construct the Indian work in a different way than what was done in the West.

From the very inception, the leadership was handed over to the Indians, and from the beginning, he gave complete freedom to develop the strategies and missiology at the local level.

When the work in India developed into a full-fledged church movement built around a Kingdom of God paradigm, he supported it without reservation. George told me many times that the complete autonomy of the Indian work did not happen the way we would have imagined it. Still, it was only proper for the Indians to forge their future in a complex nation in partnership with OM and non-OM groups.

His humility also displayed his strength. He never hid his flaws. George was fallible, and he made sure everyone knew it. This is why his sermons, books and generous conversations over tea were always seasoned with wisdom and blessed with knowledge.

George was young when he founded his work.

In his 20s, in the late 1950s and 1960s, he responded to cultural upheaval in North America and Europe by offering a radical faith in Jesus Christ to those young people searching desperately for meaning in their lives. His Christian message was filled with grace and full of radical discipleship.

This is why his message resonated with a whole generation of young Christians who followed him in reaching the world for Christ, whatever the risk and whatever the cost. Those disciples also learned to overcome their fears, flaws and failures.

As much as any Christian in history, George Verwer led his generation, and the generations around it, to "reach the world in their own generation."

When the Western Church's enthusiasm for sending out Western missionaries was declining, George pioneered a significant, global short-term missions movement. The older missions organizations were skeptical of George's approach but could not stop the wave of short-term missionaries who answered the Lord's call through his vision. Those short-termers became their recruits.

George also remained the chief patron of the Good Shepherd Church Movement, which today has a global presence. All that mattered to George was that the church was focused on Jesus and that the local community was responsible for it.

Almost as quickly as he learned any lesson, George also wrote a book about it and then sent his books to leaders worldwide. One of those books, written as a young man, was entitled A Revolution of Love and Balance. In it, he crafted early ideas which would prove seminal in the history of the global church across the 20th and 21st centuries. Before OM fully embraced the need for a holistic approach to mission, George wrote that if we did not practice love in action for the poor, we could not claim we loved the world as God loved the world. He taught passionately that our Christian life and testimony would ring hollow without love for one another in the Church.

Those words were prophetic for the context of a bitterly divided Christian world today! The fact that Jesus said the world would know we were His disciples when we loved each other is lost among just too many Christians in this age of hate-filled social media posts.

George supported individual churches developing their particular emphasis on thought and practice. He opposed Christians becoming adamant and dogmatic about their interpretation or practices when it led to divisions and limited the churches' ability to work with other Christians to touch the world.

According to George, many of the world's significant issues could not be addressed by one organization or church. Our world needed the global Church always holding truth in balance to work together.

Issues such as social care, hunger, injustice, discrimination, poverty and sharing the Good News of the Kingdom of God needed the loving and united effort of the global Church in all its diversity. George's ability to relate to leaders across the denominational spectrum was as phenomenal as it was groundbreaking.

In his later years, an older and wiser George Verwer began to speak at every opportunity about how God works in and through a Church filled with human mistakes and sin.

Out of his vast experience with imperfect and broken leaders and their churches, came two books: Messiology and Confessions of a Toxic Perfectionist.

The message of these books is also his legacy in a world where younger and older Christians are confronted by the fall of prominent Christian leaders and the mess it leaves all around. George always saw God's grace and second chances, especially in our biggest messes. He was quick to repent and never without a personal word about his inadequacy.

Losing George is losing my life's mentor and my closest personal friend in the ministry. It is also an inspiration of a life lived well and a legacy now made complete with the words we all long to hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

I can't wait to see him again. In the meantime, with God's help, let's commit to living our lives more like he lived his own.

Archbishop Joseph D'Souza is an internationally renowned human and civil rights activist. He is the founder of Dignity Freedom Network, an organization that advocates for and delivers humanitarian aid to the marginalized and outcastes of South Asia. He is archbishop of the Anglican Good Shepherd Church of India and serves as the president of the All India Christian Council.

First published in The Christian Post.