A core value among Calvary Chapels is servant leadership. Admittedly, this depends on the personal commitment and resolve of each leader. There are folks in every church who want to put the pastor on a pedestal. We live in a celebrity culture, Americans like to live vicariously through prestigious people they think are cool, hip, brave, beautiful, or spiritual. This attitude even exists in the church.
More and more pastors today actually pursue this celebrity status. They Tweet, and Post, and Instagram – not always because they have something to say, but because they have to say something if they’re going to build a following. Often, they use social media as an attention-grabber, and many church members cooperate! By giving money to a favorite pastor, or by volunteering to help him succeed, they feel as if they share a piece of his perceived importance. It is the power of celebrity.
I’ve often wondered why Church-goers give to support a pastor’s lavishness, even when they are so poor they don’t have two nickels to rub together. It’s because they dream of the same lifestyle as the pastor, and they feel closer to it through him. It is the people’s greed that fuels the greedy pastor.
Recently, there was a pastor in Atlanta who asked his congregation for $65 million to replace his private jet. What scared me, though, is when a friend of mine told me he had read the brochure the pastor gave to his church, and it made sense to him! He said, “The guy has global ministries. How else will the weary pastor get around?” I had a one-word answer for him… coach! But, on occasion, I have actually thought about this myself. Have you ever sat down in the middle seat on a Delta flight, between the bearded lady and the Incredible Hulk? From that vantage point your focus can get blurred. No price is too high to escape the torture. You start thinking, “where is my private jet?”
In all seriousness, my point is this: pastors often find themselves in situations that cause them to lose perspective. Sometimes it’s the result of a friend telling them what a person of their “grand importance” truly deserves. Sometimes it can come from a painful circumstance they now have the wherewithal to avoid, since their church finally has a little money in the till. Both prosperity and pain have a way of skewing our point-of-view and knocking a leader off the rails. Both extremes create a sense of entitlement. We start to think, “look at what the church owes me!” When that happens, an alarm should go off in a pastor’s head. We are headed for destruction! Sadly, many pastors never realize they have taken the bait, until it is too late.
When you find a pastor who lives humbly, and has a servant’s lifestyle, it is because he has chosen that path. Every pastor has a thousand justifications, and a thousand voices telling him that he deserves more. A true servant is a leader who makes the deliberate choice to die to himself, take up his cross, and follow Jesus.
Realize, Calvary Chapels – along with most growing churches – are built around strong pastoral leadership. I am not ashamed of it – in fact, I believe it is biblical. Just scan the Bible and see how God gets His stuff done. He starts with a man… calls that man… then puts that man on hold until He breaks him of his self-sufficiency. God employs tough times to weld strength into his character. Then, at the appointed time, He fills that man with the dynamic of the Holy Spirit, and uses him mightily.
If you’ve been burned by a pastor who abused and misused his authority, I understand, that strong individual leadership is not your preference. But this is how the Lord works! Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samson, Samuel, David – none of these men were handled by a committee. Moses was nobody’s marionette. The Old Testament heroes followed God, and God’s people followed them. And it continued into the New Testament. Peter on Pentecost Sunday, Philip in Samaria, James at the Council of Jerusalem, Paul with the Gentiles, the Elder John among the seven churches of Asia. Even in New Testament times God usually led through one man – not many men.
It seems to me, the critics of strong pastoral leadership are the folks who have known nothing else. Get burned by a pastor, and suddenly the grass looks greener on the other side. But where the grass is greener, you should realize the water bill is higher. Swap the Calvary Chapel model of leadership for another form if you like, but eventually you get the invoice. As long as humans are involved, there will be problems with all forms of church leadership. The truth is, when you talk church government, pick your poison. I am a former Baptist, and let me assure you there are very real problems with congregational rule – as there are with deacon boards, elder boards, and other pluralities of leadership. I have seen meanness from church people that would make your blood curdle. And if mean men are part of it, all a committee does is multiply the meanness.
Shortly after God called me into the ministry, I visited my former Baptist pastor for a little encouragement. He told me, “Sandy, pastoring a Baptist Church is like sitting on a keg of dynamite.” I appreciated the man’s candor, but his comment helped me decide I wanted to be a Calvary Chapel pastor! Who wants to serve God and have it blow up under you? Do you want to be a hireling and live to please people? I want to be a shepherd. I love and respect the sheep, but let me answer to God.
Don’t misunderstand, every pastor needs accountability. Only a fool leads in a vacuum. And I admit it is probably easier for a pastor to go off the deep-end than it is for an entire elder board, or congregation, to be led astray. But it is also easier for God to set a solitary heart on fire, and steer a sanctified mind, than it is to motivate a larger group.
I believe all pastors need to lead. As I see it, the biblical support for strong pastoral leadership is overwhelming. Yet there will always be some danger. All pastoral leadership rises or falls on the humility and maturity of the leader. If a pastor has it in his heart to lord it over the flock – to manipulate and intimidate, to boss and to bully – his ministry will be a disaster. The safeguard to strong leadership is a pastor with a servant’s heart. Such a man realizes that with the privilege to lead, comes the responsibility of leadership.
There is a picture I carry in my mind that keeps me from losing perspective, and slipping into an entitlement mentality. It is Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. Walk through the front door of our house, and my wife, Kathy, has a bowl and a towel sitting on a table. Alongside it is a picture of that monumental moment when the Master of the Universe showed us what true greatness is all about and washed His disciples’ feet. Jesus, Lord of Heaven and Earth, is entitled to be worshipped, yet in that moment, what He was owed never crossed His mind. And as He filled the bowl, knotted the towel, stooped to do the task of the most humble slave, He set an example for us. “As the Master, shall the servant be!” To be like Jesus, we need to find ways to knock the worldly dust off others, and become a blessing in tangible ways.
Listen to this paraphrase of Philippians 2, “Take His attitude. Jesus was equal with God, but demanded no special treatment. He was human like the rest of us. He kept a low profile, lived as a servant, humbled Himself and was obedient… until it cost Him His life.” That’s the picture I carry in my mind. If you and I love Jesus, and want to be like Him, we will stoop to serve. Every Calvary Chapel should be led by servants. In the Church, the men who put our feet to marching should be the same men who stoop to wash them.