Friday, July 23, 2010

Advice to Young Leaders #9 of 10 - Be Part of Your Church

This is the ninth post of ten in my series of advice for younger leaders. Here's the working list:

9. Be part of your own church.
10. Don't let people need you too much.

Advice #9: Be Part of Your Own Church.

The best leaders lead from their life more than their words. The way a leader lives will inevitably, for better or worse, influence his or her followers toward the same lifestyle. If you lead at 100 mph, your followers will sprint at that same pace until they collapse. If you lead from sluggish apathy, you will have apathetic followers. My favorite leaders are the once who have a way of pushing their followers to new and unprecedented places while maintaining a healthy, sustainable pace for them.

We need to be careful to lead in the tangible and practical world, not isolated within our idealistic theoretical one. When I planted my first church I set up a series of programs around key issues that were important to me. Programatic based ministry is attractive to leaders because it (in theory) creates a manageable system for care and growth. If everyone just does the right programs (and the programs actually work) then everyone in your ministry will be growing. This is why a lot of modern "contemporary" churches look the same - they ask people to come to a church service on Sunday to worship, pick another time to serve, pick another program to reach out to the poor, invite your non-Christian friends to yet another special event, and of course be in a small group where you can have genuine, meaningful relationships. Maybe Sunday morning isn't deep enough for you and you will also need a midweek Bible Study. Then, of course, as you grow and become a leader you will likely be asked to attend training and leadership meetings.

This programatic-driven structure will have at least one effect - it will make you and your people very busy. To be fair, some people thrive in this jam-packed system. But many others do not. I do not believe that programs are evil. I like programs and events. I even believe that a strategically timely program, event or class can change the trajectory of a person's life. (In a previous post I talked about how taking improv classes radically changed me.)

The main point of all of this is that as leaders we must be aware of what we are actually asking people to do. Personally, I do not function optimally working 40-60 hours/week, loving my family and friends, and doing my missional hobbies while also trying to attend 5 or more additional church meetings per week. I can't sustain that for the long haul. If the leader can't sustain the systemic requirements, very few others will be able to...and almost nobody will want to.

What I am able to do is have friends. I'm a big believer in living within a holistic Kingdom community. I can learn to create a life with my friends that is worshipful, educational and generous. It is actually easier for me to understand how to use my spiritual gifts within the context of my friends than in a larger organization. If every small group at my church is growing toward becoming sustainable, holistic communities of faith, then we are onto something noteworthy. The programs (church services, outreaches, classes, etc.) can function as stopgaps for our communities as we move past our current inadequacies. But the goal is for every follower to be in a relational, holistic, missional, sustainable Kingdom community. This is church really. In my understanding, the programs exist only to help people be the church. The summation of the programs isn't church...the people are.

Maybe you aren't in the same place as me with this stuff. That's fine. The point of this post isn't to convince you to value a holistic model over a programatic one. The point is that you should clearly know what you really care about - what you really want people to do - and, most importantly, what you yourself are ready to model everyday for the rest of your forseable future. As a leader, I can certainly influence people toward aspects of my ministry that I am not personally involved with that might be helpful to them. (For example, I can encourage someone struggling with drug addiction to attend a support group even though I am not currently needing one.) It would be unreasonable to expect the leader to do and be a part of everything in an organization. But there are some essential things that I expect and ask everyone who follows me to incorporate into their lives. I cannot really lead my people unless I fully commit and live out those "essentials." It is always a bit of a head tilt when I hear a pastor tell me that they aren't in a small group or giving to their church or inviting people into their community or whatever. To put it simply, you can't lead a church unless you are a part of the church. 

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