Chapters 1-3 - Effective Pastoring

Chapters 1-3 from Bill Lawrence, Effective Pastoring: Giving Vision, Direction, and Care to Your Church (W Publishing Group, 1999)

Chapter One - To Know Him

The return address told me the letter was from my mentor, Ray Stedman. With anticipation I opened the envelope and read the words "an invitation to teach a nation." I was invited to be part of a team Stedman was putting together to teach the principles of Ephesians 4:7-16 in a number of cities in the Philippines. What a challenge—an opportu­nity to touch an entire nation for Christ under the leadership of my model for pastoral ministry. Little did I know this invitation would end in the blackness of burnout and my first taste of brokenness. Nor did I know it would take years for me to understand what God was doing in my life.

Ray Stedman, pastor of Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, Califor­nia, had recently written the book Body Life, a seminal work redefining how pastors should understand their role. No longer could we minister only by ourselves; we had to equip the saints to do the work of the minis­try, as Paul directed so long ago. Pastors and pew-sitters are to serve together in order to bring the gifts and energies of all the body of Christ into ministry and so multiply the impact of God's Spirit throughout the world.

As common as that thought is today, it was revolutionary when Stedman first wrote it. Because of this book, he had been asked to teach these principles to churches in the Philippines. In a span of five weeks we would speak throughout the country, each of us spending three weeks ministering individually in different parts of the islands. We would speak in a total of eighteen conferences, blanketing the nation with the prin­ciples he had applied so effectively in his ministry for nearly twenty years.

This was heady stuff for me, a recent seminary graduate. I visited a former classmate in Tokyo and another in Manila. In Indonesia I visited a couple who were launching their missionary career and had interned in our church. Despite the excitement of all this, something happened in the Philippines I never anticipated: I failed. My "invitation to teach" a nation turned out to be an invitation to failure.

Looking back now, I'm not sure I was qualified to do what I did. Was my teaching lacking? I don't know. It seemed to be well received, but I couldn't accept the affirmation offered me. My feelings of failure were based on one thing: my conclusion that I wasn't the best preacher on the team. I was consumed with the need to be the best, something I had never consciously struggled with before. I had no idea such terrible drivenness lay within me, and I didn't know how to cope with it. It was this drivenness that turned the challenge of the invitation into the darkness of burnout. I came home an­gry—angry at the American church's lack of concern for lost people (a valid but misplaced indignation), but mostly angry at my failure.

Why did I think I had failed? The six of us on the team were never together, and I never heard anyone else preach. How did I know I wasn't the best? More importantly, what difference did it make how I compared with the others? Why did that matter? Who cared besides me? Why did I care? The answer is obvious to me now: My whole identity depended on my being the best. If I weren't the best, in my way of thinking, I felt my life wasn't worth living.

If you were counseling me thirty years ago, what would you have said to me? That I was seeking significance in the wrong place and in the wrong way? Undoubtedly. That I was success-driven? Absolutely. That I was achievement-dependent? Obviously. That I was proud? What an under­statement! That I was a deficit thinker? Totally. For seven long months I struggled, going deeper and deeper into burnout without understanding what was happening to me. I had no idea God was bringing me to the point of brokenness or that He had the grace I needed to find my way out of my confusion. I failed to understand what it meant to know Christ, but more than that, I did not fully understand God's grace.

Toward the end of that seven months I read Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis. Then I began to understand my situation. Reading this book was like reading my autobiography; it was as if he knew my thinking and feel­ings intimately. Mere Christianity helped me discover the root of my problem: I was comparing myself to others and defining my identity on the basis of how good I thought I was in comparison to them. I was using a performance standard as the basis of my existence as a person. If I de­cided I was better than those I compared myself to, I felt I was somebody—I had a sense of significance based on my superiority over them. If I de­cided I wasn't as good as those to whom I compared myself, I felt I was nobody. I had a sense of insignificance, even nonexistence, based on my inferiority to them. My standard was subjective, consisting of my feel­ings, plus others' comments, plus my own imaginations. If I felt I was the best, I was emotionally up; if I felt I was less than the best, I was emotion­ally down. I was competing, and it was all or nothing, win or lose—and I was losing.

Lewis's book showed me that my comparison was competition and competition means pride. He wrote:

Pride is essentially competitive—is competitive by its very nature—while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If every one else became equally rich or clever or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the com­parison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.'

Worse than this, I felt God would never let me minister cross-culturally again. Despite my struggles I discovered a facility for express­ing myself in cross-cultural settings, but I concluded that my failure meant God would never again give me such an opportunity. This was because I had not focused on knowing Christ. Despite eight years of seminary train­ing and a lifetime of growing up in a Christian family and attending church, I did not really comprehend what it meant to know Christ.

"To know Him." I knew those words, but I did not understand what they meant when I began pastoring. Part of my blindness had to do with the way I grew up in the faith. All I knew about Christianity was behav­ioral, not relational. I had been taught to obey God, and I was committed to utter, radical obedience. In my understanding of God's Word I thought I was righteous because I was obedient, and I could be righteous because I could obey. I simply had to do whatever the Bible said. The problem was that I had never heard that I could be obedient to God only as I was de­pendent on Christ. My legalism blinded me to my need to know Him in a deep, growing way. Besides, knowing Christ seemed abstract to me. What does a person do to know Him? I couldn't comprehend what that meant or how I could do it. I thought I was called to serve Christ and I didn't realize I needed to know Him to do that.

Preaching, on the other hand, was something I could grasp. To me, preaching was real, concrete, definite, utterly tangible, and I could get hold of that. Each sermon has a beginning, a body, and a conclusion. When I preached, I knew I fulfilled my purpose. After all, the Bible says, "Preach the word" (2 Tim. 4:2). That's what I was taught and that's what I did. "If you preach the Word, people will come to your church," I was told. Tell people what they need to know, and they'll be what they ought to be. Coming out of seminary, I failed to understand how to connect preaching with knowing Him. I'm sure I exercised selective hearing and heard what I chose because I wanted to succeed as a preacher.

Don't get me wrong. I knew that to preach effectively I needed to de­pend on Christ. I knew I couldn't do it on my own. As I studied and prepared to preach, I prayed. I sought the Holy Spirit's insight into the biblical text and I prayed for spiritual strength from the risen Lord. There never was a Sunday when I consciously entered the pulpit depending on myself. God did use me and worked through His Word, mostly in spite of me, of course. But I failed to see how mixed my motives were, and I didn't realize how this was affecting my ministry.

I also didn't understand that I was driven to define my identity through my preaching. I thought preaching was what made me somebody. Through preaching I mattered and gained the lasting significance I craved. Success as a preacher would make me somebody others would admire. Until I consciously sought to know Him, I attempted to define myself by what I did, specifically what I did as a preacher. However, we can never fully define ourselves by what we do. All identity—all of who we are—grows out of relationships, not accomplishments, specifically our relationship with Christ and then with His church. I was attempting to make myself significant in the wrong way, because significance comes only through knowing Christ. Little wonder rough times lay ahead for me. I did not know God was finally getting me in the place where He could use me.

After reading Mere Christianity, I said to God, "All right, Lord, I'm a proud man, but You have given me gifts." That was the bottom point of my life, and the beginning of my way up to a new awareness of God and His grace. For the first time I could acknowledge what was obvious to so many for so long: I was a proud man. Yet, also for the first time in my memory, I could think well of myself. I had never been able to think good thoughts about myself and be comfortable inside. Clearly I was what I call a deficit thinker.


A deficit thinker is someone who thinks he is a nobody who must make himself into a somebody by what he does.

I thought that as a nobody I could make myself into a somebody by being the best preacher there was. As a deficit thinker I was marked by empti­ness where there should have been an identity. I had an inner vacuum that I needed to fill; otherwise I had no sense of existence and value.

The deficit thinker believes achievements make him somebody, and this is how he gains an identity for himself; what he does is what truly mat­ters.

However, it's not possible for anyone to fill an identity void through achievements. We become ourselves only through relationships, first through knowing Christ and then through knowing those in and out of His family. As a result, the deficit thinker gets the exact opposite of what he is striving for, because he ends up with more emptiness than he had in the first place.

The deficit thinking person is a driven person, that is, all his energy is focused on himself, on seeking to buy an identity through his accom­plishments. Drivenness is the desperate effort of a deficit thinker to define his identity, all done in God's name, but apart from God's resources. Be­cause he is desperate—after all, he senses he has no life if he has no identity—he may sacrifice even those who are most precious to him: his wife, his children, his friends, even his Lord, to gain the sense of identity he so greatly needs. He is like a starving man scrounging in the garbage for food.

Even though I was a deficit thinker, I was totally committed to Christ. I truly wanted to serve and glorify Him. I had turned away from every­thing to follow Christ and I fully intended to pursue Him wherever He led. Nevertheless, even as a dedicated follower of Christ, I ended up burned out and broken. Deficit thinkers are confused. Here are six ways they think about themselves and life.

