This has been a week of observing leaders fighting it out in the US elections.
All eyes were on America to see if the people would choose Unity over Divisiveness and Humanity over Malignant and Destructive Narcissism [SPOILER ALERT: Over 70 million people still voted for Donald Trump!] while lamenting the fact that in a country of more than 3 hundred million people the choice came down to one of these two flawed individuals. For many people it seems like the vote came down to ‘Not the other guy!’
So what does it mean to be a leader? And a good one at that?
It’s time to Acts
Also this week i took part in something called Liberation Sunday School which is an online conversation book study where we are currently reading through Willie James Jennings’ book – Acts: A Theological Commentary on the Bible with about 50 people from Australia, Norway, Germany, the UK, America, South Africa and more…
Liberating Sunday School
This is my second book that i am doing with this group led by Jarrod McKenna and friends. For me the strength of our times together comes from three main sources:
- This is not a leader-led group in the traditional sense: While Jarrod holds things together and invites other leaders to share in spaces, the majority of the work happens in small groups, first of three people as we each share one thought from the week’s chapter that stood out for us. Then each group joins with another group and we get to share something we heard someone else say. Then we do some stuff as a big group but for me the depth has come out of hearing a variety of opinions sharing from something i have read.
- The group is diverse in age and race and background and country: Add this to the first one and you have a wealth of engagement going on. i have made some good friends in the group already and it is so encouraging wrestling with ideas of God and church and life and more with people halfway across the world from you.
- Sharing in the big group starts with the most marginalised voices: As a white man, this means i stick my Zoom on mute and settle in to listen. The request is that those voices that have often been silenced in the world in different spaces get to speak first. This just resonates so beautifully with the upside-down nature of the kingdom of Jesus. And the way Jesus lived out His life.
Where are all the leaders?
Which brings me to one of the extracts i shared yesterday which came from commentary on Acts 2:
‘This is a strange image, an unappealing icon – twelve men, none with exceptional credentials, no fabulous educational pedigrees, none with reservoirs of immense cultural capital to draw from, all standing in front of Israelites with nothing more than a message. We live in times where images create and carry so much power. For us, image and word, body and text, are inseparable, merging together, mutually constituting. Yet in this primordial moment the image standing before the gathered does not carry gravitas. It can never match its message. Nor will it ever. This is the eternal imbalance that will mark preaching, a message far more powerful than its messengers. Indeed, image emerges here fully encased in witness.’ [Willie James Jennings]
While i’ve heard this spoken about in theoretical terms – ‘When looking at the twelve disciples, would any of them be hired to work at your church today?’ i don’t think i’ve ever heard of anyone taking it seriously with regards to who we hire as full-time workers in our church spaces.
We can praise Jesus when He did it, but we would never dare. How irresponsible. They must have theological degrees and be people of good character and standing.
As we look around the world at the unbelievable amount of Evangelical Christian leaders who voted for and supported Donald Trump [whose life and words could not have resonated less with Jesus if he tried] or take stock of so many well-known Christian leaders who have fallen heavily in recent times due to secret sin that has erupted into the public domain, maybe it’s about time we tried something different. Was it Einstein who suggested a fool keeps trying the same thing while hoping for different results?
i mean maybe we should just give the Jesus model a try, right?
What if, instead of insisting on theological study for leaders, we looked to character, service and the loving of ones neighbours? What if we acknowledged the flaws of those we invite to lead us and rely more on the Holy Spirit to guide them along the way?
As the quote suggests, ‘The messenger can never match the message.’ Any time we put the messenger on a pedestal in any way, shape or form, they are destined to disappoint us.
In fact, maybe if we all just chose to serve, we wouldn’t actually need leaders at all? Don’t panic – i’m not advocating for no leaders. But we have to be able to do better than we are doing right now, both locally and abroad, right? With some incredible exceptions mostly just getting on and doing the work [and not taking offence at this post!]
What do you think? Is there anything to this experiment? Or is it possible that Jesus did it as a model? And how would we even go about living it out? Surely choosing the very worst looking people for the job is not the best way to approach leadership? But maybe spending the night on a mountain in prayer and then choosing leaders based on who we had heard God whisper to us could be the way to go? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
[For a piece on holding our leaders to account, click here]