Recently one Saturday night, long after midnight, I was wide awake. I had just watched my alma mater, Clemson University, beat Notre Dame in football on national television. Needless to say, I was very proud of my team! After the game, the head coach for Clemson, Dabo Swinney, was being interviewed. As he was being interviewed, I marveled at how magnetic his personality is. He has done a fabulous job of building a culture that young men want to be a part of. His enthusiasm is contagious; his belief in what he is doing obvious. It appears that he is taking the football program to places it has not been for a long time.
I must confess, that for much of my ministry career I viewed my role as not too different from that of a football coach. It seemed to me that building a church and building a football team were very similar. It felt as if people were waiting on me to lead the church to victory, to have such a charismatic personality that people would want to come. At times, I felt that my Sunday morning performance was being evaluated just as happens with a coach's Saturday afternoon performance. Substitute growth for wins and new leaders for blue star recruits and you pretty much have the same thing.
It seems that much of my time in the last 30 years in the ministry has been devoted to finding and training leaders. For the most part, this is a good thing. It has been very gratifying to see young men and women be used by God to help others! Some of my favorite memories in the ministry are when I would see the lights come on in a young leader's eyes of what God can do, or when people would forego their worldly dreams to pursue their dream of influencing others for Jesus!
On the other hand, it has been disconcerting at times, to realize how dependent the body of Christ is on the talent of a point person. I have been in countless meetings in search of a superstar who can rescue a church or a ministry from malaise or demise. Have we become addicted to the charismatic personality who can come in and lead us to victory? We are constantly on the lookout for brothers who can lead thousands, rarely acknowledging that God did not make many people like that, and certainly did not design his church to be built on personalities and enthusiasm.
To be clear, we need leaders to use their gifts! It seems to me, however, that one of the main jobs of a leader is to cultivate the gifts of others. This appears to be Paul's point in 1 Corinthians 12:14 when he says that the body does not consist of one part but of many. In the Corinthian church, certain gifts were dominating the gatherings. Our gatherings tell a lot about which gifts we value and if we truly are striving to create a culture where multiple gifts are used. It is significant that many times when the Bible talks about gifts it uses words such as all, every, each one, each of you, each one of us. (1 Corinthians 12:6,7,11; 1 Peter 4:10, Ephesians 4:7) There are 58 "one another" verses describing to us our responsibilty to build up the body and 0 verses on a "Senior Pastor". Everybody is gifted! Everybody is charismatic! Paul hammers this point home in 1 Corinthians. He even goes so far as to say that the weaker parts of the body are indispensable. Even though there were many problems in the church in Corinth, Paul does not address the letter to the leaders but expects the whole church to be involved in addressing the challenges. How different from many church cultures where the typical member does not feel responsible for or capable of helping deal with serious issues and where most members are spectators in the gatherings (in many cases because of the size of our gatherings). Just as optimal physical health is impossible without all the parts of the body functioning, optimal spiritual health of the body is not possible without all of the parts functioning. Our physical muscles atrophy if not used and our spiritual "muscles" atrophy if not used. As we are told in Hebrews, our "powers of discernment" are developed by "constant practice". (Hebrews 5:14 ESV) It is imperative that our structures be designed for many to use their gifts.
To close, let me say that I am thankful for my alma mater's football coach but cognizant of the fact that the church is not a football team. What makes a church mature and healthy will be much different from what makes a football team healthy, or a company or the military or the government. Worldly leadership models are woefully lacking in the context of God's family, the church. Commenting on worldly leadership models in Mark 10 Jesus says "it shall not be so among you". Jesus ushered in a completey new leadership model called servanthood.