Leading from the 2nd Chair

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Follow the Leader

11/21/2013

Follow the Leader

My name is Patrick, and I am a follower.

Now, you mustn’t blame my senior pastor, or the education I received from Trevecca. The pastors under whom I interned and even the local church in which I grew up are equally innocent.  They’ve all preached leadership. Since I said “yes” to God and the call of ministry I have tried to say “yes” to being a leader, not a follower.   When a pastor told me to read “How to win friends and influence people,” I did. When another demanded I work to be more charismatic from the pulpit (“You’re also preaching your ministry, after all.”), I started practicing my sermons in the mirror. I tried raising student leaders in my youth group, until I found out every student in your youth group is supposed to be a leader! So I tried to be a leader-among-leaders leading leaders-among-leaders. I added words like confidence, creativity, and positivity to my list of fruits of the Spirit. I wanted to be humble, but inspiring; prayerful, but dynamic. Productivity was the order of the day.

I drank caffeine before services on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings to seem energetic, extroverted, and fun. I tried to look more authoritative, which was difficult, as I’m 5’7”, but one of my students told me, “It’s ok, because you have a tall voice.” And eventually, I finally started seeing fruits of my labor. After service one night, one of my students proudly shared with me how he was being called to ministry.  So we talked, prayed, and agreed to explore his call together, and I almost escaped to pat myself on the back, free to continue my education in pastoral leadership, but almost as an afterthought, he offered, “I hope I can be just like you.” Like me? I thought we had just finished praying for God to make him like Christ, not like me. “… Just like me, how?” I had to ask. He wanted to preach like I did, and lead discussions like I did, and always know what to do and what to say to people.  He wanted to be a leader. There it was. Something that I had been struggling with for a while, clicked. After some years of being a youth pastor, I was ready to admit: it’s a lie. I am not the leader you think I am. And I don’t want you to be that leader, either.

I’m a horrible leader. I change decisions constantly. Sometimes the problems my students bring to me leave me stunned and only able to pray.  I’m more comfortable with my nose in a book than I am in a group of people.  I don’t have a problem saying, “I don’t know.” Try as I might to live into the kind of leader that wouldn’t be fired by Donald Trump, It just isn’t who I am. Thankfully, I no longer think it is who I am called to be.

But all too often, what we mean by “leadership” in a Christian sense looks just like what “leadership” means in a business sense. Churches want self-starters, visionaries, leaders that bring personality to the table and can sell us on ideas.  But when that happens, we can sometimes end up selling ourselves, and I end up with teens that want to be foremost like their pastor, not like their Christ.  

As a pastor on staff, I have the opportunity to exemplify Christian servitude in how I run my youth “department,” in how I relate to others on staff, and in the ways I relate to my students. Servant-ship is doing the job with the Master’s agenda. I want my actions to echo Jesus’ words in John 6, "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” To abdicate the throne of leader is to heed the words of Christ in Matthew 20:25-28, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…”

As I see it, I can create leaders, or followers. And it’s true, leaders of people have a lot more freedom than followers of Christ:

  • Leaders can make decisions based on numbers and prestige for their local body; followers have to first put the good of the church universal over their own body.
  • Leaders can raise themselves up from the community with titles. Robes, or a pulpit; followers must live in the thick of broken communities and imperfect churches, and not rely on authority.
  • Leaders can rely on practical sense, “does it work?” can be their only concern; followers have to contend with a crucified messiah who did not always make choices that were best for himself or his followers.
  • Leaders can make decisions based on talent, skills, assessment, and professionalism; followers are left at the mercy of a God who calls the foolish to shame the wise.

I am not trying to raise up leaders. I’m trying to teach others (and learn myself) how to follow after Christ. Leadership in the church is not bad. It is necessary. However, the church has a better way of talking about leadership, and it is called discipleship. Our communities could use some more disciples, and less “leaders.” I don’t want to teach my students to gauge faithfulness by success, or give them any role model to emulate other than Christ. Rather, I want them to learn how to be honest Christians—do you want to stick out as a leader? Be vulnerable. Let your fellow followers see your struggles, your passions, and your mistakes. Find ways to consciously step down from the title you hold so that the people around you know they have a place to stand as you follow Christ together: their opinion matters. Pray more than you strategize. Show all sides of pastoring, the menial tasks as well as the preaching. Make sure they know your job is just a part of your Christian journey. My students are my brothers and sisters on that journey. They call me PP, short for Pastor P. I’m ok with that. I’ve been called worse.  I am their pastor, and I am a follower, just like them.