More than a Message
In these statements I see two truths that shaped Paul's leadership, and need to shape ours, too.
First, in the midst of proclaiming his imperfections, Paul is pursuing a life of apprenticeship to Jesus. He is walking the same path of spiritual transformation that he longs to witness in those he leads.
Second, Paul is not shy about letting those he leads see and benefit from his own efforts in spiritual formation.
I see how this principle applies in my own ministry. It is no coincidence that my church's strengths and weaknesses mirror my own. Modeling happens constantly. For better or worse, people are following my example as I, by the grace of God, try to follow the example of Christ.
So here are some questions I am asking myself these days.
Am I pursuing transformation through the spiritual disciplines?
Henri Nouwen sagely observed, "It is not enough for the church leaders of the future to be moral people, well trained, eager to help their fellow humans, and able to respond creatively to the burning issues of their time …. The central question is, are the leaders of the future truly men and women of God?"
More important than the skillset we bring to our role is the life that we live with Jesus. As pastors we need to ask ourselves, "Am I pursuing a vibrant devotional life? Do I engage the Scriptures devotionally and not just for sermon prep? Do I practice Sabbath? Solitude? Do I have a spiritual director or mentor?
Our churches need to hear which disciplines we consider essential to our own growth. It's also crucial they hear about our challenges, that we too have seasons of dryness, to know that our minds wander during prayer.
Most important, we need to ask ourselves whether or not we are being transformed. Am I becoming more Christlike, or merely legalistic? We want our congregants to spend time with God consistently, but more than that we want them to learn how to utilize the disciplines as vehicles for entering into the transforming presence of Jesus. We want to encourage people to fall in love with God and others, not fall into traps of legalism.
It's important that, like Paul, we let people see our journeys. Without pretense or pride, we must give them opportunities to see us pursuing spiritual maturity.
Practicing the spiritual disciplines comes relatively easy for me, but I confess I am still learning how to talk about it with my church. When I share about my own practices, people always seem to receive it with interest and gratitude. Yet often I worry that I come across as self-congratulatory or prideful when I share details about my spiritual life. Slowly, I'm learning how to talk about my positive and negative experiences with the spiritual disciplines in ways that are natural for me and helpful for others. At times it is uncomfortable, but I know my church needs this if they are to put these things into practice themselves.