Deficit Thinking
Resource-limited There’s only so much to go around.
Time-bound You only go around once.
Death-defined I am what I am when I die.
Competitively driven Win-lose.
Independently motivated I can make it on my own.
Fear based It’s do or die.

Resource-Limited: There's Only So Much to Go Around

The deficit thinker sees all resources as limited. Whether it's power, influ­ence, position, possessions, or glory, there is only so much to go around, and he must get as much as he can or he loses. Frequently this drivenness is masked by "God language." Phrases like "for God's glory" or "being jealous for God" frequently fall from his lips, but we see his real heart through the strife and division he causes when he seeks to glorify God by getting all the glory he can for himself. A deficit thinker says things like, "If only I can get Billy Graham to endorse my book, I can make a great impact for Christ." But this is not the way to buy an identity. For such a person power is the key resource and control is the primary prize.

Time-Bound: You Only Go Around Once

A deficit thinker measures himself by thinking of where he should be at a certain age. "I'm forty years old and I should be pastoring a church of a thousand by now. I feel like a failure because I'm not where I thought I would be at forty." He feels bound and measured by time, as if his arbi­trary and false standards actually define who he is. A deficit thinker always measures his personal value by his achievements rather than by his char­acter and growth. Rarely do we hear someone say, "I'm far more loving at forty than I expected to be." That's because, for many of us, the number of people in our churches is more important to us than the amount of love in our hearts. This is a sure sign of deficit thinking.

Death-Defined: I Am What I Am When I Die

A deficit thinker feels he doesn't have an identity, and that there is noth­ing worse than being nobody. A person without an identity is one who doesn't matter, who knows only a living death, who is void and without significance. A deficit thinker seeks to define who he is and to prove that he matters. He concentrates on his achievements. He thinks that what he does makes him somebody and gives him significance. So if we ar& deficit thinkers, we try to prove we are valuable by doing something we think others will admire. Then we die, and all our efforts become futile. We do everything we can to prove we matter, and we still end up dead. This is why our efforts to find fullness only produce more emptiness.

Competitively Driven: Win-Lose

For the deficit thinker life is a zero-based game. He starts every day at zero and must show an identity profit for the day or he thinks he is a failure. Each day he fails makes him more driven than the day before. Since failure and nonidentity are never more than one day away, he can never stop driving lest he fail utterly and lose all hope of ever achieving success. He wins or loses on a daily basis, and the winner takes all, so if he doesn't win, there isn't anything left for him to take. The fact that his sermon last Sunday was good doesn't mean a thing after a few minutes of satisfaction on Monday. The message he hears from others is, "Don't tell me what you did for me last Sunday; tell me what you're going to do for me next Sunday."

The chips in the zero-based approach to life are typically money, sex, power, and fame. Most pastors have rejected money and sex as life chips, but many have yet to settle the issues of power and fame. This explains why the struggle for control dominates so many in the ministry. Control is the way pastors become powerful and famous, and power and fame are the way pastors keep score, just as money is the way entrepreneurs keep score. So there is tension, competition, anger, and bitterness on church staffs and boards since so many leaders are deficit thinkers with a win-lose mentality.

Relationships always break down among zero-based players because they believe that relationships mean weakness, since you have to be vul­nerable to connect with others, and deficit thinkers can't be vulnerable. This is why many driven pastors take advantage of their wives, ignore their children, and disregard their staffs. They don't have time for rela­tionships because they must make an identity profit before the day ends. Deficit thinkers always focus on what they don't have and desperately need. For them the glass isn't half full or half empty—it's always empty because they are always looking at the wrong glass.

Independently Motivated: I Can Make It on My Own

Deficit thinkers rarely admit they need others to succeed in life because they can't afford to trust. If they do, they'll have to admit they can't make it on their own, and that's like saying they can never be themselves. They may say they need others and claim they're dependent on Christ, but they don't truly understand what this means or they would make knowing Him their number-one priority. Frequently they resist accountability, re­ject authority, and trust very few people. For them control is the primary issue, and they mean their control even though they have made a sincere commitment to Christ's lordship. They trust almost no one because they can get where they want to go only through their controlling others. Words like "team" and "family" roll off their tongues and land with a deadening thud since all who hear them know they are utterly incapable of such commitments. No matter what they say, they will almost never truly ac­knowledge a need for others.

Fear-Based: It's Do or Die

Fear reigns supreme in the deficit thinker's heart. Fear of failure; fear of success; fear of being discovered as a nobody; fear of being known as empty and futile; fear of being found out for what they truly are. Fear is lord of all in their lives. Even as I felt God would never give me another cross-cultural opportunity, so all deficit thinkers have a distorted view of God and how He responds to their failures. But if they truly understood God, they wouldn't be so afraid.


Before his conversion Paul was a deficit thinker of the highest order (Phil. 3:3-6). We know this because he did what all deficit thinkers do:

He put his confidence in the flesh to be all he thought God wanted him to be (3:3-4). We, too, put confidence in the flesh when we strive to define our identities by relying on ourselves. Then we are drawing on human resources, not God's, and we measure our identity by what we think makes us superior. For deficit thinkers to feel fulfilled, they have to see themselves as better than others. For Paul those ways, before his conversion, came from his religious roots, family heritage, and personal accomplishments, and especially his self-righteousness (3:5-6). His su­preme confidence that he was blameless before the Law gave him his ultimate identity as a man who satisfied God in every way.

I, too, was a deficit thinker. I was totally committed to Christ and made a sincere effort to serve and please Him. However, as long as I drew my identity from trying to be the best preacher rather than knowing Christ, I could do nothing more than run a deficit in life. With Paul, I had to learn that everything I counted on for gain was futile and empty; in fact, it was all a loss (3:7-8). Paul used accounting language when he said all he had counted on for identity was loss apart from knowing Christ. Like the company owner who carefully reviews his business's profit-and-loss statement, so Paul was concerned about the profit-and-loss statement of his life. And he discov­ered he was taking a loss on his life investments; he was going in the hole.

Despite all his efforts and investments—his religious roots, his family heritage, his personal accomplishments, his self-righteousness—his deficit was increasing. The emptiness in his soul was getting bigger; he was not fulfilled, no matter how hard he worked or how many more life resources he poured into his efforts. He did not have any more capital to invest. He was broke, with nothing to show for all his hard work. In fact, he was worse than broke, if that were possible. He used the Greek word skybala ("refuse to be flushed away") in describing what he got in return for his life re­sources. It wasn't just a dry hole or a bad investment; it was a shameful, ugly, rotten life, full of trash that brought dishonor, grief, and pain to his soul. Paul, the deficit thinker, was driven, in the skybala of the flesh to find his identity.


Abundance thinkers see life in a radically different way from deficit think­ers. The difference between them is not in what they do, but in how they think. Abundance thinkers rely on the Holy Spirit, while deficit thinkers are bound by their sinful perspective. Abundance thinkers understand that they don't define their identity through their accomplishments; instead they discover and develop their identity through knowing Christ. The abundance thinker does exactly the same things the deficit thinker does: He prays, he prepares, he preaches, he pastors. However, he is at rest. He is approach­able, peaceable, willing to listen, full of drive, but not driven.

Driven people act out of emptiness and focus their energy on making themselves somebody by pursuing the achievements they have decided bring them identity. Those who find their identity in knowing Christ have an abundance of drive, but not self-centered drivenness. They are fueled by the fullness of knowing who God made them, and they grow each day in the exciting discoveries such assurance brings. Achievements take on new meaning for them as they invest their drive in service and find sig­nificance in giving themselves to others rather than seeking to get recognition and affirmation from others. Unlike the spiritually starving driven man scrounging in the skybala of the flesh to find his sustenance, the abundance thinker directs his energies to serve others and to help them find themselves in the fullness of knowing Christ.

Now they are truly free—free from comparison and competition, from envy and jealousy, from fear and anger, from covetousness and self-protection. They are able to encourage and support others when they once would have competed. This is true even when the others are more talented than they are and may replace them at some point in the future. Because they have learned that their unique, special identity is a free gift of grace, their praying, preparing, preaching, and pastoring become their ways of serving as they grow from somebody to somebody, from fullness to greater fullness, from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18). All of their actions grow from the security of their identity. They are no longer trying to buy an identity through what they do.

Abundance thinkers have a totally different mind-set because they see themselves from God's perspective. The only limits they have are the lim­its the sovereign God places on them to help them grow in faith and glorify Him. The following paragraphs outline six ways abundance thinkers think of themselves and life.

Resource-Unlimited: God Has Every Resource I Need.

