Social media has created a phenomenon among the local church; ordinary men and women in ministry now have access to build far-reaching platforms. And sometimes, the way we portray our faith on social media can make it seem like we are more about the podium rather than God himself. Christianity is often treated as a pageant contestant for Miss America or a lobbyist on Capitol Hill. We preach, we write, we blog, we talk, we share, we create. Then we post it on the Internet. On the other hand, the local church has an opportunity to connect with the church at large like never before. We can learn more, hear more, connect more, minister more.
Another result is the potential for more than the commissioned, equipped and exceptional few (like say, the Apostle Paul or Jonathan Edwards) to rise up from the ranks of ordinary service to the local church and become what my friends like to call, “Christian Famous.”
“Everybody wants a seat at the table,” as one pastor told me.
Being a leader in the church has become this “cool” thing to do, because through the far-reaching, self-governed and for the most part, unsupervised platforms of social media, ostensibly anyone (by popular opinion) can now build themselves a platform. I’m afraid however we have forgotten that in the Bible, many of the “Christian Famous” got beheaded and stoned to death.
What’s made being a leader (or Christian Famous) the cool thing to do?
In our Christian bubbles, wisdom, maturity and sometimes even shocking honesty are put on like a mask – a strategic, adopted persona. We want to be seen in a particular way, to embrace a persona-supporting cause and then Instagram it. Being blunt or outrageous, making outlandish confessions or saying hilarious things creates personas that we love to listen to, watch or read. We seek to give a certain impression that alludes to credibility, giving us a voice with perceived power. Ta-da. A “leader” is born. The marketing world calls this “branding.”
When God says through Paul in 1 Timothy “if anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task,” He qualifies the position requirements with a list of characteristics: being faithful to one’s spouse, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, gentle, not greedy, not quarrelsome . . . just to name a few. This is no small calling and it definitely cannot be done apart from the Spirit of God.
To be “Christian Famous” or even just well known in your Christian circle or local church and hold these qualities is an incredibly difficult feat. Of course there should be memorable, winsome voices that use far-reaching platforms to send the gospel message to the masses. But instead of spending time branding a personality, style or character, members of the body of Christ should really be seeking simplicity of faithfulness, which begins with loving those already in leadership.
Love your leaders:
Church leaders don’t have it all together. Yes, I listed an incredible amount of qualifications above. However, your church leaders are not Jesus. Only Jesus is Jesus.
Love your leaders when they fail. Any ministry leader should know that if he or she should fall, the church would be there in a heartbeat for support. The standards, while there for a reason, need to be met with grace. If a leader falls from those standards and even needs to be removed from a position, be ready to extend grace. By doing so you are extending Jesus. By withholding grace, growing in bitterness, and thinking your leader should have done better; you show your own weakness in understanding the gospel. If you are willing to begrudge grace to a leader, you need to understand the depths of your own sin at a greater level.
Believe the best of your leaders. This is what being sober-minded is all about. Being full of discernment, encouraging everyone toward Christ and recognizing that, but by the grace of God, we would all be in a worse place than we are. Recognize that your opinion is simply that and leaders are likely not trying to make poor decisions.
Your leaders aren’t supposed to do everything. If the president of your business tried to do sales, customer support, operations, development, social media and manufacturing all at the same time, they’d be incredibly ineffective. There are different roles and specialties for each organization for a reason. I once had nursery workers express unrealistic expectations towards a women’s ministry leader. Those assumptions led them to demonstrate a lack of mercy towards the exhausted leader and she eventually avoided putting her child in the nursery rather than finding grace to not try to do everything. Expecting leaders to do everything stifles our notion of how God created us. While there is wisdom in simply being willing to serve wherever needed, none of us are created to do all things everywhere.
Your leaders don’t owe you anything. When you ask the pastor to meet for coffee and he suggests you meet with another deacon or person within the body, trust the Lord. To utilize the entire body to meet the needs of the church is a beautiful and right thing. The pastor was not made to meet the needs of all people everywhere. In fact, if your pastor does do this, it probably means he is doing his job well.
Your leader’s life isn’t easier than your own. Being in ministry is hard. Really hard. Just like your workplace, there are long nights, early mornings, intense meetings, and unusual burdens to carry. Those who do vocational ministry also balance their work with family life, their own sin and their own relationship with Jesus. There are personal and financial burdens. It doesn’t look like simply reading a good book and drinking good coffee, and when it does, it’s likely a small, precious moment in a very big day.
Allow your leaders to have a personality. Yes, we all need to be made more into the image of Christ. The person I am, the way I think and the way I interact with others is always in the business of becoming more like Jesus. But just as we shouldn’t make God into our own image, we also should resist the temptation to make other leaders into our image as well.
Embrace your God-given marketplace. When I was a kid the Christian superhero was the overseas missionary. Now the Christian superhero can mistakenly be super cool church planter in whatever-hip-city or Christians who have a TV show or people who start a conference with amazing table decorations. These things aren’t bad, but they shouldn’t be a Christian’s ultimate goal. The goal should be diligence and faithfulness in your vocation and location as an accountant, a teacher, a stay-at-home mom or a construction worker. I guarantee you the investment banker is wildly more effective sharing the gospel within the banking industry than most vocational pastors outside of it.
Ironically, the best way to love your leaders is to lead in the area that God has given to you. While we are not all called to church leadership . . . we are all called to missions. So, minister where you are. Seek to be steadfast. Spend time gaining a real understanding of and comfort with what God has called you to do. He’s only called some to be pastors, some to be teachers, some to be small group leaders, some to be professors, some to be presidents, some to be baristas. But He’s called everyone to something. Unhappy with your day job?
“Rejoice in [your] sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame . . .” Romans 5:4
If you are faithful in your day job, it will likely produce the characteristics Paul writes that one must have to be a leader in the first place. The church or “Christian” job should never be a persona to hide behind for exclusion from the world, but rather Christian leaders should endeavor to hold up the arms of men and women as they do daily battle (Ex 17:11-13).
Rebekah Hannah is a biblical counselor at The Grace Center for Biblical Counseling in Jacksonville, Florida. She is married to Andrew and has three daughters.