I sat listening to my friend with tears in my eyes.
He was telling me about an encounter he had with a young pastor. It was this young man’s first time serving as a “senior” pastor. Now I hear a lot of people complain about a lot of things. But this friend was different. He was my E.F. Hutton. You remember the commercials—right? “When E.F. Hutton speaks, everyone listens.” On top of that this friend was not involved in gossip. His eyes were filled with tears as he talked. He was obviously distressed. He was obviously looking for a healing hand.
Here was the situation. The young man had become the “senior pastor” of a church with a history of trauma. Someone had told him that if he was going to succeed he needed to focus on one thing. He would have to wrestle the power away from the “old guard.” He was involved in that power struggle. In fact, he had become very paranoid about the power centers in the church. He even felt that people with a past history in church leadership were trying to take over his position. My friend knew that was not true. However the young man’s obsession with power caused the paranoia. Here are the words that so jolted my friend. Actually he told me that the words only confirmed an attitude he had long suspected and feared.
“I can run this church better than anyone else.”
Now to some that may not seem like a problem. But when viewed through the lens of scripture it is. In fact, it is a huge problem.
Here is another situation.
Today I just read an article about a “famous” megachurch pastor who had just resigned. He had built the megachurch from scratch. His “empire” (his words not mine) included a church-planting network. He had built up “his congregation” to include 14,000 people at 15 locations across five states. But things went south. He had been accused of plagiarism, bullying and an unhealthy ego that alienated his most devoted followers. That, of course, led to financial problems. The leadership board in the church had taken time to review these accusations. They agreed that this pastor had been guilty of two things. First he was guilty of “arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech.” They also agreed this pastor had “lead the staff and elders in a domineering manner.” Their finding however, was that they did not believe him to “be disqualified from pastoral ministry.” They came to this conclusion because he had not been charged with any “immorality, illegality or heresy.” According to them he was still fit to pastor. In spite of that finding this pastor had enough. He resigned.
Here is how he described himself a few years earlier:
“I’m a guy who is highly competitive.” “Every year, I want the church to grow. I want my knowledge to grow. I want my influence to grow. I want our staff to grow. I want our church plants to grow. I want everything — because I want to win.”
“That’s my own little idol and it works well in a church because no one would ever yell at you for being a Christian who produces results. So I found the perfect place to hide.”
“I was thinking about it this week. What if the church stopped growing? What if we shrunk? What if everything fell apart? What if half the staff left? Would I still worship Jesus or would I be a total despairing mess? I don’t know. By God’s grace, I won’t have to find out, but you never know.” [Emphasis mine]
So what causes new leaders to believe their job is to “run the church?”
What makes people in the church believe their job is to “run the church?” Their job is to do the work of ministry!
Whoever said the “church” needed to be “run.”
What causes seasoned “successful” leaders to feel that their arrogance and competitiveness has a place in the Kingdom of God?
What would allow a leader to openly confess he had an idol and that idol was the desire to “win?” Win at what?
What would make a Christian leader believe that the church is a good place “to hide?” What would make them believe they could hide their sin? What would ever give them the idea their “idols” were ok because “no one would ever yell at you for being a Christian who produces results?” What results—Sputtering, Bleeding, Bankrupt, Hated?
Finally tell me how a person is qualified if their fear is becoming a total despairing mess when things fall apart? What if part of that fear is that they would stop worshiping Jesus?
When I was in school I learned a lot of great fifty-cent words. One of my favorites is “juxtaposition.” Juxtaposition means to set two things side by side for comparison. So let’s juxtapose the above stories with a representation of the teachings of Jesus and his early followers.
Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. Then he made it clear that they were right when they called him Teacher and Lord. Then he made his point. If he as Teacher and Lord washed their feet they should wash each other’s feet.
Jesus said he sent his disciple out in the same way the Father sent him. The father sent him with a specific attitude. It was one of emptying himself of all he had in heaven. It was one where he went from reigning in heaven to being a servant on earth. It was one of identifying with people in the midst of their sin. Finally it was an attitude of self-sacrificial love to bring us into relationship with the triune God.
Jesus had a ministry of being present with people. Paul became like a “nursing mother” and an “exhorting father” to those he ministered to over a period of time.
The writer of the book of Hebrews put it this way, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they arekeeping watch over your souls as those who will have to give an account.
Finally Jesus put the cap on the bottle. In a parable in the gospel of Luke he reminds his disciples that he was returning. He told them to stay ready. But then he gives the clincher. He tells them that when the master returns, “he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.
Jesus came as a servant. He lived his life as a servant. He told his disciples he will return and continue as a servant serving his faithful followers.
