This should be my last offering on this topic, at least for the time being. If you’ve been following the previous three posts, I’m sure you’ve picked up that my motive for sharing these “ministry mantras” of mine is to not so subtly suggest your own musing about how you or your spiritual leader friends might think about spiritual service. All of us who love Jesus are in his service in one way or another, and I hope that you’ll find that some of these ministry values of mine will remotely apply to how you are to go about your own God-mandated assignment.
But may I humbly suggest, if you consider any of this of value, that you think about passing these on to a friend who lives a life of service. My mantras might not become theirs, but it’s possible that they will be challenged to think about the formulation of their own. It’s my experience and observation that unless we spiritual leaders are challenged to think through our own actual values (and not just our preferred ones gleaned from the latest conference speaker), and do this thinking through the Scripture itself, we get swept along with the latest and greatest Christian world trends. I’ve floated down that stream myself, and when I looked around at my ministry peers, we all pretty much used the same chic ministry techniques and we’d mistaken movement for progress. Binders from the conferences we’d attended stood neatly on our shelves, their pages full of furiously taken notes, all the blanks filled in – we took our cues from that year’s most “successful” spiritual experts! But how much did we look to the actual Manual for guidance and wait for the Spirit to tell us what to do? Rather than siphoning them off the experts, how many of us did the tedious work of carving out our own biblically-informed, Spirit-breathed values of spiritual leadership?
Even though that came out kind of harshly, I’m trying to say that as I share my own ministry values, I merely propose these as catalysts for your own search for divinely generated and heart-felt mandates to do God’s work in our world.
- I’m just trying to make friends with God.
- I’m trying to simply follow and follow simply.
- I am trying to be more of a pacesetter than a superstar.
- I’m trying to impact people without having to impress them, and reach people without having to possess them.
- I’m trying to remember that Sunday is practice for the rest of the week.
- I’m trying to have aspirations for people rather than expectations of them.
I’m trying to lead by leading.
“The Son can do nothing by himself; he can only do what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” John 5:19
Spiritual leadership should be done under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Simple… Right? Easy? Not so much. Leading by leading means that I’m not making up the goal or the way to it; it’s got to be his goals and his ways.
I definitely have an issue with our modern obsession with the “Strategic Plan.” I’m all for having goals and I get why most businesses have a “Five-Year Plan” where the proprietor sets certain goals and develops strategies for how to achieve them. But on a more personal and ministry level, I wonder if much of our strategizing has hurt, rather than helped our efforts to serve in the adventure of God (with the Spirit of God as our “Adventure Guide.”) Some Bible scholars say that Paul had a “Major-City-Strategy” – a pre-conceived and intentional tactic to spread the good news in the economic and social centers of his day. But I just don’t see him doing demographic analyses or consulting the sociologists of his day about how to best market his spiritual product. I’m more inclined to think he was on a mission to find out what God was doing (each day) and tried his best to do it with him!
I’m not saying that the Spirit had no long-term scheme for reaching the most people in the best possible way. I’m just not so sure that he let Paul and his colleagues in on it. I think the bulk of the strategizing went on above them – apart from them! “Someone else” was doing the planning, and then pointed them in the direction of the plan. As I read the Book of Acts, it doesn’t seem to me that the Spirit laid out a strategic blueprint for them to follow, but rather a day-to-day and moment-by-moment approach. It’s in vogue these days for ministry leaders to sit in conference rooms with white boards and markers (or should I say iPads and lattés) to identify the most likely places to go and the most potentially receptive people to go to. We pray about it, but I wonder if our prayers are to get the Lord to bless our ingenious strategic plans!
[For further discussion on this, I refer you to the post in the “How God Guides” paper called, “Find out what he’s doing and do it with him”…]
I’m trying to teach people how to swim rather than carrying them on my back.
I’m not able – not for very long anyway – to swim for two. I’m no Cruise Ship for Christians, doing for them what they should be doing for themselves. Not only is it unscriptural, it’s untenable and dangerous when I try!
On the other hand, I can be – and am even assigned by God to be – a lifeguard for the drowning and a swimming instructor for those want to learn to swim for themselves. Lifeguards save people who can’t yet swim (evangelism). Swimming instructors teach people how to swim for themselves (discipleship). Cruise ships, on the other hand, do all the work to keep everyone dry and comfy, and show their passengers interesting sights along the way! That’s definitely not what I’m supposed to do.
Take it from me; it’s exhausting to carry people on your back – in or out of the water. It’s especially treacherous when the people I’m trying to lug are lugging nothing for themselves except for a bunch of extra fat! If all they do is over-eat and under-exercise, and then depend on me to keep us both afloat, we’re all going to drown! On the other hand, everybody wins when I teach people how to swim in such a way that they teach others, thus creating a community of aquatic adventurers!
“The things you’ve heard me say among many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” 2 Timothy 2:2
[For further reference to this approach, I refer you to the paper called, “Learning Leadership Lessons from 2 Corinthians,” and the chapter titled, “Leaders Are Not Lords” in particular.]
I’m trying to remember that the best spiritual leaders know the way, go the way, show the way, and then get out of the way!
My friend, Robby Booth has in his office a plaque with this saying on it – minus the last part about getting out of the way. Robby’s known by many to be a great man and wise spiritual leader. His life and ministry exemplify this maxim. It makes sense, right? If I don’t know the way I have absolutely no business trying to show it to anyone else. I don’t mean that I have to know all there is to know about the way, but at least, I should know where to find it! And then if I don’t go the way that I know to go, where do I come off trying to take anyone else? I can’t take someone somewhere if I’m not going there myself! We all know how we all fall short in all of those areas. But it’s the getting out of the way part that seems to be eluding us most in our modern church model.
Getting out of the way…
Knowing, going, and showing the way are all key to advancing the kingdom and making disciples, but if I don’t get out of the way and let my disciples get on with living as disciples and making their own disciples, I’ve failed them (and God). It seems to me that in our contemporary method of doing church, rather than making independent disciple-making disciples, we tend to make people dependent on the professional Christians. They’re never quite ready to go do the kingdom apart from the pastor or church program. They need permission from a leader, one more sermon series, one last conference, or one more level of spirituality before they can perform do a ministry. We’ve standing (around) army church members rather than charged up missionaries!
Though it breaks your heart as a parent when your adult son or daughter moves out to go to college or get married, remember that is what you’ve been working toward all these years! As difficult as it is, it is the right and natural consequence of all of that parenting you’ve done. The “empty nest” is a sign that you did something right, not wrong. The parent who tries to hold on to their child rather than launch them into the world does a selfish thing. In the same way, we’re not supposed to make people dependent on us for their spiritual development; we have to let go of our disciples so that they can fly!
Oops, I got a little preachy there. But my point is that we have to get out of the way, which is what I’m going to do right now!