It’s true that Paul was an Apostle and we are not. Nevertheless, Paul was a minister, and those who serve in the church are also ministers. There is a point of contact between all the men and women who labor in Christian leadership and the Apostle Paul, and we can learn something about techniques, methodology, and priorities from him.
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:1–5:
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
Paul said he did not approach the Corinthians “with lofty speech or wisdom”; in other words, Paul was saying: “When I came to you, I didn’t try to impress you. I didn’t come to you in an attitude of superiority. I didn’t exercise my position of leadership in the context of arrogance or self-exultation.” This must be the first principle of godly ministry and leadership—that we do not assume a posture of superiority, whether in our speech, in our demeanor, or in our attitude. There’s no question that Paul was superior in terms of his knowledge, his gifts, and the strength of his person, but he didn’t appear as one who was superior. He ministered in the context of weakness, as he went on to explain.
“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). There’s a sense that Paul was speaking hyperbolically, for he spoke about many other things besides the crucifixion. He spoke about the whole scope of theology, the whole counsel of God. But in terms of his priorities and central focus, that which conditioned everything else that he said was Christ and Him crucified. He was determined to know nothing else, and the Greek word translated “to know” suggests not simply intellectual understanding but an intimate, profound grasp. He wanted to know Christ, and that knowledge of Christ drove him into his position of leadership.
Verse 3 is a key to Paul’s success as a minister, pastor, and Christian leader: “And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling.” Whatever else Paul was in terms of his ministry, he was constantly identifying with the weaknesses, fears, and trembling of his people. A question that often arises in Christian leadership in terms of group dynamics is whether the people leading should hide their fears and anxieties about that position of leadership. Should they try to assume a posture of coolness, pretending that everything is under control and that there are no problems? Or should they allow themselves to be vulnerable?
This question is always a difficult one to answer. Certainly, we’re not called to be involved in a charade or to act as if everything is under control when it isn’t. That’s simply dishonest. On the other hand, it also doesn’t mean that the leader of a group is going to rehearse every possible anxiety and fear that he or she may be experiencing in the context of leading a meeting. At that point, the purpose of being together is destroyed if it becomes a place for the leader to vocalize and vent all his or her insecurities and anxieties. That’s not what it means to be with people in weakness and in fear, but there is a call to lead in a position of honesty. There is a call for leaders not to pretend to be something that they are not and not to play a role that they are not suited to play.
If God has placed you in a position of leadership, He has certainly placed you there to continue growing, but He also called you to that position in terms of who you are right now. If God in His providence is behind that call in any sense, He’s calling you because of the gifts, talents, and abilities that you have right now. In that sense, you don’t have to pretend that you’re something you’re not. He’s calling you as you are. He doesn’t want you to stay there; He wants you to grow, He wants you to move, He wants you to progress—but to progress without anxiety, without being uptight about your inadequacies.
Paul said elsewhere, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9). The thing that Paul kept before himself always was that the only strengths he had, the only gifts he had to offer, were those strengths, gifts, and talents that found their locus of power in Christ and not in himself. That is comforting to a person in any kind of leadership position. But Paul, when he was ministering to people, was not primarily concerned about his own weaknesses, inadequacies, and fears. He was more concerned with other people’s fears and weaknesses, and I think that’s a mark of a Christian leader.
When Paul entered into labor with the Corinthians, he said, “And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). In other words, Paul was concerned about entering his people’s fears, weaknesses, and trembling. That should be true not simply for an Apostle or for an ordained minister; it should be true for anybody who is in a position of Christian leadership. This means sensitivity. This means listening. This means paying attention to the people that you’re leading. It means hearing about where they are, where they’re hurting, where their weaknesses and fears are and being sensitive to them.
A person who is equipped with the mind of Christ and who is knowledgeable of the Scriptures should be able to deal with the basic problems of human existence. If that’s not true, then Christianity really has very little to say. If the gospel is not a gospel of healing in terms of the whole man, then it’s no gospel at all.
The task of giving admonition, exhortation, edification, comfort, consolation, and strength is given to the whole church, and Paul called believers to exhort, admonish, instruct, advise, and counsel each other. Christianity assumes and commands that all laypeople be involved in ministry, but we’ve lost that for the most part in America. We falsely cling to the idea of clergy-oriented leadership in the church, which is not the New Testament position. Every Christian is given this responsibility because God has given us the resources to care for one another.