Sunday, June 4, 2017

Leaders or witnesses. . .

On this Pentecost I am struck by the time and attention given to raising up leaders for the church today.  These leaders are to foster change, facilitate change, and lead the people from their comfortable past into a bold new future.  It all sounds exciting enough but I am growing more and more wary of those who desire to become leaders or to lead the Church where they think she needs to go. Too often these leaders have their own ideas of what the Church should be and they use all sorts of inspirational and motivational tools to impart their vision but it generally means abandoning the liturgy, leaving behind the great hymns of the faith, and, even worse, trading in the trustworthy Gospel of Christ crucified and risen for a relational, relevant, and people oriented message that appeals to those who are spiritual but not religious.

It occurs to me that the Bible does not have all that much to say about leadership.  The leaders who were heralded in the Old Testament were not self-appointed but chosen by God and He had to convince them to follow (some, Jonah, ran away rather than follow the Lord's bidding).  These leaders did not lead the people of God where they wanted but where God desired.  They did not cast a vision before the people of God but spoke the name of the Lord and called the people to follow.  The people seemed to complain from the get go but they were confronted not with a vision that could be denied but with the power of God that was compelling.

The leaders of the New Testament were called either witnesses (disclosing what they saw and heard) or apostles (those sent by God to speak His Word).  On Pentecost the Spirit is given to the apostles so that they might be witnesses to Christ crucified and risen (have you been listening to Peter's sermon in the first reading for the Sunday's after Easter?).  It is less about vision, leadership, and motivation than it is about the Gospel of Christ crucified and risen and about speaking and living in faithfulness to this Gospel.

I am troubled by the fact that so many of the "leaders" of the church want to lead us away from the very thing that Peter so boldly proclaimed in the wake of Pentecost and those who heard him carried with them back home.  It is not a vision of change and a path of leadership but a vision of Christ and Him crucified and the path of life in Christ that those who received the Spirit laid for the rest of the Church.

It makes me nervous when people say they want to become leaders in the Church, that they have a vision for where the Church ought to go, and that they believe the Church must change or die.  This kind of leadership has too much in common with psychology and sociology and too little in common with the Gospel itself.  I am not a leader.  I am a pastor, custodian of the ministry of the Word and Sacraments by which Christ Himself comes to His people and transforms them.  I have no shortage of ideas of what we ought to do about this or that but the leadership to which I was called and ordained is the ministry of this Word and Sacraments and not a personal idea of what and how to change the Church.  We don't need seminaries to teach leadership or to create leaders.  We need seminaries to make men into theologians who know the Word and who can preach it and teach it for the benefit of the hearers to whom the Spirit comes and in whom the Spirit works (as He has promised).

Yes, of course, I know that there are such things as people skills and a personality but as much as these are taught and sought out in the prospective pastors, they cannot be overemphasized to exclude the primary calling of preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments.  Pastors are not leaders because they want to lead, they are leaders because they have been entrusted with the means of grace through which the Spirit works to bring people where God wants them to be.  Leadership is not the worst thing but it is no panacea to replace faithfulness in preaching and teaching and administering the Word and Sacraments.  If we are faithful and energetic in preaching, teaching, and administering the Word and Sacraments, God has promised to lead His people where He wants them to be.  It is not a question of figuring out God's hidden plan but making know His revealed will and purpose in His incarnate Son.  The sooner we figure this out, the better leaders and better leadership our church will enjoy.

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