(Part 2 in a series of 10)
“Therefore, true ministry must be mutual. When the members of a community of faith cannot truly know and love their shepherd, shepherding quickly becomes a subtle way of exercising power over others and begins to show authoritarian and dictorial traits. The world in which we live–a world of efficiency and control–has no models to offer to those who want to be shepherds in the way Jesus was a shepherd.”
—In The Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, Henri Nouwen
One of the toughest learning processes for me in ministry when I first began was learning how to not be authoritative and hierarchal in my position. I believe that my own personality does not lend itself well to authoritarian leadership anyways, but being put in charge of a ministry can test that assertion. Empowerment of the laity sounds like a great idea until you are the one that feels like the power is slipping away in the process. Which is a really funny thing! Wasn’t it Christ, who in Philipppians 2 gave us the model of someone who did not consider “equality with God”, or power as something to be grasped at, or expoited? But rather, gave us the model of humility. So why do so many of us in ministry, rather vocationally or volunteer, grasp for power and identity? Why do we want to be the one’s in charge? Why do we seek to put ourselves in spiritually significant positions?
Since I was the new college director I felt a great burden to have all the answers, to make all the decisions, and to make sure I knew everything that was going on, down to the most minute detail. I mean in a sense, the buck stopped with me, so I did have a responsibility. But I learned a lot in my first couple of years that the more I grasped for control, and to make all the decisions, and to make sure everything ran through me. The more exhausted I became, the less involved the students were, and the more the ministry suffered in the process. And then I decided to make a decision based on a conversation with my former boss.
He said, “Rhett, you can do one of two things. One, you can do everything yourself, so that it is done exactly how you want it to be done, and is perfect in how you want it done. Or, you can let the students be involved, and though it may not turn out how you had wanted it, they will be involved. And it may in fact turn out better than you had wanted it to. These are your two choices, but you can’t have both.”
I will never forget that conversation. And based on that talk, I decided that going into my third year that I would relenquish as much power and control that I could, without being negligent in my job, and failing to be faithful to my employers, the church, or my students. After all, the college ministry has always been student led.
And in my opinion, this has been the best year since I have been in the college ministry. Now, maybe not everyone would agree with that. But I look around and I see more people involved, and using their gifts than in the past. I see things, decisions, and events taking place without my knowledge or consent to do so. The website is a visual example of that. And I think that is a good thing.
We are learning what it means to do ministry together. We are learning what it means to come together as the body of Christ that Paul talks about in I Corinthians 12. We still have a long ways to go, and we can always improve on certain things, but I think we are learning to be about discipleship and ministering together, as a team, rather than everyone waiting on one person to make all the decisions, and to do all the thinking for us.
As the college director it is still my responsibility to be the “pastor”, and to make the decisions, and perform the functions that the church is paying me to do. But I cannot do ministry without my students. Our college ministry would never be as effective if it was lived out in a hierarchal way, day in and day out.
My students come to me as the director, but I also go to them as coworkers in Christ. And the overall ministry is the thing that succeeds when we come together, and allow God to do the work.
Living out a model of minstry that is non-hierarchal, and that allows for horizontal involvement can be challenging. But I have learned a lot….what it means to grow leaders, to live in, and embrace, and learn from failure. To be able to forgive, and allow for people’s weaknesses as well as their strengths. And most importantly it has taught me what it means to go about the difficult task of servant leadership which is not always easy in the church. These are some of the things I would never be learning if the ministry was all about me, and these are some of the things that I will be sharing more with you in the next several days.