In contrast to the deficit thinker, those who experience God's abundance know that all His resources are infinite. There is no limit to His glory. There is no limit to the power He can exercise through us or to the posi­tions He may have for us. Everything God has for us is ours. All we need to do is trust Him for it. None of us has to end life bitter and broken, full of regret. If we trust God, we will see His greatness through us in ways we never dreamed possible.

Abundance Thinking
Resource-unlimited God has every resource I need.
Time-Aware I am accountable for my time.
Resurrection-defined What we do matters,
but life fully begins when I die.
Community-driven Serving is the point, not winning.
Dependently motivated I can’t make if on my own.
Security-based The abundant life is in Christ.

Time-Aware: I Am Accountable for My Time

We are not time-bound, but we are time-accountable. We must buy up every moment God gives us in light of our evil days (Eph. 5:15-16). Time is more important than the name we make for ourselves. The most pre­cious resource we get in life is time. So we must use every moment God gives us to glorify Him and reveal who He is, and not waste it by trying to show others who we are.

Deficit thinkers treat time in crass and plastic ways. Instead of investing it, they spend their time seeking success. But sooner or later, deficit thinkers run out of time and they must leave behind all they gained. They throw it away on cheap, fruitless efforts to exalt themselves. Abundance thinkers, on the other hand, invest time as they bring God's fullness into human empti­ness. When they run out of time, they have a heritage to leave behind and a treasure that has already been sent on ahead. There is no greater steward­ship of the years our Father gives us than to invest them for eternal values.

Resurrection-Defined: What We Do Matters, but Life Fully Begins When We Die

What we do today matters, but it is preparation for our eternal tomor­row. Our Lord's parables were filled with the truth that God is preparing us for an eternal trust, the privilege of serving Him forever. We will face the judgment seat of Christ, and we must prepare for that scrutiny now through what we do with the gifts and opportunities God gives us. All of us long to hear our Lord say, "Well done, good and faithful servant," but even that is not the end of opportunity for us.

Death does not end our service nor define us in a final way. Only in heaven will we become our true selves fully and totally. We will enter into our greatest opportunities to serve when we enter God's presence free from sin, the flesh, and all physical limitations. Although we are prepar­ing for our Lord's evaluation and must make every effort to send gold, silver, and precious stones on ahead, we must remember that death is the doorway to resurrection and the richest service we will ever know. Death is not the end; it is the beginning of what we were truly created to be, and we must live our lives in that light.

Community-Driven: Serving Is the Point, Not Winning

Abundance thinkers give themselves to others, because they realize they become what God created them to be only through serving Him and other people. The only ones who can enter into this kind of fellowship are those who no longer have anything to hide, who taste in some small way the freedom the Trinity has in its relationships. There you see Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each of whom both leads and subordinates Himself to the other without fear of control or competition, with no concern for who wins or loses, with concern only for love and accomplishing their agreed-on purpose. Deficit thinkers can never enter into such a relation­ship. They aren't even remotely capable of doing so. Abundance thinkers, however, find their greatest joy in serving, not in winning.

Dependency Motivated: I Can't Make It on My Own

Just as abundance thinkers need community, they need Christ even more. Increasingly they grasp the meaning of our Lord's words, "Without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). What was once abstract and incompre­hensible gradually becomes the single greatest reality of their lives: Knowing Him is the greatest gain there is in life (Phil. 3:7-8).

Security-Based: The Abundant Life Is in Christ

Deficit thinkers are fear-based, driven by the terror that they are nobod­ies and that they might never become more than that. But abundance thinkers have found the abundant life that is in Christ—the true abun­dance of being themselves and all that means through God's grace—and they are confident He will give them more than they could ever ask or think (Eph. 3:20). They do not fear what life brings so long as Christ is there with them and they get to know Him better. Entering into this rela­tionship ourselves and then helping others enter into it with us is what postering is all about. Nothing is greater than this—no position, or power, or pulpit, nothing!


Just as Paul is a model of deficit thinking, so he is a model of abundance thinking (Phil. 3:7-14). Once he turned from the loss of skybala to the gain of knowing Christ, he became a radically different person. Thirteen years elapsed between his first efforts in Jerusalem (Acts 9:30) and Barnabas's invitation for Paul to go from Tarsus to Antioch (11:25-26). During this "wilderness" time Paul became the kind of individual God could thrust into prominence as the apostle to the Gentiles.

Now Paul, the accountant viewing the profit-and-loss statement on his life investments, became an athlete running a race with every ounce of energy in his being. His eyes were on the finish line, he ran toward the tape, seeking only to hear the Judge declare him a prize winner (Phil. 3:10-14). That prize, the prize for which he was created, filled his thoughts. His goal was to fulfill the call of God on his life. He knew he was still on the track, and, although he was not certain how many more laps he had to go, he was faithful to give his best and go his hardest until he entered the last lap and saw the finishing tape in front of him. He was driven, not by a vision of himself but by a vision of his Lord. He knew he was just another runner on life's track, and that was good enough for him because he also knew that was what he was created to be. Nothing could fulfill him more than knowing Christ. Once he gained Christ he had every­thing; before he had nothing. Now he had true abundance.

For such a pastor the size of his church is only as important to him as it is to Christ. To him fame means nothing except as it exalts Christ. In his mind preaching is not an issue of his identity; it is an expression of Christ's glory. He is at rest, striding confidently and steadily in Christ, no matter what turmoil he faces. He is delivered from the death of deficit thinking through the abundance he finds in knowing Jesus Christ his Lord.

An abundance thinker is ready to face himself, including his fears and his flaws. He learns to know Christ better when he confronts his sin in deeper ways. He does not need to reduce God's Word to the banal rel­evance of the words "That'll preach." He understands preaching must come from the depths of his walk with Christ, not from a shallow immersion in the culture around him. He knows the real purpose of preaching is to change lives, not merely to "preach." And he knows that true power in preaching comes first from an intimate relationship with Christ and sec­ond from an insightful understanding of his times.

An abundance thinker also comprehends the connection between lead­ership competence and the leader's character. Each time he comes to the question of competence versus character, he realizes he can't grow in skill without facing flaws in his being. He will never come to know Christ fully until he chooses the pain of character growth in the process of skill devel­opment. Here is one of the most vital principles a spiritual leader must grasp: The higher up a leader goes in competence demand, the deeper down that leader must go in character discipline. We can be certain of this: For every new level of opportunity God gives us, He will demand a new depth of  growth from us.

If we resist facing our flaws, we will soon find ourselves functioning without any inner strength, and our ministries will collapse under us. This is why men with such great gifts, knowledge, and charisma have such great falls: They learned to manipulate, but not to minister. They acted as if they knew Christ, but they never entered into the suffering that sin demands— the pain of facing our own shame, the grief of having to acknowledge to others what they already knew about us, the humility of knowing we're just as ordinary as everyone else. They thought being good at what they did— rather than who they were—was the way to buy success and become somebody.

New opportunities demand new competencies, but every new skill we develop brings us face to face with new character flaws we must confront, no matter how great the pain. If we refuse to face these flaws, we can do only one thing: cover up our sin with our achievements. But all cover-ups lead to the same end, namely, ministry collapse. One of the most signifi­cant ways we come to know Christ is through confronting and confessing our sin. In those moments He draws near to us to cleanse, comfort, and commission us to the new tasks for which we are now ready. Moses (Exod. 3:1-4:14), Isaiah (Isa. 6:1-9), and Paul (Acts 9:1-14) all learned that the closer we get to the holy God, the clearer our life call becomes. God appeared to each of them in His holiness, not to condemn them, but to commis­sion them once they had confessed their sin. Like Moses, Isaiah, and Paul, all pastors come frequently to the intersection of competence and char­acter, and like them, we must be ready to face our sin, not cover it up. Then we will know Christ and grasp what Paul learned: Our ultimate aim, as runners in life's marathon, is to pursue the purpose for which Christ pursued us.

This is what I discovered when I confessed my pride to God. Amaz­ingly, eight months after my failure in the Philippines God led me back to Southeast Asia. Failure was not the end for me. Instead it brought the beginning of true life and opportunity. Although it has taken years for me to grasp the significance of God's grace in my life, He has continued to use me and teach me through the opportunities He gives. I have found God doesn't reject us when we fail. Rather, He redeems and restores us and then pours out on us greater blessings than we could ever imagine.

Christ is the true Source of all identity, and the better we know Him the better we know ourselves. All identity, influence, ministry, and impact come from knowing Him. In fact, everything that matters comes from knowing Him. The greatest source of ministry competence lies in know­ing Christ. Here is where we find vision; here is where we find courage; here is where we find our gifts; here is where we find spiritual power. Without Him all we do is nothing.

