In Matthew 23:1-4, Jesus rebuked the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees because they put burdens on people instead of helping them deal with the burdens they already had. Consequently, the 23rd chapter of Matthew is one of the strongest rebukes in Scripture ever delivered by our Lord.
The reality of leadership is that God has called us to be lifeguards, not umpires. Lifeguards protect, serve, help and lift people. Umpires are there primarily to make sure you play according to the rules. Unfortunately, many in leadership, more often than not, resemble umpires instead of lifeguards. They unwittingly make life harder rather than better for people. Instead of helping those they lead, they unnecessarily hinder them in their walk with the Lord.
How do they do it? By sharing burdens rather than bearing them. Quite the opposite of the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees in Matthew 23, who put more burdens on their people, Paul wrote in Galatians 6:2 that we should “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
The context is discovering someone in the act of a sin. The word “restore” is a word used to refer to mending or repairing. It was a word used for setting a broken bone or fixing a dislocated limb. “Burdens” refers to extra heavy loads people carry and have difficulty with. The idea Paul was getting at is that we should carry those burdens for an extended period of time. We should literally help people with and through their burdens.
If you are serving in leadership, have you stopped lately to consider how “burdened” the people are you’re trying to lead? Physically, emotionally, financially, relationally, occupationally, mentally, spiritually, in their family, etc.? How do you think your ministry to them is being perceived? Adding burdens or helping remove them so they can be restored?
Burdens can be heavy. We’ve all heard the phrase: “The straw that broke the camel’s back.” Dr. Richard Swenson, in his book, A Minute of Margin, writes: “Camels make great beasts of burden. In hot weather, a camel can carry 350 pounds on a long journey. On shorter journeys in cooler weather (or in order to avoid customs duties), an animal can be loaded to 1,000 pounds. But once a camel is maximally loaded down, a mere straw will break its back. The problem is not with load. Camels love to carry loads. The problem is with over. As it turns out, camels aren’t too crazy about broken backs.”
“In Washington State, thirty-two dairy cows ate themselves to death after one of them shook loose a pipe on an automatic feeding machine and spilled tons of grain. The cows feasted to their desires, but soon found themselves in the graveyard. Does this mean that eating grain is bad for farm animals? No. Eating grain is fine: eating overload is not.”
Tragically, too many leaders and too many of the people we lead, live in overload mode. Swenson continues: “Buy a satellite dish, and you can choose from 1,000 movies a month - a wonderful cure if your diagnosis is chronic movie deficiency … There are 450 English language editions of the Bible and 63,000 new books every year. A college student can choose from over 500 possible baccalaureate degrees. There are more than 60 kinds of Musak and more than 50 medical specialties.”
“The average grocery store has 30,000 product choices. There are 177 kinds of salad dressing, 184 kinds of cereal, 250 kinds of toothpaste, and 551 kinds of coffee. It is also reported that the average store has 22 doors of frozen desserts. Oreos now come in Original, Mini, Chocolate Creme, Chocolate Creme Mini, Reduced Fat, Doubled Stuf, Fudge Covered, Fudge Mint Covered, Double Delight Peanut Butter & Chocolate, Double Delight Mint’nCreme, and Double Delight Coffee’nCreme. Choice overload is also decision overload.”
Swenson goes on to say, “The plane carrying American pop singer Aaliyah and eight members of her entourage was substantially overloaded by several hundred pounds. It crashed on attempted takeoff in the Bahamas. This does not mean that we should avoid small planes. Nor does it mean we should avoid flying to the Bahamas. It only means we should not overload planes and then ask them to fly.”
“Tragically, too many leaders and too many of the people we lead, live in overload mode.”
Wonder how many people are one straw short of a break down? Spiritually, emotionally, maritally, financially, mentally, in their family? The old Finnish proverb says, “Happiness is a place between too little and too much.”
Those of us in full-time leadership have an obligation before God and to the people we serve to be burden bearers instead of burden sharers. By that I mean we need to be helping people with their burdens rather than hindering them by sharing our own. I’m not suggesting leaders have to carry their own burdens all by themselves. I am suggesting leaders need to be prudent and purposeful in what, where and when they share and what, where and when they don’t. As Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes, “There is a time for everything.” We need to exercise wisdom and restraint knowing the right time, the right place and the right words to share. Whining leaders won’t win followers.
Obviously, we should never compromise the Scriptures. Perhaps not so obvious, we shouldn’t complain about our situations or circumstances, especially to the people we have been called to serve. There’s a time and a place for that. For example, sharing the fact your home entertainment system is on the blink probably won’t encourage the single mom who doesn’t have a home of her own. Or asking for special prayer for your upcoming two-week cruise in the Caribbean might not lift the spirits of the fellow who just got laid off. There’s a time and a place for that and that’s probably not the time or the place.
Leaders have to decide if they are going to be burden sharers or burden bearers. True, it’s hard to help others when you’re hurting yourself. It’s also true, burdened people burden people. So it’s absolutely critical we deal with our burdens first so we can help others with theirs.
How do we do it? Simple. We take our burdens to the Source: JESUS, and then encourage those we lead to do the same. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
We should make sure we are in the Word daily for our own spiritual nutrition and well-being. We should be in ongoing relationships with other leaders who can hold us accountable and hold us up when we’re down. We should take care of ourselves by eating right, getting enough sleep and exercising to adequately maintain the bodies God has given us, and we should avoid overload in every area of our lives.
The bottom line is this: we minister in a world that is woefully weary and heavily burdened. So, when they look to us for leadership, will we share our burdens … or bear theirs?
The choice is ours to make.
Barry L. Cameron has been the Senior Pastor of Crossroads since 1992 when the church was averaging 188 in morning worship. Pastor Cameron and his wife, Janis, have three children and two grandsons. He’s the author of the bestseller: The ABCs of Financial Freedom, Contagious Generosity, and The Financial Freedom Workbook. The Cameron family has been completely debt free since November 2001.