Who is the most difficult person you have ever had to lead? Did somebody’s face and name just pop into your mind?
When I first thought of that question, the name that immediately popped into to my mind was Cecil. He was a member of the first church I ever pastored. He was a red-headed, hot-blooded, overly-opinionated Irishman. I became Cecil’s pastor at the age of 23. I still can’t believe I was turned loose on a congregation at that age. I feel like I should go back and apologize to that first flock. I was very zealous and passionate but lacking in wisdom and experience. I was still in seminary at the time and didn’t know much about pastoring, but I thought I did.
I had been there about 6 months and was preaching on a Sunday morning to the 60 people in my congregation. All of a sudden I heard what sounded like someone dropping their Bible. I didn’t think much of it at the time. At the end of the service one of the men in my church shook my hand and said “You made it six months. That’s pretty impressive.” I said “What are you talking about?” Then he explained “Didn’t you hear that Bible slam shut during your message? That was brother Cecil letting the rest of us know that what your teaching was wrong. He is our self-appointed theological watchdog.”
It is an understatement to say that Cecil was not easy to lead. He already had his mind made up about everything! He was a know-it-all who had the gift of criticism. He had an opinion on everything and resisted every change we made. Cecil wasn’t going to be led by anyone, much less a 23 year old, wet-behind-the-ears pastor.
Did I mention that Cecil was not easy to lead? However, over the years, I have become intimately acquainted with someone who is even harder to lead than Cecil. And that someone is ME!
I want to let you in on a little secret . . . the most difficult, challenging, obstinate, flaky, rebellious, defiant person you will ever lead is YOURSELF. Leading Cecil McGugan was a cakewalk compared to leading myself.
The Keeper of the Stream
Dallas Willard said “Our soul is like a stream of water, which gives strength, direction, and harmony to every other area of life.” You didn’t create the stream, God did. But you are the keeper of the stream.
If you are going to lead your church effectively and preach spiritually powerful messages, you have to own the health of your own soul.
In Deuteronomy 30 there is a great passage that illustrates this. In verse 1-10, God invites Israel into a life of unbelievable blessing. He says, if you return to me I will:
- make you prosperous
- increase your number
- give you abundant crops
- protect you from your enemies
- restore my relationship with you
He then says that this life is theirs for the taking:
Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12) It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13) Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14) No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. — Deuteronomy 30:11-14 (NIV)
God says that He has made this abundant, rich life available and accessible to you and to me. It has nothing to do with my elder board or my salary or the size of my church.
2 Peter 1:3 reminds us that everything we need for life and godliness God has already given to us.
One of the best days of my life was the day I began to “own” the health of my own soul.
You see, there was a season in my life when I had been neglecting my soul (I’ll share more of that story in another article). I was busy and active and “doing” a lot for God . . . but the stream of my soul was drying up. I was preaching sermons about a life that I wasn’t living or experiencing. I was living the way I was living because of decisions I was making. I am the keeper of the stream of my soul.
In recent years I have been learning a principle that has been changing my life.
Self-care is not selfish, it is good stewardship
Leading yourself well and taking care of yourself is not being selfish. Think about this for a moment… the main thing you have to give in serving God is YOU.
Near the end of that same chapter in Deuteronomy 30, the Lord issues a challenge. He says,
This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live. Deuteronomy 30:19 (NIV)
“Now choose life”… it is a “choice”. And it is your choice. So, today decide to lead yourself well. Today, embrace that you are the keeper of the stream of your soul.