In a previous post I described a prophetic dream I had. Remember, there was a young, overweight boy that jumped on my back to carry him to the other side of a public pool and then, after a short gasp of breath, back again. I was wearing a flappy shirt, which made the journey even more unachievable. The Lord showed me that the cumbersome shirt represented sinful habits that I had to shed in order to survive.
As I prayed about it, I saw that it was a two-for-one dream, and that there was another spiritual leadership lesson that I needed to learn. The first lesson was about being encumbered by sin and the second had to do with being weighed down by people who expected me to transport them through life and ultimately to heaven. The Spirit convicted me that as a pastor I had been trying to carry people on my back. He showed me that I shouldn’t be doing their swimming for them. I can’t really – not for very long anyway – swim for two. I’m no Cruise Ship for Christians, and can’t do for them what they should be doing for themselves. Not only is it unscriptural, it’s untenable, and it’s dangerous!
On the other hand, I can be, and am even called to be, a lifeguard for the drowning and a swimming instructor for those want to learn how to swim on their own. Lifeguards save people who don’t know how to swim (that’s evangelism). Swim instructors teach people how to swim for themselves (that’s discipleship). Cruise ships, on the other hand, take it upon themselves to do all the work in order to make their passengers content and comfy, while showing them interesting and exotic sights along the way. That’s definitely not the call of the spiritual leader.
Take it from me; carrying people on your back is exhausting and especially treacherous when the people you’re carting are carrying nothing for themselves but a bunch of extra fat! It’s not God’s way that they depend on you to do all the work, while all they do is overeat and under-exercise.
The ridiculous part of my dream – well, it’s all pretty ridiculous – is that when the boy jumped on my back for second insane ride across the wide public pool, I complied! I went along with it. Though I could have refused and shaken him off, with him clutching to me, I began the return journey, flailing for the both of us. We eventually, but barely made it to the other side, but when I awoke gasping for oxygen I pledged to not carry anyone who should be swimming on their own again.
Therapists call this “codependence,” which, as a model of ministry, is damaging and addictive to both parties. Though both the swimmer and his lazy cargo tend to sink there’s something in both that wants to keep doing it this way! The freeloader loves the free ride and the one doing all the work feels important – Savior-like. There’s no apparent motivation for either to recalibrate their measure of success – until the carrier burns out and the carried has to either learn to swim or find another codependent leader to put them on their back.
Another interesting twist is that the boy was the same age as the number of years I had been pastoring the church I was serving at the time. It was clear to me that the Lord was saying, “Your shoulders are not broad enough, and your strength not great enough to carry these people; and I’m not asking you to. Quit doing for them what they should be doing for themselves! Just shed your own sinful entanglements, rescue the drowning, and teach people how to swim for themselves. This way no one drowns and together you’ll enjoy the swim.”
If you know and love a spiritual leader who has a tendency to “swim for two” you might consider forwarding this this to them.
At the request of a few friends I’ve started an audio podcast. (OK, one of them was my mother, though gone for many years now, I’m sure she would’ve wanted to hear my digital voice. After all, she was the one who told me I have a face for radio.) Anyway, you can find my first couple episodes on Soundcloud or iTunes called, Musing The Mysteries.