The young pastor sat in my study, eyeing the pile of my books to his left.
‘Hmm,’ he said. ‘Pastor X said, “Leaders are not readers”. He said don’t read too much. Read just one book on a subject and then move on.’
Now as it happens, I know Pastor X. He’s a wonderful man, with a solid ministry record. He’s a superb preacher and writer, an inspiring leader, and a real change-agent in his community. He’s also brilliantly original, and the kind of person who has fifty superb ideas before breakfast, and knocks them out before lunch.
He is also – and this is part of his superb ability to communicate – a contrarian. He’s a brilliant phrase maker, but also watches how people are speaking – he sees a pithy phrase in common use, and flips it on his head to make a useful, if exaggerated, point.
He’s heard people say, ‘Leaders are readers’ once too often, and watched people sink under the expectation of having read all the relevant articles and books before they dare to open their mouths in public. So he flipped it.
Ten minutes later, my young friend was talking about another minister, and another hero. ‘I love Pastor Y,’ he said, and he’s right to. I know Pastor Y, too. He is a gentle, wise and gracious man, with a quite different but still powerful communication style. He’s built a strong congregation in his city, where he is highly regarded and widely loved. Where Pastor X is witty, provocative and funny, Pastor Y is clear, and apparently simple. I say ‘apparently simple,’ because we all know it takes a lot of effort to be really simple.
‘Pastor Y reads about three books a week,’ my young friend observed, out of the blue.
Silence fell for a second.
‘So, do you want to have a ministry like Pastor X, or Pastor Y?’ I asked, cruelly.
Cruelly, because both those pastors have been made by God with different gifts, and both use them for the same ends. They just do it quite differently. And I don’t think he’d seen it quite that sharply.
And as it happens, the two pastors are friends anyway. What they each wanted to do was make the young pastor think.
1. Choose your heroes and heroines with great care
They can serve as useful templates for you as your grow and learn, and useful checks against yourself. Bad ones, of course, can be a disaster.
2. Choose more than one
Because, as with those two, you need to balance out different and strongly phrased views for yourself. Are you going to be original enough to be an X, or studious enough to be a Y. What about Z? Maybe she has something offer, too?
3. Don’t be either
My young friend would not succeed at being a clone of either – where he failed in copying, he’d feel a failure, and where he succeeded he’d feel a failure at not being the other one. Be kind to yourself and avoid giving yourself the guilties.
4. Don’t turn a hero into an idol
The best will tell you this anyway, but even the best are only sinners saved by grace. Like you, they’re fallen, like you, they’re finite. Like you, they’re average at almost everything they do – you’ve just shone a light onto the brilliant bit.
5. Don’t turn an eccentricity into an extremity.
‘Leaders aren’t readers’ isn’t an absolute truth – it’s a provocative wisecrack, to make of what you will. I’ve read penetrating book reviews and articles from Pastor X, so he does read. Of course he does. Just with great discernment and depth. The few, not the many.
6. Copy them copying Jesus.
That’s the key, isn’t it? ‘Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ’ (1 Cor:11:1). We’re need, and we’re allowed, other templates on the way, but only as much as they keep pointing us to Jesus.
One day, my young friend will have matured and rounded, and become in turn someone that a younger Christian would look to. That’s good, and right, and healthy. So if you find you’re being looked to like that, teach them what you know, but encourage them to learn from others too. And above all, keep following Jesus.
Who are your heroes or heroines? Where do they become eccentric?
Who is learning from you?