by Rev. Jeff Simpson, lead pastor, Lansdowne Alliance Church, Baltimore, Md.
It’s Wednesday morning, and like many other pastors I know, I am sitting at my desk looking at a “to-do” list that always seems to have a few added items on it by this time of the week. Many call this tension (and in all honesty, some weeks I might call it “dread”) “the tyranny of the urgent.”
In almost all my conversations with folks in my church and my community, there comes a point at which someone talks about how busy he or she is. It is almost a badge of honor in our culture to be “so busy” or “too busy.” I can’t help but connect those conversations with the other most common conversation I have with folks, a conversation centered around their anxiety.
This is the air we breathe, and as a pastor, I am not immune. I constantly find myself caught up in what I like to call the “I’ll just take care of this real quick” disease, which is how I end up with 10 extra items on my “to-do” list by Wednesday morning.
But when I read the New Testament, and especially texts like Ephesians 4:11-12, I am reminded that my role is not to do every possible task that could be done. My role is to be part of how Christ is equipping and empowering his church to be his very presence in the world.
In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul instructs Timothy to entrust to others what has already been entrusted to him. In other words, Paul tells Timothy to train other leaders in the way that Paul has already trained Timothy. In this text, Paul is speaking into the specific avenue of teaching. But I think it is safe to take this as a principle to any other place in the church where a specific kind of skill and gifting is needed to see the presence of Christ demonstrated more fully in the world.
For Timothy, Paul’s instruction was about teaching. For myself, teaching is also the primary way I have been called to empower and equip the local expression of the church. However, this is not the only place where leaders are needed in the church. We need leaders of all different skills and callings to see the church become more and more fully the presence of Christ in our communities.
The kinds and number of church leaders and needs can change, too, over time, as a local church changes, grows and moves into new seasons of ministry. There are many ways to answer the question, “Why should the church train leaders?” But for the sake of this article, let’s look at two reasons. One, for the life of the church, and two, for the life of pastors.
Why train leaders? To empower the church to most effectively be Christ’s presence
The church is the very presence of Christ in the world. In the New Testament, we see many places where the church is spoken of as a body. This body inhabits this world, and if we look back into the book of Ephesians, chapter 4, we see in verses 15 and 16 the result of the church being equipped and empowered.
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Eph. 4:15-16 ESV)
The body of Christ is meant to grow and build itself up. This cannot happen by the work of one leader. Training leaders then, in this metaphor, is like a good diet and nutrition plan for the body. It causes the entire body to grow and become a more empowered and equipped body. This then leads to the presence of Christ being more fully experienced in the world as the body in that world is healthy and growing up into love.
Why train leaders? To keep watch over our own souls
There is another, more personal reason to always be looking for ways to train other leaders. For me, this is the reason that I most often find myself bumping up against in my own life and ministry. I want to train leaders so that I can let go of as much power as possible.
The fact is that I love to be in charge. The temptation to make everything centered around me and my own sense of power and control is ever-present. But this would lead to nothing but burnout for me personally and for those in my church, which would lead to woeful underdevelopment of our expression of the body of Christ.
Authority is good. Power is poison.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Prov. 4:23 NIV)
Training leaders becomes a way for those of us who serve as pastors and leaders to guard our own hearts against the pull of worldly power. Sinful desire is insidious because it is creative! Our sinful desires for worldly power will find ways to gain more power. Many may think this unhealthy pursuit of power only happens in large churches or ministries, but as a pastor of a small church, I can tell you there are plenty of ways to seek power in any setting.
When I find myself tempted to center all the power and attention on myself and my ministry, I am reminded of John the Baptist’s famous words in John 3, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
We train leaders because if the presence of Christ in the world is the church, then training leaders who can do the work of the ministry increases the presence of Christ in the world and simultaneously decreases our tendency to continue running after worldly power.
For these two reasons and many more, training leaders must become a central focus for those of us who currently serve in leadership roles in the church and in other ministries. I long to see my neighborhood filled with the presence and glory of Christ, and that will not happen by my ministry efforts alone.