By Joel A. Hess –
In Jocko Willink’s wonderful book, “Extreme Ownership,” he begins with a story of the first significant time he failed as a leader of SEAL time expedition. He talks about it as a turning point in his understanding of taking ownership as a leader. More precisely, he realized the importance and necessity of taking blame as the leader. Not ceremonially or officially, but truly receiving blame for the failure!
Willink concludes that no matter the details, the leader could have done something to avoid the failure. Even if all the right decision were made on his part, he could have trained his people better, communicated more clearly, etc. A leader should take the blame and even let his people know that he takes the blame. He even suggests that they will respect him more.
Oh, how we pastors should read this book! How often has my instinct been to blame others for challenges or even failures at my church. Likewise, as a circuit visitor, I have heard pastors blaming their church just the same. Whether it’s outreach, giving, unity, etc., these churches will never get better with a pastor blaming them as if they are a separate entity from him. I actually hear pastors say, “Well they just didn’t want to do this or that.” Who is “they?” It is “we.” We are in this together. We are bound together on this journey and in this family.
First and foremost, I get it. I know the instinct. We all have it. It goes back to the original pastor, Adam, who quickly blamed his bride, Eve, and worse, blamed his creator! No one likes to admit he failed. So we do whatever we can to wiggle out of it. We will even throw our wife under the bus! Pastors will even throw the Bride, the Church, under the bus, saying, “The woman YOU gave me!”
First of all, while every church, people of God, is righteous by God’s declaration and backed by the very blood of Jesus, they are not internally righteous, perfect, sinless. So please leave the pastoral ministry if that is what you expect. You will regularly be frustrated. Second, pastors are sent to flawed churches to lead them by means of God’s Word! They need you!
So if a body of Christ doesn’t like to give to the ministry or to their neighbors? Preach and teach it. Have confidence in the living word of God. Oh, and they probably won’t immediately change. Or their change might be slower than you want. Keep preaching brother! Be patient. It isn’t a sprint; it’s an ultra-marathon.
If a congregation doesn’t appreciate the hymnody or the historic liturgy, or if they are too militant against anything new and simultaneously don’t have a clue about the purpose of worship, don’t whine about it. Preach and teach brother! You are their to lead. So lead.
Or if a community of Christ treats their pastor poorly, don’t complain in blogs. Preach and teach. You have a powerful tool that cuts hearts and heals them. This is not some company job with perks, vacation plan and retirement. We have really made a bunch of snowflakes out of pastors these days. No wonder our seminary enrollment is low. Young men just look at pastors as another profession with benefits. What if the U.S. military advertised like that? Instead the Army advertises adventure, not 401k. As Jesus tells Ananias about Paul’s ordination into the ministry, “I will show Him how much he must suffer for my name.” Sometimes a minister’s suffering is at the hands of his congregation and not the world. Don’t blame them! Perhaps they have never been taught how a pastor and people should get along. Perhaps you are not communicating clearly. Perhaps they have been abused in the past. What can you do, through the Word and prayer, to lead them from where they are to a better place?
Take complete ownership of the faults of your congregation brother! Don’t drag the faults of God’s bride through the mud before your colleagues and friends. You are in this together! You are called a pastor for a reason, meaning shepherd. So shepherd and don’t be surprised when a sheep gets lost or the whole flock is acting crazy.
But as you take ownership and take the blame like a man, remember that ultimately there is one who truly and fully takes ownership for His bride, Jesus. And not only does He take the blame and ownership of your congregation, but He takes your blame as well!
Unlike the first Adam, Jesus placed the blame upon His innocent self. He owns the Church. Thank God! The church’s success is ultimately up to Him. As a pastor, He is my rest and hope when I fail as shepherd. He is the good Shepherd who will never throw His bride under the bus but will instead put her on His shoulders and carry her till the age to come!