I wish I could tell you my recovery from burnout delivered me from pride and instantly freed me from deficit thinking, but I can't. The process is long and slow, and I have discovered times of brokenness continue throughout life. I have learned about knowing Christ through private prayer and public worship. I have learned my own attitude is my greatest barrier to being a servant leader. No matter what others do to hinder me or even oppose me, I am always free to be the person Christ made me to be if I choose to trust Him.

I have discovered the joy of serving Jesus just for the delight of it. I have learned that preaching without fear comes when I am preaching without concern for myself, but this takes consistent prayer, confession, and cleansing, all of which come only through God's grace. I have also discovered one of the most important ways to know Him is to stand at the intersection of competence and character and say yes to Christ when I'd rather say no. At times that has meant staying where He wanted me to stay when I wanted to go elsewhere. What is it He wants me to face? I discovered it a few years ago when I was studying the Gospel of Mark; it was my hardened heart.


In this book on effective pastoring, I want you to know what I mean by "effective." Certainly it includes powerful preaching, visionary leadership, new plans for the twenty-first century, productive boards, strong teams— all the things that make pastoring the joy God intends it to 'be. But no pastor can be effective unless his number-one commitment is to know Christ. Unless we are willing to pay any price to know Christ, our minis­try will collapse. Our own sermons will mock us and convict us of our unholy lives; our own vision will reveal that we are powerless and ineffec­tive; our own plans for the twenty-first century will show that we are nothing more than empty talkers; our board and staff will reject us and judge us for the hypocrites we are. The very Lord who died for us and called us into ministry will set us aside, take our lampstand from us, and give it to another who will make knowing Him more important than anything else in life. Let's know Him and serve Him. This is what pastoring is all about.

Chapter Two - The Dreaded Leader's Disease

Hardened hearts. These are two ominous words we associ­ate with the arrogant, proud pharaoh of the Exodus; the idolatrous tribes of Canaan; the stiff-necked, rebellious Israelites; and the willfully self-righteous Sadducees and Pharisees, but not with Christ's disciples. Yet this is exactly how Jesus described His men (Mark 6:52; 8:17). What led Jesus to accuse His own followers of having hardened hearts? In response to His call they had given up everything to follow Him—financial secu­rity, family normalcy, their occupations. Still He said they had hardened hearts.

Were Christ's disciples like the Pharisees and Sadducees, who de­manded that Jesus be what they wanted Him to be? In some measure, yes. They resisted Him because He did not live according to their terms; Their hearts were hardened because they didn't trust Him and His sufficiency.  Each of the twelve disciples struggled with this flaw. They made the right decisions, said the right things, confessed the right theology, did the right miracles, and yet the terrible shackles of this debilitating struggle held them prisoners. Because of it, they brought frustration to their Lord and shame to themselves, even as many of us do as pastors. What can this mean for us? Are we possibly doing the same in our pastoral ministry?

Could our hearts be hardened? Like the disciples, we have turned away from all other pursuits to follow Christ, but we can also mix our commitment with expectations that keep us from seeing Him for who He truly is and what He intends to do through us.  We fill our minds with our puny plans and miss His powerful purpose for us, even as the disciples did. We have "Leader's Disease," that is, hardened hearts.

Leader's Disease is epidemic among pastors. Nothing holds us back more. Nothing infects our souls, stains our spirits, or paralyzes our hands so completely as this issue of the heart. When we are in the grip of Leader's Disease, we are unable to respond to our Lord's plans for us; we cannot learn from Him or see His greatness through us. The disciples revealed this through their response to two miracles that became models of min­istry for them—and us.


Jesus commissioned the Twelve to preach, drive out demons, and anoint many sick people with oil (Mark 6:7-13). They obeyed and had a power­ful ministry. Who wouldn't long for such accomplishments? Any modern minister would regard their impact as an unparalleled success and would declare the pastor who did these things a spiritual giant. Yet the disciples had hardened hearts. They had given up finances and family to follow Christ, and they had cast out demons and prayed with power for physical healings. Why would their hearts be hardened?

At the end of a long, demanding day Jesus sent His men across the Sea of Galilee while He went up on a mountain to pray (Matt. 14:23). Well into the night, in the midst of wild winds and churning waves, He walked on the water to meet them (Mark 6:48). When they saw Him, they thought He was a water spirit and they cried out with terror. Then He spoke to them, and they knew it was Jesus. With that He got into the boat and the wind died down (6:51). His disciples were amazed, but they shouldn't have been. They should have expected Jesus to deliver them, and to do it in an amazing way.

Why should they have expected Him to rescue them? Because He had already stilled one storm and also demonstrated His power over nature, sickness, demons, and death. Furthermore earlier that same day they saw Him feed five thousand people with a little boy's lunch. What more could the Son of God do to earn their trust? Yet they were terrorized and amazed. Why? Because their hearts were hardened (6:52).' This is stunning! How could the disciples be spiritually imperceptive? How could they have the same problem as the Pharisees (3:5)?

Their condition expressed itself in their astonishment when Jesus walked on water and stilled the storm. Why had they learned nothing from the incident of the loaves? Because their hearts were hardened.


Jesus designed these miracles to be a model of the ministry demands that both the disciples then and pastors today must meet to be effective. The feeding of the five thousand is the class and walking on water is the lab, and together they become a model of ministry for all who desire to know and serve Christ.

Involved Disciples

The feeding of the five thousand is one of the few events in Christ's life recorded in all four Gospels. It marks the first time Jesus involved His disciples in doing a miracle with Him. Up until now they had been pas­sive observers, spectators watching what He did, but they themselves were not engaged. Now they came to Him with a problem—too many people and not enough food—but they didn't think of a miracle. All they wanted was to get rid of the crowd (Mark 6:35-36). Like so many of us, they wanted the Lord to remove their overwhelming problem, but He didn't do that. Instead He said a very startling thing: "You [emphatic]2 give them something to eat" (6:37).

John explained that Jesus planned this miracle as a test for the dis­ciples. When He asked Philip, "'Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?'" (John. 6:5), He already knew "what He was going to do" (6:6). Jesus wanted them to think of a solution, but the problem was too big for them. Philip showed their frustration by telling Jesus something He al­ready knew. "Eight months' wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite" (6:7). Jesus wanted them to feed the crowd, but even if they had eight months' worth of a working man's wages, no one would get more than a single bite. What kind of a solution is that? They were incredulous, utterly unprepared for Jesus to tell them to give the five thou­sand something to eat.3

William Lane makes these interesting comments: "Jesus, in contrast to the circumstances depicted in all of the other miracles, appears delib­erately to create the situation in which the people must be fed. His instructions to the disciples to feed the people and to count their reserves of bread signify unambiguously that the food had to be provided through the disciples, not from the multitude. Jesus knows from the beginning what He will do and the exchange with the Twelve moves toward a well-defined end. The Twelve, however, display an increasing lack of understanding; their attitude of disrespect and incredulity declares that the conduct of Jesus is beyond their comprehension."4

Jesus wanted to engage the disciples in the process. "In contrast to their usually passive stance Jesus actively involved them in the total pro­ceeding. His extended discussion with them prior to the event baffled them, while His wordless disclosure of His divine power through the event exceeded all understanding."5

What was the purpose of this test? To raise their trust in Him to a new level by showing them what He could do through them, not just/or them or for others. He also acted to show them how they could depend on Him even as He depended on the Father. Thus He acted to teach them a new approach to ministry. Not only would they preach, cast out demons, and heal the sick, but they could also meet the deepest inner spiritual hunger of others through trusting in Him. They had passed the first part of the course; now it was time to move on to the next level and learn about the true nature of ministry. He wanted to teach them they were inadequate for ministry, that all ministry is beyond ordinary human resources.

Ministry Realities

Ministry is life permanently lived in the deep end of the pool with no time­outs. The odds will always be five thousand to seven, that is, there will always be five thousand hungry men (plus women and children), and all we'll ever have in ourselves to give them is five loaves and two fish.  The pastorate will always be beyond us—beyond our gifts, our training, our experience, beyond everything except radical trust in Christ. If we are seeking to become adequate as pastors, we are seeking something that will never happen. The best and brightest among us will never have more than a little boy's lunch. Ministry is permanently beyond our adequacy.

Jesus gave His apostles and us a model of ministry that demonstrates our need for Him in all we do. He will never give us something we can do apart from Him, whether it is preaching, counseling, visiting the sick, leading a staff, or developing elders or deacons. Whatever it is, we can't do it without Him. We must bring our little boy's lunch, place it in His hands, wait for Him to bless it, and then see Him distribute its life-giving nutri­tion and energy through us. All we can ever do is carry bits and pieces of loaves and fish from Jesus to the hungry multitude. One thing is certain:

On that day no disciple forgot that only Jesus had the food. To prevent the hungry multitude from becoming an angry mob, they needed to stay dependent on Him. Jesus alone is adequate for the task we face, and only as we trust Him and His resources will we be able to feed the hungry multitude. Relying on our own resources reveals a hardened heart.

