Paradox of Church

“But the greatest paradox of the sport has to do with the psychological makeup of the people who pull the oars. Great oarsmen and oarswomen are necessarily made of conflicting stuff – of oil and water, fire and earth. On the one hand, they must possess enormous self-confidence, strong egos, and titanic willpower. They must be almost immune to frustration. Nobody who does not believe deeply in himself or herself – in his or her ability to endure hardship and to prevail over adversity – is likely even to attempt something as audacious as competitive rowing at the highest levels. The sport offers so many opportunities for suffering and so few opportunities for glory that only the most tenaciously self-reliant and self-motivated are likely to succeed at it. And yet, at the same time – and this is key – no other sport demands and rewards the complete abandonment of the self the way that rowing does. Great crews may have men or women of exceptional talent or strength; they may have outstanding coxswains or stroke oars or bowmen; but they have no stars. The team effect – the perfectly synchronized flow of muscle, oars, boat, and water; the single, whole, unified, and beautiful symphony that a crew in motion becomes – is all that matters. Not the individual, not the self.” – Daniel James Brown in The Boys in the Boat, a story of the 1936 Olympic rowing team from Washington.

As I read this description I couldn’t help but notice the striking similarity to pastoring or being part of the church and laboring together for the glory of Christ. Less self-confidence and more Christ-confidence. But no stars, all winning together.

Pastoral Weakness Saved My Life

It has been a fairly typical morning. I woke early to get prepared for the day and head off to a Bible study with a few men in the church. But as I stood looking in the mirror, ready to shave off the stubble of another long day before, I heard the faint but penetrating accusation. “You don’t have what it takes. The church hasn’t grown at all. None of your ‘disciples’ are making progress. You are too weak to be in ministry, you should just give up…”

I have heard it before. The dull hum of inadequacy as I watch other churches flourish and I present a meager budget to our little replant of a church wondering if the vision will hold out until we reach that elusive and hoped for five-year mark. Where my personality wants to cite my resume and latches on to the positive comments I receive for my preaching or likability. When the numbers just don’t match the church growth models. Do I have what it takes to pastor?

The answer friends is no.

So I stare back into the mirror and embrace the accusation. I don’t have what it takes. I am weak and inexperienced. My preaching is subpar. I am not nearly patient enough. I am too sinful. All of it is true. And it turns out that is the point. The enemy fools himself when he attempts to fool us. My call to ministry is not based on or even measured in my abilities or inabilities as it may be. My personal aptitude is not the point of Christianity or the pastoral role. It is Christ that works, it is his gifts and grace that carry us through, and it is him that I proclaim not myself.

Scripture declares this over and over again and it is to be our relief and confidence in life. That Jesus is working and has all the strength.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV)

Pastoral weakness saves my life in moments like these. I am weak. That is exactly what Jesus had in mind when he called me to be a pastor. Reliance on him. Neediness before him. Helpless apart from him. Where the enemy of our souls desires to lead us to despair, Christ lends his sufficiency and makes his power to rest upon us.

This is not only for pastors though. This is for you. The voice that tells you how you don’t measure up. How dirty you are. How boring you tend to be. Embrace it and run to Jesus. The One who is not ashamed to call you brother or sister. The One who gives you his righteousness, his strength, his inheritance forever. The One who gives you rest.

I am a weak pastor. I am thinking of putting it on my business card. There is nothing in me that can save you. But the One I proclaim, the One I live to see in all of Scripture, the One that knows me by name; he will save you. Run to him. Let’s run together.

In my weakness I am greatly encouraged by this prayer from the Valley of Vision on “Humility in Service.” May it encourage you as well.

“O thou God of all grace, make me more thankful, more humble; Inspire me with a deep sense of unworthiness arising from the depravity of my nature, my omitted duties, my unimproved advantages, thy commands violate by me. With all my calls to gratitude and joy may I remember that I have reason for sorrow and humiliation; O give me repentance unto life; Cement my oneness with my blessed Lord, that faith may adhere to him more immovably, that love may entwine itself round him more tightly, that his Spirit may pervade every fibre of my being. Then send me out to make him known to my fellow-men.”

Leadership Strategy of Jesus

Michael Hyatt has some interesting analysis of the leadership style of Jesus and how it contrasts with the way modern pastors lead. I am not a pastor but hope to one day serve alongside great people in full-time ministry so these thoughts could come in handy.

Hyatt laments about the modern trend of being “reach” focused, getting our “message” (whether that is the Gospel or not) out to as many people as we can. Church leaders speak at conferences, have a “following” on their blog (for the record I have a very small following of mostly family but recognize the desire for more readers…) and publish best-sellers. All this seemingly makes the goal what Hyatt calls “breadth,” extend your influence as far as you possibly can.

But Jesus give a uniquely different model.  Jesus was known to discourage publicity and spent more “quality time” with a small group of men that he then sent out to share the Gospel. Hyatt sees Jesus’ style revealed in four points; Jesus taught the multitudes, he mobilized the seventy, he trained the twelve, he confided in the three.

Jesus’ leadership strategy evidently worked well. Within a generation, His followers turned the world upside down (see Acts 17:6). Within seven generations (318 A.D.), the emperor Constantine accepted his message and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. And here I am, almost two millennia later, writing about it.

After interacting with leaders at every level for more than three decades, my observation is that most leaders only focus on the first two strategies. They have a public teaching ministry, and they are good at mobilizing groups for specific assignments. However, very few intentionally train a small group of disciples. Even fewer build deep relationships with a handful of confidants. As a result, they do not have the kind of lasting impact they could have.

The older I get, the more value I see in going deeper with a few. Leading the masses may feed my ego, but it won’t guarantee an impact that will outlive me.

We preach that we should strive to be more like Jesus and I wonder how often we miss our own point in the way we lead. Certainly having a best-seller or a recognizable name doesn’t diminish the Gospel and it makes sense that the further our influence extends the greater our ability to speak into peoples’ lives. Maybe though we are heading into a generation of influence shifting and priorities will change from numbers influence to deeper influence.