Yesterday we took a brief look at some of the implications of who New Testament shepherds are and where they do their work. Today I’d like to quickly consider one distinctive of what biblical leaders do.
Shepherds in the church have a distinct kind of work–it is spiritual, eternal work. Leading the church is not the same as managing a business, coaching a team, building a network of friendships, or securing good public relations with the community. But today’s Christian leaders seem more familiar with these temporal objectives.
I keep re-reading Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper. Some of his beginning thoughts summarize this idea about the spiritual nature of shepherding. Think about these few quotes:
The political and religious atmosphere of the world pushes us–if we have ears to hear–relentlessly toward the unprofessional center of faith and ministry: the brutal, bloody, hideous, heaving, crucified God-Man Jesus Christ. We are driven more and more in these years to say with the apostle Paul, ‘I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified….Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world’ (1 Cor. 2:2; Gal. 6:14). (p. ix)
Insulated Western Christianity is waking from the dreamworld that being a Christian is normal or safe. More and more, true Christianity is becoming what it was at the beginning: foolish and dangerous. ‘We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles’ (1 Cor. 1:23). (p. ix)
the center of Christianity and the center of pastoral ministry is the dishonorable, foolish, gruesome, and utterly glorious reality of the tortured God-Man, Jesus Christ More and more, He must become the issue. Not a vague, comfortable, pleasant Jesus that everybody likes but the one who is a ‘stumbling block’ to Jews and ‘foolishness’ to Gentiles. The closer you get to what makes Christianity ghastly, the closer you get to what makes it glorious. (p. xi)
The aims of our ministry are eternal and spiritual. They are not shared by any of the professions….We are most emphatically not a part of a social team sharing goals other professionals. Our goals are an offense; they are foolishness (1 Cor. 1:23).” The love of popularity and acceptance “kills a man’s belief that he is sent by God to save people from hell and to make them Christ-exalting, spiritual aliens in the world (p. 3).
This is what I don’t get about typical youth ministries, many churches, and certainly most parachurch groups. I don’t get how games and fun and entertainment and comfort and self-esteem and popularity and status are consistent with the biblical picture of Christianity which includes dying to self, living as exiles on the earth, abstaining from passions of the flesh, killing love for things of the world, and thinking it gain to die.
And I believe it is a slippery slope when we begin borrowing organizational structures from the world for our Christian organizations. Positions such as (parachurch) “ministry presidents,” “C.E.O.s,” or men with other similar titles are not equal to the leaders of the body of Christ. The church is not a corporation with a board of trustees and committees and executives that carry out memorandums. These other terms apply more to corporations and businesses rather than the organism of the Body. Leaders of the flock are not equivalent to professionals.
And not only must we be careful with our titles, we must be careful about our goals. Our goals are not marketing goals. Our aim is not to sell a product, increase our market-base, promote our company, etc. Our mission is not to make buddies and make everybody happy and win the game. We do not judge our success by numbers and respect and position.
Instead, our purpose is to “present every man mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). Our emphasis is on commitment, not success. Our expectation is to receive no greater treatment than they gave our Master (Matthew 10:24-26). Our priority is on the unseen, eternal things and not the visible, transient things (2 Corinthians 4:18).
We will not win the world by becoming like the world. We should stop thinking that is what will happen. And we should stop thinking that is what God’s leaders do.