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  • Writer's picturesonnyholmes

5 personal do overs

Self-denial is the first step of discipleship. Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23, ESV). Of course, Christian history is footnoted with a number of extremes, ascetics to libertines, and it's difficult to select a norm for spiritual leaders. Yes, following the example of Jesus is a great starting point. His compassion and care for others, plus his model of personal humility must be our template. But, often self is a troubling component of pastoral ministry. How we handle the personal interface with church is a test of every spiritual leader.

C.S. Lewis' quote about humility established a milestone for understanding the place of self in the daily traffic of spiritual leadership. He said, "True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” So, me, myself, and I were never the first thought in serving churches for thirty five years of pastoral leadership. At the same time, where self fit into the grueling schedules and hard days became a point of consideration, especially as our old friend age began to be a more visible companion. So, there are some personal do overs visible in the rear-view mirror. They are personal concerns that not only affect our performance but also our integrity as leaders. Here are several thoughts---

1. Pray more. This do over touches everything I ever did as a person and as a

leader, whether at church or at home, or anywhere else. During thirty-five years

as a pastor I would never have left prayer off my personal list of important

disciplines. Yet, in the rear-view mirror, the one do over that seems most

consistent is the need for more prayer. We've all got our programs, acronyms,

and devotional steps. Find one that works for you. Then, do it more. In the

personal category, praying with my wife and children would have been more

central to our early years as well.

2. Always accentuate your personal humanity. Well, duh? This isn't really hard

because human is all we'll every be under the sun. But, there have been times in

church history, and not in the ancient history either, when pastors and church

leaders presented themselves as super-human. It's even visible today in the

imperial pastorate, the church leaders who presume that ordination granted

them a hall pass from the limits of most human beings. It's a sickening

misrepresentation of the servant heart of Christ. And, there's an addendum: act

like superman, people will expect you to be superman. Don't forget the feet of

clay and the earthen vessels.

3. Learn biblical humility and practice it. OK, humility isn't a fruit of the spirit and

doesn't grow in the Christians life naturally. But, it is the mind of Christ and

should be the character of those who are pursuing his virtue. What is more,

most of us have a pop-culture understanding of humility. It isn't what most of us

think. So, every spiritual leader should do the word studies around the concept of

humility and develop a totally biblical idea about what it means. Last year I read

the book Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership by John Dickson

(Zondervan, 2011). It may be the most convicting treatment of biblical humility

I've ever experienced. Every spiritual leader should read it. At the same time,

every spiritual leader must understand that genuine humility is winsome and

natural, and that people can detect fake humility in a second. I love what Israeli

Prime Minister said to expose the false humility of one of her leaders: "Don't be

so humble. You're not that great". Ouch. In a do over, I would study and pray for

humility early in my pastoral ministry.

4. Practice Sabbath. So, the priorities of spiritual leadership are usually focused on

others. Self is usually down the list. Research indicates that most ministry families

are slighted and pressured, and that given the opportunity they would leave the

ministry for another field of service. As a result, many spiritual leaders have

moved family up the priority list. And, rightfully so. Next to Jesus, family should be

the most important commitment. But, we should never overlook the need for

rest, a personal thought life, and time alone. Again, reputable research from a

number of organizations indicates that most pastors and church leaders live on

the ragged edge all the time. Spiritual leaders must learn that Sabbath is more

than a day in the week. It is a concept that keeps leaders fresh and prepared for

service. If I could go back, I'd start the Sabbath practice way before age forced me

to do it.

5. Learn the value of likeability. Good grief, you don't know how many pastors

and other servant leaders who jump back when I ask them if their church family

or colleagues like them. Recently one friend snarled back, "What has that go to

do with anything? I'm their pastor. They don't have to like me. They have to

respect and follow me." Poor guy. He doesn't have a clue. Another book stirred

this ideal in me. Tim Sanders, one of the Yahoo execs and now CEO of tech

start-up NetMinds wrote The Likeability Factor (Crown Business, 2006) and quotes

research that indicates likeable people are more effective in getting things done

across the board in every career assignment. I'm not into psycho-babble or pop-

psychology as a spiritual discipline. However, Sanders is a believer and provides

compelling data about the effectiveness of likeable people. I know some spiritual

leaders who are genuine jerks. That usually catches up with them because it does

not reflect the character of Christ. Jesus stood on truth and confronted error. But,

he was a winsome person who attracted crowds. If I could perform a personal do

over, I would find an accountability partner who could measure and grade my

likeability. If I had done exactly that, it wouldn't be on my do over list.

The Pauline Epistles are intensely personal. Throughout them Paul revealed a deep awareness of his own person, his weaknesses to serve, and his advice to those he was teaching. What he wrote to Timothy always touches me...

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech,

in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come devote yourself to the public

reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have,

which was given to you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on

you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them so that all may see your

progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by

so doing you will save yourself and your hearers.

1 Timothy 4:12-16, ESV

Procedures? Methodology? Somewhat. More about guarding his personal life, so there wouldn't be a long list of personal do overs.

Immerse yourself. Keep a close watch on yourself. Do the personal stuff.

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