Let me tell you about the time a 65-year-old pastor stood on top of his desk to illustrate why his perspective was more important than other people’s. “No one else can see what I see,” he said, “because no one else has the same role.” He didn’t think he was more important than other people: he thought his position was. He was, in fact, a dedicated servant of God, someone who knew how to grow a church. “From this height I can see what others cannot see,” he said, with his feet planted on the walnut desk. “It’s not about me, it’s about my role as pastor. God put me here.”
I’m talking about a good man, a hard-working man, who loved Jesus fiercely and established a church in an urban neighborhood during the decades when other pastors and churches left the city. But after 40 years there was no clear successor to the role of pastor. Staff members had come and gone while the pastor remained. The pastor may have considered it the mantle of leadership, or the lonely calling to be a leader. He was respected and admired, but the people of the church felt the distance between him and them. The younger generations saw the gap between the neighborhood around the church (which was growing younger) and the membership of the church (which was growing older). He built a church; what he did not do was make disciples.
The church was filled with people who loved and respected their pastor. They saw him as a great man (and in many respects he was a great man). Yet the people of the church had no reasonable expectation that they could have a faith like his. He was the shepherd, they were the sheep—and sheep do not morph into shepherds.
In terms of modern church metrics his ministry was effective: hundreds (if not thousands) of conversions and baptisms, a church of more than a thousand people, and a long run of ministry in the same place. But the human, interpersonal, side of the ledger is more difficult to balance: frustrated staff members who usually left on bad terms, church members who loved Jesus but had no real maturity in Christ, and the very real possibility that when the pastor retires the church will face a steep decline in the “successful” numbers as well.
Was this man’s calling from Jesus? Yes, or course. Were his methods Christ like? In many ways, yes: He was a man of integrity and passion, fully devoted to God and his church. But in one important respect, no: The well-meaning pastor actively worked to maintain a separation between himself and his people. It was a Moses model (great man/great leader) instead of a Jesus model (one of us). The Moses model emphasizes the difference between the leader and the people; the Jesus model looks to transform the people into the image of the leader. Moses appointed a successor; Jesus made copies of himself.
One reason Jesus made disciples so effectively is his first action was to become one of us. His second action was to demonstrate the possibilities of life with God through the Holy Spirit. Jesus, the awesome Second Person of the Eternal Trinitarian God, set aside the role of “god” and became a man. He did not pretend to be a man, he became a man. From the very beginning, the Lord intended to reproduce himself in our lives. The scripture calls this “bringing many sons (and daughters) to glory,” with the goal that there would be a vast, holy, family (Hebrews 2:10-11). Jesus suffered the same life-events we suffer, he toiled and sweat and laughed and cried and experienced life as we do; his path to holiness is our path as well—he took no shortcuts (consider the question, “How did he become the man he was?“). Our ears can be trained to hear the Spirit and our eyes can be trained to read the scriptures in the same ways he did.
Jesus constantly reminded the disciples that the world’s view of leadership was not his view. The world loves great leaders who stand out from the crowd; Jesus identifies with us so strongly that he believes we can become like him. Nor is this only a question for leaders. It goes to the heart of our own personal expectations. We must ask, “Do I really believe I can be transformed into the Master’s image? Do I want to follow his example or merely use him as a Savior?”
He came to show us how to live. He came to reproduce himself in us. His saving action on the cross is the work of the Son of God; the obedience that led him to the cross is the work of the Son of Man. We cannot pay the price for anyone’s sin, but we can teach others to be like Jesus.