Dr. Todd Gray on Membership

There are certain people who, when they speak, I listen. Dr. Todd Gray is one of those people. His evangelistic heart, pastoral mindset, and servant leadership (not to mention his ability to say more in a 20-minute sermon than I can say in a 60-minute sermon) are an example and encouragement to me.

So his recent blog post caught my eye and I was struck by his list of seven of the responsibilities of a church member:

  1. I am responsible to attend the services of my church
  2. I am responsible to give financially to the work of my church
  3. I am responsible to pray for my congregation
  4. I am responsible to guard the unity of the church
  5. I am responsible to grow as a Christian
  6. I am responsible to serve according to my gifts and availability
  7. I am responsible to share the good news of Jesus

Needless to say, that’s a challenging list, especially because it’s not complete. And then this alliterative statement jumped out at me: “…a pandemic of personal preference.” He was identifying a problem in church culture and that line drove it home! I asked myself the question, “how often have I let my engagement in the Body of Christ be driven more by my preferences and “rights” than by the Word and the needs of those around me?”

I encourage you to read the full post here: https://toddgray.org/2022/01/31/members-or-owners/

One Year Later: A Reflection On Calling, Pastoring, and the Word

Apparently all the cool pastors write a listicle of things they’ve learned in their first year in their role. I have benefitted greatly from some of these. But as I look back on my own first year as a lead pastor, I don’t have a list to offer (which pretty much confirms my suspicion that I am not a cool pastor). But I do have some reflections.

May 8. One year ago, having flown with my family from Baptist Mecca (Nashville, TN) to the least evangelical state in America (Utah). I stood up in front of a church to preach “in view of a call.” 95% of them had no clue who I was. 100% of me had no clue what I was doing. And yet, God worked and the church extended a call for me to be their next pastor and I accepted.

The church didn’t call me because I’m a phenomenal leader: pretty sure I ruined last Mother’s Day by not looking at a calendar when we set the date for the trial sermon.

They didn’t call me because I am a polished preacher: I hadn’t preached many more sermons than I have fingers and toes.

They didn’t call me because I gave them an exciting vision: I admitted that I had no clue what my vision for the church was.

And heavens knows they didn’t call me for my looks or fashion sense.

So why did they call me?

I’m sure some of the members are still asking themselves that question one year later.

And, to be honest, I’ve asked that question at times throughout the past year as well. Sometimes I’ve asked it humbly, sometimes I’ve asked it dejectedly, and sometimes I’ve asked it sarcastically.

And I can’t give a specific answer. But ultimately, I come back to the fact that they did call me. And, I trust, they did so because the Holy Spirit moved in his people to affirm his will. And that’s remarkably comforting: to know that I am not here because I sought it or because they had a good reason. I’m here because God had something to teach the church and because God had something to teach me. And, he has a purpose for us coming together.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that.

When someone gets offended by some leadership action I take – when someone else gets offended by leadership action I don’t take – it bothers me. It bothers me on one level because I can’t make everyone happy. It bothers me on another level because I know I’m not anywhere close to sufficient for the task I’ve been appointed to. If this were a listicle of things I’ve learned in my first year, that would be items one through ten: I’m not sufficient.

And when my insufficiency runs into the organizational needs of the church, things can get sideways in a hurry. So items eleven through twenty in my listicle would basically be apologies to the church for the times when I’ve pastored poorly through unclear communication, through insensitive changes, through forgetfulness.

Pastoring this church has exposed a lot of my imperfections, quirks, and sin. At various times, it has squeezed my lungs, drenched my cheeks, and left marks on my soul. People can jump to conclusions or ascribe motives that aren’t there, but there’s still the root truth that I’m not perfect, far from it. I’m dreadfully broken, weak, and ugly. While I’m using this post as an opportunity to confess, I’ll admit that the weight of leading the church has at times led me to the edge of the chasm of depression, something I used to scoff at as weakness. Father forgive me and give grace to those whose struggles there run deeper than mine! The little brother of Spurgeon’s “black dog” has kept me awake at night and woke me early. Sometimes the cause is readily discernible: a conflict in the church, a need in a member’s life that has no answer, a decision I know I got wrong. Sometimes, usually Mondays, I don’t know why, the weight on my shoulders transfers to my heart and spills out of my eyes.

