Letting go

Photo by Rémi Walle on Unsplash

It’s hard to let go.

The conversation I was having was with a young pastor in a large church in another country. He had been disappointed in a discipling relationship and was struggling with how to emerge from it in a positive way.

Leaders make lots of mistakes. None of us is perfect. And people only fall off pedestals we have put them on. And yet the discipling of leaders is so important we have to do better than most of us have done.

Lots of things go wrong in discipling relationships. Mentoring is far easier said than done.

And one of the worst mistakes an older leader can make is to try to hang on instead of letting go.

Most of what we learn as we grow older probably comes through raising our children. Children are really just like another congregation, with mom and dad as the pastoral team.

As our children moved through their teenaged years, we faced a choice. Either we could try to hang on and control their activities and attitudes as much as possible, or we could trust that what we had already deposited into them was the mission God had assigned to us, and it was now up to them to make their own choices.

That's when they learned the difference between walking in someone else’s understanding of God and walking in their own.

You can’t live off someone else’s values unless they become your values too. And that can only come by free choice. God has children, not robots.

Often, if we’re honest, we try to hang on for reasons of self-protection as much as wanting the best for our kids. We don’t want to be hurt by something they do.

And it’s the same in church. Much damage is done by leaders who disciple mainly in order to accumulate people who will add to their ministry. The result is that others are discipled into someone else’s vision and never develop their own. And then, when the leader dies, retires or falls off the pedestal, the whole thing comes crashing down.

Leaders like this never let go. Maybe they need the presence of others around them to validate their own ministry. Or maybe they’re afraid that if they released people to follow their own sense of purpose and calling, their disciples would walk a different path and never come back.

Holding on never works. It doesn’t work with kids. They become resentful and eventually rebel. And you’ve burned your bridges with them.

And it doesn’t work in church either, for the same reasons.

What use is it is if all I have raised my three sons to do revolves around being a son to me? No, my goal should be to raise them so they can be successful fathers, as I believe they will all be. And the same with Elaine and our five daughters.

Fathers are not called to raise sons, they are called to raise fathers. And the same with mothers.

A successful leader will have disciples all over the place. Most of them will be quite different in gifting and personality. The heart of what he has taught them has little to do with preaching techniques, how to lead a elders’ meeting or do marriage counselling. But it has a lot to do with what it means to be a man of God, a son, a disciple, a father. The rest flows from there.

You can always go to Bible college to learn how to preach, but you need a father to learn how to be a father yourself. And if you haven’t learned how to be a father or mother in God, you’re not going to be good for much else.

Paul complained there were lots of guides, but very few fathers. Things haven’t changed a lot since!

Why do we have to get this right? Because only fathers and mothers generate discipleship, and discipleship is the mandate Jesus gave to us to fulfill the great commission.

Let’s just let go, and see what God can do with young leadership released into the world!