Have you ever experienced a situation where someone, in the name of Jesus, tried to fashion you into their own image of Jesus? As well-meaning leaders we want to help others mature in faith, help them grow in Christ-likeness. Unfortunately, we can sometimes have a narrow idea of what this Christ-likeness looks like, and often it looks a lot like us or how we wished we were.
Do you remember the story in 1 Samuel 17:38-40? How King Saul outfitted David in his armor? He put his bronze helmet on his head and belted his sword on him over the armor. David told Saul, “I can’t even move with all this stuff on me. I’m not used to this.” And he took it all off.
Then David picked five smooth stones from the river, and with his sling in hand approached Goliath. The rest is well-known history. David, being who God created him to be slew the Giant in his life by being authentically himself. David recognized that fighting the giant Saul’s way was simply not going to work. How often have we as well-intentioned leaders hung on others or allowed others to hang on us unrealistic expectations, models, style and personal preferences and “seal the deal” with a “thus says the Lord”?
Sometimes we can confuse the image of Christ with our own personality, personal preferences, & worldview. To some degree, we naturally share who we are and what we believe. Hopefully, we are all discovering Christ in us the hope of glory and how that uniquely looks in each of us. The danger comes when we give divine legitimacy to our personality traits, opinions, and world-view and then try and impose those on others. This is hard on anyone who is on the receiving end of this, especially when it isn’t benevolent and at the hands of a controlling, insecure leader. When you experience this under the tyranny of a control freak, legalistic leader the results can be catastrophic!
The problem is that while under this kind of conforming pressure, it often takes us further away from who we were uniquely created to be in Christ. I think we often confuse authentic Christ-likeness with a narrow conformity instead of a generous array of diversity held in unity in Christ. As I write extensively about in my book Becoming Love, Christ-likeness, maturing in Christ is a function of growing heart values that transcend personality types. These values manifest beautifully and uniquely through all personality types!
One size does NOT fit all! While there can be better ways to do things, and there are some things that are indeed Gods way, we often do , like Saul, hang things on people that are more about our style, preferences, paradigms, gifting and prejudices than it is about being the “right way” or “God’s way”. By insisting that people be like us (or how we wish or pretend we are), think the way we do, relate to people the way we do, we can actually bury the uniqueness and distinct gifts God has placed within an individual. Sometimes, our prejudices and our opinions of the image of Christ are so narrow that we inadvertently make disciples that are shallow, not authentic and often pathetic automatons.
The truth is, the Body of Christ needs many different kinds of people, not just their gifting but their personalities. A familiar illustration; the body is made up of different parts - we can shame, manipulate or cajole a leg to be an eye and by doing so we will frustrate and eventually irreparably damage both the leg and the eye. Yes, both the eye and the leg are under the headship of Christ but this in no way means they are not what they were created to be. It is this diversity that allows a body to function.
Another picture; consider a garden. A garden has many different kinds of plants with different colors, shapes,seasons and fragrances that contribute to the beauty and the fruitfulness of the garden. Often the various colors and fragrances combine in such a way to be truly stunning and engaging to a wide variety of onlookers! The diversity of all the plants in the garden combines to display a breathtaking unified beauty!
At the risk of beating a dead horse... I have a friend who is a world class Hot Air Balloon pilot. His kind of flying is very different than another friend who flies historic WWII Bomber planes. Both fly but very differently. Trying to make the Hot Air Balloon do what the Bomber does or vice-versa will destroy either. My friend who flies the Balloon loves it and loving it doesn't mean he is negative towards the Bomber pilot or the way it flies, it is just different. The Bomber pilot can't be insecure about his flying any more than the balloon pilot about his. They both fly as they were designed to.
Our goal as pastors and leaders is to help free people from their false self, liberate them from the masks they wear that isolate them from others and in many ways God. As leaders, we help them learn to discover and be authentically who God created them to be. We must resist the temptation to run them through cookie cutters to create indentured servants to the local church or a mere ghost of who they were created to be in Christ. Some may indeed be called to serve the community, but many are called to serve in their homes, workplaces and schools. Nothing wrong with an eye being an eye and not a leg, a rose being a rose and not a geranium or a Hot Air Balloon being a Hot Air Balloon and not a Bomber!
Here are a few quick examples of common blind-spots:
Introverts - in general, we live in a world where extroverts rule. They tend to be more demonstrative and thrive being around people. Introverts, while being hard working and very smart, tend not to be as loud, flashy and while many introverts enjoy people they don’t get life from people the same way that extroverts do. Introverts need some more “downtime.” This doesn’t mean they are shy, frightened or arrogant, they are just introverted. Introversion is a legitimate personality type and contrary to popular extrovert opinion they do not need to be healed from their introversion!
