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The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb

The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb

by Jamin Goggin


Learn More | Meet Jamin Goggin
CHAPTER 1

THE WAYS OF POWER

I (JAMIN) HAD BEEN IN MINISTRY LONG ENOUGH TO HEAR the stories. It’s a familiar narrative these days: pastors disqualified from ministry due to moral failure. For years I had listened to devastating tales of infidelity and broken families in the lives of fellow pastors. My immediate reaction, in all honesty, was typically swift judgment. I mentally distanced myself from such pastors, believing I was cut from a different sort of spiritual cloth than such sinners. How on earth could this happen? How could anyone, let alone a pastor, ever do such a thing? These stories, while far too commonplace, were quite removed from my immediate life and church world. I couldn’t imagine any of my pastoral peers ever experiencing such a fall from grace.

Then it happened. I remember the phone call vividly. A dear friend, a fellow pastor, called me to confess his infidelity and ask for prayer amid the consequences he was going to face from the leadership of his church. As he talked I felt numb. The shock of the moment gripped me in a way I had never experienced. I knew this man. I thought I knew him well. All of a sudden, I found myself living in one of those distant stories.

A few days later we met. My friend shared his grief, his pain, and his overwhelming sense of guilt and shame. I listened. As he continued to share his heart, I grew increasingly uncomfortable with the conversation. Not uncomfortable in the way you might imagine. I didn’t squirm at the details of his sin. Rather, something in what he shared struck a chord in my own heart. I couldn’t conveniently distance myself from his sin.

As he talked about the dynamics that contributed to his infidelity, at the forefront were pride, status, and grandiosity. While there were unhealthy dynamics in his relationship with his wife, his hunger for power had played a large part in this painful and tragic saga. He recently had been promoted to a significant leadership position and was being showered with the affirmation and accolades that went along with it. The recognition and status he had received emboldened an already unhealthy desire for power and a vision for pastoral life informed by his own grandiosity and quest for significance. In recent months he had incrementally given himself over to such things, and as a result was doing ministry apart from dependence upon Christ. As he invited me into these deeper channels of his heart, I found myself all too familiar with the current. I knew the temptations of status and recognition. I was well acquainted with the hunger for power he spoke of and the temptation to craft a false self worthy of praise. I could not distance myself from such a “horrible sinner” because I could see the ingredients of such behavior in my own heart.

For years Kyle and I had no trouble looking critically upon others in their quest for power. We bemoaned the rock-star pastors who were in the spotlight, whose churches appeared to be more concerned with growing their brand than proclaiming the gospel. This is the first temptation of power: We view the problem as “out there.” We recognize it in other churches, pastors, fellow Christians, or political and cultural leaders, but we ignore the problem in our own hearts. For Kyle and me personally, this remains a strong temptation. As men with a calling to teach and lead, we can often default to analyzing the error of others without honestly assessing the truth about ourselves.

Accordingly, it is easy to allow the word power to trigger a mental list of tyrannical and narcissistic leaders. Likewise, it can be much harder to find examples of those who have embraced power properly. Mother Teresas are rare. In a fallen world, this is reality. In contrast, our first inclination should not be to identify the problem of power as somewhere “out there,” but as “in here,” within our own hearts. Jesus says, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye” (Luke 6:42). We find it much easier to become burdened and angered by sins that are not our own. When those sins are committed by those in leadership, we find it even easier. Notice, Jesus is not saying the solution is to ignore the sins of others. We should name sins, just as Jesus did. However, we must recognize that only after naming the truth of our own sin can we come in grace and truth to name the sins of others. Only when we see the truth of ourselves can we have mercy to address others in God’s grace. As those forgiven by God, we pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us” (Matt. 6:12 NLT).

During my tenure as a pastor in the last decade, I have had a front row seat to witness the beauty in the church. I have seen lives transformed, relationships healed, and the outcasts of society loved. However, my years in the church have also given me enough time to see abuse. I have seen leaders in the church destroy the careers of other staff members because they viewed them as threats to their authority. I have known pastors who focus their energy on the members of the church with money and influence while neglecting the rest of the congregation. More importantly, I have felt the weight of the log in my own eye. I have seen my thirst for power driving my ministry. I have viewed other pastors as competition and the church as a means of self-glory. I have acted in ways that place me alongside the powermongers I so readily critiqued.

Paradoxically, as I began to acknowledge my longing for power, another temptation appeared in my heart. I became tempted to reject power altogether. It simplifies things quite a bit if we can reject power wholesale, viewing any position of influence as intrinsically evil. For our generation—which is drowning in a sea of political, social, and religious examples of power gone awry—this is an alluring temptation. The abuse of power seems pervasive, committed even by the people we expect to love us and care for us the most. Some of us have been abused, misled, and manipulated by “shepherds” who turned out to be wolves. Abuses have caused some to leave the church altogether. It is difficult to return to the house where you were abused.

As painful as our experiences in the church may have been, we must avoid the temptation of viewing power itself as bad. From the moment of creation God intended for people to have power. Adam and Eve were given rule and dominion over creation by God himself (Gen. 1:28). Part of being created in God’s image is having the power to shape the world around us.1 Power is a grace of God. And as a grace, it is not generic, but a part of God’s self-giving. Grace is God’s giving of himself to his people, and in Christ, we come to receive the kind of power God offers: the power of the cross.2 This is a power known through death and resurrection—moving through our weakness to a new kind of strength—strength in abiding in, submitting to, and resting in God alone.

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