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Brothers, We Are Not Kings!

Hopefully, if you’re in pastoral work (or you work on a ministry staff at a church) you’ve read John Piper’s great book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals and have embraced his conclusion that …

“The mentality of the professional is not the mentality of the prophet. It is not the mentality of the slave of Christ. Professionalism has nothing to do with the essence and heart of the Christian ministry.”

But there is more to be said about what we are not as we contemplate images of Christian ministry in the Body of Christ. In order to work through this post, I’ll share a brief reflection on my own past, and a few conclusions that I hope will be edifying.

I recall in my own pastoral experience, when I was much younger, an episode with a senior pastor who, in a moment of frustration, anger and mistrust, reacted toward me in a way that was incredibly destructive. In the moments that followed, through his tears and apologies, he said these words …

A ‘Saul’ has come between us.

Saul has come between us?

Saul?

What in the world was he talking about?

Though we never followed up so that I could ask about that particular statement, I’m sure that what he meant was something like …

I have, in my own insecurity and suspicions about you, reacted in anger and jealousy—like King Saul did toward the young David.

Many of us have read Gene Edwards’ great book A Tale of Three Kings. In that book, Edwards discusses human brokenness, and how that brokenness is manifested in various leadership dangers, toils and snares using the life-stories (and relationship drama) of Saul, David and Absalom. I have to say two things right up front about that book.

  1. I think it is incredibly insightful, and it says a lot about the twisted relationship dynamics that happen in many churches among many church staffs.
  2. I think it is incredibly inappropriate for any senior pastor or associate pastor to think of himself as a king, and so using that book to try to understand (or shape) leadership dynamics in a church will only lead to more problems because …

Brothers, we are not kings.

It was over a decade ago that I sat down to think more carefully about that episode with the senior pastor who said “a Saul has come between us,” and why a pastor would use the analogy of Saul and David to describe our relational dynamics. I came out of that season of contemplation with a few convictions. Those are the substance of the rest of this post.

Let’s start here …

If you don’t look at yourself as a king, you’ll never have to worry about an Absalom hiding in the shadows, or a young and charismatic David trying to usurp you.

OK, stop, go back and read that again.

If you’re using a Saul/David/Absalom model to evaluate your staff relationships, and you advocate that view, then your associates will always see you as Saul when you try to give them direction, and you’ll always see them as Absalom when they begin to venture out on their own.

If you insist on forcing the Saul/David/Absalom model on your staff, all of you will always be looking over your shoulder for the next spear, or planning your strategy to deal with the next uprising.

Instead, you should spend your time training your staff to fulfill their calling (which may actually mean that they won’t always work with you … or for you as some of you are fond of saying).

I don’t believe this model is an appropriate basis for shaping or interpreting church leadership.

The church is not to be analogized as the kingdom of a man, where the senior pastor is the king (and always King David, because of course, you could never be a Saul!), and the associates are his loyal governors who exist to do his bidding, and the people are his subjects. That creates an atmosphere for treachery and mistrust.

The church only has one King, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Kenny Burchard (M.A. New Testament), his wife MaryJo and their son Victor live in Virginia Beach, VA. Before his family's journey of reconciliation with the Catholic Church Kenny served for 20 years as an ordained Protestant pastor, worship leader, church planter, and Bible teacher. Kenny is the host and curator of the Metastory.org podcast and blog, and is a regular blogger at ThinkTheology.org. You can follow him on twitter @kennyburchard.