The Call of the Christian Leader


(Spectrumbot) #1

And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble and I am not indignant? (2 Cor 11:28-29).

The Apostle Paul had a lot on his mind. He poured out his heart to the Corinthians about the hardships and stress he endured for the sake of the gospel. Yet, he said, the welfare of the churches he’d founded and the believers who comprised those churches was always at the top of his concerns.

This was not always so for Paul, who had once been known as Saul of Tarsus, a self-described “Pharisee, a [zealous] persecutor of the church” (Phil 3:5-6). Luke described Paul ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women “to prison . . . breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 8:3, 9:1).

The sad truth is that for Saul of Tarsus, and his ilk, their end justifies their means. In the interest of preserving the purity of their religion, they resort to character assassination, false claims, persecution, and murder (Acts 6:8-9:1). When Saul did this, he was acting in the spirit of Caiaphas.

Caiaphas was the ruthless high priest who told his colleagues, who were anxious, but indecisive about the threat of Jesus to their political and religious security, “You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have a man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed” (John 12:49-50).

A terrible thing happened to Caiaphas' soul in the exercise of power. He came to value the stones of the temple over the flesh and blood Jesus. He, holder of the sacred office of Aaron, substituted the manipulation of the popular will of the people rather than wait upon and submit to the Holy Spirit.

Leaders such as Caiaphas and Saul of Tarsus seek to force unanimity which always will require verbal, if not physical, intimidation and violence to achieve. It is inevitable that those who seek to eliminate dissent usually end by exterminating dissenters. Leading by damaging and destroying people is a contradiction in terms because Christian leadership means persuading and encouraging people to come together and move from point to point, but always toward their eternal home with the Lord.

Several years ago, a friend told me that he once had a ministry with a companion to “destroy congregations in order to purify them.” The two men gave up their professional work to travel from church to church. Because of their backgrounds and credentials they were often given the pulpit. One of them would attack the pastor and leadership of the church on theological grounds and the other would condemn certain members for their perceived lax lifestyle practices. After quarrels started and dissension took hold, some members and their leadership were marginalized or driven out. That was seen as a victory, even a revival.

“We damaged a lot of people in the process,” the man told me sadly.

“Why did you stop?” I asked.

He said, “gratitude for the Lord's grace and mercy to me. Reflecting on that brought me to my senses.”

“One morning, I woke up and the Lord spoke to my heart and asked, ‘Why are you doing what you are doing? Destroying relationships and reputations in my name is blasphemy. It does not serve me.’ It pierced my soul and I said, ‘I can't do this anymore.’ I've gone back to as many of those churches as I could and confessed my wrong and asked for forgiveness for the harm I caused.”

Those who lead by intimidation are generally focused on the objectives of what and the means of how. In authoritarian regimes, “Why?” is not a welcome question, but it can serve as an excellent doorway to humility and revelation. Like my repentant friend, Jesus brought Saul to his side with a “Why?” question. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” To Saul's life-changing shock, Jesus was alive and a living presence in the hearts of those men and women Saul had been dragging to jail or having killed and Jesus wanted to know why Saul would do such a thing?

It’s instructive that nearly half of “the works of the flesh” that Paul condemned to the Galatians –enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, envy, factions – are relationship-destroying conducts and attitudes. The other half are self-destructive behaviors that are certain to destroy relationships if indulged. In contrast, all eight of “the fruit of the Spirit” that Paul lists –love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – are relationship-building virtues. (Gal 5:19-23)

This is fully in accord with Jesus' desire that his followers become one with the Father and him in the complete unity of love (John 17:20-26). Love is Jesus’ policy toward people and their relationships. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13).

Somewhere along the line, Jesus convicted Paul thatone was the best number as in “There isone body andone Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith,one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4). Paul came to realize that for the body to be one and stay one required “making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3).

The unity of believers and their peace are gifts of the Spirit. The collective focus of the believers on Christ is the effort necessary to maintain that unity and peace. The minute believers take their eyes off of Christ and start watching each other, arguments and divisions start occurring.

Paul knew that the stresses of economic hardship and persecution could distract the churches from Jesus. So he prayed for them continually, took up collections for their support, and encouraged them with letters. He visited whenever he could. He loved the believers and their burdens became his burdens. “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant?” (2 Cor 11:29).

A good leader in the example and spirit of Paul is a leader concerned about his or her people. I have been emphasizing that to young leaders recently. Three behaviors that I warn them about as pernicious to the cause of Christ and the people of that cause are the impulses for instant gratification, complacency and self-preservation.

Yielding to the pressure from the people to give them whatever they want right here and right now is deadly to the health of the community. “Golden calves” come in many shapes and sizes and are ever popular. Whenever the demand for instant gratification is granted it means the future will be short-changed, compromise will be the standard method of operation, relevance will supplant principle as the guiding ethos, and the patience that is the bone and sinew of hope will never be learned.

