Preaching Articles

Did I ever tell you about the time a 65 year-old pastor stood on top of his desk to illustrate why his perspective was more important than other people’s? “No one else can see what I see,” he said, “because no one else has the same role.”

He didn’t think he was more important than other people: he thought his position was. He was, in fact, a dedicated servant of God, someone who poured his life into pastoring one church for forty-plus years. “From this height I can see what others cannot see,” he said, with his feet planted on the walnut desk. “It’s not about me, it’s about my role as pastor. God put me here.”

I’m talking about a good man, a hard-working man, who loved Jesus fiercely and established a church in an urban neighborhood during the decades when other pastors and churches left the city. But after forty years there was no clear successor to the role of pastor. Staff members had come and gone while the pastor remained. The pastor may have considered it the mantle of leadership, or the lonely calling to be a leader. He was respected and admired, but the people of the church felt the distance between him and them. The younger generations saw the gap between the neighborhood around the church (which was growing younger) and the membership of the church (which was growing older). He built a church; what he did not do was make disciples.

The church was filled with people who loved and respected their pastor. They saw him as a great man (and in many respects he was a great man). Yet the people of the church had no reasonable expectation that they could have a faith like his. He was the shepherd, they were the sheep—and sheep do not morph into shepherds.

In terms of modern church metrics his ministry was effective: hundreds (if not thousands) of conversions and baptisms, a church of more than a thousand people, and a long run of ministry in the same place. But the human, interpersonal, side of the ledger is more difficult to balance: frustrated staff members who usually left on bad terms, church members who loved Jesus but had no real maturity in Christ, and the very real possibility that when the pastor retires the church will face a steep decline in the “successful” numbers as well.

Was this man’s calling from Jesus? Yes, or course. Were his methods Christ like? In many ways yes: he was a man of integrity and passion, fully devoted to God and his church. But in one important respect, no: the well-meaning pastor actively worked to maintain a separation between himself and his people. It was a Moses model (great man/great leader) instead of a Jesus model (one of us). The Moses model emphasizes the difference between the leader and the people; the Jesus model looks to transform the people into the image of the leader. Moses appointed a successor; Jesus made copies of himself.

The Moses model emphasizes the difference between the leader and the people: the Jesus model looks to transform the people into the image of the leader.

One reason Jesus made disciples so effectively is his first action was to become one of us. His second action was to demonstrate the possibilities of life with God through the Holy Spirit. Jesus, the awesome Second Person of the Eternal Trinitarian God, set aside the role of “god” and became a man. He did not pretend to be a man, he became a man. From the very beginning, the Lord intended to reproduce himself in our lives. The scripture calls this "bringing many sons (and daughters) to glory," with the goal that there would be a vast, holy, family. (Hebrews 2:10-11) Jesus suffered the same life-events we suffer, he toiled and sweat and laughed and cried and experienced life as we do; his path to holiness is our path as well—he took no shortcuts. Our ears can be trained to hear the Spirit and our eyes can be trained to read the scriptures in the same ways he did.

Jesus constantly reminded the disciples that the world’s view of leadership was not his view. The world loves great leaders who stand out from the crowd; Jesus identifies with us so strongly that he believes we can become like him. Nor is this only a question for leaders. It goes to the heart of our own personal expectations. We must ask, “Do I really believe I can be transformed into the Master’s image? Do I want to follow his example or merely use him as a Savior?”

He came to show us how to live. He came to reproduce himself in us. His saving action on the cross is the work of the Son of God; the obedience that led him to the cross is the work of the Son of Man. We cannot pay the price for anyone’s sin, but we can teach others to be like Jesus.

For more leadership advice, buy Vince Miller's book "20 Lessons That Build a Leader" and receive free shipping!

Ray Hollenbach helps pastors and churches navigate change. He's the founder of DEEPER Seminars, weekend leadership retreats focused on discipleship in the local church. His newest book is Deeper Grace, a guide to the connection between grace and spiritual maturity. Ray currently lives in central Kentucky, coaching and consulting church leaders. You can visit his blog at Students of Jesus.

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E L Zacharias

commented on Oct 15, 2015

Ray, I can appreciate what you are saying, but it seems that Justification and Sanctification is being blurred here. Being the Son of God, Jesus is greater than Moses. Moses pointed forward to Christ--and everyone after Jesus still points to Jesus, for he is our Savior. We have to be in the pulpit pointing to Jesus, for there is no other message than that we are saved through Jesus. You are right to say that we should not set ourselves too high, lest people not seek to step into and develop as leaders. But we ARE transformed into the image of Christ, by way of our Baptism and following in faith. God makes us holy (sanctication) since he has Justified us by grace through faith in Christ. God's Holy Spirit continues to develop our life of faith in the work that we do (sanctification in the narrow sense). I mention this, lest people get the idea that Jesus starts our salvation and we have to pick up and finish it. This is the work of the Holy Spirit from start to finish. Otherwise, you gave us good things to think on regarding our need to instruct and develop leaders--which Moses was instructed to do, as he gathered the elders and passed the mantle to his very capable understudy, Joshua.

Pat Damiani

commented on Oct 15, 2015

E.L. with all due respect, I didn't get the impression at all that Ray was addressing justification - he is only contrasting two different leadership styles. And he's done a very nice job of that IMO.

Lorenzo Kornegay

commented on Oct 15, 2015

Moses objected was to bring Israel Out of bondage, Jesus objected was to bring people into a true relationship with God. Because of the Objected I can see why their styles was different. Our jobs as Pastors is to bring people into relationship which will get them out of bondage.

Danley Philip

commented on Oct 16, 2015

Ray, I think you are unto a profound truth. Many pastors want to lead like everyone else in the Bible except like Jesus, yet they expect to receive the honour and glory that is due to Jesus. Jesus was God, yet he leads like a servant, performing many services to man, even giving his life. Many many pastors today are attending all sorts of leadership conferences to learn the art of manipulating people and to rule over them, in very much the same manner like leaders of the world. Many pastors today regard the people as sheep almost in a literal way and in all respect. Jesus referred us all as heritage, a peculiar people and a royal priest. It's not about sanctification and justification. It's about Leader servanthood .

Rudy Schellekens

commented on Jul 10, 2019

I would prefer a BIBLICAL model, where a congregation is lead by a plurality of pastors, elders, overseers. Where a congregation is not lead by "THE" pastor (a role unknown in early Christianity). Where the pastor/elder/overseer do their job of shepherding and keeping truth, well, true. Where elders/shepherds/overseers keep the congregation from flowing with every new hip thought that comes their way. Where shepherds/elders/overseers meet the qualifications set in Timothy/Titus

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