I have a very dear friend who left Autozone during the height of his career to engage in full-time vocational ministry here at Faith Baptist. As our Director of Communication & Media, he has been an incredible blessing not only to our church family, but also as an instrument in the hands of God to advance His Kingdom around the world.
At our recent pastor’s retreat, he shared four leadership principles from his days on staff at Autozone. With his permission, I am sharing those principles and expounding on how they are applicable to the life of a Christian leader and pastor.
Even with a superficial understanding of world religions, it is very clear to see that Jesus was (and is) a deity who loves His creation. Jesus has always existed in relationship – God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. He now exists in relationship with His followers and, therefore, we as Christian leaders and pastors should live with high priority on relationships as well.
Every church can offer an experience, not every church will offer a relationship. The same is true of individual leaders. We have all been around the person who leaves us feeling like we were a part of their life, not engaged in it. Adam Winn, in his book Reading Mark’s Christology Under Caesar, writes of how men in the First Century like Vespasian would propagate fabricated miracles for the purpose of generating power and influence. Sadly, today’s spiritual leaders can at times be not all that different. As my pastor loves to say, “We are in the ‘people business'”.
Know Parts & Products
There is a slight but extremely important difference between an employee at Autozone and an “Autozoner”. The difference is a commitment to the knowledge of parts and products. Anyone can fulfill the position of employee, but not everyone has a passion for the job. Far too often spiritual leaders fulfill a position. Whatever the cause might be – fatigue, apathy, or just plain stubbornness – there is a temptation to go through the motions.
Burn-out is very real. But we cannot allow burn-out to rob us of our passion for the Word of God. May a pastor never forget he has the privilege to “handle holy things.” Apathy is often fueled by arrogance. “I have read the Bible hundreds of times.” “I have been in ministry a long time.” “This is my ‘sugar stick’, everyone likes this sermon.” Phrases like this create a sinful arrogance which convinces leaders they do not need to continue to learn and grow in their knowledge of spiritual education and theology. A stubborn leader is one who claims, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that’s final!” without any regard for reformation. The culture has and always will be a living organism of humanity. Therefore, we must be willing to understand our cultural through a biblical worldview which requires us to be committed to a living God. Our living God is one who will grow us, mature us, and equip us as we remain committed to a posture of humble-learner.
Stores Look Great
As I understand it, Jesus never directly taught on the concept of excellence. The word appears in our (ESV) Bible in the context (primarily) of Paul’s teachings. Whenever it is emphasized, it is always in regard to spiritual matters – the condition of a person’s heart, not their performance. A great looking store can be very valuable to the customer. Similarly, a great experience on Sunday morning is very valuable for the church family or first-time guest. However, the motivation behind the experience is where the leadership of a church should give attention. Is excellence pursued for selfish reasons? Is there a subconscious pride that motives clean carpets and impressive décor? A great looking store or a memorable physical experience at a church is only as valuable as the purpose it serves. As a Christ-following leader or pastor, may our church building, home group, and resources be intentionally used for the sole purpose of glorifying God by means of blessing His people.
Best Merchandise at the Right Price
Our church is located literally 5 miles from one of the largest Southern Baptist churches in the country. With a membership of approximately 30,000, our church will never be the biggest congregation nor will we ever have the largest budget in town. There are ways and means by which God has blessed that incredible church that God has chosen not to bless our church family. Dr. Danny Sinquefield recognizes this and leads us with a freedom from competition. Having served at Faith for twelve years now, I have seen first-hand what it looks like for a Senior Pastor to lead sincerely. While companies like Autozone have their rivals (NAPA, O’Reilly’s, etc.) churches should not. All churches of all shapes and sizes “sell” the exact same product. The goal of said churches is not to be the biggest or the best. The goal should include being faithful with whom and with what God has provided.
There was a point in time whenever people thought having internet access on their telephones was a ridiculous idea. Now, almost no one can go three minutes without their phones. Spiritual growth and development is something many people do not even know they need. As a biblical leader or pastor, one of our primary jobs is to educate, equip, and empower God’s people. To fulfill Ephesians 4. Our calling is not to entertain folks or sell something that makes them feel good. Churches exist to cultivate holiness, not sustain happiness. This does not mean, as Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, we should not become so heavenly minded we are of no earthly good. I believe the “right price” is a very important concept. Jesus could easily have been a religious tyrant, but He was not. He educated, engaged, and empowered people in very realistic and authentic ways. We too should do the same. We too should speak the language of our culture, meet people where they, and love them enough to spiritually grow and develop them on the trajectory of Christ-likeness.
Being a Christian leader or pastor is a high calling, an incredible privilege. May we strive to remain clean & close to Jesus and find helpful leadership principles such as these.