I’ve been thinking, planning, praying, day dreaming, agonising, reading and planning for this week for months. That is because this week, yesterday to be precise, I became the lead pastor of an established local church again. So today I’m at my desk and I need to start work, that’s what all the ” thinking, planning, praying, day dreaming, agonising, reading and planning” has been about. I’ve been agonising over what my priorities should be and what our priorities as a church should be. I’ve kept Amazon busy with my voracious appetite for books on leadership and mission over the last wee while.
There is something else that is dominating my thinking as I start this new chapter in my calling to serve God’s people. I read this recently and it stirred something in my soul. It’s by a fellow pastor talking about his ambition in ministry.
“ I want to get to the finish still in love with Jesus, still in love with the church, still in love with being a pastor. With my head held high, with my dignity and honour still intact, I want to look back over my shoulder and say it was worth it”
Whenever my ministry ends at Westlake I want to have lived and ministered in a way that is described in those words. Yet, I know the odds are stacked against me being able to do that. The attrition rate among currently is astonishingly and depressingly high. Most of the people who testified to some sort of calling to serve God in the church with me when I started training in 1989 are no longer serving in the church. Some have left broken and disillusioned by the experience, some have disillusioned and damaged the church by their actions. This year I have known people who have left the ministry because of their own sin and others driven out by the sin of others. I’ve been horrified as high profile pastors, held up as models of leadership have been exposed, their reputations destroyed and the whole church has taken a hit as a watching world has been confirmed in it’s view that Christian leaders are hypocrites.
Surprisingly I am pretty certain where my priority as a church leader has to be as I start this new chapter in my calling. Along time ago I heard Rick Warren saying that the most important thing about a church is that it’s spiritually healthy. I believe that with my whole heart. We just can’t define “health” numerically when it comes to church. We’ve had ample evidence over these last couple of years that growing churches can be spiritually toxic communities. Numerical growth on it’s own doesn’t tell us anything about spiritual health. I really want Westlake Church to grow numerically as that translates into more people coming into contact with, and being impacted by, the Kingdom of God but that can’t be my primary priority.
Lance Witt gets to crux of what all of this means for church leaders in his book REPLENISH.
“we will never grow healthy churches without healthy leaders.”
My primary calling is to ensure that I’m spiritually healthy before I try and help Westlake Church and other individual believers move deeper into spiritual health. If I don’t focus on that before I focus on everything else I probably won’t last as a pastor and my leadership may harm more people than it helps in the long run. All of us, with any form of leadership in the church should take some time to ponder these words from Quaker Parker Palmer ….
” a leader is a person who must take the special responsibility for what is going on inside him or herself …. LEST THE ACT OF LEADERSHIP CREATE MORE HARM THAN GOOD”
I have no doubt that what I do as a leader is going to be important, that I’m going to have to sharpen my skills, learn new techniques and improve what I do in a whole range of areas but I am equally aware that what is all important is who I am as a leader. In Christian leadership that lasts and makes a lasting impact, being must come before doing in the priorities of a leader. What we do for God as a leaders must come from the overflow of who God us helping us become as disciples. In Christian leadership the message can’t be divorced from the messenger, we must allow God to work in us if we want him to work through us.
Over the next few weeks as I try and keep my focus on my spiritual health I’m going to be blogging my way through Lance Witt’s book on spiritual soul care for leaders REPLENISH. maybe some of you would like to join me on that journey ?