*I’ll start this off by saying it is not a political opinion article nor is it a rant on the current political atmosphere. I will encourage you, however, to contemplate what I’m about to say as something applicable to anyone placed in a leadership position over you, not just church.*
The Apostle Paul wrote in Titus 3:
1 Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, 2 to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. 3 For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. 4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Jesus taught that even those who are enslaved unjustly are to work to be the best slaves they can in order to give testimony to the grace of God, regardless of how their owners treated them. This is a very important Kingdom principle.
My thoughts expressed here today are a reflection of the past 4 years in working and mentoring church leadership. God has blessed Missy and I with the favor to grow close to the pastor and his wife here at City of Refuge church. We don’t just work together, we have become friends and now are more like family fighting for the good of the people in the community of Linda Vista. We care for each other, we pray for each other, we cry together and we laugh together. I have also been able to communicate with our “home” pastor on a unique level given our similarities in our positions in ministry. As part of Uniting 2 Serve, we get to meet pastors and church leaders all the time when we share and grow in relationship with other churches interested in what we are doing here. One of my closest friends has recently become a pastor. God has given me a unique insight into church leadership. Friends…it isn’t pretty!
I think pastors and other spiritual leaders experience more heartbreak, disappointments, and internal struggle than any other type of professional I have met. Remember, this is coming from an Iraq war vet who has friends that suffer from PTSD and other things. By no means am I trying to diminish the severity of these struggles and my former brothers in arms know I stand with them in solidarity. However, I think the majority of the “church world” is oblivious to everything that church leaders put into “caring for the flock” and how little return they get from the flock themselves. To run the risk of turning this into a bible lesson (because I never did THAT before hahaha), I will also share what Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 5:
17 The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”
For a more detailed explanation of the oxen metaphor, click here. For a more concise explanation, keep reading. God deems it appropriate for a full time pastor to receive pay from the same church he is ministering to. This is because pastors and church leaders pour out their lives as a living sacrifice to the church (Romans 12:1). Being a church leader is many times a thankless job. Not to say that congregants don’t appreciate their pastors and leaders, but I don’t think the majority of Christians understand what goes into preparing sermons, counseling others, and working to maintain a proper relationship with God so out of it they can serve and minister. Church leaders are in their position (or should be, anyway) not because their resume looks good or because they are supposedly qualified by a worldly governing body (ie college and universities), but because of their love and passion for God’s people. A great example of the difficulties of leading a church can be seen in the story of Moses.
Without God’s help, he was unqualified. In human terms, he was a nobody. He couldn’t even speak properly! God made him somebody. Many times he suffered the disobedience of the people. He worked hard day and night and dedicated his life to serving and loving and guiding the people of Israel. Yet they remained a stiff-necked people. Jesus even said to His own disciples, “How much longer must I suffer among you?” as He exhorted them for their lack of belief and discipline. How many times has a pastor felt the same way about the people he is trying to help grow in their relationship with the Lord? (can I get an “amen”?) Recently we have witnessed a trend of people coming to ask for godly advice which is given through biblical exposition and study, only to witness those that asked for advice not heeding it and doing what they wanted to do anyway. Now, imagine a congregation of hundreds or even thousands doing that over and over again to the select few pastors and leaders of your own church. It can get downright heartbreaking! No wonder Moses lost his cool in the desert and busted open that rock which sprung forth water for the always complaining people of God.
Now, who do these leaders and pastors go to for advice? Who is there as a shoulder to cry on? Who guides them in their own walk with God? Have you ever stopped to ask one of your church leaders, “how can I pray for you? Is there anything I can help you with in your life?” Most people take their appointed leaders for granted as if they have everything under control and their lives are perfect. While God may have appointed them to be the “first of servants” in the church, it doesn’t make them better than any one of us. Even career missionaries have the same struggles you have every day. Yet in our worldly minds we put these leaders on a pedestal because that is what we have been taught to do. Have you ever noticed the difference in hair color of our presidents after just a 4 year term? The stress and weight of being responsible for a group of people is tremendous. Now imagine leaders who aren’t just concerned about your physical welfare, but also your emotional and spiritual as well!
I love that our pastor says, “Before you complain about me or criticize me, make sure you pray for me first.” We are so quick to point out all the flaws of our leaders but are far less willing to take their place. It’s easy for us to be critical of someone’s way of dress or speech but we would never stand up in front of someone week after week teaching a lesson. It is so hypocritical of us to not agree with someone who gives us biblical counsel when we go to them for advice! (Read here what Jesus’ brother had to say about that.) I’m not trying to say all leaders are perfect. In fact, there are no perfect leaders. Just as well, there are no perfect followers; we do a great disservice to our leaders for being horrible followers. We tend to view “the glory of leadership” instead of recognizing what Jesus designed leadership to really be. It’s about serving others.
The “servant leader” has been a common theme for leadership mentors for decades. Regardless if you are Christian or not, it has become evident that when a leader’s priority is to serve his or her subordinates as opposed to “ruling over them,” productivity and compliance increase. In Matthew 20 as Jesus was spending His last days with His disciples before being crucified, there was discussion about who among them was the greatest:
25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26 “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
God has appointed leaders over you to serve and love. How much do you serve and love your leaders? If you truly think you can do a better job, do so by serving them through your compassion, prayers, and support. They try to emulate Christ by giving their lives as a ransom for many of you, how do you honor that sacrifice?