Sam Luce is global family pastor at Redeemer Church in Utica, New York. Last week, at the D6 conference, I got to hang out with Sam and hear him teach a breakout session about pastoral leadership from Psalm 23. Here are some of the highlights.
Often we study technique to figure out how to achieve our goals in the most efficient way. But pastors aren't merely leaders. They must be led by God. Sam said, "What changed my outlook was suffering. It wasn't until the dark moments came into my life that I discovered how Christ is my shepherd. In suffering, I learned to boast in weakness, and I gained awareness that apart from Christ, I can do nothing."
One of the best places to look to discover how to be a great follower is Psalm 23. Here is what we learn there:
1. Those who are led by the Shepherd find their satisfaction in Christ alone. "The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want." Sheep are utterly and completely dependent on their shepherd. We're all looking for comfort somewhere. Sheep know that the Shepherd is the source of our comfort. The Heidelberg catechism asks, "What is our only comfort in life and death?" The answer is, "That I am not my own but belong body and soul in life and death to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ." Sheep remember that God is God. Even when suffering and trials come, we must submit to him.
2. Practice active passivity. "He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters." Sheep will not rest until they are free from all fear, free from friction with others of their kind, free from pests, and free from hunger." Sheep can't do anything on their own to meet these needs except bleat or run to the shepherd. 1 Timothy 6:6 says, "Godliness with contentment is great gain." To be content, we need to practice communion with God. We must bleat for and run to him. Sam said, "Leaders must work hard but trust even harder." I asked, "What disciplines move you from anxiety to active passivity?" Sam told me that the most important is remembering. The power of our work comes from remembering that Christ is not just our Good Shepherd but our sacrificial lamb. Because we belong to him, we can work hard with hearts at rest.
3. Embrace weakness rather than relentlessly projecting strength. "He restores my soul." Being vulnerable about our inability is the pathway to truly successful leadership. Good followers minister from their brokenness. They also know that their primary ministry is not glamorous platform building. It's constantly going after lost sheep and watching out for sheep that are cast down. We can be vulnerable, because the invulnerable God became vulnerable for you and me.
4. Finally, resolve that the One who is leading you is far more important than who is following you. "He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake." When the dark valleys for our soul come, it no longer matters how many followers you have. Your character matters more. And that character is only formed in relationship with the Shepherd.
Sam is a pastor to whom I look up and seek to emulate. You can follow his blog at samluce.com