Whom Do You Serve?
By: Bill Easum
It was a warm June Sunday morning in San Antonio. I was preaching my first sermon in the church where I wound up staying for 24 years. The sermon was on Acts 1:8. The title was "The Everwidening Circle." I said several things that morning that later would define my ministry among them. Here's the defining moment in our life together:
"I'm not here to serve you or this institution. I'm here to serve Christ in your midst. That means that my calling will set my agenda, not the needs of this church. Being true to my call is what you need from me the most. My calling is to make disciples. Anyone who wants to explore with me what that means, come to the parsonage tonight."
That night 12 people out of the 37 who were there that morning showed up at the parsonage and the journey began.
But I can hear the question –"Weren't your actions dictatorial? You didn't ask the church what it wanted." That's a probing question that demands an answer because it holds one of the keys to the future of the Protestantism.
A third way to ask this question takes us to the heart of the issue. If a pastor sets his or her own agenda, based on the calling they received from God, rather than allowing the church to set it, is that pastor a leader or dictator? When the question is framed this way, most church people find themselves in a conundrum. If we say "dictator," we are saying the person should ignore God's call on their life or we are saying that God does not give people that clear a call. If we say "not dictatorial," we are saying that the pastor should set his or her agenda even if it goes against the wishes of the people who pay the salary.
Now, which is most important to a servant of God – to please God or Man? We all know the answer. All of these questions lead to a servant obedient to his or her call from God.
So, the real issue facing the vast majority of today's churches is that they are being served by pastors who serve the members of the church rather than their call – and most of these pastors are either unhappy, or unfulfilled, or demoralized. Why else would the retirement age of clergy be dropping every year?
So, what is the answer?
Pastors need to set their own agenda based on their calling, not the needs of the church. We need "called leaders." This is the only solution to the dire mess in which most churches find themselves today.
So, how does a "called leader" function without being a dictator? To answer this question we will need to call on a couple of leaders in the field of leadership.
One of my favorite ways of talking about such leadership is "Servant Leader," a phrase coined by Robert Greenleaf, who wrote that the role of leaders was to cause followers to grow as persons and become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants. He taught that the success of a leader is not so much what the leader does as what the leader causes to happen in others.
A lot has been written on the subject of "servant leader." However, many have misread the concept by thinking a servant is one who serves others regardless of their wants or needs, which is exactly what I see too many pastors doing these days – serving the needs of the church rather than helping the people become servants. Pastors who serve the church are seldom allowed to get outside the church. It just has too many needs to allow that to happen. So, the world goes to Hell in a handbag while the church worries about its purse strings.
To understand called leadership, we also have to look at the writings of Edwin Friedman, who admirably focused our attention on the need for the leader to be "self-differentiated." That is, a leader must be closely connected to the people he or she is leading, but, at the same time, be clearly separate from them in making decisions based on the good of the whole. Being close to the group being lead allows the leader to understand, empathize, and articulate their longings. Being self-differentiated allows the leader to see the bigger picture than the relationships with the group, which allows the leader to lead the group into areas they would not go on their own.
When we combine the essence of these two writers, we have the kind of leadership Jesus spoke about. Can anyone deny that Jesus was a called leader and that he bid us to follow him and to become one with him? Jesus was a called leader. God called Him (see Luke 4). Jesus did what He was called to do even though the religious leaders of His time did not like it. He is our example of a called leader.
However you cut it, called leaders are very clear about what they do, how they do it, and why they do it. They have an inner guidance system that directs their actions – their call from God. They do what God has called them to do – nothing more, nothing less. This calling is what makes them spiritual giants. They are fixated on what God wants done with their life. They do not serve the church; they live out their call.
So, what keeps a called leader from becoming a dictator of any kind?
Only one answer will do – healthy relationships. Called leaders always set up systems of accountability. They know their Achilles heal is the fact that they have set their own agenda, making them self-differentiated. They know that it is essential to stay closely connected with a trusted group who holds them accountable. This kind of accountability keeps the weird stuff from happening.
So, how do called leaders function?
Called leaders have a clear sense of their DNA (Mission, Vision, Core Values, and Bedrock Beliefs) and will not waiver from it no matter what the circumstances. Anything that threatens this DNA is opposed and weeded out.
This DNA arises out of the calling the leader receives from God. My studies have shown that the more specific the call, the more effective the leader will be. Yeah, I know. Some of you have been asking if anyone ever really knows the will of God for their life. If not, we are all in trouble. Every person I consider to be a leader senses a divine call that gives direction to their lives. The more specific the call, the more effective they are. This is another reason why such leaders feel the need for an accountability group.
Called leaders understand that their primary mission in life is to help others birth the God-given gifts within them. I call these folks "Spiritual Midwives." This phrase, more than any other phrase, explains why the called leader seldom becomes a dictator. These folks' agenda is to assist others in the birth of their gifts. The way this mission is carried out will differ from leader to leader, but the mission is the same – to make disciples who make disciples.
Called leaders understand that their mission is not about them, but the mission. They are merely God's instruments in a much greater plan. As such, they are willing to try anything that accomplishes their calling. All that matters is the call; everything else is tactics.
I define this call by asking this question: What is it about our relationship with Jesus that the world can't live without experiencing? Now we see the real choice; are we serving the church or are we following Jesus on the road to mission? By our fruits, we will know the answer.
Bill Easum is president of 21st Century Strategies, Inc. a full-service church consulting group since 1987 whose mission is to equip Christian for global impact, www.churchconsultations.com.