I’ve been thinking a lot about potatoes recently, which in turn has got me thinking about my experience leading a church.
Perhaps I should elaborate…
A few weeks ago Michelle made tea for the family and the food that she served up was jacket potato. And it was GOOD!! I guess I would define a good jacket potato as having a thick, crispy, tasty skin on the outside, with a soft, creamy centre (preferably smothered in melting butter!) on the inside. And this particular potato was all of the above!
In truth that spectacular spud was a far cry from the baked potatoes I used to endure as a self-catering bachelor. Those bad-boys were the polar opposite – the skin was always thin and papery while the centre was hard and glassy.
So what accounts for the difference?
Certainly the fact that Michelle’s kitchen skills are far superior to mine deserves a mention. But there’s more to it than that! The difference, I would suggest, lies in the means by which the potatoes were baked. My bachelor spuds were always microwaved. I was never one for planning ahead so if I fancied a jacket potato I’d chuck it in the microwave and 3 minutes later my solid, glassy, semi-edible spud was ready. Invariably I would try to mask it rankness by marinating it in butter and drowning it on beans, but there really was no hiding the cold, hard truth – it was mingin!
So why are Michelle’s spuds so much better?
In short, it’s because she cooks them in the oven!
Michelle is far better at planning than me, so whenever jacket potato is on the menu she preheats the oven and chucks the spuds in a minimum of 4 hours before munch time! Sure it takes A LOT longer than a microwaved spud, but the end product is infinitely more impressive!
All very interesting…but what the dickens has all this got to do with church leadership?
Well, here goes…
When I planted Hill City 7 years ago I was a cocky, immature 30 year old who thought he had all the necessary skills required to lead a church.
How wrong I was!
In reality, there is so much more to being equipped to lead a church than the ability to draw a crowd and preach a sermon. It’s worth noting that in the “qualifications of an elder” verses in 1 Timothy and Titus the vast majority of qualifications are about character, not skill-set.
And just like a good jacket potato – you can’t develop character in a few microwave moments. Rather what is needed is a significant amount of time in the the deep heat of the oven.
At numerous points during my journey in church leadership, especially during times of trial, testing and personal attack, I have found myself praying this prayer:
Lord God, please give me thick skin and a soft heart!
And over recent years, by God’s grace, I think it’s fair to say that He has been answering that prayer. But here’s the kicker – the Lord doesn’t toughen our skin and soften out hearts for the trials but through the trials!
They are the means by which God toughens us up and tenderises our hearts.
And just like baking potatoes – there are no short-cuts!
The reality for every church leader, despite what they might think about their qualifications and spiritual maturity, is that there are specific qualities and character that can only be achieved by coming through the flames of affliction. (Trainee leaders and Bible college graduates really need to grasp this!) This has certainly been my experience as I have experienced, and continue to experience, times of pain, frustration, confusion, betrayal, rejection and suffering.
It’s also worth noting as well that it’s a loving God who controls the heat. Some of the issues, situations and struggles that I face in leadership today would have destroyed me 7 years ago – my skin would not have been tough enough to endure the pain and my heart would have been too hard to respond with grace instead of bitterness.
But it’s amazing what 7 years in the oven can do to a man! And how awesome it is to know that all of my trials are serving a purpose. God is using them to transform me into the man and the leader that He wants me to be.
Here are a few scriptures that I have found helpful on this:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
(James 1 v 2-4)
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
(1 Peter 1 v 6-7)
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Matthew 5 v 11-12)
You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.
(Luke 21 v 17-19)
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
(Romans 5 v 3-5)
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
(2 Corinthians 4 v 7-10)
For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Corinthians 12 v 10)
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
(Hebrews 12 v 7-11)
So in conclusion, a good jacket spud is thick skinned, soft at heart and perfected in extreme heat!
So is a good church leader!