Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Don't Confuse Teaching Your church With Leading Your Church

[from Awake From Atrophy, Chapter 19...]

“I don’t understand,” Jessica said. “Are you saying spiritual leaders are supposed to stir up conflict so they can have hard conversations? I thought pastors were supposed to be teachers and guides—making sure we stay on track. To borrow a metaphor from my medical world: isn’t an ounce of prevention—good teaching—worth more than a pound of correction?”

“Oh, I’m all for good teaching to prevent errors,” Jacob replied. “That’s why we study the Bible intently every other week. I’m just saying that most spiritual leaders design services so that the members can’t disrupt their careful plan. These leaders are actively avoiding one of the roles they’re supposed to play as spiritual leaders. In an effort to keep out incorrect content, they’ve shut down their members. They end up reducing Christian leadership to teaching and administrative oversight. To be hard on my own kind—and, yes, I used to do this, too—many pastors dodge the hard work of dialogue and settle for predictable monologue. Leading is not the same function as preaching. There are some similarities. But they are not the same.”

Jacob had remained casual talking about the confrontation with Ted. Apparently that wasn’t a big issue to discuss. But church leadership was a topic that stirred him.

“Well, I suppose that you can lead an organization without being a preacher,” Drew said reluctantly. “But clearly preaching is among the most significant ways that pastors lead people, spiritually speaking.”

“You can exercise leadership by preaching,” Jacob conceded. “But speaking to a group doesn’t mean you are always leading. If you look at the biblical passages on spiritual gifts, like 1 Corinthians 12, you see that leadership and teaching are listed as distinct spiritual gifts. Most typical pastors don’t have a biblical definition of church leadership. What they have is a medieval definition of church leadership. Leading the church, they believe, requires being the primary teacher. And that assumption has really damaged the church—including harming the pastors themselves.”

Drew had a sudden flash of concern. “I can see what you’re saying about the need to do more than preach,” Drew acknowledged. “But you can’t abdicate your role as the primary teacher without your leadership suffering. Doing that damages the church. You asked about concerns earlier, I do have one concern about your church model. When you turn over the pulpit to your members at large, then you end up weakening your spiritual authority. You can’t limit the authority of the leaders of the church like that without the church suffering. Take this guy you corrected on prayer! Yes, when you corrected him in front of the group, he backed down. But what if he hadn’t?! When you give up control of the pulpit and let others speak to the church like that you risk someone undermining your authority and creating real division in the church. What if a clever, charismatic speaker with bad theology grabbed the attention of the room and didn’t allow you to quiet or correct him? You have to be careful who you allow to teach the church. You have to be careful to whom you hand that kind of influence.”

Jacob met Drew’s charge with an uncharacteristically blunt reply, “Drew, you’re still stuck on Christian leadership being defined primarily by teaching. You think that when I’ve reduced teaching time, I’ve reduced the leader’s authority. But I disagree. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that those leaders who are uncomfortable with members disagreeing with them—who feel that their authority needs to be protected by not allowing dissenters to speak—those are leaders who are insecure about how much authority they really have. Spiritual authority does not mean you’re the only one who gets to speak. Spiritual authority means you have the respect and wisdom to exhort and even rebuke others when they wrongly speak. Avoiding hard conversations not only keeps the members’ immaturities hidden, but robs the leader of the chance to exercise real spiritual leadership.

“Drew, it requires more leadership to develop authentic relationships, to coach people to become better ministers, and to confront people about inappropriate behavior, than it does to prepare a solid three-point sermon.”

Drew expected Jacob’s usually gentle manner and was taken back. Jessica had gone quiet, both fascinated by the sight of a man on fire and a little intimidated by it. But Jacob’s passion was not spent yet...

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