It’s been said that nothing is more dangerous than trafficking in unfelt truth. I know. Early in my ministry I was stressed by vacation prep and borrowed a sermon title and more without giving any credit. After the service the oldest member of our tiny church greeted me at the door and said: “I’ve always appreciated the messages of Peter Marshall.” Ouch! The prophet Jeremiah said, “I am against these prophets who steal from each other and claim they are from me.”
No one has a monopoly on truth, we all need to lean on others. However, those of us who lead and teach typically fall into 3 categories: Squatters, Renters and Owners.
- Squatters are those who steal stuff. They’re like those who move into high end homes while the owner is traveling and pretend it’s their own. A pastor buddy just had this happen when an intruder broke into his mountain cabin and was found rocking on the front porch enjoying the view without embarrassment!
- Renters are those that honestly borrow stuff. They’re like those who pay the fee via VRBO and use the mountain retreat for just a week or so. They don’t abuse it; they appreciate and enjoy it and may even leave a great review in hopes of one day renting it again. They may even post photos of their getaway, but they clearly acknowledge that it’s just a short term rental.
- Owners are those that not only give credit for what they share but they actually settle in with it. They internalize and assimilate the truth. These are like those of us who have purchased a house and then later remodeled it and improved it in various ways. Everyone knows that while we didn’t build it, we have definitely paid the price to make it our home!
The messages I hear and share that mean the most to me are the ones that have been thoroughly processed and owned. They are the ones that spring from the heart and not just the head. They are the ones that are most personal, and I’m learning that which is the most personal is indeed the most universal. Oswald Chambers says, “…if you are not diligent and say, ‘I’m not going to study and struggle to express this truth in my own words; I’ll just borrow my words from someone else,’ then the words will be of no value to you or to others…Your position is not really yours until you make it yours through suffering and study.”
Given the choice, we all prefer to hear a heartfelt message springing from a heart of struggle and suffering, rather than merely another entertaining talk. We live in a time when everyone is weary of words. We are all inundated with information. Great books, blogs and podcasts abound. We’re gluttons when it comes to content, but we’re starving for heartfelt truth and in-depth conversation. We’re all in desperate need of knowing that we’re not alone in our struggles of life.
One of my close pastor friends is struggling right now for the strength to lead well. He is a tough guy but has grown soul weary. Like many, he candidly admits to have been going through COVID and not growing through it. He is not alone. More pastors than ever are not simply wondering how they’ll come up with yet another strong sermon, but where they will find the strength to proclaim it. They are riddled with anxiety and sometimes literally unable to catch their breath in front of a congregation. I personally know how hard it is to speak when you can’t breathe! The good news is that fear, anxiety and uncertainty are not leadership dis-qualifiers, rather, in many ways they are actually leadership qualifiers.
We all find the greatest value in and from those who have personally struggled with stuff. I once shared a message in which I told of a five-month series of crises that I endured early in my ministry. It seemed that everything erupted at once beginning with the death of a baby, followed by the molestation of an adolescent by a trusted family friend and church leader, the murder of a key volunteer and the discovery of immorality deep within the leadership core of our elders and deacons. Years later, after I briefly referenced this litany of tragedies from long ago in another church, a business leader immediately came to me. He said, “Unless a leader has been tested I can’t really trust him. Now I know that I can trust you.”
Everything that we go through we are to grow through. Everything that happens to us is not just for now, but for later. It’s not just for us, but for others. A staff member of mine was once surprised by a personal crisis. Just prior to it he was gripped with the words Jesus shared with Simon Peter in Luke 22:31-32. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat, but I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again strengthen your brothers.” On the back side of a devastating betrayal and a restoration from it, he is now being used by God in powerful ways, far beyond anything prior. But first he had to endure the fire.
Many leaders are being tested at a whole new level, and the testing is not without value. James said: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Tested leaders are the only ones truly qualified to lead anything.