Not long ago I caught a glimpse of an incredible sight; a preacher of the gospel stepping off a private jet plane surrounded by body guards. It was as though his stature was shown not simply by his obvious wealth but by inaccessibility and unapproachability. You had to go through other people in order to get to him. I know the horse has bolted long ago, and it is probably too late to do anything about it, but there seem to be false ideas of Christian leadership gaining ground these days which though they may not have the same trappings of wealth etc. as in the scene I described, are nonetheless based on a model of an inaccessibility which proves stature and importance and authority. The model thought about in diagram form is a triangle: you have the leader and then underneath the leader there are his or her trusted people, who have trusted people under them and so on. However I was reading in Corinthians today about the leadership heart of Paul. For him as an Apostle, the triangle was the other way round. It is not that he did not care about good ordering in the church or failed to realise the importance of establishing sensible local church leadership, but it is his own relationship to all of that as a leader of leaders which got hold of me today. For Paul the model was an upside down triangle. He bore the weight of it all. He was not separated from it. He was deeply involved. Listen to what he says in 2 Corinthians chapter 11:
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (N.I.V.)
I hear a lot these days about leadership and new forms of church and much of that thinking is good and necessary and has to happen. I don’t believe I am saying this because I am an old dog who cannot learn new tricks, though it may sound like that. I have just one thing to say into all the talk about leadership. Be like Christ and Paul. Don’t absolve yourself of the task of caring. Here is a strange thing I have observed: there are churches that are growing that have not bought into the new ways of thinking, nor do they run on a theology that I think is biblical or correct. Somewhere behind that growth you will find a senior pastor or a leadership team who genuinely care about the sheep, and the sheep lost and found know it. If you are a leader I ask you, “Have you become separated?” If you aspire to leadership I ask you the question, “Check the motive. Is it so that you have a lot of folk under you?” One of my elders from a former church were I was senior pastor was in a gathering of people which seemed to be permeated by pride as each person boasted about all the people they had under them. Eventually he spoke up and said, “The whole town is under me, or will be soon.” Well, the room was impressed by such confidence and vision. After a pause they asked my elder what line of business he was in and he replied, “I am the grave digger!”
Bearing the weight of care seems to be the defining mark of Christian leadership. I remember a bishop I esteem greatly looking across the table where we were eating together and saying, “Who would be a leader Kenny?” Elijah when he called Elisha more or less said the same; “Oh, what have I done to you Elisha in placing this call upon you.” If you cannot identify with this then you need to question your leadership or your sense of call into it. It is not reaching a height but going lower and lower under the needs of the church and indeed the world. It means kneeling on the earth, where people’s feet have become dirty, cut and sore and washing them.
Leaders: Are you truly connected, or the more you have advanced in your leadership is there less and less connection with people as you eat fine food, drink fine wine, play more golf and talk more ideas with other leaders? I have been on the edges of that temptation in Conference Speaking days, and it is a temptation. Please, please, don’t yield to it.
Aspiring leaders: Who would be a leader after the model of Paul or Christ? Do you really want to go lower than where others can be bothered going with people?
People: Pray for leaders and aspiring leaders who care.
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