Building Platforms or People?

I’ve often heard a quote from Rich Van Pelt, who told a room full of youth workers, “You take care of the depth of your ministry. Then, let Jesus take care of the breadth.”[1] We live in an age where it’s very easy for pastors to focus on the breadth of the ministry – “How great is my influence and how big is my platform?” – rather than the depth – “How much are people growing and being transformed to be more like Christ?”

William Willimon differentiates between the “great man” theory of leadership and transformative leadership. The “great man” theory is based around a single leader who leads off of charisma and personality traits that he has been born with. People follow this person because of the sound of his voice, the manner in which he carries himself, or the results he is able to produce. The great man theory naturally produces leaders who tend to build up a platform for themselves as they seek bigger audiences and a wider area of influence. But pastoral leadership is not meant to be centered around one person.[2] And to be a transformative leader means to not always lead in a way that people will like. A transformative leader does not become trapped by expectations or applause of followers, but calls followers to some higher purpose. Which means that a transformative leader will risk “disapproval and even rejection in the interest of transformation.”[3]

This is part of what is so peculiar about pastoral leadership. It’s not just that we are called to build up people rather than a platform. But we are also called to build up people in a manner that they may not want to be built up in. We are called to build up people so that they might  “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”[4] “Christian leadership tends to be abrasive, because it is service to the body of Christ rather than to popularity, efficiency, productivity, and celebrity.”[5] To be a leader in the church means to challenge people towards new ways of thinking, feeling, and living that are in line with having Christ as Lord. This means leadership in a church will necessarily lead to conflict at times.

This is one of the greatest challenges I see for myself in pastoral leadership. It is really easy for me to fall into what is comfortable and maintain the status quo. This is both because I’m not naturally a risk-taker and I am naturally a people-pleaser. I think something that can help me overcome this challenge is the truth that in ministry I am not ultimately accountable to people, but to God. I think the other truth that will be important for me is that God is at work transforming me as I do the work of ministry. And part of how he wants to transform me is to free me from the prison of approval.[7] This can help me to see conflict and difficulty in ministry as the means God is using to continue to transform me into the image of Christ. As he calls me to build up people in Christ rather than a platform, He is also working to build me up in Christ.



[2] Willimon, 285

[3] Ibid

[4] Ephesians 4:15

[5] Willimon, 282

[6] Willimon, 297.

[7] Dr. Steve Brown, Lecture 18.