You see kids, I grew up as church rat.
My mom claims I attended my first worship service when I was three weeks old. Growing up I did it all: choir, handbells, RA’s, GA’s (in Jr. High I was the only boy in the youth group…at first I was embarrassed, but soon came to appreciate being the “little brother” of a bunch of hot Sr. High girls), Wednesday night supper, Wednesday night youth, Sunday morning worship, Sunday school, Friday night fifth quarter, church softball/basketball, Sunday night discipleship training, World Changers prep., mission trips…
I could keep going, but you get the picture. I was like the rat scurrying across the church floor. Every time you turned on the lights, there I was.
And, like all kids that grew up in the church as I did, I was unintentionally taught to venerate the pastor. He (and by “he” I mean every pastor I ever had) was larger than life. He was definitely more holy, more gifted, more in touch with the Holy Spirit. There was a respect and fear that surrounded him. He carried a special title, “Pastor ______.” It separated him from all us mere mortals. And he had all the answers…to everything. He was God’s man.
We judged him by how well he was able to meet our needs: Our need to be “fed” on Sunday morning. Our need for programs and activities that made us feel like we were on mission. Our need to be comforted and coddled when things went bad. Our need to put the responsiblity of listening to the Spirit onto someone else, a professional, so we didn’t have to do it ourselves. If our needs were being filled we were thrilled; if not we were frustrated.
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t resent the men I grew up under. They were fantastic leaders, full of humility and compassion. They were fantastic examples of what it meant to follow Christ. I loved them and still think back on them with fondness and respect.
The misplaced veneration wasn’t their fault. It was a by product of the broken system I grew up in; a system that transformed rituals into doctrines, sanctified practices, and built tents on mountain tops while the sick were left unhealed in the valley.
Now at the age of 32 I have been a leader in five radically different churches (once as a volunteer, three time as staff, and in once decentralized system) and I’ve never been completely comfortable with my roll. It has always felt like something was off, broken, or out of sorts.
So over the past month I have read through the New Testament with a single question in mind, “What does a New Testament leader in the church look like?” It has been an amazingly challenging journey and I’ve been surprised at what I’ve discovered. I realize I have a lot about my own leadership I need to change.
Here’s what I’ve learned about New Testament (NT) leaders:
- Leadership demands humility and self-sacrifice. Personal ambition is the enemy of NT leadership.
- NT leaders serve a pre-existing people group. NT leaders don’t create groups from thin air. The groups exists before the leader is called. The leader must intensely love the people.
- Leadership meets a need. First a problem/need in the people group arises; then the leader is called to fill the need.
- A NT leader’s motivation is hope that God can change things.
- Leadership is given by the group to those who are intensely obsessed with Jesus. As Maxwell said, “Leadership is influence.” That influence is awarded to humble men and women that are chasing after Christ in an extraordinary way. NT leaders are simply the ducks flying point in the Vs.
- Leadership should not be pursued. It comes when it comes. Chase Jesus.
- At all costs positional leadership, special privileges for leadership, and prestigious titles should be avoided.
- NT leaders had two measures of success: 1) how many people did he/she lead to love from a pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith; 2) how much persecution did he/she suffer at the hands of the world for sharing the truth of Jesus.
- NT leaders are not more or differently gifted than any other Christ follower. They are simply the ones serving the body at the moment.
- Leaders don’t work alone. It takes a variety of gifts (apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers) all operating at once for body to be healthy and growing.
- Leaders have courage. When they see a group of people they love in need, they step up.
I could rant and rave now about how radically different this understanding of leadership is than the one that currently exists in our churches…but you see it. There is no need for me to yell and scream.
If you are a young leader in the church (like me) my question to you is…
How are you going to change you current paradigm to look more like the New Testament one?
How are you going to fix it?
If you want to read in more detail where these conclusions came from click on the links below:
- Jesus’ Thoughts on Leadership
- Paul’s Thoughts on Leadership are – here, here, here, and here.
- Insights from the church in Jerusalem are – here and here.