Years ago while serving as a youth pastor I received a nasty and critical letter from a high school parent upset about a decision I had made. I was young, defensive and agitated by what I perceived to be an unfair and unfounded charge leveled against me. Stuart Briscoe, the Senior Pastor at that time, walked into my office, observed my fainting fit and said to me these words: “Every pastor needs the heart of a child, the mind of a scholar and the skin of a rhino.” In reality, my heart was anything but childlike! My heart was like a rhino—ready to charge at my critic with some hostility of my own.
Over the years, I have often repeated Stuart’s words of wisdom—both to myself and to others serving in ministry. One of the qualities I regularly need to cultivate both as a pastor and a person is that of childlikeness.
Recently, I preached a message on one of my favorite Bible characters—Zacchaeus! Remember him? Luke is the only one of the four Gospel writers to include his story. Frederick Buechner reminds us, “Zacchaeus was a sawed-off little social disaster with a big bank account and a crooked job, but Jesus welcomes him aboard anyway.”
A surprising feature of this story is Zacchaeus does something that a child would do, but no adult would do—he climbs up a tree. He does something so childish, so undignified, so silly—he hikes up his toga and climbs up a tree.
Only moments before this incident Jesus said, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:17). Here’s a fiendish and corrupt little tax-collector taking Jesus at his word. He climbs a tree.
C.S. Lewis once said, “When I was ten I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
I’m often asked, “what is one thing your experiences with pastors and church leaders overseas has taught you?” There are many, but one in particular is the importance of childlikeness—remaining curious, always learning, shunning pretense, practicing simplicity and acting like a beginner just to name a few. We don’t know how God worked in the heart of Zacchaeus to prepare him for his meeting with Jesus. What we do know is that a seeking Savior will always find the sinner with a childlike heart.
The quality of childlikeness is also one we seek to model as we train pastors and church leaders too! We are invited to ‘teach,’ but we go as ‘learners.’ We are often regarded as ‘knowledgeable’ but we refuse to act as ‘know-it-alls.’ We are often called to speak, but everyone is better served when we listen.
That’s exactly what we’ll do as BrookLink heads back to Prague, Czech Republic in mid-March. We’ll be meeting, listening, learning and practicing being childlike as we gather with Czech, Dutch, German and American leaders in this beautiful European city.
And before I forget, let me say a huge thank you to you for supporting this ministry through your prayers, your financial gifts and your encouragement.
C. Lee Heyward