Adoption may kill me. My wife and I have been in a two-year process of constant delays, disappointments, and uphill fights. While I am a huge advocate for adoption and make no apologies for believing all Christian couples should consider adoption, I am not so naive as to pretend it is all embroidered blankets and trendy t-shirts.
One thing we keep running up against is the attitude of some of the caseworkers. To be honest, this may be more my perception than reality but on occasion it feels as if they cannot be questioned. In addition to sacrificing and working hard at what they do, they are trained and if you begin to question their methods or strategy, the response is not good. You can almost hear them say, “How dare you question me?”
To be totally transparent, I once had an argument with our caseworker over this very issue. I felt wronged and was angry because I felt that I wasn’t able to question anything the caseworker did. I felt as though she didn’t really care about my opinions or questions about the way things were being done. She didn’t seem to think I mattered very much.
Then it hit me – as a pastor, sometimes I am guilty of making people in my church feel the same way. I think many pastors are.
How to Receive Counsel From Others
The church that called me as pastor a couple of years ago had been in decline for a number of years. I came to the church dedicated to revitalizing it. My desire for a long time had been to help a small church regain vitality. As excited and intentional as I was to revitalize this church, I started realizing that my heart wasn’t right. I began to believe that I was the only one who knew what was best for the church. Even to this day, it is a battle for me to remember that the people I serve with are just as redeemed as I am, they have the same Spirit, and many of them are far smarter, wiser, and have more experiential knowledge than I do. I don’t battle with this because they project incompetence, but rather because I’m conditioned to act as if I have it all figured out, even when I don’t. I used to think, wrongly, that asking for help was a sign of weakness or inability.
When God called you to the position you now have, He gifted you with what you need to get that job done. One of those gifts is the experience and perspective that those you are leading bring to the table. Their opinions are instruments for success not barriers or annoyances. With nearly every feedback you receive or comment you overhear there’s at least a grain (and sometimes a mountain) of truth. It is your obligation to receive that truth with grace.
Those who are most successful in life and the pastorate are those who listen to others. We need to learn to receive counsel from others, whether it is from a trusted mega-church pastor, the old man who sits on the third row, or the little girl who has her feelings hurt.
In my effort to fight this tendency in my own heart, I am working on the following practices:
1. Admit insufficiencies. While it is expected that the pastor should know all the answers, it is much more beneficial to defer to others who are more in the know. When a financial situation arises I turn toward a certain member of our church who has shown a great deal of wisdom in that area. There are some outside of the church I often will ask for advice concerning money as well. When the discussion is public I admit not fully understanding the matter and refer to the wisdom of others.
2. Take suggestions. Some people will absolutely refuse to accept an idea that did not originate with them. Even though I consider myself a creative and visionary person, I also have to remind myself that the ideas of others are valuable as well. Once, our music minister came to me with an idea for the stage set and I did not think it was going to work out. Nevertheless, I let him do it and even helped him to get it done. When it was completed, it looked amazing and we still get compliments some six months later. When you regularly show deference and respect for others’ ideas it communicates to your staff that you aren’t a lone ranger and don’t feel you are the bearer of all wisdom.
3. Give credit and take blame. This is a backwards for many people who would rather take credit and shift blame. When you mess up let the appropriate people know. You sometimes have to be careful about how you make known your failings, but if it comes up in conversation be willing to say, “That one was on me.” This will foster a culture in your church that allows people to mess up without feeling like they won’t get another opportunity to serve. Additionally, encouraging them when they do a good job and giving credit to others will go a long way in involving others in ministry.
4. Look to put others first. Whether it is choosing not to sit at the best seat in staff meetings, worship services or meals, using sermon illustrations that make others, and not myself, the heroes, or letting other men preach on occasion, look for ways to demonstrate leadership through service. Don’t fall into the temptation of seeking prominence and always look to put others before yourself.
Scripture is clear on this subject:
Plans fail when there is no counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. – Proverbs 15:22
The way we are conditioned is to wear the cape and be the hero of the church, acting as if we don’t need anyone else. We have to be careful not to put ourselves in a place that only Jesus holds, even if those we lead are willing to help us climb that pedestal.