The Apostle Paul As A Nursing Mother

Paul is one of my favorite guys in Scripture. What’s not to like? Apostle, church planter, wrote most of the New Testament, courageously faced persecution in nearly every town he visited. Paul is the man.

I know that I have read the following passage many times before, but I was blown away when I read Paul’s description of himself in 1 Thessalonians 2:6-8…

“Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”

Did Paul really just refer to himself as a “nursing mother”? There are lots of interesting names that leaders come up with for themselves these days, but “nursing mother” is not one I have heard before. I’m kinda doubtful if “How To Lead Your Church Like A Nursing Mother” is hitting the Christian bookstores anytime soon. No conferences or even break out sessions with that kind of theme. That’s a shame.

When I think of a nursing mother I come up with words like loving, patient, kind, and selfless all for the sake of feeding and nourishing their precious child. This is how Paul thinks and feels about the church at Thessalonica!

We find this same type of sentiment in other places in 1 Thessalonians.

“But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face…” 1 Thessalonians 2:17

“For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.” 1 Thessalonians 2:19

“For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?” 1 Thessalonians 3: 8-10

As a pastor I love to think about the future, make strategic plans, vision cast and work with others to achieve goals and objectives. Visionary, catalytic leadership is important for the spiritual health of the church, but without love it will all sound (and feel) like a clanging cymbal.

How does this metaphor of a nursing mother challenge the way we are doing ministry? How should this inform and shape our ministry philosophy? Do we feel the same about our church family?

Through Paul’s life and ministry we get a glimpse of Jesus and how he relentlessly, passionately loves each one of us. No matter what our role in the church might be, Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians that deeply caring for and loving others is always priority number one.

Grace Means We Don’t Have To Hide (Imagine Dragons-Demons)

No doubt in our culture we want to front the best image possible; it’s no different in the church. So we end up hiding parts of our true self. But the emotional and spiritual cost of hiding is astronomical. No one gets to know us for who we are.  Always posing. Keeping up the illusion. Inside we are screaming that there has to be a better way. We need a safe place so that when people see us for who we truly are we know they won’t run away. Instead they stay, listen, love and extend grace.

Radioactive or fallen? Imagine Dragons.

I personally feel the internal angst Imagine Dragons is describing here in this song. I would describe it as our “fallen” condition, they describe it as being “radioactive.”

Admitting Weakness

I won’t be so naive as to say the long, dark valley of leadership can be avoided by learning to name your failures. In fact, new and, at times, more difficult challenges will arise simply because you begin admitting your status as your organization’s head sinner, and the normal challenges will remain whether you confess your flaws or try to hide them. But realize that most leaders invest too much capital obscuring their need for grace, which not only keeps their staff at arm’s length but also subverts their trust and steals energy and creativity they could otherwise devote to the inevitable crisis that continue to arise. And, perhaps even more dangerous, hiding failure prevents leaders from asking for and receiving the grace they most desperately need to live well, not to mention lead well. -Leading With A Limp by Dan Allender

The Pursuit of Significance

Man is it subtle.

Where am I finding my deepest sense of satisfaction in life? What is it that truly makes me happy or joyful? I know what pastors are suppose to say, think  and believe. But what I’m supppose to think and feel does not always line up with what is really going on in my heart.

I like it when there are alot of people in church on Sunday morning. No, I like it alot. The converse is also true. When there are not alot of people in church on Sunday I feel depressed. Borderline embarassed. On those days the drive home from church is pure misery. I intentionally force myself to think about things other than ministry just to keep myself sane.

What is the issue? I recently spent a little extra time praying and fasting and it confirmed what I already suspected. The pursuit of significance is one of my idols. I often mouth the words, “I want Christ glorified”, but if a little of that glory comes my way I won’t fight it. The battle does not stop and it’s intense.

Part of the problem is a lack of gratitidue on my part. Failing to be greatful for the kingdom work that God has given me to do here on earth. I end up begrudging God for not making much of me. Come on, who doesn’t want to be a part of something big? Dreaming big is not a sin. The sin is that my joy is not full unless I have been made to feel significant.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
(John 15:9-11 ESV)

I may never pack the house to the rafters on Sunday, write a killer book or be on a speaking circuit. I have to come back to this very basic truth, the gospel tells me that Jesus is enough.

Leader or Manager?

The following is a quote from “Leading With A Limp” by Dan Allender

The difference between a manager and a leader is the internal urge to alter the status quo to create a different world.  In that sense leaders are prophets.  They see the present as incomplete and inadequate and are willing to risk the comfort of the present for the promise of a better tomorrow.  A manager, on the other hand, is content to keep the organization running as smoothly and efficiently as it can function. A manager serves to keep the plane in the air, whereas a leader wants to put a new engine on the plane midair.

A manager wants to approach the inevitable chaos with the tried and true methods that have worked in the past. In contrast, a leader knows that as difficult as it is to bring about change, not to do so will destroy the community. There can be no freedom from the bondage of the daily rut without the chaos that comes from leading people out of the status quo.

Dan Allender, “Leading With A Limp”

A leader who desires nothing more than the status quo becomes an ostrich with its head in the sand. A leader must be troubled and discontent, and he must ask the question, How can tomorrow be better than today? He must be a visionary, living in the tension between how to honor what is good and true today and yet be discontent with today in light of what could transpire tomorrow. He is torn between what is and what could be, yet he speaks the future into the present due due to his compelling desire for change. P. 58

The Pretense of Leadership

I still remember the Sunday morning like it was yesterday. I mentioned in a sermon that as a pastor I feel like I have just enough light to see a couple steps ahead of me. In other words, I was admitting my limitations regarding my ability to know what was going to happen in the future. I was dropping the pretense of leadership that acts as if it “has it all together” and instead let people into my heart and mind for a moment. That was a mistake. Later I heard that there were people who were disappointed with my comment; no doubt they wanted a leader who sees clearly into the future and knows exactly where they and the church are going. As a leader you remember those moments. You begin to believe that it is safer to keep up the illusion that leaders always know the right thing to do and how to do it.

The problem with this illusion is that it kills the pastor’s soul; the weariness is sure to lead to burnout.

The gospel tells us a different story about leadership: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. -2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV

This is upside down leadership. Leadership that admits it is weak and that through our weakness Jesus will show himself to be strong. Paul’s messsage about leadership is absolutely counterintuitive to the way many in the world (and the church for that matter) think about leadership. Yet to the leader who is despairing of the burden caused by pretending it gives hope, it gives life.

I am currently reading a book about leadership called “Leading With A Limp: Take Full Advantage of Your Most Powerful Weakness” by Dan Allender. I am finding it refreshing, honest and raw when it comes to the burden and the joys of leadership. I am looking forward to sharing my throughts about the book in the coming weeks.