Jesus' Adequacy for Our Inadequacy

Jesus was telling His men, in essence, "I will replace your inadequacy with My adequacy." The message Jesus communicated to His disciples through this miracle was this: To minister for Me you will have to do what you cant do with what you don't have. Nothing has changed since then. This is as true for us today as it was on the day the disciples faced the five thousand. However, Jesus communicated more than this to His men and to us in that moment. His actions were a promise: I will do what I can do with what I have.. We are never adequate, but He is always adequate through us. For this reason we must expect Him to intervene when we face storms, and only our hardened hearts cause us to be amazed when He walks on, water to deliver us from the storms we face in life.

Because only Christ can meet the overwhelming needs of others through us, none of the means we normally use to build and accomplish ministry ever work. Means such as the following are inadequate for minis­tering for Christ:

  • our thinking
  • our knowledge
  • our planning
  • our energy
  • our influence
  • our power
  • our preaching
  • our control
  • our personality

All the ways we seek to succeed in ministry fail us when we face five thousand hungry men plus women and children, because none of them has any power to change lives. Jesus does use our thinking, planning, en­ergy, influence, power, and personalities when He feeds the five thousand through us. Surely each disciple had his own individual way of putting bread and fish in the people's hands on that amazing day, yet the power to make the difference came not from the disciples but from the Discipler. So it is with us. The power to make a difference comes from Christ, not us.

This is the essence of ministry: Jesus fills our hands with His adequacy so we can go from Him to the hungry multitude. Jesus taught this to His disciples when He fed the five thousand. He expected them to remember this when He walked on water, but they didn't remember. Why? Because their hearts were hardened; they were relying on themselves.

Hardened Heart, Sinking Feet

Hardness of heart was the reason Jesus spoke so strongly to Peter follow­ing his failed effort to walk on water. Some may not think Peter's effort was heroic, but I believe it was amazingly so. I have always been stunned at our Lord's words to him. I would have expected Him to congratulate Peter as the only man with enough courage to get out of the boat and do what Jesus was doing. Remember the situation before you judge Peter. It's easy for us to stand in a pulpit and make great sermon grist by criticizing Peter for being afraid when he lost sight of Jesus because of the pounding waves. We proclaim from our landlocked pulpits on Sunday mornings, "Never let the waves of life overcome your faith in Jesus." This is good advice, even good preaching, although many of us who preach it so blithely might well have been throwing up over the side of the boat instead of walking on water. Our good preaching, however, misses the point of Peter's failure in faith. Peter's problem wasn't that his eyes were overcome by the waves, but that his heart wasn't up to the task.

Jesus' rebuke to Peter seems harsh. "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Matt. 14:31). Peter had done what no other disciple would do; he went over the side of the boat and onto the water. So why did Jesus speak so strongly to him? What did Jesus want? There is only one answer: Jesus ex­pected Peter to walk on water. Our Lord's point is this: "You have just failed at what I expect you to do for the rest of your life. You will face storms that will demand all the energy you have, but they will be supernatural storms brought on by supernatural forces which demand faith in My supernatural resources. Learn this point now, because his is what your ministry will be about. I expect you to do the supernatural through My supernatural resources. Anything less is doubt and failure and reveals a hardened heart."

This is what our Lord expected His men to learn from the lecture and to apply in the laboratory of life. We are to take our Lord's words and works seriously. He is God, and He plans to speak the Word of God and do the works of God through us. What could be more challenging? How can we be satisfied with ordinary—even less than ordinary—ministries when the Lord of the universe wants to act through us? Only He is adequate for ministry. Our hardness of heart keeps us from grasping this truth and trusting Him for what He can do through us. For this reason, Jesus never ceases to put us in circumstances designed to deliver us from hardened hearts, circumstances that give Him every opportunity to demonstrate His glory through our frailties.


The disciples' hardness of heart became our Lord's greatest obstacle in developing His leaders. Mark focused on this struggle through a series of four "message miracles" in Mark 7-8. Each miracle had a message de­signed to demonstrate a different way hardness of heart impacts us.

Darkened Understanding (Mark 7:24-30)                .

On learning where Jesus was, a Syrian Phoenician woman, a Gentile, went to see Him about her little daughter who had a demon. He represented her only hope. Despite His efforts to rebuff her, she persisted, and Jesus did something He did only one other time: He healed her daughter with­out going to her, touching her, or saying a word about her.6 This woman's heart was tender toward the Lord despite her lack of understanding, and she trusted Him to meet her need.

In contrast to the Syrian Phoenician woman, consider the disciples, who had had a lifetime of instruction from the Old Testament concern­ing the Messiah. Further, John the Baptist had identified Jesus as the Messiah, and they had heard His words and seen His works. Yet because their hearts were hardened, their minds were darkened. So they couldn't grasp the true significance of who He was.

What's the point of this miracle? This woman had a faith far beyond her knowledge, but the disciples, by contrast, had a faith far short of their knowledge.7 The woman who knew almost nothing of Christ had great faith, while the disciples, who knew much more about Him, had little faith. The disciples' knowledge blinded their understanding so they could not trust Him for supernatural actions. In contrast, the woman's faith enlightened her understanding so she could trust Him to meet her needs. Her heart was soft, but the disciples' hearts were hardened.

The message of this miracle is that hardened hearts darken our un­derstanding so that we don't trust Christ for what He can do through us. We don't sense our inadequacy or His adequacy for us. We may say the words and sound as if we get the point, but our behavior belies our claim, just as it did in the disciples. What the head knows, the hand cannot do until the heart is broken, and the disciples were a long way from this.

Deafened Ears, Crippled Tongues (Mark 7:31-37)

The next message-miracle follows immediately. In this event, recorded only by Mark and designed to prefigure the opening of the disciples' ears,8 Jesus healed a deaf man who could not talk clearly. Could there be a clearer message to His disciples? Hardened hearts deafen the ears and cripple the tongue. The disciples heard the truth, but only partially; they spoke the truth, but not clearly. They would never hear or speak properly until full faith finally opened their ears.

A Rerun Miracle (Mark 8:1-10)

In the next miracle Jesus fed four thousand, a "rerun" miracle echoing the feeding of the five thousand. Some critics regard this as a mistaken record of the feeding of the five thousand, but the differences are specific and clearly described, and Jesus referred to both miracles in this same chapter (8:19-20). Our Lord was an excellent teacher, and, as any excellent teacher knows, repetition is an effective weapon in an instructor's arsenal. This time the demand was different, a little easier perhaps, since there were only four thousand to feed, and the disciples had seven loaves and a few small fish. However, whether the odds are five thousand to seven or four thousand to seven and more, they are still overwhelming.

What message was Jesus sending through this rerun miracle? He was telling His disciples and us, "I mean it, men. I'm not playing with you. Do you want to become fishers of men? Do you want to make a difference for Me? Then understand My message. You will never be adequate for minis­try without relying on Me. You are utterly inadequate apart from Me and you always will be. I will replace your inadequacy with my adequacy, and this is the only way you can serve Me." Yet hardness of heart—depending on our own resources—keeps us from grasping His point.

The Point: Hardened Hearts (Mark 8:11-21)

Immediately after this, some Pharisees came and asked Jesus for a sign, but He rejected their demand because their intent was to judge Him, not trust Him (8:11-12).9 Then Jesus and His disciples got into a boat and headed across Galilee (8:13). While in the boat Jesus issued a stern warn­ing that His disciples misunderstood. Jesus gave them orders telling them to watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and the Herodians (8:15). By yeast Jesus referred to their evil intention to test Him, not trust Him. The disciples missed Jesus' point entirely and became confused because they had only one loaf of bread in the boat. They thought He was rebuking them for not having enough bread to eat, a ridiculous thought in light of His having fed the five thousand and the four thousand. When our Lord heard them discussing this, He rebuked them and raised several penetrat­ing questions, thus bringing the message of His miracles together for His disciples.

Twice He asked them if they still did not understand (8:17,21) despite His words and works. This was in contrast to the Syrian Phoenician woman who saw and heard so little but understood so much. He also asked them if they had ears but failed to hear (8:18), just like the deaf man He healed in Decapolis. Didn't they remember, He inquired, how many basketfuls were left over after the feeding of the five thousand and how many large basketfuls (8:20) were left over after the feeding of the four thousand? They did remember, of course, but though they had the facts they missed the point. He made His point clear by asking, "Are your hearts hardened?" (8:17). A darkened understanding, deaf ears, and crippled tongues could mean only one thing: Their hearts were hardened; they failed to rely on Him.

Blinded Eyes (Mark 8:22-26)

Now that Jesus had made His point, He did one more miracle to confirm and emphasize His message to the disciples. They entered Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man to Him for healing. Jesus took the man outside the village and touched His eyes, but when He asked if he could see anything, the man replied, "I see people; they look like trees walking around" (8:24). So Jesus touched his eyes again, and the man saw clearly.

