Deeper Hope:

An Abiding Virtue

This book explores the meaning -- and application -- of Christian Hope. It takes the fuzzy concept of Hope and reveals it in everyday settings



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Entries in christian leadership (3)

Does Leadership Have To Be Lonely?

In preparing for a meeting among pastors, a friend of mine asked me to reflect on the meaning of friendship for a church leader (but really: any leader). I sketched out an answer, probably more than he was looking for, and I share it with you all here. What is your experience at the intersection of “leadership” and “friendship?”

What did friendship mean to me during my years as a pastor?

I’d like to provide three types of answers to this question: what was going on inside of me during those years, how my friends helped my work as a pastor, and a brief mention of the different kinds of friends I had.

What was going on inside of me during my pastoral years:

I was guarded and private, and it wasn’t healthy. The way I’m wired I tend to process things internally, without conversation, except the conversation in my head—and sometimes that’s Crazy Town. I believed that by keeping my thoughts to myself I was protecting my image, my reputation, and my employment. What I was really doing was cutting myself off from one of the ways the Spirit wanted to speak to me. Here is a trustworthy saying: God speaks through other people. Give other people room to speak.

I had a distrust of people new to the church, which I think is wise: I never gave ministry responsibilities to someone until a person had been with the church for six months or more. But I also had a fear of more established people in the church, and that’s unwise. I wanted them to “do ministry,” but rarely shared with them what was going on inside of me. We are not meant to do our work alone.

How my friends helped my work as a pastor:

I never knew the greatest help I had—people who prayed for me, forgave me, and were patient with me. These are hidden things that only become known years later, but they are very real things: how else could my friends help a guy who was a closed off as me? My more charismatic friends would not only pray for me, they would listen to the Lord’s voice and humbly deliver to me what they heard. They didn’t try to enforce what they heard (you know, “God told me to tell you . . . “) but always offered what they had, much like a UPS delivery driver (“Here’s the package, I hope it helps: see ya’.”). In retrospect, I wished I would have actively asked for their opinions more. Of course, there were other more visible helps as well. Encouragement—especially encouragement that is specific—is a great help.

The different kinds of friends I had:

I had “old friends,” people who had known me for years, and had taken the effort to stay in contact, even though we were distributed all of the country. These guys were people with no interest in the direction of the church, or no desire to be given position: they only cared about me. That’s valuable!

Other friends are those would’ve been my friends whether I was a pastor or not. Some were in the church; some were not. You can’t “talk shop” all the time: Even with friends inside the church is was great to have people to talk with about music, movies, and books. Good friends allow you to have a life outside of the church—and provide the opportunity to do so.

Finally, my biggest single regret is not befriending my spouse more. In a misguided attempt to “protect” my spouse from church crap, I closed off that portion of my thoughts to her. She sensed it, and it was painful to her. It was a bad move because no human was more on my side, and I chose to keep a big part of my life (my thoughts and feelings) separate from her.

The Moses Model vs Jesus Model

Did I ever tell you about the time a 65 year-old pastor stood on top of his desk to illustrate why his perspective was more important than other people’s? “No one else can see what I see,” he said, “because no one else has the same role.”

He didn’t think he was more important than other people: he thought his position was. He was, in fact, a dedicated servant of God, someone who poured his life into pastoring one church for forty-plus years. “From this height I can see what others cannot see,” he said, with his feet planted on the walnut desk. “It’s not about me, it’s about my role as pastor. God put me here.”

I’m talking about a good man, a hard-working man, who loved Jesus fiercely and established a church in an urban neighborhood during the decades when other pastors and churches left the city. But after forty years there was no clear successor to the role of pastor. Staff members had come and gone while the pastor remained. The pastor may have considered it the mantle of leadership, or the lonely calling to be a leader. He was respected and admired, but the people of the church felt the distance between him and them. The younger generations saw the gap between the neighborhood around the church (which was growing younger) and the membership of the church (which was growing older). He built a church; what he did not do was make disciples.

The church was filled with people who loved and respected their pastor. They saw him as a great man (and in many respects he was a great man). Yet the people of the church had no reasonable expectation that they could have a faith like his. He was the shepherd, they were the sheep—and sheep do not morph into shepherds.

In terms of modern church metrics his ministry was effective: hundreds (if not thousands) of conversions and baptisms, a church of more than a thousand people, and a long run of ministry in the same place. But the human, interpersonal, side of the ledger is more difficult to balance: frustrated staff members who usually left on bad terms, church members who loved Jesus but had no real maturity in Christ, and the very real possibility that when the pastor retires the church will face a steep decline in the “successful” numbers as well.

Was this man’s calling from Jesus? Yes, or course. Were his methods Christ like? In many ways yes: he was a man of integrity and passion, fully devoted to God and his church. But in one important respect, no: the well-meaning pastor actively worked to maintain a separation between himself and his people. It was a Moses model (great man/great leader) instead of a Jesus model (one of us). The Moses model emphasizes the difference between the leader and the people; the Jesus model looks to transform the people into the image of the leader. Moses appointed a successor; Jesus made copies of himself.

One reason Jesus made disciples so effectively is his first action was to become one of us. His second action was to demonstrate the possibilities of life with God through the Holy Spirit. Jesus, the awesome Second Person of the Eternal Trinitarian God, set aside the role of “god” and became a man. He did not pretend to be a man, he became a man. From the very beginning, the Lord intended to reproduce himself in our lives. The scripture calls this "bringing many sons (and daughters) to glory," with the goal that there would be a vast, holy, family. (Hebrews 2:10-11) Jesus suffered the same life-events we suffer, he toiled and sweat and laughed and cried and experienced life as we do; his path to holiness is our path as well—he took no shortcuts. Our ears can be trained to hear the Spirit and our eyes can be trained to read the scriptures in the same ways he did.

Jesus constantly reminded the disciples that the world’s view of leadership was not his view. The world loves great leaders who stand out from the crowd; Jesus identifies with us so strongly that he believes we can become like him. Nor is this only a question for leaders. It goes to the heart of our own personal expectations. We must ask, “Do I really believe I can be transformed into the Master’s image? Do I want to follow his example or merely use him as a Savior?”

He came to show us how to live. He came to reproduce himself in us. His saving action on the cross is the work of the Son of God; the obedience that led him to the cross is the work of the Son of Man. We cannot pay the price for anyone’s sin, but we can teach others to be like Jesus.

The Essence of Christian Leadership

Over at YouTube I've launched a Students of Jesus channel.

The latest upload is a 90-second reflection "The Essence of Christian Leadership":

Since this is a brand new effort, I'm looking for feedback: yours is welcome!

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