It’s really easy for church planters to jack up the entire enterprise of leadership.
When I showed up in Athens, GA, in June 2004 to serve as pastor of Christ Church Presbyterian and achieve world domination before the age of 30, it became quickly obvious that the leadership pipeline in the church was rusted out and seemingly beyond repair. The same handful of men had occupied the same handful of positions for years, and there was no one ready or willing or able to come alongside and help carry the load.
I’ll be honest. I thought these guys were dumb. So, of course, I decided that we needed to get our elders and deacons out of town for a weekend so I could use the Bible as a lead pipe to break their jaw so they wouldn’t have the ability or the audacity to get a word in while I unraveled the vision for our church, mined from the deep well of the five weeks of experience I had as their pastor.
And so off we went up into the mountains of North Georgia, and off I went with my black and blue dry-erase markers. I told them what Timothy and Titus taught about qualifications for elder and deacon, I informed them how we were going to restructure the church, and I let them know that they were all going to get on the same bus or they could walk home.
Now here’s the thing—I might be from Alabama, but I’m not stupid. The above paragraphs were certainly the tenor of my heart, but I’m far too good at politics to allow that to bleed out into my tone or word choice. At least not in public. But over the next 18 months, many of the men in that cabin resigned as leaders and left the church altogether.
And while my natural reaction was to put the blame on them for having their own agenda and refusing to follow someone younger than them, it took one of my closest friends in the church to bring me back to reality. “Matt,” he said over lunch, “you’re going to have a hard time getting anyone to follow you as long as they believe you just want something from them. Show them how you’re helping them get where they want to go, and they’ll follow. But until they believe that you’re for them, they’re going to keep walking out the back door.”
That single conversation—reinforced since by many voices inside and outside of church world—has changed how I lead and transformed the leadership development at our church.
So learn from someone else’s mistake—lead people to create something for them rather than to extract something from them. Jesus calls us to this: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45)
Not only does Jesus call us to this kind of leadership, but also, through his life, death, and resurrection, provides the grace we need to pull it off.