What does your leadership look like? What’s the one thing most essential to your leadership of the local church? What’s the thing that will make preaching a joy rather than a chore, that will sustain us as we pastor people? As elders what is the things we look for most in pastors and preachers and others that we put into ministry leadership positions?
I wonder how you’d answer those questions? I’ve been in ministry nearly twenty years and have had to watch myself and others too often orbit too closely to the withering sun of burn out. In part because of expectations placed on us by others and in part use to the unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves, occasionally leading to the creation of a messiah complex caused by both of those things. And in part because I wonder if we’ve missed a key lesson in leadership. If I asked you what made David a great leader what would you say? Where would you go to prove it?
Leadership guru’s might look at his delegation, his past experience of shepherding that prepared him so well for leading a recalcitrant flock like Israel, his warrior like spirit, the trust his people put in him because of past victories won. But I wonder whether they or we would ever turn to the Psalms to see what actually enabled David to lead Israel well. You can explore this in pretty much any Psalm David wrote, in the Psalms when he’s under pressure like Psalms 52, 54, 56, 57 when he’s on the run or being hunted down or betrayed or in a jam. You can see it in the Psalms when he’s expressing his greatest longing. We see it really clearly in Psalm 16. Just stop and read it.
No really. Stop and go and read it!
What strikes you about that Psalm? There are loads of things and we haven’t got time to excavate it all we’d be here all day and I’ve got a sermon to prepare. But what runs throughout the Psalm, and through so many of the Psalms David composes, is that God is his refuge and the thing he wants more than anything else. God is his greatest good, his portion, his blessing, he is able to rejoice because he has God and enjoys right relationship with him. What fuels David’s leadership? Relationship with God and the joy he find therein.
That’s further backed up by David’s confessional Psalm, Psalm 51. Where he confesses his sin and pleads for restoration not to leadership but to the rich sweetness of the relationship with God which he has so enjoyed. This Psalm is all the more staggering when we realise David sinned and hadn’t even realised what he had lost, it wasn’t until Nathan confronted him that he was led to confess. It is so easy for our relationship with God to drift and atrophy bit by bit until we find ourselves in blatant sin and using and abusing those God has given us to shepherd. But it is that sweetness of joy in God that David longs for restoration to.
Yet all too often we forfeit the joy of our relationship with God because we relate to God as minister first and person second. We focus on our leadership at the cost of what will sustain leadership – the joy of our salvation. 1 Kings 19 and the incident post Carmel with Elijah teaches us that we need to rest and eat well if we want to serve God well. That there are times when we just need to stop and enjoy what God has given us, refuel and rest. And David teaches us that if we want to serve God well we do so best out of a deep knowledge of God that means we run to him for refuge, we look to him for joy and we hunger to know him more.
In all our busyness the danger is we miss this, we forget to set aside time for this. When it’s the greatest gift we can give those we lead, be it our families or our churches. Elderships and churches need to make this a priority for our pastors and leaders at every level if we want to see pastors leading well. We need to make sure there is space for this in ministry, knowing that every individual has different ways of approaching this and resting in God. Pastors need to prioritise this if they want to lead well, because too many ministers minster out of a sense of duty not joy, on the edge of burnout not out of a sense of joy in God.