One of my greatest frustrations over the years is that God has always seemed much more interested in my growth than the growth of the church I led. I would have ongoing conversations with the Lord like, “It’s your church. You want people saved and discipled in your Kingdom more than me. Why are you so interested in my growth rather than the church’s?” Although the Lord has given clear answers back to me many times in my life, I don’t ever remember a clear answer to this question! What did become clear, however, is that my spiritual growth had a direct effect on my leadership and in turn the spiritual and numerical growth of the church.

 

I saw over and over again that the more mature and healthier I became, the more mature and healthier the people I led became. I learned that you can only grow your members as far as you have grown. You can’t lead people where you haven’t gone. You can point to and proclaim various spiritual truths from God’s Word, and be absolutely correct about them, but that’s not the same as speaking about those same truths from experience. When you can lead people with both head and heart knowledge it is significantly more powerful.

 

I had the privilege of attending my first Rector’s Summit for Vision and Planning (RSVP) last week. It is a conference cosponsored by the American Anglican Council (AAC) and LeaderWorks. It was a wonderful time that weaved together teaching on skills for ministry with the inner life of the minister. While there, I was repeatedly reminded of the leadership reality that we can only lead our people as far as we ourselves have been willing to go.

 

For example, I remember preaching and teaching on the necessity to forgive others. I said things like, “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person gets sick.” While that was true and helpful to people, it wasn’t until after I experienced a series of serious betrayals both in the church and in my family, that I could truly teach my members about genuine forgiveness. Having had to practice forgiveness of deep hurts, I could much more effectively help others offer forgiveness to those who had wounded them.

 

Similarly, I have always supported Healing Prayer Ministries. I promoted them and encouraged many people to receive prayer ministry for spiritual, emotional, and physical needs. We even had an active healing ministry in my church. While I would occasionally receive prayer for a physical need, I didn’t see much need for prayers over my own emotional healing. At the time, I thought such prayers were for people who had real problems, but not me. I was, “Fine.” (That’s the Christian “F” word in my opinion) Maybe I had some false sense that I needed to not show weakness as a leader. Again, stemming from the above-mentioned betrayals, I came out of denial and realized that I needed emotional help and healing too. Once I received emotional healing prayer and had some significant breakthroughs and freedom by Jesus, I was so much more effective at helping others find similar freedom. I had the head knowledge before, but when I combined that with the heart experience it was so much more powerful for my people.

 

The same was true with giving. I always tithed because the Bible said to and I didn’t ever want to ask others to do something I wasn’t willing to do myself. However, I never considered myself a generous person. It’s not that I gave the tithe grudgingly, I just saw it as my duty and, frankly, that the 10% was God’s anyway. I figured that He gives me the 90% to manage and it’s from that 90% that I need to be giving generously. I’d preach that you, “can’t out give God” and I believed it. However, I was tight with the 90%! I asked God to help me become more generous and then started giving increasing amounts above the tithe the last couple of years. And, not surprisingly, I learned by experience that you can’t out give God! My ability to lead others in growing in generosity is now much more significant.

 

I could add to this list my own growth in loving others, in peace about attendance figures, in the need to perform for approval from others, and much more but I think you see the point. As frustrated as I once was about God’s greater interest in growing me than growing the church, I’m now so thankful that he was and is. Our own growth as leaders is often slow and painful but it is worth it for our own soul’s sake and for the people we lead.

 

Where are you wanting your members to grow? Would you be open to letting the Lord grow you more in that area for both yours’ and their sake? In what areas of your spiritual, emotional, and physical life have you resisted the Lord’s growing you? Perhaps God wants to give you a breakthrough so you can lead your people to their breakthrough as well.

 

The Rev. Canon Mark Eldredge is Director of Church Revitalization and Coaching at the American Anglican Council.

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