This two-stage miracle was the only one of its kind in Jesus' ministry. With all His other miracles, healing occurred when He spoke or touched, but this miracle was unique because it took two touches.10 Why? Surely not because Jesus was unable to do it with one touch. Could it be a mes­sage to the disciples that they had eyes to see but could not see? They grasped enough of Jesus' message to know He was God," but their hearts were hardened. Their eyes were blinded just as their understanding was darkened, their ears deafened, and their tongues crippled. For this rea­son, like the blind man who confused men with trees, the disciples mis­took Messiah for a forest of their own making.

WHO AM I? (MARK 8:27-33)

When Jesus and His disciples arrived at a remote area near Caesarea Philippi in the far north of Israel, He asked them, "Who do people say I am?" (8:27, Niv). Of course they gave Him all the popular answers. Then He made His question more specific by asking, "But what about you?... Who do you say I am?" (8:29). Peter responded, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16:16). Peter and the rest of the disciples knew He was God. They had gotten the message, but missed its meaning. Yet Jesus approved Peter's response and blessed him with a special commendation. "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven" (16:17). Peter was personally tutored in Christology by God Himself. Surely his theology was accurate.

Next Jesus did an amazing and baffling thing; He began to speak plainly about the Cross (Mark 8:31). He had never mentioned the Cross before, and the disciples were even more unprepared for this message than they were for His message-miracles. Peter reacted by taking Him aside and rebuking Him (8:32). Peter may have said something like this: "What are you doing? Messiahs aren't crucified. You're not making any sense. You will kill Rome; Rome will not kill you! You're scaring us." By speaking to Jesus privately, Peter was trying to respond politely, but Jesus had no con­cern then for politeness; truth was more important to Him. As Jesus turned to look at Peter, He saw the other disciples (8:33) and rebuked Peter with some of the most amazing words in the Bible. "Get behind me, Satan!" How can a man who was privately tutored by God in Christology be called Satan? What does this mean?

This is the dreaded Leader's Disease and shows that it takes more than an accurate theology to have an accurate faith. Our Lord identified Peter's core problem: He was pursuing man's interests rather than God's (8:33). Peter's expectations conflicted with God's purposes. He was looking for position and power, while God was looking for sacrifice and humility. He was afflicted with the dreaded Leader's Disease.

Jesus' words show us that Leader's Disease is a chronic condition of the heart that is contaminated by expectations of self-reliance, position, power, recognition, and control. It pursues man's interests rather than God's, while serving Christ. This faith must be purified, and until this happens, those with Leader's Disease will turn from the Cross with the same motives, fears, and pride Satan has.

All this comes because of hardened hearts. We can think of hardened hearts as Mark's image for the flesh. The disciples were not like others with hardened hearts in the Bible such as Pharaoh, the Canaanites, or Israel's religious leaders. Their hearts were not hardened in the same way as those rebellious people any more than believers who walk according to the flesh are the same as unbelievers who are totally controlled by the flesh. But like unbelievers, we can and do walk according to the flesh and fulfill its desires. So sometimes it's difficult to tell believers and unbeliev­ers apart.


The dreaded Leader's Disease is a chronic condition in which hardness of heart blinds us to the real meaning of the truth we hold. The problem does not lie in our heads; it lies in our hearts, and this affects our hands, making us powerless and ineffective. What does this Leader's Disease look like and how can we gain deliverance from it? This is what we see in our next chapter.

Chapter Three - Deliverance from the Dreaded Leader's Disease

Is it possible for people who are completely committed to Christ to have Leader's Disease? How can people who have given up financial security and family living have this malady? How would Peter, who had power to cast out demons and who knew who Jesus is, suffer from the blindness caused by a hardened heart? How could Peter be called Satan?

If anything ever showed the folly of judging a man's spirituality by his ministry success, this does. How could a man do what Peter did and not be spiritual? The answer becomes increasingly obvious as we consider what happened to Christ's men, starting in Mark 6. From the moment Jesus introduced them to their supernatural responsibilities through the feeding of the five thousand until His Resurrection, all twelve men were on a downward spiral. They reached the point where they could not de­liver a demonized boy (Mark 9:14-32). They had fallen from great success to great failure, and Jesus was frustrated with their fall. "0 unbelieving generation ... how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?" (9:19). These men had great success until they met the super­natural demands of ministry. Then they fell apart and grew increasingly ineffective.


The disciples had two of the three elements they needed for lasting im­pact. Peter represents them well. We know that Peter was a man of action, a man of the hands, a doer, always ready to take on a task. Like Peter, we must be doers, men of action. Things will not get done if we just stand around and talk about them. We need to act, to lead the church forward, to present and develop new ideas that will move our ministries into new directions. But Peter was more than a man of the hands; he was also a man of the head. Although we might not expect this of him, Peter turned out to be a thoughtful man, a theological thinker, who understood who Jesus is on the basis of his knowledge of Scripture and his observation of Jesus' words and works. Peter identified Jesus as the Christ. The others must have thought it, but it was Peter who spoke and declared that Jesus is the Son of the living God. Peter, like the rest of the apostles, was a man of the hands and a man of the head. But what about the heart?

Here is the root of the disciples' problem, and of ours as well. At times they came to right conclusions and did right actions, but they could not accomplish the supernatural things that serving Jesus demands. Why was this? Because their hearts were hardened. It is not enough to hold accu­rate theology and do what is right. Unless the heart is softened and sensitive to depend on Christ, truth of doctrine and rightness of action will make little difference. The hands do and the head knows, but the heart is hard­ened because it is focused on its own interests rather than God's. We may have the right theology, but our ministry will be powerless if we are self-focused. How many ministries do we see like this—hands full of programs and heads full of knowledge, but hearts full of self?

The dreaded Leader's Disease takes root in our hearts when we pursue our own interests in God's name. We proclaim ourselves to be Christ's servants, but in reality we are self-serving. Each Sunday as we pray from the pulpit or preach from the Word we claim to be serving the sheep for the Savior's interests, yet when our hearts are hardened, we use the sheep to serve ourselves.

We can tell our hearts are hardened if we resent the refusal of the sheep to make us successful, as if their responsibility before God is to enhance our careers and promote our causes. When we become angry and seek to desert one fold for another because the sheep don't appreci­ate us or help us gain the fame we deserve, we have hardened hearts. Who among us has not struggled with such thoughts? Blackaby puts it well when he says, "The people are not there to help you be a successful pastor. You are there by divine assignment to work with God to bring His people to their fullest potential in knowing and doing the will of God for His glory."' We "are the steward and God is the owner! [We] are called by God to join Him in what He has been doing, and now wants to do through you for them."2


What does this dreaded Leader's Disease look like? It can be recognized by four symptoms.

Symptom 1: Careerism Marked by Selfish Ambition and Shameful Competition

We find the first symptom of Leader's Disease in Mark 9:30-34. For the second time Jesus told His disciples He would be betrayed, killed, and would rise after three days (9:31; compare 8:31). They were mystified by what He was saying, but they were too scared to ask Him any questions, perhaps because if He made it any clearer they would have to accept His words. His message as Messiah and their expectations of the Messiah con­flicted, but by ignoring what He said they continued to hold their false concept of the kingdom. Their expectations kept them going, and, if they were not true, the apostles' motivation to follow Christ was shattered.

The disciples consider that if Jesus is the anointed one they can only benefit from their association with Him. The disciples expect... eventual prosperity (to gain the world), importance, and positions of power.... What they had previously experienced of Jesus in the story until now reinforced these ex­pectations: the healings, exorcisms, works of power over nature, and the huge crowds.... this conflict between Jesus and the disciples on the way to Jerusa­lem exemplifies the clash between the values of the disciples and those of Jesus. The disciples share the values of the authorities. The disciples hope to prosper, to be important and powerful.... But Jesus defines their values as "thinking the things of men" and turns those values upside down.3

Many pastors have the same expectations as the disciples, expectations of position, power, fame, triumph over our enemies, and vindication as true men of God. It is both difficult and confusing to turn from these desires for ourselves and trust Christ for what He has for us. Like these apostles, many of us have given up certain comforts with the expectation that we would get even more back. For many pastors money may not be a con­cern, but position, power, recognition, and fame are. Size and influence turn out to mean far more to us than we ever dreamed.

What the disciples did not know, but what we can and must know, is the total emptiness of power and position, the futile desires of our sinful natures. We can leave a lasting heritage only if we don't care about such fleshly goals and if, instead, we take up our crosses daily. This is how we become difference-makers as pastors. But the apostles did not understand this and were afraid to ask. Tragically, they didn't understand what He said about His dying and being raised again.

