I’m certain there are lots of different criteria by which we could effectively measure how great a pastor is. Certainly the ability to understand the scripture is very high. The early apostles thought so highly of this role that they assigned others to do works of charity so they could focus on studying theology. Another is a charismatic personality and engaging teaching. Jesus surely was an example of this in the way he drew in and engaged his audience with parables and bold conviction. But an experience this year reminded, and convicted, me of a very different aspect of pastoral leadership.
My church, Christ Church Suwanee, is a very young church. We probably have more children under the age of ten than we have adults over the age of forty. Such a large number of children is a huge blessing, but it also requires a lot of people to step up. Sunday school for the children doesn’t just happen. It takes a lot of intention, organization, and (most importantly) volunteers every week. So for the first year I was at Christ Church, every week I heard about the need for people to volunteer in the classroom. I have been one of those volunteers, and I can tell you that it is certainly not my “gift”, but it IS a place to serve where I am needed. But it takes a lot of people, and the church needed more. So constantly the leadership appealed for more people to help out with the children so we would never have to turn anyone away for lack of numbers.
Then one week, something really strange happened. It was a week that the senior pastor of the church wasn’t preaching. This in itself isn’t odd: we often have different ordained preachers within the congregation speak. As a church, we are very blessed with many people who can fill the role on a given Sunday. What WAS different is that our pastor was at church, but not in the service. Instead, he was teaching my 3 year old son’s class. I was at once shocked, impressed, and then convicted that I had the attitude (that many have) that this was something he was “above”. Who would expect the senior pastor to watch the 3 and 4 year olds during the worship service?
The truth is, ministering to our children is a very important ministry. He had been saying it for months, but it took on a different meaning when he stepped up and did it himself. Good for him, but looking inward, why would I ever think that the ANY ministry in the church was “beneath” the senior Pastor? Is it because we’ve elevated the role of “Pastor” to a place of exaltation, above the “rank and file” of the church? I think we have, myself included. But what view of leadership does Jesus give us?
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 13:1-17, ESV)
Jesus, the greatest teacher and leader of all, served his disciples by doing the lowest of jobs, washing their feet. And then, lest the point be missed, he commanded them to do the same. REAL leadership is in the serving. Yes, understanding theology and being able to teach are key attributes we need in a pastor, but nothing surpasses the ability to serve, because that is what leadership within the Christian faith is all about.
I’m not suggesting that every pastor needs to go work in the Children’s ministry. The pastor does have a responsibility on most Sundays to be in front of the congregation. But I AM saying we shouldn’t be surprised when a pastor chooses to do the things he’s asked other people to do. In fact, I think it’s something we should expect, and if it isn’t seen, that’s a time to ask questions.
My pastor isn’t a perfect man or leader; no pastor is. But what he IS is a humble man who does not see himself as special or exalted. When there is something that needs doing, he’s the first one to do it. When you visit my church, he will go out of his way to try and follow up personally in the coming weeks. There are some pastors who hesitate to get involved with ministry beyond preaching and teaching, but I find my pastor’s leadership to be far greater when he is (metaphorically) washing feet than teaching on the big stage.
So thank you, Rod Entrekin, you are the kind of leader that I need in my life, and I hope the kind of leader I can be in whatever sphere of influence God places me in.