Leadership is hard. Lonely. Underpaid for limitless hours. You don’t hear much about church leaders who have been in full-time ministry over decades. Maybe because few last that long. But even those who do hardly ever figure in the headlines. If they do, it’s because they’ve done something deplorable, unspeakable… that we’d like to talk about – extensively. But what about those rare leaders who hone their skills and operate in their gifting throughout a lifetime? How do we acknowledge them? And how do we ensure that their legacy lives on?
This weekend we have celebrated a good friend and a great leader. Martin Cave has been the pastor of IMI Church in Stavanger, Norway, for 39 years. This fall, he is stepping down as a pastor to give center stage to new wonderful leaders. The decision didn’t happen overnight. As a matter of fact, the replacement has been preparing for the last decade. It takes time to grow into someone’s shoes, especially when they are well worn.
During the celebration, we heard of a small congregation at the brink of death, both metaphorically and chronologically, who hired a young feisty pastor as a last spasm. As the flock grew from 25 to 31 the elderly women asked the youngster if this increase in numbers qualified as a “revival”. He said no. Not yet.
But he looked to the Lord. And waited for revival.
On a mission
It’s not true that he didn’t figure in the media headlines. He sure did for a while, but not for the right reasons. Martin was viewed as a bit of a rebel within the Norwegian church, and as such, heavily criticized and often ostracized. Labeled. Abused. He never defended himself, but he frequently defended others, especially those who were unable to speak up for themselves.
Martin could not afford to be derailed. His mission was way too important.
Much has changed over the past 39 years, and many of the issues that he fought for over the years are now commonly practiced in many Norwegian churches. But some are still firmly holding onto what worked four decades ago, confusing culture with faith and tradition with faithfulness. He will defend their right to do so.
As our church now has 1 200 members Martin is still looking to the Lord, waiting for revival.
We came to IMI Church shortly after Adrian’s healing. We realized that many pastors found such a miracle a tall order to handle. Some wanted to get the Cirque de Adrian going, which we refused to buy into. Others spotted a growing poppy and wanted to cut it down as soon as possible, disabling growth and development for good measure. Martin came quietly alongside us, telling our son that No matter what you do, I’ll always be your friend, Adrian. Two pastors have done that; Martin Cave and Bill Johnson. We love them both dearly.
At the table
Martin regularly eats with tax collectors and sinners. I should know, he’s been a guest at our table many times! Sometimes he’s been here as an invited guest. Other times, he’s just shown up because he knew that we were in pain or just struggling.
Where others shy away from pain or shame, he’s just moved in closer, never afraid to get his hands dirty or his name tainted. There are countless leaders who have strayed or fallen, whose disgrace may have been exposed in the media or through the grapevine, who have received a phone call from Martin, saying “How are you, my friend?”
That kind of grace hardly ever hits the headlines. Martin would be the first to say, “Nor should it.” And I get it. He never showed kindness for exposure. What bothers me, is that good leadership is often taken for granted. And Martin would say, “It’s because that should be our normal.” I get that, too. Actually, this dialogue illustrates what good leadership is. It’s revealing the heart of the Father in such a way that the internal dialogue remains active even when your mentor is somewhere else.
True leadership is setting someone else up for success, cheering them on as they go further and faster than you have ever gone. It is not intimidated by change but acknowledges that eternal principles will dress up differently from one season to another. Genuine servant leadership is leaving a legacy that goes above and beyond what you have accomplished, rejoicing as the Father is glorified through a life laid down.
Leaving a legacy
A good friend of mine, Gabriel Lopez, author of God’s best friend, recently wrote:
Movements rarely die because of a lack of passion. More often than not, they die from never being passed onto the next generation. The greatest test of humility isn’t placing your life into the hands of God… it’s as a father or a mother, entrusting your life’s work into the hands of your children.
We are blessed to have such a father. Although Martin is released to continue his ministry worldwide, we are happy that he will come home to re-charge every so often.
There’s always a place for him at our table.
Photo: Eivind Horne, IMI Church