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Getting out of the way

As a pastor, sometimes my job gets in the way of my job. My calling is to train disciples. One way I live out my calling by teaching the Bible. But somewhere along those lines, I must teach others how to feed themselves. That means I need to trust God's work in someone's life and allow that person the freedom to develop on his own. 

In October, I helped teach a conference about reading the Bible for life change. A woman in our small group commented that she had been taught by pastors for her entire life. She learned from them how to think about the Bible but never had the courage to attempt to interpret the scriptures on her own. This conference, along with a recent small group Bible study she participates in, were watershed moments where she felt confident enough to read and think on her own. She had been fed by another person her whole life but hadn't learned how to feed yourself.

Don't get me wrong - I don't believe the Bible is best studied alone - it's not. It's best read in community but as a one grows in maturity, a professional or "expert" doesn't have to interpret everything for you. It's important to equip people with certain tools but more importantly, to shape a culture where attitude is the most important element and there's freedom to make mistakes.

I know I contribute to this when I block others' growth through my good intentions. At times, I've chosen to participate solely in church events where Bible teaching is involved - as if I'm too important to for "non-spiritual activities". I set unrealistic expectations for first-time leaders and I'm overly critical and impatient when others lead - two behaviors that make it difficult for emerging leaders to grow and develop. 

What's at play here is the desire for pastors (and any member of a group or team) to be indispensable. I'm no exception. I want to be needed, necessary, and wanted. And few things are more central to a pastor's identity than having others depend on him to teach and interpret the Bible correctly. But since my mission is to make disciples, it means equipping leaders to lead on their own. It means laying down my desire to place myself at the center. So my ultimate calling, contra to my initial instinct, is to make myself dispensable.  

Thus the final step in leadership development is when leaders are released to live out the mission on their own. Jesus did that. Before he ascended to heaven, he sent his disciples out on training missions. He supervised, taught, and modeled everything they were supposed to do, gave them the Holy Spirit, and then he got out of the way.

Which makes my job somewhat strange. I work hard to initiate with people.I hang out and get to know others. I ask probing questions and challenge people spiritually. I try get in their way. But as people grow and develop, I'm supposed to work hard and do the opposite. But I find that getting out of the way comes less naturally. I wonder if those who are gifted at entering into mentoring relationships have a tougher time upon exiting (and if the converse is true as well). 

In any case, releasing people to lead has implications for every area of life. When I worked in high-tech, my favorite managers told me what was important and then worked hard to get out of the way. In marriage, I take care of our finances but I need to train and equip Judy with the basics, trust her to take care of certain tasks, and remove myself from her way. And lastly as a father, my job with my children is to interfere in their lives and then slowly and gradually get out of the way as they learn to think, analyze, and make decisions on their own. 

If your calling is to influence people, then your most significant step in training others may not be intervening but in getting out of the way. 

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