Pastor’s Spouse - The people who are married to pastors are just that - people married to pastors. Sometimes communities overstep their boundaries thinking they get a 2 for 1 deal. Just because someone is married to a pastor doesn't mean that they exist to serve the pastors ministry! I have worked with MANY spouses of leaders who have been forced (figuratively) into a lifestyle, ministry and calling that they are not gifted for, get life from or enjoy, and many don’t find who they really are until their significant other is no longer in professional ministry.
My wife is married to a recovering pastor. I pastor a community of folks but in a very untraditional way. There are no expectations that my wife has to serve me or my ministry. She, in fact, serves me best when she is and does what she is uniquely called and gifted to do, the way God has called and gifted her to do it. We also serve each other as husband and wife that is our primary relationship. Often times, many of us have bought into an unhealthy theology called Subordinationism. This theology teaches that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are subordinate to the Father which falls into some ancient heresies with fresh lipstick! This unhealthy view of the subordination of Son and Spirit to the Father is then extrapolated to the Church and marriages which by its very nature mutates love and relationship into a twisted power grab.
Pastors kids - Folks... this is a real issue. In far too many instances, unrealistic expectation and demands placed upon our children to perform, behave "properly" takes a tremendous toll. They get this pressure from many sides - folks in our congregations, and often from us - the fruit of fear that originates from what we think our congregation might think of them and us. This pressure often manifests itself in one of three ways in the lives of our children; 1) Outright rebellion 2) Resigned compliance until they leave home, and they will often leave Church altogether. 3) Obligatory compliance motivated by a deep sense of shame and guilt even into adulthood, where often many experience a variety of challenges including chronic depression, anxiety and a variety of addictions (food, porn, sex, shopping, etc.) We need to allow our children to be who they were created to be without feeling the subtle and not so subtle pressure to conform to an unrealistic idea of “Pastor’s children”.
Artists - The pressure in a consumer, savvy culture is to try and put on the best show we can. An acquaintance once stated that if they didn’t have the hottest worship any given Sunday they stood to lose 600 folks. Pastors feel the pressure in this kind of culture to deliver the best product they can. The problem is then those in our congregation who are artistic are then called upon to serve up music and other media that will have the broadest appeal within an acceptable kind of presentation. While some artists can do well in this kind of environment, there is a wider swath of artist who because their art is not as consumable and marketable are either incentive-ized to produce consumable art or... ignored. The tragic (this is not too strong a word) thing with this is our art becomes formulaic and cookie-cutter like and one may even reconsider calling this art at all.
We have relationship with the God of creation - the God of creativity - so the church, those in relationship with the creating creator should be creating some of the most beautiful art. Not just music or cool graphics but poetry, stories, sculpture, dance, theatre, painting, and a whole host more. Even if this material is thoughtfully provocative and perhaps a little offensive (prophetic perhaps?) the church needs to nurture all forms of art regardless of its marketability.
Entrepreneurs - My sincere hope is the idea of marketplace ministry will continue to mature. The entrepreneurs within the Kingdom are much more than financial cash cows to fund the local church or ministry project. This is not to say that they shouldn’t either. As I continue to “preach”, give from relationship, as you feel led to do so not out of guilt or some twisted sense of religious obligation.
We as leaders need to understand that folks who work in the marketplace are in a beautiful mission field because that is where God has put them. In being there, they have mission in the spheres of relationship they have there. Here’s a quick story. A friend of mine was an associate pastor of a big box church I pastored 5 years ago. He was a gifted preacher and did a good job. My friend found himself in a place where he could pursue something that has always been on his heart - to be a police officer. In spite of the cries of his well-meaning friends, this friend became a police officer in our community and is extremely well respected by folks on both sides of the law. He is currently a school resource officer working within the schools providing support, intervention, risk assessment and building relationships with school staff and students alike. This is hands-down the richest ministry experience of his adult life.
We need to understand that the mission of entrepreneurs may not translate into a direct benefit to the local church, and we should not attempt to make that happen. Perhaps we should look for ways to support and better equip them for this ministry in the workplace.
- The Kingdom is much bigger than the Church (oops! - that may be a sacred cow being tipped!).
- Kingdom people look like Jesus - not a Jewish carpenter but the same heart, values of love that Jesus embodied.
- We embody these values through living our real life as we were uniquely created to be.
- As leaders, we are not people processors. Discipleship is not an assembly line or one-size fits all. We help people discover the uniqueness of who they are in Christ and encourage them, help them cultivate a life of faithful authenticity.
- People with different personalities and worldviews are not always wounded, wrong or rebellious.
- How those we serve behave, well or poorly, is NOT a personal reflection upon us as leaders. People make choices and mistakes and while we do our best to equip them to make the best decisions possible - it is up to them to make those choices. It is a living hell for pastors who live and die on the performance of the folks they serve.