I’m old enough to recall when “leadership” became the latest buzzword among pastors. The key to being a good pastor was to become a good “leader.” I won’t bore you with the history of how it happened, but gradually we replaced “discipleship” with “leadership” as a primary pastoral objective. (Ironically, the seminary that pioneered secular leadership studies for pastors shifted their focus within a decade, and moved on. But the damage was done.)
I believe the shift occurs when we depart from following Him (the core activity of a disciple) and begin to apply secular organizational definitions and metrics to the church. Pastors and staff are expected to “bump the numbers” and get more bodies in the building. If not, they are “failing.” Period. Time to get a new pastor.
The unintended consequences of the shift have been brutal. Pastors now struggle with the weight of crushing expectations from culture, from the church, and from themselves that are unbiblical and untenable. Overwhelmed and desperate shepherds are shamed into silence. Life is endured – it is never “abundant.”
We need to rethink what we are asking pastors to be and do, but most of us won’t. And consequently, I believe that we will be facing an unimaginable, heart-level tsunami of pastoral pain in coming years. This is only the beginning. We’ve got to change the conversation.
Here’s a start. I wrote this in my journal early last year…
“We shepherds are bombarded by external and internal expectations that if we are smart enough and work hard enough, we can build a great church. The weight of those expectations is literally killing the heart of our pastors. Jesus never places those expectations on pastors. He actually said He would build His church when we know Him in a way only the Father can reveal! Consequently, the thing I have to remind myself every day can be captured by these phrases… every step from Him and for Him… every step birthed in prayer and bathed in prayer. He has the plan and He calls me to simply take the next step in that plan… a step He gladly gives when I am ready to abandon everything else to follow Him… a daily journey characterized by a moment-by-moment joyful fellowship with my Master.”
2. It is a walk He sustains (Psalm. 63:8).
3. It is a walk that originated in the Garden and was damaged and destroyed by sin. Man no longer naturally longs to walk with God. Man would rather wander from God than walk with God (Genesis 3:8-9).
4. It is a walk of faith — looking beyond this existence to another (2 Corinthians 5:7, Colossians 3:1).
5. It is a walk that prefigures my walk in eternity (Revelation 3:4).
6. It is a walk of humility required by God (Micah 6:8).
7. It is a walk of deliverance, conditioned by readiness to maintain daily, practical holiness – avoiding all things unclean and impure and offensive to Him (Deuteronomy 23:9,14; Romans 8:1)
8. It is a walk in His Spirit characterized by (a) His leadership and (b) His fruit (Galatians 5:16-18, 22-23).
9. It is a walk of co-crucifixion – my flesh with its passions and desires have been crucified (Galatians 5:24-25).
10. It is a walk of harmony with the Spirit of God (Galatians 5:25 “keep in step with”).
11. It is a walk of following Jesus – who will give me a desire and ability to fish for the souls of men (Matthew 4:19).
12. It is a walk of love resulting in His continuous presence with me (John 14:23; 2 John 1:6, Ephesians 5:2, Romans 14:15).
13. It is a walk of intimate communion – abiding (John 15:4, 1 John 1:6-7).
Every Christian is on a journey to know God more fully (John 17:3)… but rarely does anyone explain that the path is not an easy one nor is it well-populated. It can be strange and disorienting, especially as you look around and it seems no one else is travelling with you, or that no one else has passed this way before (not true, but it can feel that way).
John Newton (1725-1807), best known as the author of the hymn ‘Amazing Grace,’ in another hymn describes the way our Father draws us near and refines our faith into the finest spiritual “steel”…
I ask’d the Lord, that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.
‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answer’d prayer;
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.
I hoped that in some favour’d hour
At once He’d answer my request,
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.
Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.
Yea more, with His own hand He seem’d
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.
“Lord, why is this?” I trembling cried,
“Wilt thou pursue Thy worm to death?”
“’Tis in this way,” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith:”
“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st seek thy all in me.”
~ John Newton (1725-1807)
Source: Winchell, James M., ed. An Arrangement of the Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs of the Rev. Isaac Watts. Boston: James Loring, and Lincoln & Edmands, 1832.
You and I need to beware of “coasting” as a Christian… like a ship without an anchor, a Christian can “drift away” from a life lived by faith. Why?
- Coasting is effortless. Coasting happens to you (“drift” = passive voice) – not because of anything you have done, but because of your inactivity.
- Coasting is inevitable. The inactivity that makes coasting effortless also makes it inevitable. It will happen if you consistently do nothing to exercise faith and engage Jesus in your daily life and decisions. Secular and irreligious forces in the world are constantly demanding your attention and response. If you are not yielding to the influence of the Holy Spirit, you will tend to do life according to the popular consensus and worldview of your culture.
- Coasting is a threat to every believer. The author includes himself in the warning “lest WE drift away.” No one is immune to coasting.
- Coasting is rarely done alone. The writer addresses the recipients collectively (2PPL), suggesting they were prone to coasting as a group. Not only will a casual Christian negatively influence other Christians, other casual Christians will also negatively influence him. Together, they will lull themselves into thinking all is well in their relationship with God.
- Coasting is always away from Jesus. We don’t “drift” into greater intimacy and obedience with God – we drift away from Him.
What can we do to combat this natural tendency? Growing as a mature follower of Jesus requires intentionality: a continuous steering and a conscious submission of the heart towards the indwelling Master! Will you pause and turn to Him right now and do that? At age 22, Robert Robinson was battling coasting in his own life when he penned these words in 1757…
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
~ Robert Robinson (1735 – 1790)
Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. John 6:5-6
Philip was stunned. Jesus was asking where to get the food for thousands of people. Immediately his mind didn’t go to where to get it, but to how much it will cost: “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.”
Overhearing Jesus’ question to Philip, Andrew added, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” Andrew’s mind went to available resources.
John, writing years later about the incident, describes Jesus’s question as a “test.” But what was the test?
- To see who could whip out their iPhone and locate the nearest market?
- To see who could most quickly calculate the cost?
- To see who could conduct a speedy inventory of personal resources and accounts?
Not even close.
Jesus has been preaching, teaching, and healing – both proclaiming the ruling power of God and demonstrating it – and sowing absolute truth into their minds. Now presented with an impossible situation, Philip must apply what he has been taught.
The test exposed the inner working of Philip’s thought life under stress. We say we are trusting Him, but our thoughts tell the real story. Under pressure and experiencing anxiety, Philip’s mind didn’t run to the Father who is the King of kings. He stopped at the walls erected by a worldview chained to the physical senses, but blind to an unseen, spiritual realm. He slid off into a mental pit of self-reliance, rather than rest in the unseen, almighty God.
The Old Testament is full of examples of kings who failed to trust God when confronted with vastly superior military threats. They ran and forged alliances with other nations, placing their faith in the popular, collective wisdom of their generation for deliverance. Over and over again, God allowed His people to discover the hard way that He is the rock, the hiding place, and the refuge in the midst of overwhelming problems. They were being tested.
The mature disciple doesn’t ignore a problem. He is intensely aware of the needs. He can see that his immediate resources are inadequate. But the distinct difference within the mature Christian mind is this: he seeks first the kingdom – or ruling power – of God. His mind escapes the confines of a Western worldview… and runs to the absolute authority and infinite resources of the one Jesus called “Father.”
Jesus simply took what was available, lifted it up to His Father, and said “thank you.” And everything changed.
When tested, the problem-solving disciple has disciplined his mind to go first to the Father. Only in His Presence can we see the truth about ourselves and our problems.
The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe. Proverbs 18:10