I know, I know, it’s an old movie now. But I liked the movie and watched it the other day, again. Master and Commander starred Russell Crowe as the brash British Naval Captain John Aubry. “Lucky Jack” of the HMS Surprise. For a Presbyterian Pastor, any saying or title with “luck” or “lucky” in it always forces a self-righteous smirk to our faces. We know there is no such thing as luck because God is sovereign!

Still, I like “Lucky Jack” a whole lot. He’s my kind of guy. Remember the movie? Captain Jack Aubry uses all of his seafaring talent, skill and experience in leading his men in battle against the French Frigate Archeron. It was a mismatch for sure; the 29 guns of the HMS Surprise to the 47 guns of the Archeron. No way Aubry could defeat one of Napoleon’s finest. But with the use of creative maneuvers and deception, they not only defeated the Archeron, they captured it! Master and Commander!

After talking about the movie, my friend Bob told me it came from a novel by Patrick O’Brian, and I had to read it. My conclusion: Great novel, but never has a movie deviated from a book more than in this case! Ok, the movie reflected major themes of the book, but the story line was completely different. What the movie perfectly captured though, was the character of Captain “Lucky Jack” Aubry. He was truly a renaissance man: cultured, smart, good sense of humor, an educated warrior who played the violin. But he was a warrior: physically strong, bold, courageous, violent when he needed to be. A tactician, risk taker, never say die kind of leader. For sure a Master and Commander.

Mastor and Commander: The Pastor? Not quite...

Like I guess I thought I would be as a pastor. How about you? Did you think you might eventually become the pastoral equivalent of a master and commander? The ministry of the church is so diverse and so many things have to happen well and at the same time for the church to be healthy and growing, that we pastors often don’t feel like we’re masters or experts at anything! My son Jon tells me that his business prof said that in three years in the average job, a worker will reach his top level of competency. He will probably make more money over the years as he continues to work of course, but he won’t become appreciably more competent at his work. Zig Ziglar, in his book Better Than Good, talks about the “Ten Year Rule”: It generally takes ten years for a person to become proficient in their profession. Three years or ten? Hey, I’ve been a pastor for 30 years…can we talk? Out of the 16 major plates a pastor is expected to keep spinning (Pagan Christianity? Viola/Barna, p.138) I feel I’m not spinning many of them well, and I’m a master in none of them! American culture keeps changing on me faster than I can keep up. I think I’ve figured preaching out and then, bam, the culture changes and I wonder if I’m getting through. Future Shock is here…a Master? Come on Fred.

Want to talk about being a commander? Do we even need to go there? Leadership is not the strong suit for most pastors, and we can become exhausted by working so long as leaders outside our main strengths. By the way, what is your strong area of giftedness? What is the one major area you do well? Teaching, preaching, counseling, evangelism; it might be leadership. Great! The fact is that strong leadership is necessary for church growth. Commander pastors who build larger churches can’t act like military command generals, but they do figure out how to command in a Christianly acceptable way.

For many of us, trying to be Master and Commander Pastor will exhaust and crush us, and maybe even our people. Here’s what helps me. I have to recognize I’m a bit neurotic and need therapy (that’s what Steve Brown says anyway-it’s nice having such a supportive mentor.) I often feel hyper-responsibility and lose sleep because the church isn’t growing as quickly as I think it should or doesn’t have enough tithers or finances; or a member doesn’t like our worship quality or we’re too much of a community church and we don’t do the age niche thing well for them. Pastors all understand each other at this point! Sometimes I just have got to stop being so neurotic and go for a run or go plinking. Amazing how blowing up a few plastic bottles can really brighten ones day. John Maxwell told us at a conference once, how, when golfing, he would write the name of a difficult member on the ball just before teeing off….

Commander when needed

I’m also more comfortable with trying to master one or two areas of ministry and stop thinking I’ll ever master the 16 competencies of a pastor. But I’m sure going to try and find others who do really well what I don’t. Regarding being a commander: there are times when you simply have to take a stand and tell staff or your people what you want them to do without giving a million reasons. Smile and say, “That’s not our philosophy at our church” when someone wants to institute something that won’t work. “I don’t see us ever doing that” is a legitimate statement a leader can make. Step out in faith and trust Jesus (John 14:1-2). Command when you need to, then go rest up if it wears you out.

Steve and I have been talking about that simple faith and love that guys like George Beverley Shea exhibit. Steve was with him at a conference recently and commented about how refreshing it is. Ah, simple faith and trust; a simple love for Jesus and people. I use to have more of that and want it again. I want to end my ministry well, being a more simple, loving Christian man; a little less neurotic. Jesus doesn’t expect me to be a master. He’s the master. He wants me to find joy in using my gift and putting in place people to use their gifts. Teamwork is fueled by grace. At times I need to command with a smile. And then get some ice cream and leave the results up to Him.

Pastoral “Lucky Jacks” we may never be. But we might be! I’m just praying you’ll be the you Jesus wants you to be where you are serving, no more, no less. There is only one Master and Commander, and we work for Him.

“You can’t; God can!
You are inadequate;
He isn’t.”
Jill Briscoe

“In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.”

I Corinthians 4:2

Fight the Good Fight of Faith, praying for you…