He led leaders. He influenced thousands. He pastored a church that baptized over a thousand people a year for many years in a row. It was one of the first mega-churches in the USA. Then he was done and the church needed a new type of pastor/leader.
The pastor I just described sensed my desire to learn from him and poured himself into me when I was a young pastor in my first church. He told me stories and taught me principles that still help me today, almost 35 years later. The reason I reminisce about him is that I learned many huge lessons from him, one of the biggest of which I saw from afar: the conclusion of his work as mega-church pastor.
While today’s headlines seem to be flooded with stories about pastors of large churches who flame out, disqualified by moral failure or by leadership abuse, my pastor friend resigned his church and went off to teach pastoral leadership at a Christian University. He wasn’t slinking away in disgrace. I learned a lesson by watching his final months as a pastor.
My pastor friend got caught in the turbulence of massive cultural change…change which diluted his leadership effectiveness. He had started in that church during a time when most leadership was coming from what came to be known as the “builder” generation. Builders were folks whose worldview was shaped by World War II and its accompanying hardships. After the war, they set out to rebuild this nation. They were hard-working, risk-taking hope-filled people, whose parents had endured The Great Depression and World War I. The Builders respected authority and loved it when a pastor took the reins, made the hard decisions and courageously led them forward. They also understood when those in authority made decisions with little or no input from those following them. Neither were they surprised when their leaders took on the perks of authority. In their thinking, it was “normal” that the pastor of a large church would have the shaded parking space nearest the church buildings, should be respected from afar (even if you never got close enough to shake his hand) and should be front and center at most every large event.
Many in my generation gave their hearts to Christ under the leadership of my pastor-friend. In their young adult years, they couldn’t help but admire him…until things changed.
The next generation, often called “baby boomers,” shook our nation with a whole new way of thinking about leadership. They questioned authority, rather than honoring it. They resented the perks of the old-style leaders. They expected to participate in decisions, with leaders seeking them out for input before pressing forward. In the case of my pastor friend, many of the same people who came to Christ under his pastorate began to question his style as they started taking jobs in upper management of their workplaces.
“Suddenly,” my very effective friend wasn’t finding it so easy to lead. I didn’t hear about his troubles right away, but was shocked when I learned that people were leaving his church by the hundreds, heading off to other churches where they could have a voice in the big decisions of their places of worship.
My friend’s heart for God didn’t change. His track record of helping many find Jesus was intact. His desire to see churches be effective was the same. But his pastoral ministry came to an end.
I think about my old pastor friend today as I remember the prophet Elijah. He stood for God at the top of a conflict-strewn mountain. His prayer life rings out as a testimony even today. His heart for people and his faithful dependence on God stand as permanent models for us all. Of all the Old Testament prophets, he was the one sent back from heaven to meet with Jesus on top of mount of transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8).
But even Elijah’s service had to end. And that end opened the door for another prophet, known for even more of God’s miracles. It was a “Big Deal” and we will focus in upon it this weekend. It’s Part 5 of the “Don’t Blink” series at Stone Ridge Church. It will be an exciting weekend…you don’t want to miss it!