Last month, I indicated that leader development opportunities are forthcoming. As we dream about where God is calling us as a denomination, we must reflect on what Christ-centred leadership is. Where do the challenges lie? Where are the pitfalls?
It may seem ridiculous to propose that there is one challenge to pastoral leadership that is so common that it is consistently at the top of the list of reasons that so many pastors struggle.
Recently, I met with a group of five young pastors. We were talking about what it means to be a servant leader. It was a fun conversation as they all wanted to understand Jesus’ model of leadership. This group, along with others I have met with over the years, all speak of one issue that they consistently struggle with in their churches and unique ministry settings.
What is a pastor’s greatest challenge? It is spending so much time working for Jesus that we have no time left for Him to work in us. It is prioritizing all we are attempting to do in our work over all that God would do in us to mature us as followers of Him. It is valuing doing over being. It is immersing ourselves so deeply in our work at the price of remaining in Christ. It is a drive to produce that drowns out the passion for faithfulness.
I believe this is the enemy’s best play. He knows that if he can deceive us into shifting our priorities in these ways, our intimacy with Christ will become muted at best and stagnant at worst. In my role as Assistant District Superintendent, I am hearing from pastors that the demands of their work are marginalizing their intimacy with Christ. It is a plague that is robbing many pastors and their churches of the ability to truly hear God speak and know they are leading from the centre of His will, relying on His power, trusting in His provision, and boldly moving ahead in His name.
I was asked repeatedly the straightforward question, “How do I get it back? How do I find the time and rearrange my priorities so that my intimacy with Christ becomes paramount?”
The answer, I believe, is not in techniques or even disciplines, as important as they are. It must come from a fundamental rethinking of how we define success. If we are stewards of everything that belongs to God, then our highest priority is to know His will and do it faithfully. If this is true, then the focus of leadership must be on those activities that assure that we are hearing God speak. Then moving ahead united in the passionate pursuit of carrying out what He lays on our hearts. Once we become cut off from His voice, we are thrown back on ourselves to follow our own ways, trust in our own strengths, and pray that God will somehow bless it all. That is where I find so many pastors; hoping they’re doing God’s will, trying to trust Him to be their provider, but carrying the fear, anxiety, and stress that, somehow, they may be missing the mark, and carrying that burden into their daily work and ministry.
As pastors, we must take an honest look at whether we are playing this role. Has something else crowded out intimacy with Christ as our highest priority? Are we leading with a sense of certainty that He is speaking into our leadership, guiding our churches, and blessing us as we move ahead in the centre of His will? Once we have reset our priorities around this single definition of success, our time, actions, and attitudes will follow. The disciplines of abiding in Christ, listening to and reading His word, and discerning His voice in the context of our ministries will become part of our church culture. When these disciplines are interlaced with biblical accountability, God will do amazing things both in and through us for those we serve.
Where are you today? Is faithfulness your definition of success? Is abiding in Christ and knowing the will of Jesus your driving passion? And is everything else in your work as a pastor designed around this fundamental passion? Are you experiencing daily intimacy with Christ, or has that relationship gone cold?
In these days of growing hostility and aggression toward the Christian faith both in Canada and in so many places around the world, pastors who stand and lead with humility and courage are the ones who are abiding in Christ, moving ahead according to His guidance for His glory. May we all be such leaders.