There is nothing stronger in the universe than the power of God. And I am His child.
Do you believe that statement? Do I lean on that strength? Do we decide and discern through that reality?
Last week, I mentioned how living in God’s Kingdom means learning a new way to think and to act—processing the upside-down world through His right-side-up lenses: In His Kingdom, the last shall be first. In His Kingdom, there’s a new definition of success. In His Kingdom, the way we treat people is transformed. Power is perfected in weakness.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Through some of my reading lately, I’ve been convicted about my own addiction to power as the world defines it—my illness of valuing my role as a leader because it gives me power for the sake of control: I’m proud to be developing a reputation for getting stuff accomplished. I can say “do this” and people do it. I’m in control. And if that’s the twisted view to which I can succumb as the part-time pastor of 15 high school students, I can only imagine how difficult it must be for more influential leaders to lean on the strength of the Father and follow the way of Jesus into humility and death of self.
I would go so far as to say we have an epidemic on our hands.
How did we get here? Church, I believe we have set our leaders up for failure by imposing kingdom-of-the-world expectations on those we simultaneously expect to lead us into the Kingdom of God. We respect and follow dynamic personalities and religious performers the same way our culture puts musicians and actors on a pedestal. Words like “new,” “strong,” “big,” “young,” “influential” have automatic positive connotations while “humble,” “established,” and even “mature” in some contexts can be seen in a negative light. In The Way of the Dragon or The Way of The Lamb, Kyle Strobel and Jamin Goggin address this sickness of power-hunger in the western church in the context of what we value in our pastoral leaders:
We are looking more for a proven professional than someone humbly called. We are looking more for a polished businessman than a seasoned shepherd. We are looking for someone who is powerful and in control.1
These sound like strong words, and in some ways they are. But the Church as a whole isn’t just to blame. We as leaders secretly—and sometimes not-so-secretly—take pleasure in the applause, take pride in the influence, take the glory for the accomplishments.
So what do we do? If we want to live like Jesus, we need to dive headlong into His lifestyle: relying completely in the power of God, eradicating the addiction to worldly power. Goggin and Strobel not only point out the symptoms of power-sickness, but provide hope of healing through various paradigm shifts and practices rooted in the life of Jesus and the history of God’s people. If I could, I’d post the entirety of their book here for your edification. Instead, I will recommend that you read it, and in the meantime I will share a couple paragraphs of their insight into three antidotes we have against “controlitis.”
1. Always Start By Praying. It Helps us Rely on God
Beginning with prayer is not merely a tip of the hat to God. It’s not a cliché: “Don’t forget to pray first.” Rather, we begin with a posture of abiding in, and depending upon, God in the deep places of our hearts, because God is the source and goal of our power. When we open our hearts in prayerful abiding, what we first discover is that we have false beliefs residing there. Therefore, we don’t begin with prayer as a device for getting things done, but as a means of communing with God who transforms the heart and lead us in the way.
Prayer is being with God who is always with us. And “being with” necessitates honesty. We are with God in the truth of our hearts. In prayer we open our hearts to his living presence, exposing areas where unbelief reigns. Only His presence can purge these places of darkness and form them in love. …in prayer we embrace our weakness and depend upon God’s power to transform the heart. The heart is the first, but not the only, battlefield where God’s power in weakness must conquer in love (Emphasis added).2
2. Prioritize People By Choosing Weakness
Goggin and Strobel’s book takes readers into the lives of several Christians who they believe espouse Jesus’ way of living as a leader. In their conversations with Eugene Peterson, he says this:
The great temptation of power is control, and the great consequence of control is lack of relationship. The reason that intimacy is so difficult in ministry is you’re not in control—you’re in relationship, You have to enter a person’s life and they have to enter yours. The minute you start becoming obsessed with control, you lose the relationship…So I think somehow we have to find ways to cultivate a sense of nobodyness. Paul certainly did that. Weakness was his strength.3
And Strobel and Goggin continue:
[The pastor following the way of the dragon is] intoxicated by fame and power. The way of the Lamb is committed to worship, pursues God in the ordinary, and is faithful in hiddenness…Jesus invites pastors into His way of shepherding. In His way, power is found in weakness, and power is expressed in love. We don’t shepherd faithfully by simply observing his behavior in the Gospels and trying our best to copy his act, but by participating in this way by the Holy Spirit. The word Peter uses is partaker. We are invited to partake in His way….We are under-shepherds of the chief Shepherd. We serve a role of stewardship, not ownership.4
3. Dig into Self-Awareness and Humility
The questions I’m posing below, from Way of the Dragon or Way of the Lamb, are prickly. I don’t like them very much, and have personally brushed them off as “no, you’re talking about someone else” until I left the Holy Spirit put His thumb on the true pulse of my proud heart. And still I’m prone to bat His hand away, but those lessons I have managed to accept have been so helpful to me and my outlook on how I see myself, my role, and others. So I encourage you to not just glance over them and say “oh phew, not me!” but to sit in them and reflect on concrete realities in your life and ministry.
- Do you use the church as a platform for personal fame, fortune or influence? The pastor gives their life for the sake of the church, regardless of what they gain.
- Do you view ministry as an arena of performance, where some win and some lose? The pastor views ministry as an arena of love and service, not winning and losing.
- Do you see the people of your church as tools to accomplish your big dreams? The pastor embraces their congregation as people to know and love, not tools to use for other ends.
- Do you relegate prayer and care, the heart of pastoral ministry, to ‘lower-level’ staff? The pastor views prayer and care as the centrepiece of their work rather than an interruption.
- Do you view other local pastors primarily as competition? The pastor views other pastors as fellow shepherds on the journey, whom they need for encouragement and wisdom, and whom they are called to encourage and love
I hope you’ve read this article as permission to consider a life of leadership that’s more than a hamster wheel or gleaming stage. I hope you’ve been reminded of the pure goodness of our Shepherd, and that He wants to give us abundant life beyond what we could gain from a big crowd or a “successful” ministry. And I hope for you what Paul, Silas and Timothy hoped for their church in Thessalonika: “that our God may count you worthy of his calling (ie, persecution and suffering for His Kingdom), and that by His power He may fulfill every good purpose of your and every act prompted by your faith” (2 Thessalonians 1:11).
Or returning to Eugene Peterson, here’s the verse in the Message paraphrase:
We pray for you all the time—pray that our God will make you fit for what he’s called you to be, pray that he’ll fill your good ideas and acts of faith with his own energy so that it all amounts to something.
If you disagree with anything I’ve written here, or have more to say on this topic that could help our readers across the CBWC, I really want to hear from you. Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, comment on the blog, or leave a message at the office: 604.420.7646 and I’d love to have a conversation.
- Kyle Strobel and Jamin Goggin, The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb (Thomas Nelson, 2017): 141.
- Ibid: 196-197.
- Ibid: 136
- Ibid: 143