I’ve heard and read this so often: Christian leaders must be thoroughly prepared for their task. Training is essential: study, testing, study, training, study, mentoring and study. It would be a terrible mistake to turn leaders loose into their calling before they are fully equipped. Makes sense, right? Except, apparently, Jesus thought otherwise.
Jesus demonstrated a radical model of ministry training. Friendship, relationship and a deep soul-agreement are the ultimate preparations for ministry: first with Jesus, then with those we serve. Listen to the language—the images and metaphor—Jesus used when he finished his ministry with the disciples: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever;” and: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you,” and: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”
We place so much emphasis on preparation, but Jesus seemed to favor another method. From the very beginning of his work he talked about flowers of the field, birds of the air, and even in times of trouble he affirmed, “it will be given you in that hour what you are to say.”
Of course, who could be against study and preparation? We are called to exercise mature judgment. No one would affirm that church leaders should teach error, or manage God’s church badly, but the subtle temptation of study and preparation is the urge to lean on your own understanding rather than hearing from the Spirit.
In the work of making disciples, success is difficult to measure: The best disciple-Maker in history invested three years in a group that looked like failures on the very same night he celebrated a “graduation dinner” with them. Three days later the resurrected Lord spent an additional 40 days teaching them and finally turned them loose even when it was obvious this crew of disciples was far from perfect. Fast-forward to our modern churches: Leaders are criticized because they do not have their act together, but perhaps, as leaders, we have invited this criticism by suggesting that we do.
It’s so much easier to measure ministry success by cold hard numbers, such as counting “decisions for Christ.” But the Father is all about transformation, not math. Even more surprising, the objects of transformation may be the ones doing the ministry, not just those receiving it. Perhaps this is why Jesus told Kingdom stories about the yeast silently working its way through a lump of dough, or of crops that grow while the farmer goes about his daily chores. What if the work of leadership involves making room for the mystery of what we do not know, as well as what we do?
The deep work of leadership is to find the harmony between sharing what we have learned from God, while remaining fellow travelers with those we lead. It is a work of service and grace—two qualities the world desperately needs.