Wineskins Archive

January 21, 2014

Just a Little Bit Smaller Than God! (Apr 1993)

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by Jim Martin
April, 1993

Recently Jamie, our six year old, came home from her morning kindergarten. She was ecstatic, dancing around the kitchen floor as she described the special visitor at her school. “He is the tallest man in the world and weighs 4,001 pounds! His hands were giant.” Hearing this description, I tried to envision the guest who spoke to the children in the gym that morning. Was he an NFL linebacker? Perhaps a quiet morning spent with a Japanese sumo wrestler? She tried to describe the man but seemed frustrated at not being able to pinpoint his height. Finally she said, “Dad, he was just a little bit smaller than God!” Later, I learned that the visitor was Haji Mohammed Alam Channa from Pakistan. At seven feet, eight inches, he is the tallest living man in the world. He has the distinction of wearing size 22 shoes and weighing 401 pounds.

Afterward, I thought about her description, “Just a little bit smaller than God.” In the mind of this child, God was the all-encompassing standard by which to measure the indescribable. She was correct. The transcendent Holy God is our standard, our rule, our ideal. Many Christian leaders began serving out of love and a sense of a genuine call from God. Perhaps they envisioned making a significant difference in their congregations. They were determined to keep their priorities straight. Yet months or years later these same spiritual leaders may find themselves drained by the reality of the way things seem to be.

Perhaps an elder becomes discouraged because shepherding has become more of a burden than a delight. These are times when he feels like he is doing anything but shepherding people. Most of his time seems to be spent putting out fires. Some members grumble due to too much change and another group grumbles because change seems to be happening too slowly. Meanwhile, problem after problem is brought to the attention of the elders. Talk of budgets, overflowing toilets, and complaints from various members begin to devour more precious time and energy. Eugene Peterson, in his penetrating and convicting book, Working the Angles (p. 1), speaks of Christian leaders who are really shopkeepers rather than spiritual leaders and ministers. How do spiritual leaders function in an atmosphere where the agenda seems to be institutional maintenance, policy making, and keeping the customers (members) happy? These persons may find themselves primarily recruiting workers, entertaining members, and maintaining church programs. Prayer, scripture reading, and reflection on the character of God seem to be a luxury. In some church meetings, if the Bible is read or if the leaders pray intently for a period of time it almost seems to be an interruption that is indulged until we can get back to “business.”

At the same congregation a minister comes home from an elders and ministers meeting. Another demoralizing, disheartening meeting. No doubt few if any who were present realized just how discouraging the evening was for this minister. There was no major turmoil, no accusations, or political maneuvering. His frustration, however, concerns the time and energy spent discussing the institutional aspects of the church and how little time was spent on the central business of the Father. The meetings are not satisfying to him, the other ministers, or the elders. He makes every effort to stay alive spiritually and yet feels deflated after an evening in a leadership meeting.

These are challenging and difficult times for Christian leaders. In the midst of this, many leaders are experiencing soul starvation. Will our elders, ministers, and other key leaders experience the ongoing spiritual nourishment needed to survive? Unless Christian leaders are experiencing personal spiritual renewal it will be very difficult for them to lead God’s people into congregational renewal. If one sees the church simply as an institution which needs to be overhauled or at least given a tune-up, one might see renewal as basically the implementation of new ideas and new methodology. Yet, genuine Spirit-led renewal must begin in the hearts and minds of the leaders both personally and collectively.

I. Why is Spiritual Nourishment Important?

First, spiritual nourishment is important because the very nature of spiritual leadership presupposes that there is some semblance of spiritual maturity in the leaders and that they continue to grow in Christ. The nature of spiritual leadership demands that the leader has a clear vision of leadership priorities. Most leaders are constantly being challenged to place the urgent over the important. Consequently, there may be long arid spells where no attention is given to spiritual devotion. After all, spiritual leaders are acutely aware that the church sees the public self and not the private self. With so many responsibilities, the temptation is to ignore the private spiritual life and to concentrate on getting the public acts accomplished.

