My youth group was great, but I had never seen a youth event like this. Teens spilled out from the Youth Center into the lawn. Big-eyed, I wormed my way through the crowd toward the door where fog billowed out and the music boomed. The hip youth pastor emerged, smiling ear to ear with an entourage in tow. He greeted me and then moved past to welcome the mass of teens on the lawn.
The band launched into worship and the youth pastor jumped onto stage, delivering a powerful and passionate message to the hundreds of gathered teens.
Little did any of us know that the days of this thriving group were numbered. Over Christmas, the youth pastor would pack his bags for another church after a power struggle with the senior pastor and a moral failing came to light.
I didn’t have any relationship with the pastor, but it was the first pastoral failing that struck so close to home. Several of my friends struggled as they tried to reconcile this pastor’s outward ministry with his inner life. His words had moved them, but they seemed hollow now that his internal struggles came to light.
Every month another national Christian leader comes crashing down. Flagrant abuses of power, sex addictions, hateful outbursts, and misogynistic words exposed. How many souls are left struggling in the wake of their exposed sin?
I’m no better than these brothers. Seven years ago I stepped down from ministry. My wife confessed to a series of affairs and I was left with a choice: try to save my pastoral ministry, or try to save my marriage. Praise God I chose the latter (you can read the full story here).
But stepping down didn’t just involve my wife’s admission of guilt; it required my confession. My wife’s sin didn’t happen in a vacuum. It occurred in the soil of my neglect. And it wasn’t my wife alone who sinned against the church. I sinned against the church in my lack of transparency. I didn’t protect my bride, and I didn’t protect Christ’s bride either.
I still grieve those whose faith was negatively impacted by my sin. May God recover the trust I lost.
The world is drawn to charisma, to power, to gifting.
A charismatic leader draws followers like moths to a flame. But you know what happens when you play with fire.
At our church, our heart is that we would be a church that would prioritize character over charisma. This is God’s heart, too.
When Israel begged God for her first king, God gave them exactly what they were looking for: the tallest, most handsome man in the room: Saul.
When God removed his anointing from Saul, God led Samuel to a nondescript family and then chose the most unimpressive of Jesse’s boys. Samuel, who had far more wisdom than most, couldn’t wrap his head around God’s choice. Looking at Jesse’s boys, his eyes went to those who looked kingly, “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
INTENTIONAL CHARACTER FORMATION
We long to be a church that cultivates leaders with hearts soft for Christ. We desire to multiply leaders who earn your trust with their character, not with their charisma.
It’s not as though our character is a static quality. It must be cultivated.
There are a number of ways we try to cultivate character in leaders at New Life. The first is our co-leadership structure. One blessing of having co-leadership at my church is that it requires mutual submission between my co-pastor and myself. We have a relationship where we can call each other out. In fact, we have signed a covenant where we have committed to keeping short accounts and navigating any issues biblically. We even meet with a counselor twice a year just to make sure there is nothing that has been left unsaid. We recognize that we are better together and that we have to be one another’s biggest cheerleaders and one’s biggest exhorters. Sin cannot go unchecked.
The second way we try to create checks and balances in this area is through an Executive Leadership Team and our elders. Our heart with these teams isn’t just to get the best thinkers in the room, but also those who reflect Christ’s character. When we think about iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17), our first priority is that our character would be shaped in community. Sharpening our strategy and skills comes second. If you were to sit in on an Executive Leadership Team meeting or an elders meeting, you would find us spending our first and best time spent sharing and praying for one another.
The third way we cultivate character at church is through a leadership pipeline. We have several groups that have started in the past few years whose purpose is to pour our best time and energy into developing leaders with godly character at New Life. Instead of just choosing leaders from afar, our desire is to help coach, train, and shepherd leaders (if you’re interested in participating in a group, please reach out to me). Our heart is that our leadership pipeline would develop ministry leaders, staff members, elders, and church planters.
Character over charisma. We pray that is always our priority at our church. We recognize that the evaluation of God’s ministry hinges not just on the purity of the proclaimed gospel, but on the transformation of God’s people through the Spirit. We pray that God shapes our hearts and the hearts of New Life to look more and more like him with every passing year.