As leaders in the church, we are always being pushed to cast vision, define purpose, and craft mission. We’ve been convinced that it’s our job and duty to build the church for Jesus. More and more, however, I’m becoming convinced that we are not the Shepherd, we’re part of the flock. We’re the bell sheep, the one with the bell around it’s neck that when it moves, it gets the attention of all the other sheep in the flock. As the bell sheep follows the shepherd, the others take their cues from the bell sheep. We, as pastors or ministry leaders, are the bell sheep among the flock. Within this view of the church, we need to realize that we, as leaders, are really followers and we need to lead like sheep.
Jesus gave His vision for His church; He gave the mission. In Matthew 28, what we call “The Great Commission,” Jesus set forth what the church is to accomplish, and how they are to get the job done. Our English translations say that we are to “make disciples,” but this wording can appear to put the creative work in our hands. Jesus said to his disciples that “on this rock (the confession that Jesus is the Christ) I will build my church.” Christ will build his church, our job is to keep our eyes on the Chief Shepherd, and feed his lambs. We’re not making disciples, we are discipling people; and there is a difference. One relies on our abilities and requires results, the other is dependent on God and requires faithfulness, regardless of the results. Our charge is to walk beside people through the nefarious seasons of life and guide them in the love and truth of Jesus. God makes, God builds, God transforms. Any vision/purpose/mission statements put forth by church leadership must serve the Commission given by Jesus. It comes down to this issue: What are we following?
Are we following Jesus and admonishing others, in word and deed, to do likewise by exalting the Gospel of Jesus Christ and directing people toward confession and repentance (which is Christian leadership), or are we following after fame, fortune and favor, or some measure of worldly success (which is idolatry, rebellion and self-exaltation)? Are we faithful to the call and cause of Christ (to faithfully follow him), or are we building our own kingdom (dependent on specific results)? To craft our own vision/purpose/mission for the church, independent of the commission of Christ, is mutiny, and we’ll find ourselves chasing popular opinion and current trends rather than the Person of Jesus Christ. To be clear, form and style are not addressed in scripture, nor in the command of Christ. There’s a lot of freedom in how we accomplish the vision of discipling people through our mission of baptizing and teaching. The question is, Are we serving people by leading them in Christ? Are we walking beside people along the road of spiritual growth and maturity in Christ, or are we trying to achieve our goals?
There is a serious lack of real discipleship in the church these days. It seems like leaders work harder to get people to “buy in” to their vision and to serve that vision than they do serving people, helping them realize God’s vision for them. The more I study and reflect on the Gospel of Christ and it’s implications, the more it seems to me that leaders who don’t disciple and train up the next generation of leaders fail to realize that God does not have a plan for them, as individuals so much as He has a plan, and we all fit into God’s plan. When we read Joshua 29:11 we personalize it and fail to realize that those words which peak of “the plans [God has] for you” are spoken to a nation, not an individual. We think so much of ourselves, that we lose sight of the truth that God’s redemption and all it’s implications are within the context of the corporate, and the individual is a part of that greater body (see 1 Corinthians 12:27). The former makes God’s work too much about “us.” The latter orients our understanding and guides our attitudes and actions as part of a whole. This is something I’m being challenged in and is transforming the way I lead as I am compelled to develop people and leaders to come along and serve — not a “vision for the church,” but Christ — along side me. Success for a pastor or ministry leader is faithfulness in this.
When we think of teaching people, in our culture, we primarily think of lecture. Faithfulness to the command of Jesus, however, requires more than articulate oration. Jesus’ example reveals… well, teaching by example. It also demonstrates lecture as when Jesus taught the crowds. It shows what I’ll call a group service activity, as with the sending of the 72 and the debrief that followed. We also see Jesus’ constant and intimate investment in the 12 chosen disciples. To lead like sheep, we follow Jesus’ commands and his example as we pour into the lives of others according to his vision: a community of redeemed persons loving God and one another, who genuinely value and care for one another, and who encourage one another in the pursuit of Christ Himself, for His glory, for His purpose. That’s where I want to go. Who’s with me?