In 1991 I had the privilege of attending a John Maxwell Leadership Conference. Having been around church for a lifetime and having served in various churches doing youth, music and pastoral leadership gave me a great appreciation for his Five Levels of Leadership. His message resonated when he made the statement, “and if you don’t take enough people with you to the next level, they will cut a hole underneath you and you will be on your way out of town in a U-Haul truck!” While Senior Pastor of the Skyline Wesleyan Church in Lemon Grove, California, he lead his church to plant. Their first Sunday for the new plant saw 800 people in attendance. He recounted the story of connecting with new people in subsequent weeks by knowing their names because he had one person responsible for taking photos, writing names on the images and placing them on a flip-ring for him to carry around! John got the credit while someone else did all of the work. He simply knew his limitations.
From 1975-1993 I was simply another hireling. That’s what most churches wanted in leadership, be it the primary talking head or a subordinate staff member. My objective was always simple: lead the church to a new level of reaching people and making disciples. I didn’t realize then that sacred cows have horns which serve principally as altars of sacrifice. I had never been warned that being called to a new church was akin to the annual event in Pamplona, Spain. It was only after having violated some sacred tradition that I would hear the approaching hoof beats: the running of the sacred cows. I’m such a quick study that I figured it out after only getting gored and/or trampled twelve times! I was beginning to learn my limitations.
1993 was supposed to be the beginning of a new day. What could be better than Mark Twain’s solution of “outliving your critics” than predating them? Planning, organizing and launching a new ministry without a stable for sacred cows was supposed to be the answer. Twenty years of hindsight merely allow me to place little crosses beside the road where I’ve been gored and/or trampled since. The primary difference this time is that it has been those whom I had invited to serve along side me that have driven other kinds of trampling herds. How ironic is that?
I think that I know how Moses felt. It wasn’t enough that he hadn’t volunteered for the job. It wasn’t enough that he didn’t have an advanced planning guide for the journey. It wasn’t enough to be hated by the Egyptians. It wasn’t enough to be herding ungrateful, fickle cats (a.k.a. “Israel”). It wasn’t enough to have an unsupportive wife. He had to have a brother and sister who overestimated their own importance. Rather than seeing their relationship to God’s chosen leader as one of privilege, Miriam and Aaron both view it as a stepping stone to personal greatness.
And what about David? Like the legend of Daniel Boone, David had not only killed a bear but also a lion in route to slaying a giant. I’m reasonably convinced that the lowest point in his long and arduous journey from herding sheep to dying as King was the heartbreak of being undermined then hunted by his own son, Absalom.
It was Machiavelli in “The Prince” who said, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” What he didn’t tell us what how to distinguish them. The great travesty of leadership and certainly church planting is knowing that we need others to make it happen yet never knowing what we’ve got until they’ve attempted a coup. “Et tu Brute?”