One day Jesus and His men returned to Capernaum and, after enter­ing a house. He asked them, "What were you arguing about on the road?" (9:33). The disciples kept silent because they were driven by the same motives as those who rejected Jesus: They wanted a Messiah who would meet their terms and fulfill their expectations. Just like those around them, they were full of selfish ambition and shameful competition.4 While Jesus spoke of the greatest self-sacrifice in divine and human history, the apostles argued among themselves as to who was the greatest. Their total focus was on their status in the future kingdom, and so they neither under­stood nor accepted the Cross.5 Don't we do the same?

Think of the conversations we have at pastors' conferences when we talk about baptisms, buildings, budgets, books, and broadcasts. Aren't we attempting to determine who is the greatest among us? Don't selfish am­bition and shameful competition darken our dreams and foul our language? Are we not forced to be silent before our Lord's searching ques­tions? We have nothing to say when we stand before the Cross. All we can do is fall on our faces and confess our sin, and, until we are ready to do this, we must keep silent. Peter had nothing to say because there was noth­ing he could say. The Cross strips us of all pretense and leaves us only two choices: silence or confession.

Like the apostles we are too taken up with careerism, with success as our culture defines it. Eugene Peterson describes it well when he tells us why we have such difficulty being pastors. It is because we are awash in idolatry. The idolatry to which pastors are con­spicuously liable is not personal but vocational, the idolatry of a religious career that we can take charge of and manage.... But it is both possible and common to develop deep personal pieties that coexist alongside voca­tional idolatries without anyone noticing anything amiss. If the pastor is devout, it is assumed that the work is devout. The assumption is unwar­ranted.

Pastors commonly give lip service to the vocabulary of a holy vocation, but in our working lives we more commonly pursue careers. Our actual work takes shape under the pressure of the marketplace, not the truth of theology or the wisdom of spirituality. I would like to see as much atten­tion given to the holiness of our vocations as to the piety of our lives.... The so-called spirituality that was handed to me by those who put me to the task of pastoral work was not adequate. I do not find the emaciated, exhausted spirituality of institutional careerism adequate. I do not find the veneered, cosmetic spirituality of personal charisma adequate. I re­quire something biblically spiritual—rooted and cultivated in creation and covenant, leisurely in Christ, soaked in Spirit.6

The apostles were committed to careerism; their concept of the king­dom was defined by their own interests.  They were committed to expectations of position and power while Christ was committed to ser­vice and sacrifice. Though the disciples and the Messiah spoke the same language, the chasm between the apostles' idea of the kingdom and Christ's cross could never be bridged. The apostles had to turn from their selfishly ambitious and competitive silence to Christ's love and humility before they could have anything to say.  They had to turn from their careerism to the Cross, and we must do the same.  The only way we can do this is if the Cross penetrates our blinded minds and humbles our hardened hearts. Then we will experience a growing freedom from our selfish 'ambition and shameful competition.

Symptom 2: Shameless Use of Power

As Jesus and His followers continued on their way to Jerusalem, He took the Twelve aside privately and spoke to them of the Cross a third time (Mark 10:32-34). At this point He gave them the longest and most com­plete statement about the Cross in any of His communications. It was stark, specific, comprehensive. He would be betrayed—what an ugly word. How could He be betrayed except by a friend? What friend would do that? Weren't virtually all His friends with Him? This made no sense to the Twelve. He would be condemned, handed over to the Gentiles, mocked, spit on, flogged, killed. What message could be more unwelcome and more confusing?

Christ's promise that three days later He would rise from the dead was lost in the disciples' denial of the Cross. How else can we explain what happened next? "Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee [also known as the sons of thunder] came to Him" (10:35). "Then" is an amazing word. No "then" could be more misplaced; no "then" could convey greater irony; no "then" could reveal a greater grab for power. This shows us "the degree to which selfish ambition and rivalry were the raw material from which Jesus had to fashion the leadership for the incipient Church."7 James and John came with an incredible demand: "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask." How could they have such audacity to ask Jesus to do whatever they wanted?

Matthew 20:20 records that they brought their mother, Salome, ap­parently Mary's sister,8 and came kneeling before Jesus. (They looked so humble, but they were so proud.) If the disciples were to argue over who was the greatest, James and John—and their mother—would settle the issue through a direct appeal to family connections. For them blood really was thicker than water. We wonder why Jesus chose to entrust His mission and message to such men. Couldn't He have selected better can­didates? The answer isn't difficult to discern: He had no choice because they were the only kind of men available to Him. This is why we must not judge the disciples too severely. We are exactly the same type of men, the only kind Jesus can choose.

Our Lord's response was as stunning as the disciples' request. He ac­tually asked them what they wanted. He was patient with these shamelessly proud men; He listened to them, asked them a guiding question designed to help them realize why they were wrong, and explained to them why He couldn't give them what they wanted. Then He taught them that true greatness is giving your life on behalf of others, even when they betray you, condemn you, mock you, spit on you, flog you, and kill you. From this we realize that shameless use of power never gets us what we want.

Of course, we also have these drives. Don't you see those who want to sit on the right and the left at denominational conventions and organiza­tional meetings? Can't you see them striving to be noticed? Seeking to be heard? Calling for attention? Using their networks to exalt themselves? Do you see yourself in James and John? We would be angry, just as the other disciples were, not just because James and John were so shameless in their use of power, but because they got to Jesus first. And their timing was ironic. They made their power grab just days before the Crucifixion; they were standing in the very shadow of the impending cross and didn't even know it.9

Do you see the pattern that is developing in the symptoms of Leader's Disease? Every time the Cross came up, competition came out. Every time Jesus mentioned the Cross, the disciples competed with each other to deny His message and assert their ambition. The disciples met Christ's first mention of the Cross with a rebuke, the second with silence, and the third with a shameless grab for power. There is not one tear, not one state­ment of shock, amazement, thanksgiving, or stunned disbelief. Their only concern was for themselves and their advancement.

They had their minds on their concerns, not God's. God's mind is concerned about sin and evil, grace and love for all; their minds were concerned about position, power, and success for themselves. They had futile expectations—personal, selfish, shameless seeking for power. Their expectations were based on a selfish view of life—and ours may be too. The Cross reveals these expectations in both the disciples and us.

Symptom 3: Insensitive Arrogance

The third symptom of Leader's Disease is the insensitive arrogance that blinded His disciples to our Lord's vulnerable longing for fellowship and love from them (Luke 22:14-24). No one could be as vulnerable as our Lord was with His disciples the night He was arrested. Gathered in the Upper Room with those He loved most on earth. He alone knew what a profound moment it was. As He spoke to them. He revealed His heart for them, a heart as full of eagerness to be with them as it was heavy to think of the Cross. "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer" (22:15). There's the Cross again. How would the disciples respond?

Throughout His life, Jesus must have experienced the Passover festi­val as a very sacred and significant celebration. When He was growing up as a child in Galilee, He learned of God's deliverance of Israel from Egypt through the Passover. He knew He was the very fulfillment of this special meal. What a mix of memories and thoughts He must have had in the Upper Room. He must have thought back to His family, to Mary and Joseph and His brothers and sisters, and the days when they celebrated the Passover together. That night, however, He concentrated on His new family, on the men who were called His disciples, the men He had been preparing to take His place, not just in Israel, but all over the earth. These men were destined for special honor far greater than they could have ever imagined. He said they would sit in seats of honor when Jesus establishes His kingdom; they would be guests of honor the next time Jesus celebrated this Passover event. Jesus knew their expectations would come true, though not in the way they thought. In anticipation of that wonderful event, Jesus gave His disciples a meal to celebrate during the period of His absence, the simple but powerful Lord's Supper.

Yet there was something else on our Lord's mind, something sinister, evil, unbelievable, that weighed Him down as nothing else could. One of those at that table was a betrayer. The disciples couldn't believe it. "Could I be the betrayer?" they all wondered. They questioned each other as to who this could be, perhaps even accusing each other. Their questioning degenerated into their typical dispute of who was the greatest among them (22:24). Once again, this is shocking, stunning, beyond comprehension.

On that night Jesus stripped Himself to the waist, took a basin, and washed their feet, thus demonstrating His total love for them. Yet they were so concerned for themselves that they were unable to share His joy, see His grief, or feel His vulnerability. All they could do was fight among them­selves about who was the greatest.

How would we have reacted that night? I'd like to think I would have been radically different from those disciples, but I fear I would not have been. Have we not come to the Lord's Supper with the same concerns and expectations as the disciples? Have we not been concerned about being the best preacher or leading the best worship, even in those most sacred moments? How have we responded when others have betrayed us by leav­ing our churches or rejecting our love? Have we been concerned with our own greatness, acting with the insensitive arrogance of those who seek to be the greatest?

