The Physics of Church Leadership (2/3)
Newton’s Second Law of Motion Applied to Church Leadership
Law 2 (simplified): Force = Mass x Acceleration
This law is sometimes misapplied to the church in Christian leadership circles. In articles across the web one finds titles like, “Overcoming Spiritual Inertia in Your Church,” and the like as though all inertia is bad (i.e. not changing is a good thing if “change” means compromise with the world!). Typically, only the first part of Newton is cited. Then the argument is made that the church is a ‘body at rest’ that needs us, pastors/leaders, to get it going and keep it moving. Such is most certainly not the case! Jesus started the movement when he declared in no uncertain terms, “…I will build MY church….”(Matt. 16:18; emphasis added). He so identifies His church with His body that He does not ask Saul, “Why are you persecuting my church,” but “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting ME?” (Acts 9:4; emphasis added). I do not build Christ’s church, it is His body to save and secure, to protect and preserve, now and for all generations unto the Day of Visitation.
For 10 years I have had an old burnished gold plaque on my door, something I found at an antique yard sale. It reads, “Captain’s Quarters.” Not many people ask about it, I think they assume I’m making a declaration of myself as the captain. A few times someone chuckled and said, “So, you’re the captain huh?” “No sir!” I shot back. “This is just the place where I meet with the Captain to get my orders!” The same could be said about the plaques that read “Senior Pastor,” too – the only senior pastor of the church is Christ, and the Holy Spirit is His associate, so at most we pastors are just mere assistants.
This is where the rest of Newton’s First Law is helpful, “Every body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line.” Throw a ball in the air and it comes down because of gravity. Hit the breaks on a speeding car and the friction of the tire and road bring it to a halt. Try either of those in outer space and the ball and the car will simply go on forever without ever stopping. Things stop in our world because of outside forces, but Jesus made it clear that no outside force was going to impede the march of His church, “…I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it”(Matt. 16:18; NIV). He set it in motion, and it cannot be stopped.
While often quoted, this verse is seemingly incomprehensible. Shouldn’t Jesus have said, “the armies of Hades shall not overcome it”? How can gates be on the attack to overcome the church? Popular interpreters often take this to mean that the church is on the attack against the powers of Satan (especially because translations keep rendering it “gates of Hell”; JETS 1995). Instead, we should put it into the context of Jesus’ own life. Seen this way, “gates of Hades” refers to Jesus’ death on the cross, his descent into Hades the realm of the dead (Acts 2:27, 31; Job 17:16; 38:17; Is. 38:10; Ps. 9:13), His subsequent resurrection (Lk 24:1-12) and ascension (Eph. 4:7-10; i.e. His victory processional) so that Christ alone can be said to hold“the keys to death and Hades”(Rev. 1:18). Now whether Jesus attacks the gates of Hades from the outside seeking to demolish their power (Aragorn standing before the imposing Black Gate– 60ft high, 250ft long, with each half of the monstrous gate stretching 90 ft. wide, comes to mind!) or whether He descends into Hades and breaks free from the prison of death from the inside-out, matters little, the point is clear: “Death no longer has dominion over him”(Rom 6:8). Since the church follows their conquering King to victory she too may die, but she too will one day rise and burst forth from the grave singing, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”(1 Cor. 15:54-57).
This had to be all the more impactful when we consider that Jesus said these words while in Caesarea Philippi (16:13) the very place “the gates of Hades” were located in the ancient world. Bible teacher Ray Vander Laan says, “When Jesus brought his disciples to the area, they must have been shocked. Caesarea Philippi was like a red-light district in their world and devout Jews would have avoided any contact with the despicable acts committed there.”
In the next verse after Jesus’ declaration of building His church He promises that the apostles will be given “the keys of the kingdom of God” (Matt. 16:19; 18:18; 28:16-22). One authority falls before the power of Christ (Hades), another rises (the apostles), the church marches on, opening redemption to the worst of sinners in the worst of places, shinning a light into the darkest human hearts in the farthest regions (Acts 13:47; Is. 49:6). Is it any wonder C.H. Spurgeon said,
The Church is the world’s hope. As Christ is the hope of the Church, so the Church is the hope of the world. The saints become, under Christ, the world’s saviors. Then we must not marvel, being here for this very purpose, if Christ does throw us, like a handful of salt, just where the putrefaction is the worst; or if He should cast us, as He has often done with His saints before, where our influence is most needed. (Or more popularly Rend Collective’s revival song, Build Your Kingdom Here)
How glad we are that the workers do not tell the chief engineer where and how to build, they are simply called to fall into line, do their work with the tools provided, and get the job done.
God does the work in us and through us (probably too much of the time in spite of us!) and that distinction just might be the difference in many cases between ministerial burn out and longevity. So we ask: Who is doing the ministry in your church? Dr. Sandra Dalton-Smith sees something deeper in the desire of many leaders to overwork. In Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity, she insightfully writes:
The desire to overwork is an attempt to justify ourselves. For many, there is a connection between our overachieving and our desire to prove our self-worth. Our overcompensating becomes a way to validate our existence. We pour ourselves into our surroundings, into our people, and into our agendas. We add to the productivity, the creativity, and the humanity of our world, and we do so with a hidden soul-level motive. If we can do enough, we can be enough. Oh, how the soul loves to war with the spirit, for the spirit is proof enough of our worth. Our eternal nature created in the image of God is an affirmation beyond anything our mind and heart could ever comprehend. This is the gift of acceptance, the freedom to live unattached to the validation of others when you are already preapproved by God. Instead of overreaching for some unknown life purpose, you come boldly into the place of God’s grace in your life (p. 148).
Dear pastor, elder, mother, father, wife, husband, lady and gentlemen leaders, if a body at rest stays at rest then you must, right now, this very day, stop & rest in Christ as your soul’s sabbath (Heb. 4). You have nothing to prove, you are already approved by God in Christ (Rom. 8:9). Stop making yourself so indispensable to others that you use their need for you as a lather for your own wounded heart, only Christ can heal and only at the resurrection will you be whole. “It is before [your] own master that [you] stand or fall. And [you] will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make [you] stand (Rom. 14:4).