Years ago, I jumped at the chance to lead church ministries. Need someone to teach a Bible study? Sign me up. Need someone to organize and launch a ministry? Not a problem. Need a support person to float around the room making sure everyone’s comfortable? I’m your girl. I was eager to live and breathe what I thought was ministry leadership.
Now I’m not so eager. Or perhaps I just have less energy. Regardless, after more than a decade in official and unofficial ministry, I approach all types of church ministry leadership and support roles much more cautiously than before.
Like other Christians, I’ve watched in dismay as leader after leader in the US church has fallen, both pastors and lay-leaders: the cover-ups, the bullying, the egregious arrogance. But as I’ve seen the fall of many, I’ve also seen the rise of true sacrificial leadership both in pockets of the US and beyond. You may have seen it, too — especially the leaders who’ve come forward in areas hostile to Christianity. The ones who’ve stepped in between the persecutor and the persecuted, the abuser and the abused, who’ve taken the severest blows aimed at the “least of these” by sacrificing their names, their safety, and sometimes their lives to protect the church.
I’ll admit, though, I tend to view church leadership in the US South with more skepticism than church leadership where there is persecution. But that is mainly because there is something to be gained by church leadership here – connections, notoriety, and partial control of a formidable political force to name just a few. Under persecution, however, leading a church often gains you nothing in a worldly sense except significant risk, humiliation, and possibly death. That reality alone can reveal the difference between one who is truly called to lead and one who is self-seeking.
And before you think I’m being too harsh on church leadership in the South, OF COURSE there are many incredible church leaders here that know sacrifice, understand what it means to “stand in between”, and are in no way pursuing worldly gain through church leadership. I have worked with some of these leaders personally and truly admire their humility and love for Jesus.
But the older I get, the more cautious I am about pursuing ministry leadership. Because instead of just asking, “Do I have the giftings of a leader and a desire to lead?” I need to also be asking, “Can I stand between the abuser and the abused and take the severest blows if necessary?” The obvious answer is, in my own strength, I can’t. But Jesus can and did. And whoever he calls to leadership, he’ll give strength to do the same when the time comes.