I don’t know what condition you are in right now. I have read the studies about pastors, but more importantly I drink a lot of coffee with church leaders. Some of you are exhausted, discouraged and want to throw in the towel. Some of you are full of vision and bursting with excitement for what God is doing at this very moment. This may all change tomorrow or an hour from now.
Ministry is a bipolar journey with ridiculous highs and terrible lows. One moment you feel like you have hoodwinked the prophets of Baal and the next you are Jeremiah weeping in your pillow. I don’t pray for the success of church leaders, but for the foundation of the gospel to be cemented into your life. In fact success is sometimes what takes us further from God and further into ourselves.
I gathered last week for what has become a sacred learning ground for me. Every month around 40 pastors in my city come together to remind one another of the gospel and to remember we are teammates. The hosting pastor shares about the greatest point of pain in their life, and then we all gather around to pray for them. No comparison or “how many are you running?” conversations, but genuine care. It’s beautiful. At our last gathering a friend and local pastor said, “The greatest gift you can give to your church is a healthy soul.” Perhaps the worst garbage we can dump on our church is an unhealthy soul striving for the wrong things.
Inside the rat race, or at least the treadmill, of ministry there are so many self-induced stressors. Much of the church leadership culture has gained the tradition of obsessing about things we cannot control while neglecting the things God has asked us to steward. I am convinced most church leaders have a pretty decent studied theology but a terrible lived theology. In other words, we struggle to live the way we teach people to live.
Perhaps no word is more needed but more absent in church leaders today than the word “ABIDE.” Abiding in Christ sneaks into a sermon occasionally, but is rarely a mark of our lives. We know this verse well, but we forget it weekly.
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15: 4 & 5)
We can do nothing of power without Jesus. Nothing. Are our conferences, meetings and pastors’ gatherings spaces of abiding or comparison? The health of our churches is dependent on our obsession with abiding. Your stage persona, teaching, counseling and leadership skills will get you a thousand compliments before you’ll get one about abiding in Christ. Don’t let this fool you about what God thinks. If we, as leaders, aren’t reliant on abiding in Jesus we are trying to fill up a row of cups from the last drops at the bottom of the water cooler. If we are not filled up each day by God our lives and ministries will lack power.
Every year that passes I am increasingly drawn to leaders who have listened to the whispers of God and made hard changes to their lives. I want to follow and serve with people who have been transformed by the Living God in the pastures of life under the care of the shepherd. That is what makes people “the real deal.” Church leaders, there is no more important pursuit in our lives than abiding in Christ. Take an honest look at your life, for real.