Hope for Weary Leaders: When You Know You Can’t Fix the Church (Part 2)

Grady Kingby Grady King

As I walked walked through the difficult times I discussed in the previous article, I was reminded by some very wise mentors (Lynn Anderson and Charlie Siburt) that my job was not to fix the church, but rather to be a maturing, responsible leader as a non-anxious presence. On more than one occasion, I heard Charlie say, “Manage yourself.” This was the ministry posture for stability, hope, and healthy change.[1] Constantly focusing on fixing others is futile and merely increases anxiety. Anxious leaders fuse and/or distance themselves from anxiety. Ironically, whether we fuse or distance ourselves from anxiety, the symptoms are the same: resignation, blame, shame, and even anger. These characteristics are, unfortunately, the common posture we adopt because we sincerely want to fix things–make them better.[2]

mr_fix_it-title-3-still-16x9Why is it that We Adopt a Posture of Fixing the Church? There are three primary factors why we as leaders function as fixers.

1. It’s our nature as men. Fixing things validates our existence. It gives us meaning and secures our control if we can fix it. As fixers, the idea of discernment, listening, reading scripture afresh and living with the tensions of diversity is challenging. The church is the bride of Christ–a dynamic, organic, Holy Spirit-filled people that we cannot fix. We simply guide her as stewards of the gospel of God’s grace.

2. It’s our orientation as restorationists. For the most part, we believe church is a pattern to perfect. We take the description of the early believers in Acts 4:32-37 and make it a prescription for us without regard to historical context and culture. When we don’t measure up, we teach, preach, and program more boldly in a effort to push the church to the description.

There has, however, never been a time in the history of the body of Christ that the church was pure. No time in history was the church in a pure state. That’s why the gospel has to be preached to the church. Jesus is the standard for formation. He is the pattern. What’s Paul’s solution? “My dear children for whom I am in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4.19).

It’s difficult to admit as restorationists, but there is never been a time when the church in Scripture or since had her act together. We lean into Luke’s account of the early church in very selective ways and forget the struggles and the progressive development of the church in Acts and throughout the New Testament. We tend to select the passages to show the ideal. There’s nothing inherently wrong with holding up the ideal, yet, taken in isolation it raises the expectations and can foster guilt and shame as we don’t ever measure up. The perfect pattern is Jesus.

3. We tend to trust Paul more than Jesus.

“I think Paul is more important to us than Jesus.” This is what my eighteen-year-old son said to me after his freshmen year in a Christian university. “Why would you say that?” I asked.   He said, “I think we start with Jesus, but get to Paul really quickly. I have heard Paul referred to much more than Jesus.” The implications are profound and sobering. Paul was focused on Christ in his life, but our tendency as good restorationists is go to Paul to try to justify our positions. The overall effect is that Paul is really more important than Jesus to us as leaders. This raises the question: in what sense are the gospels authoritative for the life of the church and the way we function as leaders? Paul’s cross-dominated teaching, life, and ethical instruction to the churches challenges us to lean into Jesus for a hopeful way forward. 

Generally, those who have no lines on their faces, dirt on their hands, or scars in their hearts always have easy answers.

As the church where I served for nearly 15 years continued to decline, the leadership engaged the church in the realities we were facing in a spirit of love and candor. I distinctly remember urging the leadership to be honest with the church and confess that we did not have the answers and were totally dependent upon God. The elders took the lead and it was repeated in a variety of ways as we pointed people to dwell in the Word, pray, and follow Jesus into the community in ministry. No guarantees. As expected, the confession was met with mixed reactions, yet necessary in our weariness.

Hope Begins with Confession

If you are a weary leader who knows you can’t fix the church, there is hope. Hope begins with confession. Openly confessing our weariness as leaders among ourselves and with the church is the beginning of hope. This confessional posture is a move of dependence on God. Yes, it is risky because there will always be those in the church who have the answers. This kind of risky confession is often seen as weak leadership. Through the years I have learned that those who have no lines on their faces, dirt on their hands, or scars in their hearts always have easy answers. With leadership, there is always a price to pay. Confessing our weariness breaks the hard soil of pride, fear, and failure. It gets it out in the open as vulnerable, humble, and God-dependent leaders. It gives us space to for the mental work of debunking the myths of growing the church, being successful, and the misconception that one size fits all. In our next article, we will discuss several of these myths.

Part 1   |  Part 2  |  Part 3  |  Part 4

 

 


[1] Case in point of this ministry posture can be seen in Paul’s counsel to Timothy (1 Tim 4.12-16) considering the anxiety in the church at Ephesus (see 1 Timothy 1.3-7).

[2] The language of managing self, anxiety, and fixing others is rooted in family systems theory and popularized by the late Edwin Friedman in his works, Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue and A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in an Age of Quick Fix.

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