“The Christian life can be succinctly summarized using a child’s playground game, ‘Follow the Leader.’ The game, if you remember, was more about how to be a follower than it was about being the leader. I assign the word ‘leader’ to Jesus singly and only. You and I are never leaders, only followers. The best we can aspire to is to become first followers, not followers who then go on to be leaders. We are followers – followers first and then first followers. Even when we are summoned to the front of the line, we still are behind the Leader.” Leonard Sweet from I Am a Follower.
Simply said, the reformation needed in the American church, when it comes to re-defining the qualifications and role of the Christian worker, is all about the ancient Greek New Testament word, AGAPE.
Paul tells us that things like Faith and Hope and Love are eternal, with Love (AGAPE) being the highest agent of power and authority in God’s universe. Elsewhere, the New Testament says flat out, that GOD is AGAPE. God is unconditional God-love. A love that remains after all the excitement has left town. A persevering love that holds on even after our world comes to an end.
As I see it, when it’s all said and done, Jesus didn’t ask any of us to be dynamic leaders in His church, but dynamic lovers.
Lovers of God. Lovers of Christ. Lovers of the Holy Spirit. Lovers of the church. Lovers of the un-churched. Lovers of the saints. Lovers of the sinners. Lovers of others. Lovers of self. Lovers. Not leaders. Agents of AGAPE. Not leaders.
When composer Burt Bacharach and lyricist Hal David wrote their big musical hit, ‘What the World Needs Now is Love, Sweet Love’ back in the 1960’s, who would have known that 50 years later, even the church still hasn’t gotten the message. Think of it this way. Our world is going to hell in a hand-basket, and here’s the Church, focusing on leadership issues. Off to the side, here’s Jesus praying that someone in ‘leadership’ will open their eyes to the biblical patterns of ‘leadership’ found in the New Testament. This series of blogs has been my humble effort to show us that back then (in the NT church), no one was actually encouraged to ‘lead’ people, but to simply ‘love the hell’ out of others.
And so it goes. We ramp up our church ministries in America, hiring dynamic leaders (see my list I call the Twenty Top Qualifiers for Successful Christian Leadership in Session 4). Men and women who can ‘lead well’ by revving up the engines, move a few mountains, thus drawing a big crowd for Jesus.
And when it comes to ‘success’, the leaders who can keep the attention of the most people without dropping a ball or busting a gut are America’s winners when it comes to church life. The 3-B Syndrome pushes pastors and church workers to produce an easily-consumed religious product that will put more (B)utts in the seats, increase the number of (B)ucks in the coffers, and hopefully, enable us to enlarge our (B)uilding size.
Bigger is better. And great leadership is the key to ‘success’ when it comes to bigger is better.
All the while, most American pastors and countless lay workers understand that to be ‘successful’ we all need to learn to ‘lead’ better. In the meantime, AGAPE (unconditional love) remains on the edge of our ‘to-do’ lists, calling our name but rarely getting a response from us busy pastors and workers who are focused on gearing up for more ‘success’ in ministry.
Do I sound cynical? I’m sorry if I do. But for me, after 30-plus years of doing Americanized church, defining success in ministry by measuring the 3-B’s (Buildings, Bucks & Butts in the seats), and focusing more on being a dynamic leader than a simple shepherd, I want to finish my years in ministry by aligning my work for Christ closer to the New Testament models I’ve discussed in this blog-series. I’m hoping you’d like to do that as well.
John Wimber, founding pastor of the Vineyard Churches, said this back in the 1990’s about the way the Americanized church has gotten off track:
“All too often in my counseling with young leaders and pastors I have found many who become so wrapped up in their quest for success, advancement, and visibility that they have little understanding how to serve God in a hidden, humble way. Like others who have gone before us, they serve a God of their own making—the triumphant God of Success, not the Suffering Servant of the Cross.”
Here in 2012, I’m believing John had it right in the 1990’s and what was true then is still true today.
I recall one of John’s favorite prayers for himself back then was, “Lord, help me GROW UP before I GROW OLD.” To that I say, Amen, Jesus. Amen. Join us next time as we wind down this blog series with one last thought on what Jesus might be looking for in those He calls to oversee the Church called by His Name.