Paradoxical Pastors

What’s your paradigm of leadership? What does good leadership look like? What does it achieve? What is its goal? What methods are legitimate for it to use? What methods aren’t?

Pastors are leaders and so we need to sit and ask and answer this question. Our churches will have a leadership culture and so we need to ask what it is and how it has, and is, being shaped? There are all sorts of models we can go for. All sorts of ways we can think we should operate. Maybe it’s the visionary – who casts dynamic exciting visions of the future and leads people through sheer inspiration. Maybe it’s the CEO who efficiently keeps everything running through his sound management of teams and good communication. Maybe it’s the entrepreneur who is constantly thinking, dreaming, adapting, imagining and trying new things. There are too many others to name.

Our views on leadership are so shaped by the world we don’t even realise it. As pastors we are up the front, people want to be led, and so we lead. But often our, and their, views of what leadership looks like are more formed by the Apprentice or a Netflix series or the latest Diary of a CEO podcast than the Bible. Sadly it can be true of our institutions of faith . And of the mechanism for applying for funding. The more high profile you are, the more well known you are, the more creative, the more out there the easier it is, the more people will be attracted to your ministry, to give, to come. That creates all sorts of problems, so of the whirlwind thereof we are currently reaping.

But being a pastor is a paradox. It’s the JtB paradox. In John 3v27-30 after a dispute John the Baptist’s (JtB) disciples come to him and tell him about Jesus who everyone is now going to, they seem to be fearful of losing popularity and status, maybe their funding. I love John’s answer: “No one can receive anything unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourself can testify that I said, “I am not the Messiah, but I’ve been sent ahead if him.’ He who has the bride is the groom. But the groom’s friend, who stands by and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the groom’s voice. So this joy of mine is complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”

There is so much in the passage that we haven’t got time to unpack. But don’t you love John’s humility, he sees every ministry success as given from heaven. He hasn’t earned it, it’s not a badge of honour for him, there’s no danger of it puffing him up, it’s a divine gift of God. And he has always been clear that he’s not the Messiah, his God given role is to point to Jesus. And he is overjoyed at Jesus, amazed afresh that he has heard his voice. And so his ministry goal, is for Christ to increase and for himself to decrease.

Do you see the paradox of pastoral ministry? Even as we preach, lead, counsel and use our God given gifts it’s not about us. At least not if we’re doing it well. If we do it well we get out of the way and Jesus is seen. We are just the delivery method. But we also have a tremendous privilege, to be called to tell others about him, to introduce them to Jesus, to help them see and hear him again and again, without us obscuring or warping him. And our joy isn’t in ministry, it’s not in any of the fripperies that go with it, our joy is in hearing Jesus voice.

It’s scary how easy it is to fall away from that. How susceptible we are to popularity or whatever other metric, measure or motive that obscure Christ for those we are called to make him known to. Pastoring is about embracing obscurity so that we don’t get in the way, so that Christ is known, and seen, and loved, and worshipped and followed. Does that feature in our paradigm? In our plan? Will be be paradoxical pastors? Because it will liberate us to lead by grace because its not about us it’s all about him and his glory not tied up with ours.

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