Lately I’ve been reading a lot of books on missions for a class I’m teaching. One insight just struck me as incredibly relevant to our Western society.
When a missionary plants a church oversees, he is often starting from scratch. As he shares the gospel, he begins to see lives transformed by the gospel. These new Christians have one spiritual advisor, counselor, and teacher in their midst: the missionary. Put yourself in his shoes. You spend years as the only one who teaches. You are a spiritual giant amongst baby Christians.
It makes sense that missionaries get accustomed to being the teacher, the one who feeds everyone else. It also makes sense that they have a hard time learning to relate to these new Christians as brothers and sisters, rather than as children. They get used to people needing them, but the concept of needing other people is foreign.
Here’s the tie in. I see this in a lot of American church leaders. Whether you’re on staff at a church, a Bible study leader, an evangelist, or you disciple people within your church, this tendency can be hard to avoid.
You fall into a teaching/leading role, and before long you’re used to being the one with the answers. You’re constantly preparing lessons, giving advice, and praying for people. You’re thankful that God is using you in people’s lives, and you’re honored that other people need you.
This is all fantastic. But be careful that you don’t get so accustomed to people needing you that you forget your need for them. Biblically, no Christian is isolated. No Christian is above the rest. No Christian is so spiritual that she has no need for other Christians. God certainly gives each of us unique gifts, and some of us will emerge as leaders. But every seasoned leader needs the body of Christ just as much as the baby Christian needs the body of Christ.
Don’t stop teaching and leading, but don’t imagine that your role as a teacher or leader exempts you from relying on the people around you. Be quick to learn from those who appear more immature. Relate to them in their weaknesses and don’t be afraid to share your own. Run your thoughts and concerns by those you disciple. Pray for them, and ask them to pray for you. Have them hold you accountable. Ask them what they’ve been learning and allow their insights to challenge and instruct you.
We should be terrified of seeming to be wise in our own eyes. As soon as we think we’ve got it all together, we can be sure that we don’t. So use every gift and every insight that God gives you to his glory. And remember that you are a part of the body of Christ, and that no part of the body—no matter how glamorous we think that particular body part is—can function apart from the rest of the body.