What are you like at assembling flat-pack furniture? It’s not my forte, but I like to help – so I take a turn at knocking the nails in, with a fair degree of enthusiasm and a certain misplaced optimism. When the nail is halfway in, we pause. Is it straight? Mostly the answer is a qualified ‘yes’: it’ll do. (It’s only the back of the wardrobe, after all. It’s not in the running for a carpentry show.) But sometimes it’s so incredibly wonky that I pass the hammer over and let my husband bash the nail until it’s upright. It’s a bit of a dent to my pride, but there’s a decent reward – when Tom helps, there’s more chance that the wardrobe won’t fall over.
Reading God’s Leader, it occurs to me that Christian leadership can be a similar process. As leaders, we have various responsibilities – the ‘nails’, if you like – that are part of serving our church family – the ‘wardrobe’. Sometimes, in God’s kindness (and most definitely only with his help), we get the nails in reasonably straight. We have a fruitful one-to-one, or we apologise to the person who bore the brunt of our irritability, or we preach a Christ-rich sermon. But sometimes our efforts only produce crooked nails. And then we need a friend with a hammer – someone who will point out where our nails are wonky and, even better, help us knock them straight.
Enter God’s Leader, stage right.
In it, Andy Mason explores some of the ‘wonky nails’ listed in the Bible, and helps us apply ‘the hammer’ – that’s the Bible, in case you were wondering – as the wisest, kindest and, indeed, only way to straighten things out. Because if we insist on hitting in our nails at whatever jaunty angle seems best, our ‘wardrobe’ will (at best) not be blessed as they should be and (at worst) will fall apart entirely. As Andy reminds us in chapter one: “The fact is the people we lead need us to need the cross. It’s vital for their sakes that we’re living out of a daily dependence upon all that Christ has done for us.” (p. 13, author’s italics)
God’s Leader urges us to remember our primary identity: “Ministry preparation doesn’t start with thinking about who we are in ourselves, but who we are in [Christ]” (p. 71). We might be leaders, but (as Andy repeatedly reminds his readers) we are, first and foremost, Christians: “We don’t come before God as pastors, bishops, conference speakers or missionaries. We only ever come before him as children” (p. 179). Andy particularly focuses on our status as sinners saved by grace through faith and on our position as members of God’s family. He applies these two truths in order to help leaders who (for instance):
- discharge the duties of their ministry in order to feel closer to God, rather than coming before him in repentant faith (pp. 22-23);
- are short on time and/or energy, and so move straight to preparing and delivering a sermon or Bible study – ignoring their own desperate need to be taught, rebuked, corrected and trained in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16) by God’s Word (pp. 30-33)
- forget that the church is the Lord’s responsibility and under his authority, and are led either to despair or to profound self-satisfaction (pp. 68-69).
I imagine you can see yourself in these examples. I know I can. It’s been easier to get the church building ready for Sunday morning (chairs and toilets and technology and all) than to come to the Lord with my sin and without excuses. I’ve produced Bible studies and kids’ sessions without bothering to apply them to myself – because sometimes I’d rather deliver something that is ‘higher quality’ than something which (though more authentic) is considerably less polished. There have been times when I’ve got incredibly stressed about my ministry to so-and-so. I forget that the responsibility for their salvation lies with the Lord. I forget that I’m not Jesus!
None of us have been, are or will be perfect Christian leaders. We knock in countless wonky nails. God Leader’s is not out to compound our guilt. Instead, it intends to help us realise where we are already guilty, and to encourage us to repentance and dependency: “When we let Jesus deal with our sin, God always receives the glory” (p. 22) and “Our hope in ministry is not in our strength, power, experience or gifting, but [Christ’s] risen power.” (p.69) So, yes – I encourage you to read it. Be reminded of the gospel. Be challenged about where you’ve fallen short. Above all, be blown away once again by the incredible grace and love of our Father. Let it move you to repentance. Let it move you “to trust in God’s life-giving power in the midst of obstacles, problems and detours.” (p. 196) It’s a trust we all desperately need this year.
You can pick up a copy of God’s Leader from our friends at 10ofThose.