by Rick Lowry
Just what is it that makes us effective Christian leaders? A Bible college education? Years of experience in church leadership? The ability to program creatively? As helpful as all of those things are, I’ve come to the conviction that my most important asset as a leader is knowing Christ deeply.
In Philippians 3:10, Paul glues together five little words that have a big impact: “I want to know Christ.” This was the purpose, the goal, of Paul’s life. To experience depth in his relationship with his Lord. But sometimes I fear that knowing Christ is not my identity.
If people ask me, “What do you do?” I say, “I am a pastor.” But I don’t recall any occasion when have I answered, “I am getting to know Christ.” And yet nothing is more important, because I cannot lead people where I haven’t been myself (or am unwilling to go).
Paul said, “I want to know Christ” in a very interesting context. In Philippians 3, he lists his spiritual accomplishments as a Jew. They include the boast that he was a Pharisee, who kept the Old Testament Law impeccably. Paul was everybody’s picture of the successful spiritual leader of his day. He had the spiritual status of Billy Graham or Bill Hybels. If Paul had lived in America today, he would have been on the speaking circuit at stadium events, and written top-selling books. Paul had leaders all over the Mediterranean thinking, “I hope some day I can be like Paul!”
What was Paul’s response to all his religious success? In his own words, he considered his status to be rubbish. He didn’t set out to be famous; He set out to know Jesus. And that determined his life and ministry priorities.
I keep having to face the reality there is not room in a normal human life for all the activities (even spiritual activities) we modern Americans try to squeeze into a day – and truly knowing Christ. If Paul could shoot forward a couple of thousand years and observe me for a week, I wonder what he would conclude about my life’s purpose. Some days it seems like the work of the church is actually one of the greatest deterrents to me knowing Christ. Is my work at the church really important enough to invest 70 or 80 or 90 hours every week, neglecting family – or worse, my own soul? Who am I trying to prove something to? God? He’s not impressed with my activity. What He really wants is intimacy.
In his book, “The Life God Blesses,” Gordon MacDonald has a chapter, “What Kind of an Old Man Do You want to Be?” What will I wake up tomorrow and do differently? What will I let go of? If God lets me live to 70 or 80, I want those years to be my most spiritually-productive years. In the meantime, that means a daily, weekly, yearly choice, for the rest of my life, to do whatever it takes to go deep with God.