Social media expert, Clay Shirky, opines that “Institutions seek to preserve problems to which they are the solution.” The Church is intended to be a Spirit-filled community that brings the power and presence of Christ to the world and prepares in the fullness of time for all things in heaven and on earth to be gathered up into Christ (Eph 1). Complacency with the status quo is a denial of those purposes. Christ is the “way” to the Father (John 14:6). Either the Church is on the move, changing lives, growing faith, and advancing the kingdom of God or the Church is dead.

Cowardly leaders who resist that movement in order to preserve themselves are not of God. If we are deepening in our understanding of God and finding more love for our brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit is moving in our church and our hearts. If our church experience reduces our God in stature and minimizes our love for others, it is a sign we need to move on.

Similarly leadership focused on self-preservation cannot be loving God with heart, soul, mind, and strength, or loving its neighbor as itself (Luke 10:27). Our love for our God and our neighbors requires a courage of word and action that is always there for us in God’s providence. This is validated by David’s timeless observation, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps 27:1).

Do you want more encouragement to be a brave and bold leader of integrity? Listen to Paul – “If God be for us, who can be against us. He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him give us everything else?” (Rom 8:31-32).

And here's what I think is Jesus’ last word on this subject: “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions” (Luke 14:27, 33).

Clinging to our possessions such as the perquisites of power will defeat our leadership and disqualify our discipleship because we cannot possibly carry the cross with full hands. The old hymn tells us, “Nothing in my hand I bring, only to Thy Cross I cling.”

The spiritual cowardice that denies Christ on this earth seeks the cloak of religious and social conformity to avoid persecution for the cross of Christ (Gal 6:12-13). Sometimes this cowardice hides behind the fiduciary duty to protect institutional assets as an excuse for standing down on the challenges of faith. There are plenty of Caiaphas-types around who are willing to sacrifice the flesh and blood Jesus to preserve the bricks and mortar and the bank accounts.

Yet, when Jesus Christ returns will he ask the Church, “Did you take good care of my stuff and preserve it,” or will he ask, “Did you use my stuff to help my children in their suffering and prepare them to enter my Kingdom?” There’s a reason that the cowardly and the faithless head the list of those who won’t enjoy eternal life as the children of God (Rev 21:7-8).

This may seem like a radical message from a long-time corporate attorney, but I see no conflict between setting the advance of the kingdom of God through the lives of the people as the priority of the church and the exercise of prudence. It is the responsibility of leaders in the cause of God to “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness” and to trust Jesus’ promise that the necessities for life and service will be provided in God’s grace (Matt 7:31-33). Leaders who care about their people will never shirk that responsibility or abandon their trust in Jesus.

The temptations of instant gratification, complacency, and self-preservation are ever with us, but so is our God and he is faithful. Leaders like Paul who keep their focus on God and know and rely on his love as the operating principle of their lives will help their people to reach their eternal home with their God. That, after all, is the one-item job description of a Christian leader.

Kent Hansen is a business and healthcare attorney from Corona, California. This essay first appeared in his weekly email devotional, "A Word of Grace for Your Monday." Kent's devotionals can be read on the C.S. Lewis Foundation blog at www.cslewis.org.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6714

(Thomas J Zwemer) #2

A very interesting essay. how does that square with the final chapters of Great Controversy, and the three week evangelistic series in the Southern Union. I think the essay was directed toward a limited number of bloggers, without seeing the big picture. We all see through a glass darkly, even LGHites. Tom Z


(jeremy) #3

this article seems to be saying many things…


(Kim Green) #4

You summarized the problems very well, Kent, I hope that those who are in power heed your words. I am not sure that they will, but you have outlined things as they are and have been for decades upon decades.


(Carolyn Parsons) #5

The manufacturers of consumer products are constantly creating solutions that they then need to create a problem for. They don’t just preserve problems, they create them in the minds of the public. Kind of reminds me of what churches do…


(George Tichy) #6

Are you sure???
LOL…


(Kim Green) #7

lol…oh, Carolyn, how true is this! Much of “Christian” based copywriting is written using the emotions of fear and anxiety. These work well otherwise other emotions would be used more often and, as I think about it, many sermons as well :slight_smile:


#8

“One of them would attack the pastor and leadership of the church on theological grounds and the other would condemn certain members for their perceived lax lifestyle practices.”

Isn’t this article basically in that same mode?


#9

Many words, one basic theme. The hint is the use of the word “leaders”


(k_Lutz) #10

It seems to me that the antidote for these is Grace. No organisation based on grace can survive as the tares will twist it to their own purposes. We saw that it happened to the Early Church. And it happened again at the rejection of RBF in the late 19th and 20th centuries. It is indeed peculiar how graceless is the current SDAC. Can this be overcome from the inside? I think not.

The Apocalypse has long directed us to *pure religion, undefiled before men", to follow the Lamb wherever He goes. Which ultimately means to Come out of her My people, that you be not partakers in her sins.

Trust God.


#11

The solution is too simplistic and cliché , like I have heard in so many churches for decades.
Keep your eyes on Jesus and love more.

