by Rick Lowry
In the sixth century B.C., the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
Every church elder in America today understands this metaphor. From decade to decade, from year to year, maybe even from elders meeting to elders meeting, the river of progress keeps rolling, causing us as leaders to constantly adjust. I’ve been a church leader for over forty years, and I’ve seen the questions in the forefront move from doctrinal (“How often should communion be served?”) to the methodological (“What style of worship services should we have?”) to the current challenges, like “How would Christ have us regard the gay couples who are visiting our services?”
How can elders stay ahead of the endless adjustments? Here are three practices and attitudes that may help:
- Stay grounded in the Bible and Prayer. In a time that can be disorienting and confusing, Christ stays the same. Keeping our focus on Him is the place to start when things are rushing past us. As leaders, we can keep a priority on meaningful interaction with Scripture on a daily basis, and serious prayer that involves personal worship, confession and intercession for our church. If we lead by trusting our own power and intellect, we will do nothing of lasting spiritual value. If we stayed tuned in to Him, He promises He will guide us: “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:6)
- Go the distance. We all have seasons of fatigue when we it would be easier to just rest and not feel the constant pressure to keep pushing ahead. As spiritual leaders in the 21st century, we do not get that privilege. There have been times and places in the history of the church when the job of leaders was to be the keepers of tradition and make sure things did not We do not live in one of those times, so our leadership has to remain dynamic. We lay a solid foundation through the Word of God and prayer, but from there we resolve to never close our minds to what God might be doing. We see examples around us of church leaders who stopped somewhere along the way, and the effectiveness of their church waned. Some landed on insisting that church members wearing clothing styles of a past century. Some insisted that a certain version of the Bible must be protected, burdening church members with a translation that is difficult for modern readers. As hard as it is, we church leaders have to live that daily, difficult balance between the truth and the times. We are here today because someone before us found that balance and persevered it. The stakes are high: will we lead faithfully on our watch?
- We cannot control the transforming world in which we live. In a day of change, our church is going to change, no matter what we do. Because the people in our church are changing and the world around us is changing. To be an effective church leader in most of the U.S. means to be in the hot seat. If we are doing our job right, there will always be people within our church who don’t like our decisions, and there will always be people outside the church who don’t like our decisions. In fact, if we aren’t addressing difficult concerns regularly, we probably aren’t leading aggressively enough. Most things are beyond our control, but we can resolve to trust Christ for our leadership, and jump into the deep.