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I am a product of mentoring. When I joined my church as a young man, I didn't just need accountability from brothers. I needed authority from fathers. And by God's grace, I found spiritual fathers willing to lead me. They encouraged me, prayed for me, helped me financially at times, laughed with me, cried with me, rebuked me, and absolved me. They taught me about theology and doctrine—as well as how to be a husband and a father. I have watched them govern their families, and the church. I tried to remain teachable when they spoke into my life. When I heeded their counsel, things went well for me. Here are four principles I've learned from them that I now use regularly in my own role as an elder and pastor.
Trust your authorities
This isn't easy to do—I know from experience. My wife and I have 10 children (almost enough for a reality show!). When we "only" had six, we were living in a small parsonage of a neighboring church. The house had three small rooms, hardly ideal accommodations for a family of eight. I approached my elders for counsel because financial matters are not my strength. They considered my finances and other life circumstances and counseled me to stay in our rented parsonage a little longer. I was furious! I didn't have to seek their counsel in the first place. They had no idea what it was like to live the way that we were living. But I sensed the Holy Spirit saying, "If you want things to go well with you, trust your elders."
So, we waited. A year later, and expecting our seventh child, a friend told us she was selling her house. We scraped together a down payment and, with the blessing of our elders, bought our home. Shortly after we moved in, another friend expressed interest in helping us in a ministry that we had started to lower income families. He wanted to cover our mortgage each month and he has done so for nearly 10 years. By trusting my elders, things have gone well for us indeed.
Listening builds trust
Since I founded our church's ministry to help lower-income families in our city, I've learned a lot about the need for patience. In the early days, I was filled with doubt and struggled to know how to lead a ministry and provide direction. I would sit with my elders and they would listen and patiently guide me. I didn't always like their suggestions and some of their ideas simply didn't work. But they always honestly listened to me and they prayed for me. That helped me to trust their guidance.
It's a lesson I've put to use in my leadership. When people disagree with a decision I've made, I don't try to win an argument. I have learned the importance of truly hearing their objections and concerns. Even if I could persuade someone of my opinion with clear and compelling reasons, patience and listening has a way of softening people's hearts. I have even asked a dear brother who disagreed with a decision I made to simply trust me. And I think it was easier for him to do so because he felt like he was heard and respected.
Use challenges to serve and love.
For the past 16 years our preaching pastor has often risen at three or four in the morning. It's not because he's an early bird. He has trouble sleeping. But he wisely uses the time to prepare sermons and care for his own soul in Bible reading and prayer. We've benefitted from his quiet service in the night hours in myriad ways.
His service was a model for me. Now, at 43 years old, I find myself waking in the middle of the night. When I am unable to get back to sleep I often think to myself, Dennis would use this opportunity to pray and read and prepare. So I get up and pray and read and prepare. My authority served me and I want to serve others as a result.
Following precedes leading
Christian discipleship is all about following. As disciples of Jesus, we are all followers first and foremost. Following first is a lesson that extends throughout life. Children learn to follow God by obeying their parents. Apprentices learn a craft my mimicking a master. In the church we learn to lead by following our elders and pastors and overseers. There's a practical payoff as well. Not everyone is a natural leader. Some of us learned to lead by following. Become a good follower. It's not an easy thing to do. But in the long run it will make you a wiser leader, one that others will be glad to follow.
Ross Guthrie is a pastor at Christ Community Church in Jackson, Tennessee.
Copyright © 2012 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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