There’s a reason why would-be-preachers are frequently exhorted with the cliched advice that, “if you can do anything else, do it.”

And if my reflections on this date, calling, and pastoring stopped there, I’d be done. I’d quit and walk away because, even though the church called me, I’m always insufficient, I often lead poorly, and, honestly, it hurts. A lot at times. And as I look forward from this one year anniversary into the future, I’m convinced that, however long the Lord has me here, those things won’t change.

But I’m not quitting. I’m not walking away. Why?

First, because of the graciousness of the church. They’ve been patient with my rookie mistakes. They’ve welcomed my family as part of their own. I’ve seen amazing love, Christ-like love, shown to me and to others. I’ve seen openness. I’ve seen friendliness. I’ve seen a willingness to sacrifice for the glory of God and the good of others. I am continually humbled by their willingness to serve, to embrace, to encourage, and to love.

Basically, I’ve seen Jesus here, in this precious group of saints. And I want to be where I see Jesus. This church, like Jesus, has graciously overlooked my failings, they’ve been patient with my ignorance, and they’ve adopted me and mine into their family. And I couldn’t be more grateful.

And I’ve learned something else in this first year: no matter how weak I am, Scripture assures me that Jesus is the Sustainer of Creation. No matter how poorly I lead, I read that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. No matter how much it hurts, I understand from the Word of God that Jesus is the Healer. Because God gave his Word and his Word reveals Jesus.

And, ultimately, that’s why I will keep pastoring. Because it’s not about me. And, ultimately, it’s not even about the church. It’s about Jesus, the hope of all, revealed in the Bible. I’ll keep going as long as God lets me because God has given his church his Word and he has given me the task of proclaiming it, leading the church to it, and pointing everyone to Christ through it. I may have thought I had something personally to offer the church a year ago, but now I know I don’t have anything to offer anyone outside of the Word of God pointing them to Jesus. And the Word is sufficient because the Jesus it reveals is sufficient.

So I’ll keep preaching, I’ll keep pastoring, and I’ll keep reminding myself and the congregation that nothing other than Christ revealed through the Word will sustain a Christian, a pastor, or a church.

And that’s enough.

No, Your Church Doesn’t Need “Visionary Leadership” – Proverbs 29:18

Proverbs 29 18If you’ve read any leadership material in your lifetime, chances are you’ve come across references to a mythical creature:

The Visionary Leader

I say “mythical” because the descriptions of this rare and wonderful being depict a creature that is undoubtedly too magnificent for our plain-Jane reality:

“Visionary leaders are the builders of a new dawn, working with imagination, insight, and boldness…They work with the power of intentionality and alignment with a higher purpose. Their eyes are on the horizon, not just on the near at hand. They are social innovators and change agents, seeing the big picture and thinking strategically.” Corinne McLaughlin

These great and glorious creatures are bigger than life. Just being around them causes us to get swept up in the tide of their superhumanity:

“Visionaries are propelled by great dreams. They’re pulled along by the grip of destiny. Invariably, the force of their resolve pulls us along with them.” Patrick Morley

Kinda makes you want to be one, huh? Too bad:

“Vision cannot be delegated.” K. Ferlic

“Visionary leaders are…Inspirational…Imaginative…Bold…Magnetic.” Scott Jeffery

So if you’re not those things…sorry. You can be a peon like the rest of us, but you’ll never be a visionary leader.

“But, wait,” you say! “That doesn’t sound right! Because we are in the church and Jesus makes all things new. And aren’t we told that ‘God didn’t choose the wise, but the foolish, the strong, but the weak?’”

