FROM JAY MCCUMBER
Last newsletter, some thoughts were offered about the power of proactive leadership on the part of local church pastors and ministry leaders. That piece wrapped up with four observations as to why proactive leader development goes missing in the ministry of many local church pastors and ministry leaders. You can/should check that article out here before reading this one.
This submission will examine more in-depth the first of those four observations: Many local church pastors and/or ministry leaders do not engage in proactive leader development because they themselves have never been formed, and a leader cannot impart what he/she does not possess.
That should not be read to any degree as an indictment or a sentence of certain leadership failure, at least not to the leader as a person. As to what manner of indictment or leadership failure it is on the part of the seminaries, Bible colleges, and local church systems who sacrificed spiritual formation of leaders on the altars of consumerism, numbers, and programs, that is another article. But I digress…
Leaders are not born, they are developed, and the process of development is noted by Paul when he says to the Corinthians:
“I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.”
Proactive leadership thrives on two core concepts: confidence and clarity. Confidence in one’s identity and legitimacy in Christ, and clarity as to the scope and manner of one’s calling. From a familial standpoint, these are things we are meant to learn early in life, through the love and nurture of our parents. As we are nurtured and grown to maturity in adulthood, the hope is that we do the same by imitating the healthy family from which we came. As people who are then intimately and maturely grown up in the ways of the family and the heart of the Father, we are sent to “remind others” of what it means to follow Jesus. That kind of relationship takes time, investment, and the slow work of growing up.
There is a reason why evidence of maturity in the Spirit is called “fruit”. It takes time, growth, care, and connection. There are no shortcuts in discipleship. Spiritual formation only happens one way: life on life.
The Corinthians were enamored with all kinds of people offering countless ways to shortcut the hard work of growing up into maturity by following the example and wisdom of the spiritual formation relationships to which God called them. I cannot imagine what Paul would think about YouTube preaching, online sermon resources, multi-site screens, Christian publishing, and the worship music industry. Countless guides, indeed! We need to be very on guard from whence comes our confidence and clarity. The latest Hillsong or Bethel release, challenging teaching from Francis Chan, or books from McKnight or Wright can be a valuable guide, but it will not form your mind or spirit to walk in confidence and clarity. You do not know those people. They are not rooted in your community. They do not know you. So while their ministry to you may be important, spiritual formation is meant to come from a deeper, fuller place.
So what happens if the spiritual “family” in which you were spiritually “raised” was dysfunctional?
What if you were not discipled toward confidence and clarity in your identity and calling in Christ, but rather toward control, fear, pride, or moralism?
What if your whole life you have longed for someone to pour into you, but that longing was never met?
What if the community you’ve known has been stuck at shallow, only ever chasing myriad programmatic guides without being rooted in nurturing relationships of development over the long haul?
What if someone you did trust and respect hurt you in your journey of spiritual formation?
All of these situations and more are legitimate circumstances in which many local church and ministry leaders find themselves. So what to do? Four things for you:
First things first: God has been and is your ever-present, ever-forming Father. His grace and work in your life has been active and real. His eyes are upon you and His favor is your reality. He is your Shepherd you are not in want.
Start where you are now. Invest in your development. If ministry is your vocation, advocate strongly for a line item in your church’s budget for your own proactive leader development. Do not spend that line on a conference, more books, or cool stuff from worshiphousemedia. Invest in a spiritual mentor, pursue some redemptive therapy, or enlist a spiritual director.
Proactively develop others, even in the presence of lack of confidence or loss of clarity. If you do not know how to do develop others, invest some of that line item or some of your own finances into learning how to serve the people in your care through proactive leader development. Netzer has some great tools for this.
Stay connected to the regional Church. Being with other Jesus-following church, non-profit, and business leaders will sharpen you, as iron sharpens iron. Connecting with other leaders on their own development journeys will feed your development journey. Through intentionality of priority and purpose, you will find new depths of confidence and clarity as you unite with brothers and sisters to be developed by our Father together. Yes, you’re busy and ministry toward the people you serve takes a lot of bandwidth. However, if you love them, understand this: you do not have space to not be connected to the regional Church.
Howard Hendricks wisely stated:
“Your people should be drinking from a running stream, not a stagnant pool.”
Dallas Willard adds:
“Spiritual formation cannot, in the nature of the case, be a ‘private’ thing, because it is a matter of whole-life transformation. You need to seek out others in your community who are pursuing the renovation of the heart.”
Lastly, Teresa of Avila reminds us:
“The feeling remains that God is on the journey, too.”