What Are We Seeking (Whom Will We Serve)
Posted on August 28, 2014
There has been recent news of a well-known pastor abusing his authority among staff and members of the congregation. Amid the allegations were his misappropriating church funds for personal gain, using homophobic and misogynistic language as well as manipulating church leadership. In Christian circles this narrative is anything but new. There is much to be said about the abuse of power and even more to be said about what abuse of power does to the spiritually vulnerable followers of a leader. While it seems justifiable to scrutinize the tyranny and dictatorship of a few; for a moment, I would like to focus the microscope on us—the lay people. To do this we must first address our common understanding of leaders.
It is widely noted that leaders are born. Their charisma, wit, sharpness, and good looks are seemingly inherent characteristics prime for guiding the masses and so we believe leadership is something that is pre-destined. I’ll contend that leaders are not created by default; rather they are groomed by design according to the needs of the broader community. More clearly stated: In most cases, leaders emerge from an unfulfilled need of the people. Our votes, church selection, and spending decisions are all indicative of those unfulfilled needs.
I believe there is both historical and biblical pattern of my non-scientific theory. Take, for example, the rise of the Civil Right’s Movement. It was the continued oppression of Blacks post-slavery that led to the emergence of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Consider the work of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, leaders of the National Women’s Suffrage Association, which ushered in waves of the feminist movement. And more appropriately fit for the context of this essay, the royal appointment of both Saul and David stemmed from the Israelites’ direct request for a king. These leaders all rose to the acquiescence of the masses. While their leadership skills were very different what was consistent among them and any leader is their inevitable failures. As such, when we examine the missteps of our leaders, we must also look at ourselves. Our response to the trajectory of their leadership is more often than not a reflection of where we–en masse–have applied our faith and begs to ask a very challenging question: when it comes to our faith, what are we truly seeking? Who are we truly serving?
God’s conversation with the Prophet Samuel was a foreshadowing of how we sometimes view our faith in light of leadership. He warned Samuel exclaiming,”…listen to all the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” (1 Samuel 8:1, NIV) At this point in biblical history the Israelites have disobeyed God’s command to follow Him with all their hearts. They adopted the practices of the pagans; we can assume one of those practices was submission to a king (or queen). God honored their request by providing them with king after king. Each royal appointment had his flaws. Yet, rather than the Israelites turning back to God they continued contending for the leadership of fallible humans.
It’s not clear why the Israelites kept rejecting their faith. We can deduce that their experiences with paganism desensitized them from the truth, which they had come to know. Or, more pragmatically, not following God was an easier alternative. Either way we know how the story ends. The true picture of leadership came in the form of Jesus the Christ who reconciles the world to God. The story also highlights where we can find ourselves in following the leadership of others. Have we become like the Israelites, who in their pursuit of a king, rejected God? No one would be willing to admit that, but I think closer examination of our hearts shows we’re not always as far off from the Israelites as we’d like to think.
When I read about the leader I introduced in the beginning of this essay I wasn’t taken back by his actions. We all fall short. As John Bradford once stated, “There but for the grace of God I go.” Without the grace of God none of us are beyond sinning. What I found the most concerning was how man-centered the conversation surrounding the accusations became. Of course in any public scandal people will take sides. Many (I’m assuming members of the congregation) came to the defense of the pastor while others criticized. Therein lay the division, the confusion, and the complete lack of focus on Christ. It revealed where we have become crippled as a Church. As it pertains to our spiritual needs there is a slippery slope between co-dependence on a leader and interdependence in the sanction of the Church. The key is finding the balance between a certain level of natural dependence that is required for walking under the leadership of another human being and spiritual dependence on God. Confusing the two misappropriates our faith while misaligning our views of the Church, ourselves and God. We must see each clearly for the roles they are supposed to play in the synchronicity of our spirituality.
You may say that God ultimately appoints leaders because each of us are called. His sovereignty is beyond the frailty of my understanding. None of us know for sure what God has superintended for our lives. We’re all making really good educated guesses. Further, it is never truly about the leader as much as it is about what we’re seeking to gain in following them. To that end, I agree God allows individuals to lead, whether by our request or His will, but never for the fulfillment of our personal needs. Leaders are instituted (or arise) to guide us to the Cross for the fulfillment of our greatest need–salvation. When they find themselves temporarily incapable of doing so it is still our responsibility to keep moving forward towards Jesus. The Kingdom of God is not about fanfare or celebrity. It’s about worship. So, when the dust kicks and settles we have to choose for ourselves whom we will serve. Our decision makes all the difference.