The very nature of parenting demands that parents strive to prepare their children for life on their own. The same is true of leaders in general and spiritual leaders in particular.
Spiritual leaders are called to train those they lead in developing skills to read and understand the Bible, developing good spiritual habits, and having sufficient Biblical knowledge to be forewarned and forearmed against heretical teaching. In other words, the leader is to attempt to lessen the dependence upon the leader, just like a good parent wants his child to be capable of independent living.
Also, as a church leader, not only should the members be developed, but the elders in the congregation should also be trained so that when it comes time for the pastor to depart, the church remains healthy and stays the established course.
Unfortunately, I have seen too many times when Church leaders have not done this. I have seen too many shepherds that have not taught their sheep how to identify and be wary of the wolves in the midst. I have seen pastors who have not nurtured the elders that God provided to help care for the congregation.
I’ve been thinking about these issues recently which is why this passage from 1 Corinthians 3 struck a cord within me:
“According to God’s grace that was given to me, I have laid a foundation as a skilled master builder, and another builds on it. But each one is to be careful how he builds on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one’s work will become obvious. For the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will experience loss . . .”1 Co 3:10–15 (CSB)
How many congregations have gone into a tailspin after their senior pastor leaves? How many times have we seen the large mega-church shrink in attendance after the well-known, popular preacher moves on for one reason or another?
To me, if a church goes into a tail spin after a pastor leaves, in most cases, this speaks volumes about the work that pastor had done there.
As Paul indicates above, the quality of each person’s work “will become obvious” when the day of testing comes.
If the church soldiers on and the people remain strong as the replacement is sought, then it is probably a good indication that the pastor was indeed building with “gold, silver, and costly stones.”
On the other hand, when the church falters when the pastor leaves, it is likely that he built with “wood, hay, and stubble.”
What is the difference between the two?
To me, the difference lies in a fundamental desire to teach and live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ without adding to it or subtracting from it. You might think this an oversimplification, but hear me out.
The Gospel does not need any sense of cultural “wokeness.” The Gospel, by its very nature, speaks to the core issue of every man and every woman. That core issue is our broken relationship with God and what Jesus accomplished on our behalf to heal the breach. We don’t need to add any of the cultural hot issues of the day to make the gospel relevant. The Gospel is ultimately relevant on its own with no enhancement necessary.
Neither does the Gospel need to be trimmed to fit the liking of the current culture. The Gospel is brutally honest about our condition apart from Christ. Words like lost and separated, condemned and broken, while uncomfortable, are maybe the very words we need to hear to get to the real core of our issues.
I have known several pastors that were great examples of teaching and living out the gospel. Two, in particular, come to mind. When those men retired, both of their churches stayed the course and continued the good work that was already established. They left a legacy of strong believers who provided care for the congregation.
On the other hand, I have personally witnessed the destruction which resulted from pastors pushing their own agenda that added to or subtracted from the Gospel. In this category, two also come to mind. In both cases, each pastor grew irritable and his interaction with elders and members became less and less an example of the positive impact of the Gospel. In both cases, many of God’s children were abused and disillusioned as a result of how they were treated by the pastor.
So pastors, I challenge you to teach and live out the gospel. Like a good spiritual parent, you are to demonstrate what a deepening relationship with Jesus looks like. Your life should make people hunger and thirst for a relationship with Christ and your teaching should show them the way to step into that relationship.
On top of this, you should be preparing those you lead to continue on the path after your departure.
Don’t let your life’s work be burned up when the day of trial comes.