Many preachers are bound by a "patience" that keeps them from confronting the status quo. We need pastors to lead with passion.
I was conversing with a young pastor over breakfast during the recent Jack Hayford School of Pastoral Nurture when he asked me an intriguing question. The young man was one of more than 40 ministers who spent a week with me last March for mentoring purposes. In the last 3-1/2 years, more than 1,100 people from more than 40 denominations have participated in the weeklong ministry event.
"What's your most compelling goal right now?" he asked.
The question ignited a synapse and sketched on the screen of my mind a quick list of certain goals that are "always," and some that are "right now," such as:
Always: to walk with Jesus in faith and purity; to love Anna as a devoted husband; to minister God's Word with power wherever I go; and to serve the staff and family at The Church on the Way however I'm asked.
Right Now: to build The King's College and Seminary's new $18 million library/classroom/office facility; to advance our media impact, or "touch," via Living Way Ministries; to give time to the five writing projects I'm engaged in currently; and to increase my effectiveness at helping pastors reach new dimensions of fruitful ministry.
I didn't recite any of the goals on this mental list because within the texture of our particular conversation that wasn't what this gifted young shepherd was really looking for. He was really asking: "What can you tell me that will help me shape priorities, help me become a more effective pastor and spiritual leader, and give me something to guide the shape and thrust of my ministry?"
He was a sharp, sensitive guy--nothing superficial or shallow about him in any way. But I still recognized his expectations were sighted on the kind of thing today's ministerial culture tends to look for--something on the order of, "Give me three goals to target so success--growth--can be gained" (or some such motivational/managerial technique assured to bring achievement).
I sensed his inquiry looking that direction, not because I saw him as less than discerning, but because this quest, and the mind-set behind it, so dominates the landscape in today's church-leader culture.
Leaders in the present North American church are being programmed into a fixation on the notion that what we all need to succeed is to somehow find "a better mousetrap." The mind-set produces a relentless quest that pursues endless avenues, such as:
scouring Internet Web sites
plowing through leadership material and highlighting slogans in the latest corporate motivational book
near-frantic idea/program-hunting visits to high-visibility churches
labored analyzing of contemporary culture and local demographics
diligently processing "makeovers" on everything from the church's platform arrangement to its parking lot signage.
I have no direct opposition to such sincerely sought, purely motivated quests. However, the majority of the time, they at best prove only temporarily useful, and far too often end in providing little more than a cosmetic for a much deeper need. In short, neither durable change nor spiritual dynamic are likely to ever be gained via the labored means of human ingenuity.
Efforts at finding and doing something beget inevitable weariness with having tried so hard and gaining so little. And a lot of pastors such as the young man having breakfast with me find a net result reading, "disillusionment," and sometimes, "despair."
More than a plan is needed. Of course, I recognized that Chuck (my invented name for the bright young shepherd on the other side of the breakfast table) was actually hoping to pick my brain for a plan or a system to "make things work better." And, naturally, I do believe organization, plans, administration and programs are necessary to lead with wisdom and fruitfulness.
But Chuck had already been around the block a few times, and he was ready--in fact, needful--of something more. That's why my answer was as follows:
"Chuck," I said, "there are lots of answers to your question, a number of worthy goals I could site. To be frank, I'm becoming less patient these days with the passivity shown toward what I think is most needed by the majority of thinking leaders today: passion.
"And the more I observe today's church leadership, the more I believe that passion needs focus in two regards: (1) passion in our personal worship of God (then, in the way we lead the flock to do the same); and (2) passion in pursuing an abiding fullness of His Spirit in our lives (then, in wisely drawing everyone in the congregation toward the same experience)."
I intoned my words in a way that emphasized the word "passion." I went on to indicate my impatience with the studied, social reserve I've battled in myself and which I've all too often found ingrained in good but intimidated pastors. Understanding, as I do, the varied situations they face--where church controls and people-pressure dare them to lead with passion, I usually take slower steps getting to that point.
But I am inclining to lose my patience lately, and hoping you might agree with me: There are certain issues and certain times in which passion ought to preempt patience.
A discerning distinction. I will never defend wild-eyed fanaticism. Nor am I arguing for passion as, for example, a license to a carnal indulgence of anger when things don't happen fast enough. My plea is not to give place to the shallow, selfish pushiness of self-will erupting or manipulating to "get things my way--now!"
To argue for passion is not to indulge in a proposition that patience is supplanted, and impatience given a throne in your values or mine. But I have found a law of diminishing return where that order of patience is exercised that becomes so placid, so cooled, so bound by reserve that the status quo is never confronted.
Whenever I find myself caving in to difficulties instead of opening to new dimensions of God's grace, I need passion, not patience.
Whenever I find I'm surrendering to the situation instead of making a new surrender to God, I need passion, not patience.
Divine discontent. In other words, I'm wanting to discern and overcome that so-called "patience" that submits to the subtlety of human fear, doubt, passivity or pride--that lying voice that whispers: "Don't get too excited about God or expect too much of Him. Tough it out. Be patient." Because, in fact, the Bible reveals there are times when a divine discontent needs to motivate me--not a patient passivity.
It is passion, not patience, that moved Jesus through Gethsemane's ordeal and paved the way to Calvary (see Luke 22:39-46).
It is passion, not patience, that brought spiritual breakthrough when effort was made to silence the church (see Acts 4:23-31).
It is passion, not patience, that brought Paul to discover grace sufficient for the satanic battle he was waging (see 2 Cor. 12:7-10).
These, and so many other Bible examples of pure passion, are a prompting to us all to move in these post-Easter days toward Pentecost, a prompt to open the doorway to relive those days when the disciples passionately waited on God for the Holy Spirit.
Partnering together. Let me encourage you: whatever you are going through or whatever your personal challenge, whatever your family trials or whatever your economic circumstances, whatever your physical pain or whatever your wearied soul's tiredness, let us partner together to passionately pursue this principle: If with all your heart you truly seek Him, you will find Him. (Take time to study Jeremiah 29:13; Proverbs 8:17; Psalm 63:1-8; Matthew 7:7-8; and Luke 11:5-13.)
Just as those words filled my heart as I spoke with the young pastor, they move me as I write to you, fellow servant. For him it meant: (1) abandoning a casual attitude that would tolerate optional degrees of passion in his life and leadership; (2) not being too slow to answer a call to lovingly but assertively call his flock to worship; and (3) calling his flock to open up, with passion, to the Holy Spirit.
That is an order of wholeheartedness that is at the core of our Lord Jesus' desire to ignite our hearts with the flame of heaven's passion and love: "'He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire'" (emphasis mine; Luke 3:16, KJV).
Decades of leading and teaching God's people have not produced in me a reckless excitability, but I have concluded that whatever else, without passion little will be birthed or broken through. "Cool" Christianity will never successfully resist the bonfires of unbelief that intimidate souls, nor the fiery darts of evil assault that rain from today's skies. We can only fight fire with fire.
So let's let it happen as long ago, during the days of another springtime's warming, as the disciples were gathered in a room upstairs. And after days of seeking hard, with passion, after God--after seeking Him with one accord--"suddenly, there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind...and there appeared unto them tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them" (Acts 2:2-3).
Lord, let it fall upon us again! And again! Amen.