My wife is close to completing a degree at Tyndale Seminary. Lord willing, she should graduate next May. She has been taking courses for what seems like forever and is finding it hard to believe that she only has two courses left.
My part in her studies has been reading through her papers, making a few corrections and offering some thoughts on the content. The piece of advice that she has probably heard from me more than anything else is that words matter. Words convey meaning and it takes the right words to convey the right meaning. Over the course of her studies several of her profs have offered the same piece of advice. Every time that happens we both laugh because she has heard it so often from me.
Words shape how we think about things and the wrong words result in wrong thinking.
Words shape how we think about our people
When you look around on a Sunday morning, how do you see the people who are sitting in the pews. A few years ago I changed the way in which I described those people and it has radically changed my view of ministry.
For most of my years in ministry, I would have described them in a variety of ways. I would have seen them as members of the church in which I served. I might have viewed them as volunteers who made the church function. At times I saw them as my boss, knowing that ultimately my job depended on whether they viewed my ministry with favour. To be perfectly honest there were times when I saw them as obstacles that I had to get around if I was going to accomplish all that I wanted to accomplish in the church.
As I look back, I think that I saw most of them as people whom I had grown to love and respect. In most cases my relationship with them was positive. I loved being a pastor and I loved serving the people who attended the church.
I must admit though that with all of the different perspectives on those people who were part of the church, I missed what may be the most important perspective of all.
God’s ultimate purpose for each Christian
God wants each one of his people to become passionate followers of Jesus and in doing so to experience all that he has for them to experience. He wants every Christian to become a disciple, totally committed to his walk with Jesus because it is only in the context of that total commitment that a person experiences the abundant life that Jesus promised.
God is not looking for lukewarm followers. He is looking for people whose faith has been set on fire and who are growing constantly in their walk with God.
He has given that responsibility to the church. The role of the leaders in every local church is to be instruments of the Holy Spirit who are committed to making fully committed, passionate disciples. Anything less is a failure to live up to the responsibility that God has “entrusted” to those in a leadership position.
“Entrusted” makes all the difference
It was that word “entrusted” that made all the difference in my understanding of what was involved in leadership. People attending your church aren’t just attenders. They aren’t just members who come to Sunday morning service and take part in other activities during the week.
They are potential disciples whom God has “entrusted” into your care. God wants to bring those people from where they are now to the place at which they are fully committed, passionate followers of Jesus who are turning their world upside down. As leaders in the church, God has “entrusted” that journey to you.
When my wife and I were much younger than we are now, we had the interesting experience of having three different couples come to us in a fairly short period, asking us if we would be willing to become guardians of their children if they were to die. We felt deeply honoured that they would consider us as people to whom they would entrust their most precious possessions. We were a little overwhelmed that they would think that we would be worthy of such a high honour.
I must admit that we did have a moment when we looked at each other with the realization that if all three couples died, we would be responsible for the care of a lot of children. Fortunately none of the couples died and the children are grown now so we didn’t have to do anything more than raise our own three children.
With some trepidation we realized that those parents were entrusting their children to us and that we were accepting a very grave responsibility.
God entrusts his children into the care of the leaders in the church and asks those leaders to raise those children to maturity. To raise a child the parent has to be committed to becoming an adult himself and then to passing on those lessons learned to the children in his care.
That is the role of a leader. It is so much more than making decisions about the programs that will be run or the changes that will be made on the building or the staff that will be hired.
Whether your church has fifty or five hundred people attending on Sunday morning, your responsibility is to help every individual whom God has entrusted to your care to become a disciple who is passionate about her faith.
That little word “entrust” made a very large difference in my view of church leadership.