Victor Hugo wrote,
“One can resist the invasion of armies; one cannot resist the invasion of ideas.”
If that were true in the 1870’s, how much more accurate is it now! We are an influenced people. Television, radio, newspaper, the Internet, and so much more is constantly bombarding us with new ideas. In many ways this is unfortunate because our culture has increasingly given up critical thinking. Thus, whatever is seen or heard is assumed to be “gospel truth,” even though much of what we see or hear is simply one person’s opinion. That’s why I often find myself thinking, “Just the facts, ma’am.”
Ideas are powerful things, as Hugo eloquently stated. And while many of the ideas that I hear and see aren’t always that helpful, there have been some extremely influential ideas that have shaped my thinking, which has flowed into my praxis. I thought I’d share with you five ideas that literally changed the way I thought.
(1) It’s okay to love the people you serve for real and to be friends with them.
When I was going through pastoral training, it was regularly communicated to me that it was unwise for pastor’s to be friends with people in the church. There were numerous reasons given: people won’t respect you if they see your weaknesses, you’ll end up getting hurt, and you need to maintain a “professional” relationship because that’s the nature of the vocation were some of the most common reasons given. My professors and mentors had some keen insights here, and there’s no doubt that being friends with people in the church you serve will bring about some emotional pain and ministry trials. But is it wise to put up walls around your heart towards the people that you are called to serve, love, and lead?
What set me free from this thinking was reading Paul’s letter to the Philippians. I saw Paul’s heart-felt love for that church so captivating that I couldn’t brush it aside. The apostle Paul clearly had a strong love for the Philippians because he writes that he “yearned” for them with the affection of Christ Jesus. How could Paul pray that the love of the Philippians would grow like crazy if he himself didn’t have such strong love for them (Phil. 1:9)? How could Paul, who so longed to be with Christ through death (Phil. 1:21, 23), be willing to stay in order to help serve the Philippians (Phil. 1:24-25) if he didn’t love them and consider them friends?
There’s no need for pastors to “fake” their love for the people in their church. What I mean is that there’s no need for pastors to try and convince people that they really love them but carry out their ministry from a distance. On one hand, everyone in the church can see the distance. You aren’t fooling anyone. And on the other hand, the apostle Paul shows us that it’s okay to love the people we serve for real and that it’s okay to have friends in the church.
(2) Leaders must take risks, even if you’ll look like a fool.
Here in the west, specifically in the United States, respectability is one of our idols. It just is. And I believe it’s extremely influential in the realm of ministry because pastors are in roles that are seen by everyone. People are always watching you. Because of this, it would seem that over time its easy to become more concerned with being respected by people rather than being obedient to God. It’s a subtle yet extremely easy rut to fall into. Yet the consequences can be devastating to the health and growth of the churches we serve.
Leaders need to be willing to take risks. I learned this primarily through the ministry of John Wimber. He used to always say that the word “faith” is spelled R-I-S-K. I’m not talking about foolishly jumping off of cliffs and hoping that magical carpets will fly to your rescue. No, that’s just stupid. And lots of the things pastors do under the banner of “taking risks” is simply foolish and the “risk” card is played in order to manipulate people and cover one’s tracks. Yet there are times where God will lead us to make decisions that are risky. That’s where faith comes in. People might reject us. People might leave the church. People might slander you and spread lies about you. But guess what? They’ll probably do that even if you don’t take risks, so if God is leading you to faithfully trust him, I think you need to do it. After all, walking in the Spirit is an adventure of sorts and there are times that we need to see God’s sovereign hand work in situations that we feel completely alone on. Taking risks can actually help us remember that God is God, and we are not.
(3) Your family is your primary responsibility, not the church.
I’ve seen many a pastor do their best to serve a church while overlooking the needs of their family. If I’m being honest, I’ve also watched many a church require their pastors to give their all to ministry and encouraging them to leave their family the leftovers. It’s a problem all over the world and pastors are often reap what they sow when they find that their spouse is distant and children rebellious.
When the apostle Paul states that pastors must “manage their household,” he uses the verb proistamenon, which is in the present tense. That means that it’s not something that had to have been done once, but should be in process continually. In fact, Paul states that “if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” Shepherding our family actually increases our effectiveness in shepherding people outside of our family because it often helps develop our patience, mercy, compassion, and love. If you want to be a great pastor, start in your home. Create margins and boundaries so that your family knows that they are the number one priority in your life.
(4) Don’t be afraid of questions; rather, encourage them.
I’ve had my foot in fundamentalist circles from time to time because fundamentalists come in all shapes and colors. If I had to say that there is one thing that fundamentalists do not like, I’d say that it’s questions. Maybe I’m painting with a broad brush here. If you are a fundamentalist who loves being asked questions, I apologize. But in my experience, many pastors assume that when people start asking questions, it’s the first sign of abandoning the faith. Thus, to ask a question is to reject truth! In actuality I believe that the reason a lot of pastors are afraid of questions is because they believe that when people are asking questions, their own authority is being questioned.
Don’t be so quick to assume that. I’ve actually learned that many of the questions people have are serious questions. It’s not that they are questioning the faithfulness of God, they are just trying to better understand how to answer their friends who say that a loving God wouldn’t allow evil. Or perhaps they are curious about why churches have certain traditions, not because they demonize all traditions but would like to better understand why they are being followed. What’s really cool for me to see as a pastor is people asking deep questions and finding deep answers that strengthen their faith in Christ. The process of personal discovery is an important part of that equation, more so than requiring people to simply check the box of a doctrinal statement. Perhaps the reason critical thinking is no longer a strength in our churches is because we’ve been telling people, quickly of course, to shut up and just agree with us.
Plus, one of the most effective ways that I share my faith now is through the process of asking questions (and I have Randy Newman’s Questioning Evangelism to thank for that!).
(5) Invest in people! Invest in people! Invest in people!
Maybe this goes without saying, but we are in the people business because we are in the God business. So there’s two ways to think about our investing in people. First, we need to invest in the people we serve. That means that we need to be willing to meet with them about their marriages or parenting issues. If you can’t help, you need to try and point them in the direction where they can find help. Sometimes people will want to just talk about issues they are facing or questions that they have (see above). In my mind, we need to be about investing in people, regardless of whether the return is for ourselves or not. Our investing needs to be about the kingdom.
Second, we need to invest in potential leaders and current leaders. I head Phil Strout, the new National Director of the Vineyard Movement, a few months ago talk about the need to have six potential leaders in the pipeline in order to get one quality leader (I think he said he heard that from Ed Stetzer). To have some people in a “pipeline” is simply a way of saying that if we want to develop leaders, we need to invest in them.