Symptom 4: Blind Self-Confidence

Another symptom of Leader's Disease is blind self-confidence (Mark 14:27-31). Jesus told His men that they would all fall away because He, their Shepherd, would be struck that night, and the sheep would scatter. When He spoke of striking the shepherd, He spoke of the Cross, as He made clear by saying, '"But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee'" (14:28). Immediately Peter protested, which showed he still suf­fered from Leader's Disease. Again he confused God's truth with his own expectations. His heart was hardened. Thus he asserted, "Even if all fall away, I will not" (14:29).

What misguided self-confidence! When Peter said, "Even if all fall away," he was speaking of his fellow disciples. Thus in blind self-confidence he asserted his superiority over them. Viewing himself superior to the oth­ers, he thought he would stand when everyone else would fall. Peter spoke with great strength. "But not I," he said, using a strong contrast and strongly emphasizing the word "I" (14:29).10 In essence, he said, J will never fall away because I am not like these others.

Peter's claim was the ultimate in foolishness, the product of a baseless self-confidence so blinded by his hardened heart that he was helplessly unable to see reality. Because of this, Jesus responded just as emphatically as Peter. He spoke solemnly and firmly in an effort to get Peter's atten­tion. When He said, "Truly [literally, 'amen']n I say to you" (14:30, nasb), He was introducing an absolute assertion that is without doubt or ques­tion. "Tonight—this very night—you will do more than fall away, you will do more than run away like the rest; you will deny Me. You will deny you ever knew Me. You are no better than the rest; you are just more foolhardy." Jesus didn't merely say "you" to Peter. He spoke with the same emphasis Peter used; He said "you yourself": "Before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times." Jesus strongly confronted Peter, just as He rebuked him once before (8:33) and resisted Him an­other time (John 13:7-10). Yet Peter's self-confidence kept him from perceiving the truth.

Despite Jesus' warning, Peter replied with even greater vehemence, insisting again and again with one of the strongest denials possible that he would never deny Jesus. In fact, he said that if necessary he would die with Jesus rather than deny Him. "Ironically, a few hours later the dis­ciples had fled (14:50) and Peter summoned the same vehemence to support his oath that he did not know the Nazarene (14:72)."12

Here we have the ultimate in Leader's Disease. Peter had left his busi­ness and family, and had identified Jesus as the Son of God. Undoubtedly he was a rallying point for the disciples, a man of infectious influence who through his very presence challenged the rest to be as dedicated as he was. He saw Jesus deliver his mother-in-law from a fever, and he opened his home to Jesus at the beginning of His ministry (1:29-34). After he had fished all night and caught nothing, he did what Jesus told him to do and cast his net on the other side of the boat. It was the wrong time of day to catch fish from either side of the boat, but Peter did as he was told and made one of the greatest catches of his life.

No man was more committed to Jesus than Peter, yet no man had a worse case of Leader's Disease. Peter showed every symptom of a hard­ened heart. How can a man as committed as Peter have a heart as hardened as his? While on the one hand Peter was dedicated to Christ, on the other he was determined to pursue his interests, rather than God's. This is why he ended up in conflict with Christ and later denied he even knew Him.

This is why he was so blinded by his own self-confidence that he could not hear the truth from the Son of God Himself, the very one Peter had earlier identified as the Christ. What could Peter do to recover from this disease? The answer lies in Christ's empty grave.


To gain deliverance from the dreaded Leader's Disease, we need to under­stand why Mark wrote his Gospel. No writer, especially under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, just sat down to write without a reason. In Mark's case, the reason was a critical one, in fact, a life-and-death reason.

When Mark wrote his Gospel, he was a protege of the apostle Peter and was living in Rome. In fact, many believe Mark's Gospel is Peter's memoirs as recorded by his younger associate. Mark wrote during the time of Nero's first persecution of the church, which was primarily cen­tered in Rome. Nero was arresting Roman believers, accusing them of atheism (because they didn't believe in the many gods of the Roman pan­theon) as a pretext to cover up his burning of Rome,13 and putting them to death in the most cruel ways possible. Naturally the believers in Rome had serious questions about what was going on. Who was this Jesus who was costing them their lives? They had to be certain He was the Son of the living God and that there was a resurrection for them. "The Gospel of Mark is a pastoral response to this critical demand."14

To answer this question, Mark led the Roman believers through the same discovery process the disciples experienced as they came to Christ and followed Him. Through this process they discerned for themselves that Jesus is the Son of the living God as He made it clear that what He demanded was "a radical abandonment of life"15 in response to a call to the Cross. Here, however, there was a contrast between Jesus' mission and message and the disciples' expectations, a conflict between Christ's cross and the disciples' hardened hearts.

Like the disciples, the Roman believers had expectations of the Son of God. They knew He died, but they did not know they also would die. They expected to live, even to see His return, since this was a constant expectation in the ancient church. But instead of seeing His return, they were seeing their departure, and this was unexpected. The Romans found themselves severely tempted to deny Christ and to swear that they never knew Him, just as Peter had done.

Although our circumstances differ from those of the first disciples and the early believers in Rome, we, too, have expectations and face diffi­cult questions. For many of us, ministry is a steppingstone to success, but we have encountered roadblocks to the accomplishments we anticipated. Elders stand in our way, and critics pick us apart for the smallest flaws, while the lost continue on their darkened way. Like the apostles and the early Christians, we are confused and unprepared for what the Cross means in our lives. We don't understand the flesh because our hearts are hard­ened and we don't even know it. We seek to be in control so we can become the greatest. We are tempted to deny Christ and trade in the Cross for the banality of a career. We are forced to choose between the expectations of careerism and the call of the Cross.

So all three of us—disciples, Roman Christians, and pastors—come to the same place, the tomb, and the choice between following Jesus as He truly is or trying to force Him to become what we want Him to be. For the disciples the choice was their kingdom or His Cross. For the Roman believers it was their security or His Cross. For us it is our careers or His Cross. No matter what it is. Mark's Gospel brings us all to the same place: the garden tomb. Consider what Mark wrote: "Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to any­one, because they were afraid" (16:8). Left to themselves these words hardly stand out, but when we think of how Mark intended them to impact his first readers, we understand how critical they are.

The abruptness of these words demands a response. Will we run from the tomb or face up to the symptoms of Leader's Disease in our lives? We are called to give up our personal dreams and ambitions, to put to death our drives for selfish success and the expectations that dominate us. Mark brought his readers to the empty tomb and to the decision it demands. All of us, disciples, Romans, and pastors, stand on the edge of death and must make the choice Mark led us to make if we are to know life.

Jesus' identity as the Son of the living God demands a response, and the response can only be to follow Him to the cross and death. This was the very call Jesus made. "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (8:34). As He took up His Cross, so we must take up our cross and follow Him. Follow Him where? Into the grave. What does this mean? For disciples, Romans, and pastors the Cross means the same thing: death to our expectations and resurrec­tion to a radical trust in Christ.

With the disciples and the Romans, we stand across from the garden tomb, looking into the yawning mouth of death. Will we follow Christ into His grave? Will we count on Him for His resurrection? Will we give up our expectations and stop pursuing our own interests? Will we let His Cross enlighten our understanding, unstop our ears, release our tongues, open our eyes? Will we truly trust Him for resurrection, so truly that we will turn away from everything else but trust in Him? Will we renew this commitment every day? We must consider our own hearts and make cer­tain we are not governed more by our expectations of success and impact than by God's Spirit. It took the Cross and the Resurrection before the disciples were delivered from the pride caused by hearts hardened to any­thing but their expectations. The same is true for us. The only way we gain deliverance each day from the dreaded Leader's Disease is through the Cross and radical trust in Christ's resurrection power to overcome our hardened hearts.16 This alone is what it means to pastor.

What if we choose to put our expectations to death and turn from seeking our interests to pursuing God's? What will our resurrected ex­pectations look like? What hope do we have if we put our desires in Christ's grave? What will deliverance from Leader's Disease be for us? Note what happened to Peter. Fifty days after Jesus' resurrection "Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd" (Acts 2:14).

Because of the Resurrection, Peter—a victim of Leader's Disease, con­fused by careerism, deafened by expectations of power, blinded by insensitive arrogance, misguided by misplaced self-confidence—was delivered from Leader's Disease and was released to be the man Jesus said he would be (John 1:42) when He first called him. If we have Leader's Disease we, like Peter, can find release in Christ.

Of course, we will not all become Peters, reaching three thousand people for Christ in one day. But we will all be like Peter in that we will become the leaders God created us to be: free to be ourselves, free from man's selfish interests, from fear, from pride, from the skybala of the flesh. God will be able to do through us far more than we ever expected, far more than our wildest dreams could imagine. Make the decision now to do as Peter did, and become the man God made you to be. Take up your cross daily, follow Jesus to the grave, and discover deliverance from the dreaded Leader's Disease through His resurrection resources.