Yeah, but that was then. Apparently, now that we’re in the 21st century, God’s finally got with the program and decided that even in the church, we can’t do without visionary leaders:

“All memorable achievements were brought about by leaders who had vision. God uses visions to excite leaders because excited leaders get the most out of followers. Active followers accomplish much, and Christ’s Body keeps getting bigger thanks to prevailing local churches. Ken Godevenos

Just so we’re clear on the process here:

God Gives a Vision -> Visionary Leader Gets Excited -> Uses Followers More Efficiently -> Builds Bigger Churches

Where’s that in Scripture, you ask? Ken’s going to tell us:

“That is why Proverbs 29:18 clearly states, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Let a leader grasp a godly vision, and then watch God work.” Ken Godevenos

But is that what Proverbs 29:18 “clearly states?”

I would argue no.

Proverbs 29:18 “clearly states” something else entirely. Consider the Christian Standard Bible’s translation of this verse:

“Without revelation people run wild, but one who follows divine instruction will be happy.”

We will unpack what this means but, before we go any farther, understand that the vision the church needs is not one that excites a leader to use followers…it’s God’s Word. And while God has given his people pastors who lead, it is ultimately Christ who is the shining hero who builds the church, not any single visionary.

To understand Proverbs 29:18 fully, we have to put it in its context.

What is the Context?

  1. The (Whole) Verse:

When most Christian leadership gurus quote Proverbs 29:18, they only quote half the verse, and they have to pick their translation carefully. Why? Because the context makes it clear that it doesn’t mean what they want it to mean. It is not a defense of the Lone Ranger Leader with the shining white Vision of Justice: it’s stating the general truth that apart from God’s law, mankind falls into the chaos of rebellion.

Let’s look at the translation most people quote from for this verse:

“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” King James Version

Even in the King James, this verse is clearly not about people dying because they don’t have some visionary leader to tell them what to do! The Hebrew word for vision here is never used to reference an individual leader’s ideas but refers to God’s divine revelation. Without which, the verse goes on, the people perish. Perish is translating a Hebrew word that doesn’t mean “die” but means “cast off restraint” or “rebel.” The Christian Standard Bible renders it pretty colorfully with “run wild.” And that gets at the idea. But the verse doesn’t end there, as many would have us believe. Instead, it goes on with a clear contrast: but if you obey God’s divine revelation, you are not rebellious, but are blessed or happy.

  1. The Chapter

One of the things that makes verses from Proverbs so prone to misuse is that, by nature, proverbs are meant to be “short and pithy.” In other words, they shouldn’t need a lot of explanation or development. So, you might have a proverb about not being greedy right next to one about not being lazy. While both are attempting to steer you away from sin, they are not necessarily related. But there do seem to be themes that nonetheless tie various proverbs together.

A friend pointed out to me that, in Chapter 29, we see a theme of contrast between the way of righteousness and the way of wickedness.

When the righteous flourish, the people rejoice,

but when the wicked rule, people groan.

A man who loves wisdom brings joy to his father,

but one who consorts with prostitutes destroys his wealth.

By justice a king brings stability to a land,

but a person who demands “contributions” demolishes it.

An evil person is caught by sin,

but the righteous one sings and rejoices.

The righteous person knows the rights of the poor,

but the wicked one does not understand these concerns.

Mockers inflame a city,

but the wise turn away anger.


Bloodthirsty men hate an honest person,

but the upright care about him.

A fool gives full vent to his anger,

but a wise person holds it in check.


A rod of correction imparts wisdom,

but a youth left to himself is a disgrace to his mother.

When the wicked increase, rebellion increases,

but the righteous will see their downfall.



Without revelation people run wild,

but one who follows divine instruction will be happy.

Proverbs 29:1-18, CSB

Verse 18 is not contrasting a group of people who have a visionary leader with a group of people who do not but is comparing the result of submitting to the source of righteousness, God, with submitting to the source of rebellion, ourselves. Indeed, some of the visionary leadership the church has seen has been not the kind that brings blessing, but the kind that throws off the restraint of revelation in favor of selfish desire fulfilling “vision.”

  1. It’s a Proverb

Finally, to understand the context of this verse, we have to start by understanding the nature of a proverb.

Google defines a proverb as, “a short pithy saying in general use, stating a general truth or piece of advice.”

