Friday, July 7, 2017
A few days ago a pastor and preacher of the generation ahead of me died. He was remembered today in a memorial service in the town next door. When I was ordained as a United Methodist pastor and told to preach the Word, this older preacher was one of the ones who was giving strong leadership to the larger church. His sphere of influence went far beyond the boundaries of a particular pulpit and our Annual Conference. While some disagreed with him at times, none doubted that he served the church as a leader. In a time when it seems that strong leaders are hard to find, his witness remains clear as a gifted spiritual leader and caretaker of the church's mission.
Remembering Dr. G. Ross Freeman today has sent me to thinking about leadership in our church. What are the markings of a leader in the church? What is it that makes a man or woman who serves the church as a preacher or spiritual leader a real leader? The first thing which comes to mind is something I remember from the writing of E.M. Bounds, a man who was serving the church back when 1900 rolled around. He is most remembered for his prayer life and his writings about prayer. One of the things he wrote was that preachers need to pray and to be prayed for. Both are important. A spiritual leader must be one immersed in a life of personal prayer and one immersed in the intercessory prayer life of others. Without this spiritual immersion, it is impossible for one called to truly serve as a leader for the people entrusted to him or her.
This is likely more of an issue than most pew sitters realize. First of all, ministry today is too much about being busy and productive. If a pastor dedicated several hours each day in prayer instead of doing the work of ministry, many would soon decide their pastor was lazy and seeking to avoid work. And, the truth is that most pastors would not disagree with such an opinion. However, it still does not change the truth of the equation: "Strong spiritual leaders pray and are prayed for." The real leaders of the church are those committed to praying as well as those who humbly acknowledge their need for the prayers of those being served.