In all of this, where is there room for “running the church?” Where is there room for arrogance? Where is there room for a competitive spirit? Where is there room for focusing on producing results based on bigger and splashier? Where is the emphasis on bigger and splashier in order to get greater numbers and more money? Where is the emphasis on buildings? Where are leaders who are established by Jesus ever seen as professionals?
There is only one place where there is room for these things—the twentieth century business model. This model permeates the church today. We focus, like good business men, on growth. Jesus focused on growth as well. Paul focused on growth as well. They focused on spiritual growth. We—well you know what we measure. Look in any Sunday morning bulletin. Listen to what takes up so much time in “business meetings.” We focus on the number of people coming. We focus on how much money is in the coffers.
Now put this in juxtaposition to the above statement.
Judas, the treasurer of the twelve, focused on how much money was in the coffers.
What happened to him?
Think about this! Jesus made it difficult for people to follow him, not easy. He did not need to count their noses to feel successful. He did not need their “nickels” to support his ministry.
Wow I know that was hard—very hard. I can hear the complaints coming at me already. “But Jim you are only talking about two people. How can you make a blanket statement about leaders from just two situations?” “But Jim, leaders need to lead don’t they?” “But Jim, the bible talks about the gift of administration doesn’t it?”
First, please remember last week’s post. I am heartbroken over the situation our system of church has put many of our leaders in today. Many people entered the ministry with a heart to bring others into the Kingdom of God. Not only did they have a desire to bring them in but also to help them grow in the Kingdom of God. Yet, the deeper they get and the “higher” they get in leadership the less time they have for people. Many have taken on the “professional” name tag offered by the business community.
It is not the individual pastors or leaders who I am “hitting on.” It is the system. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Every person is personally accountable for how they respond to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Both the young pastor and the megachurch leader must take personal responsibility for their attitudes. But a system run on business practices such as organizational development and marketing practices is not found anywhere in scripture. Oh we may read certain verses and interpret them by our North American Cultural standards. There we may see a business model. But we must read the scriptures based on the people to whom they were written. When you do that you will never see business practices as the basis for a community of disciples. Never!
Pastors in particular feel the pressure for success every week. Was the sermon entertaining enough? Was the worship culturally relevant enough? How many people filled the pews? How much was the offering? After all we must keep up with the building expenses. We must keep up with the “standard professional level of salaries.” We must meet the utility payments and the cost of grounds keeping.
This is not what Jesus had in mind!
This is not what Paul had in mind!
This is not what Peter had in mind!
Do you know there are communities of faith across this nation that spend 70% of their income on the needs of people? Yes there are! And they are not megachurches. They reach out to people both within the community of faith and outside the community of faith. Oh, by the way. That is where the gift of administration comes into play from a biblical point of view.
Now you know I do not believe just meeting the needs of people is the answer. But using those funds to meet their needs so we can build deeper redemptive or transformational relationships with them—YES!
Let me end with a story on how leadership is being taught. It comes from a book I am working on. The working title of the book is, “INVESTED: A Personal Journey from an Event/Message Driven Ministry Model into the Attitude of Jesus.”
Recently I watched a short video training by a leader in the missional church movement. Another young leader he had discipled went to a church seminar on leadership. The presenter stood in front of a large whiteboard. He asked the following questions, “What does it take to be a great leader?” Obviously the presenter had a list of predetermined items in his mind. You know, the traditional list of leadership qualities we have heard at every summit or conference during the 20th century.
The young disciple sat waiting for others to answer. When no one answered the young disciple shouted out, “LOVE!” The presenter stopped, took one step back and then said, “Uh ok, ok, that’s good.” He proceeded to write “LOVE” onto the bottom right corner of the whiteboard. Then in the center of the whiteboard he began his list: Vision, Discipline, Emotional Strength, Experience, Respect, Passion, Decision Making Skills, Developing and Following Vision and Mission Statements and on and on.
All of these are good qualities. I get that. But could you picture Jesus standing on stage in front of a group of guys in blue jeans and tee shirts? How about a suit and tie? Could you imagine him writing his list of leadership qualities on a whiteboard? Somehow I find that hard to imagine. Equally hard for me to imagine is the idea of Jesus charging $128 per person for a two day seminar. (Could that be part of the wrong professionalism I’m talking about?) Yet, just try to imagine Jesus standing there. I’m sure Jesus would start with “Sacrificial Love.” He may go onto “Humble Servanthood.” Next I think he would look for the answer of “Putting Others Before Ourselves.”
Would he put up our traditional answers? Maybe, but I bet they would be in the bottom right corner of his whiteboard. We know this is true because it is obvious Jesus was not “running” an organization. He definitely was not “running” an organization based on a 20th century business model. He was reaching out to people to bring transformation into their lives. He was bringing people into the Kingdom of God, not an organization.
“Our greatest fear should not be failure,
but succeeding with things in life that do not matter!”
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