Why does that matter? Because it’s crucial for us to understand that proverbs are not unequivocal truth statements, but state “a general truth.” In other words, “this is how the world generally works.”

A “general truth” means that you can find specific examples where it doesn’t. So, when a Christian leadership guru says that Proverbs 29:18 “clearly states” the necessity of visionary leadership, he’s stretching the context of the statement as a proverb, let alone its clear reference to vision as the Word of God.

Because it’s a proverb, we shouldn’t be surprised when we see people who reject God’s revealed Word nonetheless living exemplary lives. This proverb isn’t saying that people who do not submit to the God of the Bible will be holy terrors all the time. It’s saying that submitting to God’s Word is the only secure foundation of blessing and happiness, not seeking our own glorification.

So What Does Proverbs 29:18 Mean?

As I was researching this passage, I asked friends on Facebook what they thought this passage meant. The answers were very helpful, but one was particularly so. My friend Clayton Pruett said this:

“(This verse) is not referring to an individual vision for a personal purpose but rather the Word of God that guides his people and society as a whole.”

I love that! Proverbs 29:18 is not a statement of the need for visionary leadership in the church, but a statement of the need for God’s people to be guided by, shaped by, transformed by, the Word of God.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t need leadership in the church. A local church appointed me to lead it, affirming God’s call on my life. God has gifted that church with other capable leaders as well. Indeed, God spends a significant amount of his revelation in the New Testament talking about how the church is to be led. Leadership is essential, but not in the way the visionary leadership prophets would have us believe: leadership in the church serves to help us all, as brothers and sisters in Christ, to obey Christ.

This is why when I put a vision before the church I lead in January for us to adopt, it wasn’t a vision containing my best ideas for how to grow the church. No! I don’t want to be a visionary leader if that means me using people to accomplish some dream that I’m excited about. Instead, by God’s grace, I asked the church to agree that we would simply try to obey Jesus. I don’t want us to be a church that waits for some “bold, charismatic” leader to tell us how we’re going to do things: I want us to be a church that loves God so much we will run out into this world to love others in the name of Jesus and make disciples who will do the same. I don’t want people to be impressed with the clarity of my vision: I want us all to be humbled by the immensity of God’s vision. I wish we would be a shining example of love and grace and righteousness to everyone who sees us, an outpost of the Kingdom of Heaven. We, as a church, agreed together that our peaks and valleys are not going to be tied to any man’s vision or his comings and goings, but will be tied to our obedience of Christ’s commands in the power of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father.

So we agreed to “Love God” through our worship, through our prayer, and through our study of his Word.

We said we will “Love Others” through fellowship, through serving, and through giving.

And we will seek to “Make Disciples” by intentional discipleship, evangelism, and missions.

I wanted to say to the church, contra the leadership mantras, “Don’t look at me, look at Christ. Don’t listen to me, listen to Christ. Don’t submit to my way, submit to Christ’s way.” Because, ultimately, that’s what everything comes down to.

How Do We Read Proverbs 29:18 In Light of Christ?

Proverbs 29:18 is meant, in God’s providence, to point us to Christ. Whatever else it may be, visionary leadership that is not squarely centered on Christ is not Christian leadership. The Teacher in Proverbs points us to the revelation of God, which is simply what God has revealed to us about himself in his Word. And we know that Christ is the final Word from God. We’re not sitting around waiting for some extra revelation that will get us on track, some vision that will set us straight. God already gave us the vision, God has revealed himself fully in Christ. Everything that we need to know about the blessing of God, we see in submitting ourselves to Christ. Everything that we need to know about the perils of “running wild,” we see in those who reject Christ.

The vision for the church is the same as the vision for all of reality which is the same vision the God has for each of his people: that Christ would be “all in all.”

So don’t wait for some magnetic personality to tell you what to do: Treasure Christ. Seek Christ, Desire Christ. Obey Christ by the Holy Spirit for God’s Glory. Because when you do, you will be blessed.

Oh, and just so we’re clear, your church doesn’t need visionary leadership: it needs Jesus.