“You’re just the kind of pastor this church needs,” we hear. “With your gifts I can’t see how this church won’t double in the next few years.”
As pastors, we love to hear this. Our gifts will make the difference. We have what it takes. Our personality, our leadership abilities will make a difference.
The most effective lies contain some truth. God chooses to use people, and God seems to use some pastors in more visible ways than others.
But it’s still a lie. It’s not up to you. You don’t have what it takes, and that’s good news for all of us.
How God Builds the Church
God could have ordained powerful personalities to build the church. Instead, God has chosen the ordinary means of grace: things like the preaching of the Word, prayer, the fellowship of believers, the Lord’s Supper, and more.
We play a role, but at best our role is a supporting one. We’re never center stage. We are nothing more than servants, never more than fingers pointing at one who is greater than us. He must increase; we must decrease.
I’ve often marveled at the focus on leadership within the North American church. Again, leadership is important. You can see that in Scripture. The one who leads should lead with zeal (Romans 12:8). But it would be difficult to attribute the growth of the early church to leadership skills. Leaders come and go. God uses them, and then they fade into the background. The most powerful leaders seem to exhibit unusual degrees of weakness (see 2 Corinthians). The focus is not on leadership. It’s on the Word of God growing with power.
God sometimes uses powerful personalities to grow the church. Even then, these unusual leaders play second fiddle. God ordinarily uses average people with average gifts to display his glory so that it’s clear it’s his Spirit and the Word doing the work, not the pastor.
Get Out of the Way
Our job as pastors is to get out of the way.
Look for ways to move out of the spotlight. Shine the spotlight on Jesus. Make the focus of your ministry him. I’ve found that the Spirit seems to work powerfully when the focus is on Jesus, and less powerfully when I try to sneak my way into the spotlight. Make Jesus’ glory the focus of your ministry.
Raise up other leaders. Aim to be so utterly dispensable in your ministry that you’re interchangeable. Aim to raise up others who preach as well or better than you. Share leadership with qualified elders. Ask for their honest feedback.
And when someone tells you that you are something, don’t be falsely humble. Thank them for the encouragement, and give God the glory. But never believe the lie that you’re someone special. You’re a servant. You are like grass. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8). Never make your fading life the focus of your ministry. Put the attention on what matters most and will last the longest.
Never steal God’s glory. You’re not the point. Our hope is in Jesus. Let’s step out of the way for his sake, for the good of the people we serve, and for our own sanity too.