Mavericks have punctuated the Assemblies of God from its inception. The 300 people who assembled in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1914, were considered mavericks by many in the church world. We have made room in the Assemblies of God for people who color outside the lines. The classic story that surfaces among ministers is about one of our well-known preachers who made some less than complimentary remarks about his spiritual leaders. When confronted by the cadre of leaders he replied, "Its amazing what you say under the anointing." We laugh nervously wishing we had been clever enough to create such an answer. But this person, who was sometimes considered a maverick, had a profound impact on this church and the extended evangelical world. Mavericks are accepted when they have an effective ministry and there is an obvious anointing on their lives. We seem to be less tolerant with lower-impact ministries and ministers.
Mavericks are not the same as rebels. Rebels defy the system and have no regard for spiritual authority. Mavericks challenge the system by pushing the boundaries of change, but they respect those in spiritual leadership.
"You work your side of the street, and Ill work mine." These were tough words for a young visionary church planter to hear from a veteran pastor.
I applaud the long overdue effort to assess and train church planters. The statistics on church openings and closings are like a revolving door. We expect the results to be more like an ascending staircase. As we take these important steps to use a filtering system to choose the right kind of leader (a person with the appropriate gift mixpeople skills, passionate, spiritual, emotionally stable, adequately prepared), it is critical that we leave room for the mavericks.
MAVERICKS FOCUS MORE ON VISION AND EXPERIENCES THAN ON POLICIES AND PROCEDURES
"You work your side of the street, and Ill work mine." These were tough words for a young visionary church planter to hear from a veteran pastor. Thats how I was greeted at the first sectional fellowship meeting I attended in 1969 as a church planter. Perhaps my fellow pastor was reacting to the longer hair or the untested confidence of a 26-year-old. On the other hand, maybe my seasoned colleague was reflecting some frustration in his own life.
The district had approved the church plant in Richmond, Virginia, but I was not tuned into the policies, methods, and general culture of the district. My attitude was not rebellious, but I was thinking outside the box of the traditional Pentecostal church. Our vision was to plant a church to reach people in the western suburbs. We wanted to be a Pentecostal church with a worship experience and teaching format that made sense to the community. Our intention was to be a bridge churcha place where people who were curious, searching, or seekers hungry for spiritual truth could feel welcome and accepted. While some colleagues may have questioned our methods, they were affirming of the growth and outreach of the church.
Several times when I met with the district presbytery to respond to their questions, I began to understand the importance of denominational structure. Now that I am sitting on the other side of the table as district superintendent, I try to make room for those who focus more on vision and experience than on policy and procedures. The reality is, it can be both/and rather than either/or.
MAVERICKS WALK ON A SLIPPERY SLOPE
We approved a church plant several years ago in the Potomac District, knowing the pastor was one of our mavericks. The presbyter of his section strongly supported him and asked us to work with him. The church had a fast start and gathered about 100 people. The pastor reached out to hurting people, including a couple of pastors of small churches who needed some attention. In the process, however, the pastor became more aloof and even critical of the district leadership. Without permission, he merged his congregation with another church and then moved to another part of the country. In less than 2 years, I began receiving E-mails from this brother indicating he wanted to come and make things right with the district leadership.
It was a beautiful day when he and his wife met with the district presbytery, and in model humility, asked for forgiveness and pledged his support and loyalty to us. With our blessing he became interim pastor of a very dysfunctional church and has led the church through a time of repentance with a seminar entitled, "Setting Your Church Free." Vision and hope have been restored. There is every evidence the church will make him the permanent pastor this year.
Mavericks challenge the system by pushing the boundaries of change, but they respect those in spiritual leadership.
What happened when he slipped? He was going through a season in his life where he had challenges with his children; he was bitter about a district leadership decision in the past; he was struggling with a theological issue; and he was experimenting with a new model of pastoral leadership. God has graciously brought him through that season and now he is reaching a new level of leadership.
If we believe in the Lord of the harvest, we can know He will lead us in working with mavericks who slip on the slippery slope.
MAVERICKS HAVE A PROTOTYPE IN BIBLICAL MODELS OF LEADERSHIP
I like George Barnas definition of leadership: "A leader is someone who effectively motivates, mobilizes, resources, and directs people toward the fulfillment of a jointly embraced vision."1 Leaders are complex, multifaceted beings who possess a unique blend of three special elements:
- Calling or anointing
- Godly character
- Leadership competencies2
Some biblical leaders are compulsive like Moses, narcissistic like Solomon, paranoid like Saul, codependent like Samson, or passive-aggressive like Jonah.3
The Scriptures are replete with prophetic mavericks who took risks. It may be surprising to think of David, Peter, and Jesus as anointed mavericks. Lets take a closer look at them.
David, the youngest son of Jesse, was anointed king by Samuel. When David volunteered to take on Goliath, he tried on Sauls armor. He wisely said, "I cannot go in these because I am not used to them . Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherds bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine" (1 Samuel 17:39,40*). The rest is familiar history.
David also protected Saul, refusing to lay his hand on him because he was the Lords anointed (1 Samuel 26:9). Mavericks may not always use the company armor, but they do kill giants and respect Gods anointed leaders.
Peter was an impetuous maverick. He was constantly in trouble. Jesus predicted Peters denial and was not surprised by his return to fishing after the Crucifixion. It was the experience at Caesarea Philippi, however, that galvanized his place in the Kingdom.
Im not sure how to make room for people like Peter at the church-planting assessment meeting. It does make me pause to think that Peter could have been overlooked for the Day of Pentecost. This tension between the impetuous maverick profile and the model leader profile may be one dilemma that keeps us on the cutting edge.
Jesus challenged the system and associated with publicans and sinners. He threw His critics a curve when He said, " Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matthew 22:3740).
Jesus always submitted to the will of His father, no matter what the cost. Some might resist calling Jesus a model maverick. But for the point Im making, it is appropriate.
Thinking of mavericks as a category may give a negative connotation. Seeing them as individuals can help us appreciate their value. We need people who will challenge us when we merely rearrange our prejudices and call it thinking.
*All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.
1. George Barna. The Second Coming of the Church (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1998), 106.
2. Ibid. 107.
3. For further reading on these descriptions see Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima, Sr., Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997), 85137.