The Limitations of Leadership

limitations of leadership.jpg

Editor’s note: Here, we have excerpted a second section from an honest discourse between Chinese house church pastors and American pastor and author Paul Tripp. In this conversation, the house church pastors ask Paul’s opinion on what it means for pastors to be a part of the church body in a hierarchical society that often separates them due to their position, and question him about the meaning of accepting their own limits in ministry and in life.

You can see the first excerpt from that discussion here.


S.E. Wang: Aside from people putting pastors in the “more spiritually mature” category, there is another dimension, because Chinese culture is very hierarchical. In English, I am free to call you Paul. But in China, no one would call you Paul. If you asked them to do that, they would not know what to say—they have to put a title there. They need to show reverence. That is a part of the culture.

One dimension of this is that people put you [as a pastor and leader] into a more powerful, higher position. That is part of what is causing the loneliness. Can you speak to that?

Tripp: This is a bit humorous, because I am in a similar situation. My wife and I attend a church that is eighty-five percent African American. That culture will never call me Paul. I am not the pastor; I am not an elder; I am an attender. But I’m “Dr. Tripp” to everyone. As much as I try to get people to just call me Paul, it will never happen. I have two thoughts.


Would You Pray With Us Today?

Sign up to receive our weekly prayer emails with requests for the house church in China

The first is that there is a distinction between respect and building relationships with candor. I can hold somebody in great respect, but have a very honest relationship with them. Those things are not mutually exclusive.

>
“I must study my culture, and identify the places where my culture has norms that are different than what God calls us to.

The second thought is that when you place the gospel in any culture, one question that should be asked is, “What in this culture gets in the way of the work of the gospel?” In America, the number one issue is individualism. There is an idea of a strong American individual who never needs anyone and pulls themselves up by their bootstraps. That is not the gospel! That counters everything the New Testament teaches, and is something every pastor has to learn to address in the lives of his people.

In China, you have to ask, “What cultural norms do I need to address if I am going to see the gospel advance in the lives of my people?” That is a lifelong process of cultural analysis. A good pastor is a student of his people and of the Bible. As a pastor, I must first submit to the Bible. I love God above all else, so I love his work. I study my people, and I know their culture. These are the two great commandments. When these commandments come together, that is effective pastoring. Knowledge of Scripture and of other human beings come together for effective preaching, teaching, pastoring, and counseling. I must study my culture, and identify the places where my culture has norms that are different than what God calls us to. Some of this could even be regional.

Pastor Wu Qiang: In your book Lead, you said that there are limited gifts, time, energy, and maturity. But we find great needs in the local church and in public ministry. Sometimes we have to work in both the local church and the public domain—how can we balance ministry in both areas?

Tripp: There is only one unlimited Person in the universe; it’s the Lord. I have limits that God, in his sovereignty, has placed on me that I will never move beyond. Trying to work beyond your limits is spiritually unhealthy and will not produce good fruit. You can’t let the pressures of expectations or the volume of work cause you to act like you don’t have limits.

Let’s take the limits of time. I will never get thirty hours in a day or ten days in a week. If something eats up more and more of my time, it will, of necessity, eat into something else in my life. If I have a family, I have a moral responsibility to manage the family well. That’s one of the qualifications of an elder. My first congregation is my family. If I keep adding ministry duties, I will be an absentee husband and father. If I accept too much in the public arena, that will eat up my commitment to pastor the people in my church. 

Every time you accept something new, you have to ask: “What will I not do in order to do this?” If you are already busy and you add something new, there is something you will not be able to do. I don’t think pastors ask that question—they just think that somehow they’ll get more time and ability.

>
“Humility says, there is one Messiah, and he’s not me. I have limits. One of the most spiritually healthy things a pastor can say is no. No one loves his church more than the Lord of the church does. He will meet the needs of his church.

Second, you have limited maturity. You must not accept so much ministry that you have no time to nurture your own soul. I have had hundreds of pastors confess to me that, in the busyness of ministry, the thing that has ended is their own devotional life. 

I have limited gifts. There are things I should just not do because I’m not gifted to do them. I should trust that God will supply somebody else to do them. You have to be humbly honest about the limits of your ability. If you are already busy, everything you add will mean you cannot give yourself well to something else you have agreed to do.

Pastor Wu: It’s about priorities.

Tripp: If you are in ministry, you love the gospel, and opportunities. Please hear me—you cannot be managed by opportunity. You have to be managed by humility. Humility says, there is one Messiah, and he’s not me. I have limits. One of the most spiritually healthy things a pastor can say is no. No one loves his church more than the Lord of the church does. He will meet the needs of his church.

Pastor Hu Yongjie: We believe we are incomplete, not perfect, and that God is growing us in ministry. Our limitations change—maybe I can be more productive or manage my time better. Is failure the only way to test my limitations?

Tripp: You have God-appointed limits of time that will never change. You have to accept that. You won’t get more days in a week than God set at the point of creation. What can change is the efficiency and wisdom with which you use that time. But the time structure was God’s decision, and you and I didn’t have a vote.

You have a gift set that won’t change; you will get better in the use of that gift set. I make much better use of my gift of writing now than I did early in my ministry. Inside of limits, there can be growth of maturity that will help you to deal with those things. You will always need rest and retreat, you will always need to eat, you will always need to take care of your body. What will change is the way you approach that. 

Denial of your limits is immaturity, and doesn’t produce good things. Humble acceptance is maturity. The more mature a pastor is, the more he is aware of his limits, and sets boundaries so he does not work beyond those limits. 


Dr. Paul David Tripp is a pastor, event speaker, and author. Paul’s driving passion is to connect the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life.  

FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION

Pray for Chinese pastors to embrace their limits and to rejoice in living within the boundaries God has placed on their lives.

Share This Story

Further Reading

billow926-ND4-6joi3t8-unsplash
Qingdao: How to Pray
Read More
cajeo-zhang--Qkr9oCfcZo-unsplash
Qingdao: Locals and Outsiders
Read More
cajeo-zhang-CuoflMy9KIM-unsplash
Qingdao: Good Soil for the Gospel
Read More

LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

Videos

ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

Videos

Stories from Shenyang

About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

Videos

Stories from Qingdao

About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

Videos

Stories from Xiamen

About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Videos

Stories from Chongqing

About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

Videos

Stories from Nanjing

About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

Videos

Stories from Changchun

About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

Videos

Stories from Guangzhou

About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

Videos

Stories from Kunming

About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

Videos

Stories from Shenzhen

About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

Videos

Stories from Chengdu

About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

Videos

Stories from Beijing

About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

Videos

Stories from Shanghai

give

A short message about partnering with us.