In a previous post I outlined the toxic nature of a Pastoral Messiah Complex – the often undetected flaw of pastoral ministry. If you missed that post you can catch up HERE.
If you find yourself struggling with PMC and leading in unhealthy ways, how do you go about change? Change can be especially challenging if your leadership style is a product of your leadership environments. In other words, if you have been surrounded by leadership cultures that cultivate (unintentionally or otherwise) leader centric organizations – you’ve probably been leading the only way you know how to lead. Is there another way? Is true servant leadership possible?
I think so.
Here are some suggested treatments for PMC:
- Unmask your motivations.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” Psalm 139:23-24
Pay attention to the poetic nature of this passage. David isn’t suggesting that God doesn’t know what is going on in the depths of his heart. Rather, David is admitting that he might not know. He is asking God to reveal the motivations and intentions of his heart that he might be blind to.
This is scary. Through this prayer God might reveal insecurity, fear, pride, ego and jealousy. None of us want those labels. They make us feel small and ugly. However, this is where the glory of the Gospel shines the brightest. Jesus took on Himself all the shame, darkness and ugly to give us His righteousness. This is the gospel we are supposed to be preaching to our congregations, right? What kind of pastor preaches a gospel that he or she doesn’t need?
- Admit your motivations.
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed…” James 5:16
Once the Holy Spirit has revealed the hidden junk in your heart and you’ve confessed it to your Heavenly Father, confess it to others*. I know, I know. This is a big ask, but it’s incredibly freeing and healing. Often times what you are admitting will already be known. Your staff, Elders and friends probably have already sniffed out some of your pride and insecurity. They just wish you were aware of it. When you confess it they will witness the beauty of the Gospel being lived out in you. They will feel free to admit their own weaknesses and failures.
* Be careful in who you admit certain things to. Confide in spiritually mature people who have no agenda or jealousy of you.
- Listen to the right audience.
“Without guidance, people fall, but with many counselors there is deliverance.” Proverbs 11:14
In my experience as a leader approximately 10% of the people you lead just won’t like you – for any number of reasons. About 10% will adore and worship you. Don’t listen to very much of what either of these groups have to say. It’s bias and won’t likely be very helpful counsel.
You need to listen to people who love you, but aren’t overly impressed with you. The thing about the other 80% is that you’ll likely need to request feedback from them. Invite their thoughts, criticism and suggestions. Hold your ideas, sermons and plans with open hands. When you invite others to give you feedback – legitimate feedback, you are admitting that you don’t have all the answers and that the contributions of the whole will always be greater than the contributions of the one – even if the one is gifted, smart and experienced.
- Stop doing it all.
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11-12
You don’t have to make all the decisions, preach all the sermons, pick all the colors, make all the announcements, write all the content and answer every question.
Stop being a control freak. In know it’s hard. You can do it better and people are used to hearing it from you etc. Exactly! That’s a big problem. That’s not your mission or job. It’s dangerous and unhealthy. It’s arrogant and prideful. Just stop it.
Encourage, equip and empower others.
Learn to love assists as much as you love scoring.
- Say no.
“For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” Romans 6:6
A man I had invested quite a bit of energy in abruptly and angrily left my church a few years ago. He was so angry he wouldn’t even respond to my calls and e-mails attempting to make reconciliation.
The reason he was angry is that I wouldn’t do regular evening marriage counseling with he and his future bride. I said no. It wasn’t an option. I was willing to meet up till around 5:30pm or recommend him to a trusted counselor who could help.
Here is why I said no: I can’t help families experience health if my family is unhealthy. I can’t lead small groups, go to elder meetings, visit people in the hospital, go to dinner with church members 7 nights a week and not be hated by my kids and wife.
I was tempted to say yes. I wanted to say yes. I want to be liked. I hate making people mad and upset. Hate it! But I had to say no. Here is the thing. I didn’t need to say yes. There are 1,000 other people who could have helped him. There is 1 man on all of planet earth who can be dad to my kids and husband to my wife, and that is me.
When we say yes all the time, it’s usually because we’re people pleasers and addicted to the approval of men. When need not be slaves to the approval of men. We have been made the sons and daughters of God. What other validation could we possibly need?
- Mutually Submit.
“Moses’ father-in-law said to him, ‘What you are doing is not good.’” Exodus 18:17
Moses was busy doing the Lord’s work. All of it. All the time. Jethro his father-in-law saw what Moses could NOT see. Jethro corrected Moses and offered and alternative solution that involved the equipping and empowering of other capable leaders.
It was exceptional advice. But don’t miss this crucial point: Moses had someone in his life who would offer correction, and Moses was humble enough to receive the correction and make changes.
Who do you have in your life that can observe you close enough to see where you might be going off track? Who have you given permission to speak truth into your life? Are you willing to humbly receive correction and make changes?
If everyone around you is a “yes man” or simply an advisory board that rubber stamps your agenda – you are in big trouble and so are the people you are leading.
Leading the way I’ve described here is hard. Very hard. There are days my ambition and ego make it such a pain. That is the nature of a Pastoral Messiah Complex, but leading in the ways outlined above are much healthier and Jesus like. For me and those I lead.