At the recent CC leadership meeting in Denver the topic of transition of leadership came up during the Q&A. In the course of the discussion the point of churches being built around a single charismatic leader came up. Not that the church wasn’t built by the Lord, because looking at the history of one of these churches the Lord clearly did the work. But the Lord used someone who had a larger-than-average personality to lead, inspire, and exemplify life in the Lord. In my own personal journey (I prefer to call it a “trip” both because it feels like I’m trippin, and because I seem to fall over a lot) I’ve wrestled with myself concerning how charismatic I should be.
When I was in high school I was a leader of men and women. I, was a drum major. As a junior and a senior I led the band, I led the orchestra, the choir teacher even borrowed me to direct the choir on occasion (mostly because she was the drama teacher and could sing, but not direct). The coolest moment was in my junior year when the band teacher was retiring, The last song of his last concert, he stepped off the podium, called me up, he sat down with his clarinet and played, and had me direct the band. It was very cool and a great memory. But how did I get there?
I was a very quiet, shy kid. I had a couple of close friends, but at the same time I also had friends in every clique. I was liked by all but close to few. One night at youth group in my sophomore year, there was a skit. My team leader (we had a 250+ high school ministry so kids were divided into groups based on the school they went to) was portraying Phil Donahue and there was a panel of people. I don’t remember the point of the skit but one line stuck out to me. He said something about “getting out of your comfort zone.” That really resonated with me. I realized that God wanted to use me but I needed to get out of my comfort zone. So I told Steve that and he prayed with me. God answered that prayer.
I came out of my shell, and how. I didn’t become an overbearing, obnoxious, pushy person. But I was no longer shy and withdrawn. I found out that I was actually funny. I could make people laugh. I learned how to teach people while making them laugh. Others began to look up to and respect me. I got the most school spirit award both junior and senior years. I led the drama stuff for youth group those years as well. This carried on into my college years and my internship at Crossroads. It actually led to some trouble with the person I was interning under because people started to look to me for leadership and I had to redirect them back to the leader. It was this relationship that, I think, led to me crawling back into my shell. I won’t go into the details of that, but it was sad and ugly.
I found myself out of full-time ministry and coasting along. My spark was gone yet I was trying to maintain it in the flesh. And I did a pretty good job of it too. At least on the outside. After a few years an interesting job came up. Being a motivational speaker to elementary school using yoyos, comedy, and general wackiness. Teaching kids using humor. I thought that this job would re-ignite my spark. I was tired of living in a cubicle talking to people on the phone telling them how to fix their cup holder. So I took this job. There were a number of us scattered throughout the country. We were the Yoyo Men. They were all brothers in the Lord. They were charismatic people (some in both senses of the word). For my taste, some were too charismatic. They were what I call “one uppers”. If one person shared a story, the one-uppers would one-up them with a funnier or weirder, or more touching story. It got aggravating. It got so aggravating that I didn’t even want to talk about many of them. It isn’t their fault, it’s just who they were.
While the show had a positive and encouraging message, I found it to be empty for me. I was getting tired of being funny. I could hold a room of 1,000 elementary kids in the palm of my hand but I had no joy, I had no spark. I was a human cartoon for 45 minutes, two to three times a day, 400 times a year for almost 4 years, in 31 states, Canada, England, and Australia, and I was miserable. Ultimately it wasn’t because of the job in and of itself. The problem was in my spirit. As I said, I got tired of being funny, I got tired of people (students and staff) looking at me, being amazed by me, telling me how good I was (I’m not bragging, this happened every day). In fact, one teacher tried to hook me up with her daughter. I got tired of being the focus. I just wanted to redirect people to the Lord. I wanted to be invisible.
I find now that I have made a circle. I’m shy, withdrawn. But now I’m a pastor. I’m up front every week. I hear Chuck in my head talking about how we are to redirect people to the Lord and not be the focus. My flesh gets in the way. I don’t want to be the focus so much that I don’t want anyone to even want to be around me. That’s wrong and I have to fight it. I need to come out of my shell again. On the one hand I don’t want to be the charismatic leader because I don’t want to be the focus, and yet that seems to be how the Lord works.
Paul’s words in Philippians 3:17 come to mind. “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.” Also 1 Tim 4:12, “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” There are many such examples of being visible, being noticed. I need to get out of my comfort zone. Again. At the same time, I think there are those charismatic leaders (the good ones) who are simply being who God wired them to be. They aren’t trying. They didn’t go to charisma school. There are also successful ones who did learn, who did practice, and you can kinda tell (I won’t name names for fear of stepping on sacred cow tails).
I know what I’m not. I’m not a supper passionate sports coach kind of person. Those kind of people who try to pump you up, “Get in the game! Fight fight fight!” I’m not competitive. Like, at all. I’m the opposite of competitive. So that macho, type-A, John Eldridge stuff doesn’t work on me. In fact it repels me. (I’d love to write a book called “Mild at Heart: spiritual strength without being so testosterony” for us introverts.)
So I guess what I’m getting at is that I need to find my balance. I need to deny my flesh which wants to run and hide for fear of becoming an idol, while at the same time not letting myself try to turn into a celebrity pastor. I need to submit, to surrender to the Spirit and let Him let me be not be afraid to stand out, to be a visible example, a pattern for others to follow. I need to let that God given charisma out of the bag, again.
Does anyone else struggle with this balance? I look at guys like Bill Ritche and Tom Stipe (the men, not their churches) and it looks like they have found their Holy Spirit comfort zone, they have found the balance, at least on the outside. They are comfortable with who the Lord wants them to be. I’m not there yet and it’s holding me back. I used to be there and I’d love to be there again. I guess there is some fear of what happened before happening again. I know I and my family couldn’t take it because we are still dealing with the after effects of the first time around. I know, I know, the Lord hasn’t given us a spirit of fear. That’s easy enough to say, but harder to do.
Is anyone else afraid of being charismatic? Afraid of being successful (or “victorious” for our southern friends) because of where it could lead? Does the fear of pride outweigh the promise of spiritual maturity and growth in yourself and your church ever freak you out? Man. I gotta grow up! Please, no pep talks, no rah rah, no “Eye of the tiger” theme music. Anyone else where I am? Anyone been there and beat it?