By Jeff Krajewski
I have issues. The one that continues to nag at me is my need for other people to like me. I am constantly concerned about what people are thinking about me. I have found this issue, if left unchecked, can become my motivation to lead the church.
This is dangerous because there are so many different opinions and agendas in the church. Everyone wants something from me. And sometimes, in my desire to make them all happy, I actually make them angry. I say yes far too often. Unfortunately I cannot deliver on every yes every time. So my “yes” really doesn’t mean yes. Instead it means, “Please like me.”
The other catastrophe lurking under the surface is the temptation to lead and make decisions on the basis of popular opinion. This is dangerous because it has nothing to do with what God wants to do in our community, but everything with what the people want—and what I want. To want to make sure everyone is feeling good may sound noble. But in reality it is nothing more than my “selfish ambition and vain conceit” kicking in.
If I had been in Moses’ position during the first days of the Exodus, I would have ruined the whole plan. When the people started complaining, I would have taken a poll. The results would have shown overwhelmingly the people did not want to go where God wanted them to go. I might have led them back to Egypt and back into slavery. After all, that’s what they wanted.
It is interesting that when our ears are tuned into the voices of the masses, sometimes we have a hard time hearing the voice of God. I have found my desire to please is actually a good thing, but I need to be reminded regularly whom to please. Who is the object of my listening ear? Where does my confidence come from?
Rabbi Lawrence Kushner suggests God chose Moses because he could pay attention to the right voice. The burning bush may have been a test. If God simply wanted Moses to know he was “there,” he could have used a much more impressive miracle. Yet the simplicity of a bush on fire showed Moses the bush was burning but the branches were not being consumed. That required him to pay attention. Once he had Moses’ attention, God spoke (Jewish Spirituality, Lawrence Kushner p. 24).
All of Moses’ objections to why he shouldn’t be the one to speak to Pharaoh were meaningless after God realized Moses could pay attention. God would be with him and speak to him and go before him. God simply needed someone who could pay attention.
That is so helpful for me. I am attentive, but sometimes to the wrong voice(s). I am learning the larger our church grows, the more voices vie for my attention, so I must continually learn to hear the voice of the One who matters. (I don’t at all mean to discredit wise counsel. After Moses heard from God, he asked his father-in-law if it would be all right to go back to Egypt.)
My responsibility is not to make the people happy. Moses teaches me that if his job was to make people happy, they wouldn’t have made it to the miracle of the Red Sea.
Remembering My Call
I need to be reminded that my attentiveness needs to be directed toward the God who called me in the first place. No one came to me and said, “Jeff, you look like preacher material, I think you can lead a church.” My call came from a bush on fire, and I stopped long enough to know it wasn’t any ordinary bush on fire. I need to listen for his voice and remember that he already likes me.
It boils down to this. I am prone to wander into the world of pleasing other people. In some ways, it is what makes ministry so attractive and also dangerous. God called me into a life requiring me to continually go to him for approval. He has called me to a life where my “thorn in the flesh” is exposed at least every week and almost every day. Without a constant listening ear and attentive spirit, I will either be consumed by the praise of people or debilitated by its lack.
I guess every church leader experiences some level of this nagging issue. I am finding it also can be our greatest strength. Even when he couldn’t do much of anything else, Moses was attentive. And this was a powerful tool for leadership.
I find the same to be true for me. I am constantly challenged to remain, to abide, and listen to the voice of God. That is difficult when there are so many other well-intentioned voices around me. I am challenged in this season of leadership to continue to hear the voice of the one who called me. Out of the bush came a voice for Moses. And he continued to hear that one voice when he was leading more than a million people around the desert.
I pray I will remain faithful to the voice that called me, and that through the seasons of change and growth and joy and heartache of church leadership, my attention will be singly focused. I get into trouble when I allow other voices to dominate my attention. And because of my “issue,” I am constantly challenged to seek the audience of the one voice that matters.
Jeff Krajewski is lead pastor with Common Ground Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.