Famous Last Words, Week 3 — The “Leadering And Followering” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Acknowledge a bible verse I don’t like very much;
  • Included a rare “please write these three things down” moment regarding leadership;
  • Built to a poignant video that shows what Good Shepherd At Home is like during pandemic;
  • Led to this bottom line:  Church happens not when you gain followers but when you grow leaders. 


Is it OK if I talk to you today about a bible verse that I don’t like very much?

A verse that every time I bump up against it, I think, “I can’t do that; I’m not good at it; it’s not natural to me!” And if I tell you about this verse that I don’t like so much it will actually give you an insight into what it means to be a pastor, what it means to lead in church, really HOW IT IS THAT CHURCH HAPPENS? And the result of all that is that you’ll never really look at this thing called Good Shepherd or your role in it quite the same again? Is all that OK? A verse I don’t like, what it means to be a pastor, how church happens, and ultimately your enormous place in all that? Fair?

But before I tell you that verse – because I’ve got to leave you hanging for at least a little bit! – a couple of confessions here. Beyond the fact of the bible verse I don’t like. For some of you, you’ll know this stuff, for others it will make sense, and then for still others it will be a REALLY?! kind of moment. But here goes. I LOVE ministry. I take it seriously. I loved it when I was just a kid in a small church in Monroe and I love it here that I’m no longer a kid and at a very different kind of church here. And I’ve seen God do deep work in a lot of people’s lives. But the shadow side of all that love of ministry is that I really like for people to come to church because of … me. “Man, what a sermon!” “You really helped me!” “That made me laugh so I’m coming back!” “You got books? Tell me more!” All that stuff is absolute music to my ears and I can try to “holy-fy” it all I want, but it’s a self-centered approach to ministry that I’m pretty sure God has worked in spite of and not because of.

Now in some ways this is good because, like in a tennis match, I try hard and put forth my best and all that and it keeps me engaged and available and honestly I do LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE to help rescue people from themselves. We have worked to help a lot of you get in recovery or healed or saved or ALL THREE. So with some mixed motives, good things have happened.

Yet. However. But. When the focus is on “rescue,” when the metric is “come and hear me,” when it’s about gaining followers, when that shadow side rules, there’s a lot of untapped ability left on the table. Because this thing that’s NOT second nature to me, this way God works in spite and not because, leaves something vitally important out. I say that because of the verse I don’t like. We’re in the letter of 2 Timothy during Famous Last Words, called that because these are very likely the final words that Paul ever dictated (wrote) and as he surveys the long arc of his life he wants to pour out his best to his son in the faith Timothy. Really, 2 Timothy is an old sage giving a young whippersnapper advice on how to pastor – in particular, how to pastor a difficult church, which Timothy was doing in Ephesus. That church was in the middle of persecution from beyond and infection from within, so young Timothy is up against opposition wherever he turns. It’s hard to make church breathe, much less happen. (We had church today, preacher!)

And so Paul leads into a verse I don’t like with one I do. Check out 2:1:

You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

That is so cool; I love the irony of it. Why? Strong in grace. Strong in your weakness. Sturdy in your vulnerability. Steadfast in your admission that you are a mess without Jesus but you are a masterpiece in him. Love it.

And then 2:2:

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.

Oh look at that chain. There’s the CONTENT (what you’ve heard me say publicly) by which Paul means the treasures of the Gospel – Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!. So, Tim, you take that content and you teach it and teach it well to others. AND THEN IT DOESN’T SAY so they will love you. So they will come back the next week. So they will follow you and fawn over you. So you can join a Speaker’s Bureau. It doesn’t say any of that. But it DOES SAY so they can teach others. The answer to all this opposition, it turns out, is multiplication. Your role, Paul says, is to pour your heart into people who will in turn be empowered to pour their hearts into others. The chain will continue and will grow not by addition but by multiplication.

That happens because it’s not about how many butts in the seats (or views on Facebook!) but how many teachers you send back out. And here’s what this very uncomfortable but ultimately liberating verse lets us know: Church happens not when you gain followers but when you grow leaders. Yes! The heart of ministry is not when you gain followers but when you grow leaders. The purpose of pastoring is not to gain followers but to grow leaders. The reason God allows me to shepherd this community is not to gain followers but to grow leaders.

And I shouldn’t be so hard headed – and even reluctant — about getting this because this is how it happened to me! Studying for ministry, living in Kentucky, didn’t really know anything about anything and the preacher at the little church there let me preach once a month. Why? So I could draw the big crowds? Uh, no. So he could grow me as a leader. More than that he had this genius strategy of WITHHOLDING COMPLIMENTS – fiendishly recognizing that words of affirmation are my love language – until I learned to preach without using any notes at all. So if you like THAT, it’s all because Elgan Reynolds I Timothy 2:2’d me. If we ever “have church” it’s because I was the recipient of  Church happens not when you gain followers but when you grow leaders. You’d think that with that, I’d get this more easily and more naturally.

