There is an ancient Afghan proverb that states, “If you think you’re leading and no one is following you, then you’re only taking a walk.” I love the truth in that statement, but it begs a question. “If they aren’t following you, then who did they go follow?”
More concisely, is someone else really in charge?
Now, here’s a related question: “Is being in charge and being a leader the same thing?” I believe with a little thought you’d answer, “No, they are not the same.” I’d agree. It is nice when the leader is in charge but there is a glut of examples where being in charge or taking charge is void of leadership.
For instance, I was shocked a few weeks ago when I heard the report that the co-pilot of the German Wings airliner locked the pilot out of the cockpit and took charge of the plane only to fly it into a mountain side high in the Alps, killing all 150 people on board. He was in charge, but there was obviously no leadership and the precious souls on that plane stepped out into eternity.
Unfortunately, I see a similar attitude in too many churches. There is someone “in charge” in the church to the detriment of the people in that church. Some churches are led by dictatorial pastors instead of loving shepherds leading by laying down their lives in gospel ministry. Other churches are in constant turmoil because of a few control-hungry laypeople bent on “running things” as they see fit. Some of those churches could add a sign out front that reads, “Family owned and operated.” I don’t say that as a joke. Believe me, I’ve traveled nearly 200,000 miles across Tennessee over the past five years and I’ve seen all kinds. Fortunately I’ve also seen a significant number of healthy churches with spiritually mature memberships that are alive and well and marked by three distinct characteristics.
(1) Healthy churches are led by pastors who exemplify servant leadership. These are men who stay close to the Lord through prayer and by being immersed in their Bibles. They truly desire the best for the church’s members and recognize “the best” means growing in Christlikeness. They are committed to the gospel and the preaching of the full council of God. They walk in transparent and genuine humility/grace. And certainly not least, they have a compassion for people, especially those who are spiritually lost. These pastors are usually in charge because their leadership has earned them the right to be in charge.
(2) Healthy churches are marked by believers who take seriously what it means to be a New Testament church. There is strong lay leadership that works in harmony with the pastor and extends the pastoral ministry to all reaches of the church. Members actively seek ways to ministers to each other and to extend ministry beyond the church to the community. These believers recognize it is their responsibility to share the gospel with their neighbors and co-workers and around the world. No, they aren’t perfect saints, but they are loving saints, quick to forgive others and generous in their giving.
(3) Healthy churches (and pastors) are marked by their submission to the lordship of Jesus Christ. I saved this for the last, but it is not the least. In fact it is preeminent because Jesus is preeminent. When Paul writes in Colossians that, “Christ is also the head of the church, which is His body,” healthy pastors and church members understand who is really in charge. Pastors understand Jesus is both the reason for, and power of, their ministries. Church members understand they represent the bride of Christ and take seriously the calling to be salt and light to a dying world. The radiance of the ministry of the Holy Spirit is evident in churches that are submitted to Jesus. There is peace, joy, purpose, love and growth when He is in charge.
Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, once said, “This nation cannot be saved unless the church is first revived. Renewing the church is the key to saving America.”
I agree, and how we individually, then collectively, live out the reality of Jesus as Lord speaks volumes about who we really believe is in charge, because if you’re not following Jesus’ leadership in submission to His lordship, you’re only taking a walk by yourself.
It is a joy to be on this journey with you.