The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
We have to choose between impress the people or serve the people. Let’s lead out of our weakness and not out of our strength.
The decline of Christianity in a good part of the western world allows us to rediscover the true missional nature of the Bible. In recent Christendom, the contrast between Christians and the society to which they belong was less acute because until the end of the ’70 the prevailing moral rules were similar (abortion, euthanasia, divorce, homosexuality, adultery, etc.). The role of pastors and Christian leaders in this setting consisted in helping believers to live faithfully and assist them all through their life in order for them to give a consistent testimony that permitted an evangelization. Among all pastoral work, the most valued one was to accompany or assist the flock. When asked about what they expected from their pastors, a great percentage of the church would answer: “that they take care of me”. A pastor had to show some skills as a psychologist, an entrepreneur, a teacher, etc.
Christians now are in a new setting, growingly post-Christian, they have critical needs and ask different questions. They request from their pastors and leaders to present a redefinition of their work, a new job’s description. God never left us unaware of his criterions and the Bible is never short of answers. I would like to share with you two New Testament passages that shed some light in our changing times.
1. Leadership to equip. Ephesians 4: 7, 11-13.
The context of Ephesians 4 leads us to a meditation on the results of the death of Christ. It was not only and strictly an individual outcome, but it allowed the emergence of a new man, of a new humanity. And in order for this new humanity to be recognizable and bring about its God given mission, she needs two characteristics that Paul mentions: Unity and holiness. Both characteristics make God more visible. When the Church manifests them, there is a demonstration that God is among us and that sin is defeated.
However, the unity alluded in the Bible is not uniformity. It is not the uniformity of institutions, but the diversity of organs and members of a body which, though different, team up to achieve the same ends the head has established. As the body has different members, so in the Church there are different gifts (v.7) and those described in v. 11 have a very definite goal, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry”. This involves that one of the most important functions of the leadership is to equip every Christian, in the place assigned by God, to do the work and ministry He gave him or her.
To that effect, the leadership ministry is not so much meant to perform its own ministry and turn the others into mere onlookers of what it does, or be coworkers of the many ministries of the leaders, but much more to be focused on the members. A leader should understand that his ministry and responsibility is to equip the members of the church and for that reason he should concentrate on keeping contact with the society where most of the ministries take place, so as the family, the studies, the working place, social and political action, etc. and assist the believers so that they may be changed at the image of Christ (v. 13) making Him visible in every circle of society. Would it be a help for the leadership to think about the Church as a complex adaptable system rather than a uniform block? As an illustration we could think about a shoal of fish or a flock of starlings.
2. A leadership with a personal low profile. 1ª Peter 5: 1-3.
Conspicuously personal leaderships are what is particularly grating in our circles. More than ever we consider them with distrust, we accuse them to be patently intrusive and on occasions bordering on spiritual abuse. The answer to such a kind of leadership is never a “no-leadership”, but rather a leadership out of service, that of a servant with basin and towel. This leadership is instituted by God, as much in the Church as in the society, because we all need a leader who mirror Jesus. Our society is not so much fed up with leadership per se than with that kind of leadership of another era, and needs people who dare to be a model to what they believe. The latter will be followed with more conviction.
In this passage, Peter might have introduced himself as an apostle (he was one), nevertheless he chose three titles (v.1) which involve a function instead of a position (fellow elder, witness of the sufferings of Christ, partaker in the glory). At least, two of them were shared by the rest of believers. When we decide to use titles that show position like “reverend”, “apostle”, “prophet”, etc. and the like, but void of their original meaning (e.g. “servant of God”) and which involve a distance with the rest of believers, instead of involving others in the task, we create hierarchies inhibiting participation, and we make them passive recipient. We have to choose between impress the people or serve the people.
The charge Peter leaves in the hands of the elders of the Church is to shepherd the flock (v. 2a). When he said that, Peter probably remembered the moment when he himself received this charge from Jesus, after the resurrection, in John 21. Before saying: “Feed my sheep”, the Lord asked him: “Peter, do you love me more than these?” Peter knew that before denying Jesus he had declared that though all the other disciples deny Him, he would never do so. Jesus is exposing here Peter’s weakness and conceit at the eyes of all to see. We have to lead out of our weakness but not out of our strength. Since, only those who are aware of their weaknesses can lead weak people. Slaves of pride, conceit and arrogance we won’t be able to bless others, equally affected by sin as we are. When we preach or exhort floating above others from the pretended superiority and security of our pulpits, we will tend to fall in legalisms and move away from grace. It is only when we are weak that we are strong; only when we live by grace that we can become channel of grace.
Jaume Llenas is the General Secretary of the Spanish Evangelical Alliance.