Now, some of you are thinking: he is talking about somebody else. I ain’t no leader. Well guess what? It may well be time to stop letting “somebody else” do your job! Not all of you will have “positions” of leadership (not all should) but all of you are in a place of influence. Remember the context of Paul’s words here … “the things you heard from me in the presence of others.” The Treasure of the Gospel. Hey, the least leadery person here still has children or siblings or parents or friends. And my job is not merely to rescue you; it is to deploy you. Deploy you to tell that story and tell it well. That makes you … yes YOU … a leader.  Church happens not when you gain followers but when you grow leaders.

It really is cool when it happens. Several weeks ago I had an rough idea for blessing those ppl in our church who work in health care. But I overthought it a little bit which in my case rendered me paralyzed. Motionless. Finally, I realized, “Hey! People smarter than you WORK FOR YOU and you can empower them to come up with the plan!” So that’s what I did, choosing a logistics guru (Chris Thayer) and inviting him to choose some bling gurus (which he did) and together they came up with the most incredible plan and THE EXECUTION OF THAT PLAN and the result was so many people were blessed (AV of a few). But see how it worked, leader-wise? It wasn’t about me doing something other than empowering others who so far surpassed what I could do. That’s the way it works. In that slice of time I caught a glimpse of what Paul was talking about with Timothy. Encouragement bags aren’t quite “the Gospel” but in the era of coronavirus they are a pretty tangible expression of it. And I know every one of those workers getting one of those bags felt like church had happened on their front porch! Leadership was multiplied and the Savior magnified.  Church happens not when you gain followers but when you grow leaders.

Because with Paul, as now, the opposition was fierce. Remember? Persecution beyond and infection within. It’s why he says this:

Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.

Soldier, athlete, farmer. Each one requiring tenacity, each one sacrificing short term results for long term gain. It’s his way of saying that Gospel work is rarely easy but always worth it … you know every athlete who holds up the trophy felt every minute in the weight room or on the practice field was worth it. And a word to preachers tuning in, or staff tuning, or our 80 LG leaders and 100 or so children and student leaders: you will have opposition. You will face discouragement. You will feel like you’re in chains. But remember – your role, even in student ministry – is to grow leaders. Not to be a hero. Not to be a Savior (that job is taken). To be a deployer. You may start out as their hero, their confidante, even, but the most heroic thing you can do in your LifeGroup or in your church is to unleash the latent leader in the people under your care. Remember the multiplication math of 2:2!  Church happens not when you gain followers but when you grow leaders.

And for a lot of you, those of you leadering at work or on a team, can I offer three observations from 30 years of leading even when leadership hasn’t always been my gift? Things that I believe you will do well to know whether you’re dealing with your direct reports or managing your boss or even leading a group at church? Here goes (AV):

1. People try to control you when they can’t control themselves. If you feel under the unhealthy thumb of either a boss or a direct report or even a co-worker or family member, they are very likely projecting on to you some area of their life that is out of control. It’s the only way they know how to cope – by controlling you with an always better idea, with unrealistic demands, with a never approving spirit. Don’t let them do it … and wait for their secret to come out. It will.

2. Some people ask questions not because they want answers but because they want an advantage. This is classic strategy of people who wish they had the role you do. Ask questions that don’t really need asking, putting you on the defensive, and no answer would satisfy anyway. Oh! I remember getting asked just one of those GOTCHA questions by celeb UM preachers and I wasted so much time hemming and hawing an answer when I shoulda simply said, “I don’t have to answer that.” And neither do you.

3. If you give into the first ultimatum you guarantee there will be a second. And a third. “If you don’t ______ I’m leaving the church!” “If you won’t ______ I’m quitting.” From painful experience, you know what I’ve learned you say in those situations? Bye. Because you will say it eventually.

All that was free, by the way. I just saved you $199 fee for your next Leadership Seminar.

Do you see how this section in 2 Tim 2 ends?

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.

I love that. Chain of teaching. I’m in chains. The Gospel cannot be chained. Not by virus, not by persecution, not even by a preacher who sometimes forgets to deploy. The Gospel has its own power. Its own irresistible multiplication that is the best answer to opposition.

It’s funny. Awhile back, someone relatively new to Good Shepherd sent me a note about why they like it. “Oh I love my LifeGroup. I love my LifeGroup leader. My middle schooler LOVES his 10 a.m. group leader. I love the ServeTeam I’m on. So many people made me feel so welcome so quickly.” And you know me … I’m reading, waiting, hoping, PRAYING! … where’s the PREACHING? Not there. Downcast my soul? Not a bit! Because God is winning and the Gospel is unchaining. And that’s what happens when the verse you hate becomes the verse you live.

Here it is in action, during pandemic, with a GS family: