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Help for Average Christian Leaders

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I knew exactly what he meant. I’ve struggled with the same fantasy. Get enough money, people, recognition, staff, volunteers, lay leaders, salary, book deals, and speaking gigs that we don’t need to depend on God for anything anymore. But in serving as a pastor and working with fellow pastors for many years, I’ve found two characteristics essential to do ministry in a way that depends on God: courage to be ordinary and comfort with obscurity.

Courage to Be Ordinary

One of my mentors often tells me, “It takes extraordinary courage to be ordinary.” For the longest time, I would nod in agreement but not believe him.

I needed to be extraordinary. When I replanted a church, I often over-functioned in my role as a pastor. I carried the entire weight of the church on my shoulders. I had my own scorecard full of the metrics that mattered to me. And one was becoming a self-supporting church.

I prided myself on how quickly we achieved it, all the while hiding the fact that we became self-supporting because I was secretly functioning as the financial savior. I carried way too much of the financial burden. I was rarely honest about our monetary needs. I didn’t take the full benefits package the church offered me. I rarely turned in my reimbursements. And I did it for respect.

As pastors, we can often trade love for respect. We are afraid people won’t love our true selves, so we keep going, wearing ourselves out doing more than we are made to do to sustain the image of a successful pastor. We quietly say to ourselves, “I can’t stop or the whole thing will fall apart.”

It is exhausting and lonely to keep up that image. Jesus is the one to build his church, rest in being just one piece of his work in the world.

How to Be More Ordinary

Three things help us find the courage to be ordinary: vulnerability, suffering, and prayer.

Vulnerability is necessary to be ordinary because it embraces the limits of being human. You will not meet everyone’s expectation. You don’t have all the gifts the church needs. You need help.

For me, it meant letting my elders know that the church wasn’t really self-supporting, and we couldn’t afford all the ministry we were doing. I know admitting that kind of need sounds simple and silly; for me, it was nearly impossible. I felt exposed and ashamed. I admitted a competency failure, which can be harder to admit than a character failure.

In terms of suffering, it means whatever gain you have, you count as loss for the sake of Christ. You suffer the loss of all things in order to gain Jesus. You admit your limitations and put your resume and reputation at risk.

And finally, as you embrace your limitations, you will cry out to God in “Jesus only” prayers. My pastor, Geoff Bradford, introduced me to the idea of “Jesus only” prayers. A couple of years ago, he started making a list of things he longed to happen that only Jesus could make happen. And he started to pray for those things every day. I hear the massive problems and start looking for quick fixes. He keeps praying Jesus only prayers, and therefore often getting Jesus only answers.

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