Why didn’t Jesus, for his 3 year ministry, just say a couple words to His audience like…
“Just be nice” ?
Is the bible of 31,000 verses really overkill?


(Kim Green) #12

Perhaps…but they still haven’t accomplished even this.

I believe he did over and over…didn’t seem to work.

Sometimes.


(Sirje) #13

It may be my own bias talking, but I’m assuming most of this is directed at the power that directs the church, and the strident stance it always takes on change of any kind. However, there are those who will interpret this in the opposite. Having been immersed in the traditions of Adventism, I imagine the other message gleaned would be something on the line of - “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”. Perspective will interpret the message.

The changes that some are envisioning for the church are not welcomed by those who think “There is no more truth to be learned.”- at least truth that would change anything. The trouble is, growth means change; and since there seems to be some measure of disappointment with the church in both camps, something isn’t working as it should, and should be changed. The question is, “what” and “how”.

The article makes a good point when it says, “If our church experience reduces our God in stature and minimizes our love for others, it is a sign we need to move on.” This is assuming change isn’t possible from the leadership at the core of the church experience. I think that is a safe assumption, but “moving on” is difficult.


(Steve Mga) #14

“moving on”.
Does this mean Leaving home? or, does this mean just becoming a more mature person in one’s relationship with God?
Leaving Home, cutting off roots and ties to family is not always helpful.
One can “grow up”, become mature. These do change relationships with everyone in the family, and define if one can embrace MORE than family. Becoming Mature allows one to embrace family, and embrace new family at the same time one is having a maturing relationship with God.
Church family is community. At the Core of Community is collective worship of God. God appreciates individual worship, but collective worship with each contributing something different is a more enjoyable event to God.
Becoming “Mature” in God does allow one to embrace more than family. To enjoy socializing with other groups.
Becoming Mature allows one to discuss issues with family without being intimidated, without being over bearing. It does allow one to more easily persuade one’s family peers to consider the issues.
The only way to cause change in family is to maintain a relationship with family.


(Thomas J Zwemer) #15

the Bible is a library. history, poetry, advice, promise, conflict, rescue, love. It exposes the evil that lurks in the heart of man and the self sacrificing love of God as the only cure of man’s rebellion. It answers the question “How can God be just and the justifier of him who believes in Him.” It not only tells us how to obey in the Goldern Rule, But Christ’s life shows us how to behave as one rescued. it gives us our time table but not God’s. Be still and know that I am God would be good advice for all of us,but particularly those who would order the lives of others. God invites, let us accept His invitation. Tom Z


(Kim Green) #16

Yes, it is all that, Tom…my comment was really a reflection on how it is sometimes used poorly.


(Allen Shepherd) #17

This is a good essay. But I am not sure to whom it is directed. If to folk who have decided to take leadership, it gives cogent and good advice. If it is to the leaders of the SDA church, the most prominent being TW, then I think it misses the mark. A few of my thoughts below.

Well, if TW hasn’t received more “character assassination” than any other around here, or anywhere in the church, I don’t know who has. And I haven’t seen him doing any, at least openly. And I don’t know who is murdering anyone.

The question is, how do we know when the Holy Spirit is moving, or it is some other spirit? You can say, well, I just know. You can say, it agrees with my ethic (WO would fit here). You can say, it is right (but then how do you know what “right” is?) Or you can say, it agrees with scripture, which seems the right answer to me, and is at least an objective standard.

Is he talking about TW here?

I am not sure this is true. Love is the standard, but it is a kind of love that is self-sacrificing, but also holds the loved ones accountable. Not some dottering Grandfather in the sky, but a God of love and justice.

The perquisites of power have to be held by someone. To have no leader to to invite chaos. Now one might not like the leader, but to reject all leadership because you don’t like that particular one is a mistake. A leader CAN hold the perquisites of power and the cross as well. It is possible. Paul did it, but it means self denial and humility.

Who is doing this, that is, “seek(ing) the cloak of religious and social conformity to avoid persecution for the cross of Christ”? Is it TW? Or is it, for instance, gay advocates, who cannot endure the frown of society that standing for scripture requires? One could take it either way.


(Sirje) #18

See what I mean…


(Thomas J Zwemer) #19

if there is no difference before we are “saved”. How can there be any difference after we are “saved”? Isn’t that what Paul is telling us in Galatians? Tom Z


(Thomas J Zwemer) #20

I read the essay as directed to Spectrumites, who have an agenda crosswise to the 28, and who use this forum to spill their guts (Excessive. - webEd). Some of us have a broader definition of Church than denomination. Some see Christ as Creator, Redeemer, and Lord of Lords. others see Jesus as the model man. Some view the Sermon on the Mount as prescriptive others see it as descriptive of Jesus’ Mission and and invitation to build upon that Rock. Obvious these two world views can come into conflict of dialogue. The only solution is to limit conversation to the Canon rather than appeal to the Red Books. Maybe if we just agreed that Christ is Lord, we can keep our individuality and civility intact. Then doctrine is subordinate to His Kingship. Tom Z