Second, spiritual nourishment is crucial because enthusiasm for ministry can diminish due to discouragement, disappointment, and criticism.

Finally, spiritual nourishment is important because Christian leaders can lose their compassion and love for a broken, lost world. Some become numb after dealing with the constant bombardment of one human tragedy after another.

Without spiritual nourishment, the soul can become parched and empty of life. The result may be moral slippage or a loss of courage in the face of opposition. The consequences can even be fatal as one may be eaten alive by the soul-eating cancers of cynicism, pessimism, and faithlessness.

II. How Can Leaders Nourish Their Spiritual Lives?

First, a growing spiritual life is built by regularly practicing the spiritual disciplines. Special attention must be given to prayer. Prayer that consists of praise, confession, petition, and thanksgiving enables one to drink deep from spiritual wells. Praise and petition deepen the care and counsel that we give to those whom God brings our way. Christian leaders need to confess their sins to God both individually and as a group. Imagine the encouragement of seeing Christian leaders lead the way in publicly confessing their own sins to the holy God.

Second, the cultivation of worship enables one to avoid the spiritual bankruptcy that so many have experienced. What can cleanse and fortify a human being more than the worship of the transcendent God which lifts one above his or her problems? Through prayer, hearing the word of God, and the Lord’s Supper there is genuine nourishment.

Third, spiritual nourishment comes through reading Scripture. It is amazing that Christian leaders can meet together week after week and month after month and never open a Bible! Why not read a book of the Bible together? Why not read together the story of Jesus? At the same time, these leaders could pray for open eyes and sensitive hearts to see their own cities through the eyes of Jesus.. Besides the Bible, Christian biographies and quality devotional works can be very helpful. (See Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants.)

Christian leaders also need to know themselves. Some know the congregation and even the community far better than they know themselves. Who is this person called a leader? What is his view of self? Some leaders seem unaware of strong emotions and behavior patterns which influence their behavior as a leader. The leader who has been deeply hurt in formative years may spend many years reacting out of that hurt. Consequently, people may find that he seems aloof, close minded, angry, or defensive. Other leaders may wrestle with the craving for everyone’s approval. These persons may have been reared in a critical, negative environment where they were never able to measure up to impossible demands. These people never received a “well done” from the significant people in their lives. Consequently they appear indecisive as they try to somehow make everyone happy. These leaders may ignore problems or procrastinate to avoid the frightful task of making decisions that could displease some in the church.

Finally, ministers and elders must commit themselves to make the leadership environment an arena of strength and encouragement. Leadership meetings which tend to be accusatory, devaluing, or even passive take a spiritual and emotional toll on Christian leaders. Such an atmosphere spills over into the church as well. If God’s leaders cannot rise above lethargy, passiveness, and pettiness, how can the rest of the church be expected to do so? Elders and ministers must commit themselves to developing the kind of leadership atmosphere which is godly and affirming. Leaders must learn to take care of one another. Leaders must commit themselves to give emotional and spiritual support to one another. (If you do not know how to be supportive to your ministers or elders, ask!) In order for leaders to nurture their spiritual lives they must know God, know themselves and have an absolute commitment to encouraging their fellow leaders.

Perhaps Henri Nouwen said it best concerning the priorities of the spiritual leader. “The question is not: How many people take you seriously? How much are you going to accomplish? Can you show some results? But: Are you in love with Jesus? Perhaps another way of putting the question would be: Do you know the incarnate God? In our world of loneliness and despair, there is an enormous need for men and women who know the heart of God, a heart that forgives, that cares, that reaches out and wants to heal. In that heart there is no suspicion, no vindictiveness, no resentment, and not a tinge of hatred. It is a heart that wants only to give love and receive love in response” (Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus, p. 24).Wineskins Magazine

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