Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Temptation to be Spectacular (Reflections on Christian Leadership - Part 3)

The second temptation of Jesus was to do something spectacular: "Throw yourself from the parapet of the temple and let the angels catch you and carry you in their arms" (Matthew 4:6). His wise response, "Don't put the Lord your God to the test."

I've noticed, since working in ministry, that much time is spent discussing what we can do that is, in essence, spectacular: an especially meaningful worship experience, an awesome VBS, an outstanding women's retreat, etc. Likewise, individual church leaders strive diligently for excellence in their areas of service. However, we spend significantly less time spent sharing the pain, struggles, and mistakes made in our journeys.

This requires trust.

Those who live in glass houses, subject to scrutiny in every aspect of their personal, professional, and spiritual lives, tend to be highly selective in choosing whom they will trust. The tendency is to lean on a close friend, a peer from another church, or chosen accountability partner.

Henri J.M. Nouwen, in his excellent book, In the Name of Jesus, Reflections on Christian Leadership:

"I have found over and over again how hard it is to be truly faithful to Jesus when I am alone. I need my brothers or sisters to pray with me, to speak with me about the spiritual tasks at hand, and to challenge me to stay pure in mind, heart, and body. But far more importantly, it is Jesus who heals, not I; Jesus who speaks words of truth, not I; Jesus who is Lord, not I....Ministry is not only a communal experience, it is also a mutual experience....The leadership about which Jesus speaks is of a radically different kind from the leadership offered by the world. It is a servant leadership, in which the leader is a vulnerable servant who needs the people as much as they need their leader."

Nouwen poses the question: "What discipline is required for the future leader to overcome the temptation of individual heroism?" He suggests that the answer lies in the discipline of confession and forgiveness. "Leaders must be persons always willing to confess their own brokenness and ask for forgiveness from those to whom they minister."

He goes on to say that in actuality church leaders are the least confessing people in the church community. There is so much fear, so much professional distance, and so little genuine listening and speaking to each other that it becomes impossible for leaders to feel really cared for and loved. He is not suggesting that church leaders must regularly bring their own sins to the podium, as this not be a healthy expression of servant leadership, but, rather, that church leaders are called to be full members of their communities, and, as such, are accountable to the community and need their affection and support. We are called to lead with our whole being, including our wounded selves.

Nouwen asks:
"How can church leaders feel loved and cared for when they have to hide their own sins and failings from the people to whom they minister?"

"How can people truly care for their leaders and keep them faithful to the task when they do not know them and so cannot deeply love them?"

Your thoughts?


Anonymous said...

I wonder if job security plays into the lack of trust by some ministers.

Amy said...

When my ex-husband was in ministry I felt great pressure to be the example others could look to for how to live. Job security may have played a part, but I think it really came from a deeper need to be respected and appear that I had it all together. After he got out of ministry and I experienced some major life changes that left me unable to maintain the facade that I had everything under control, I learned that I can share who I really am and most people still like me. In addition, I feel much more deeply loved because others can love the real me, warts and all, rather than a facade that I knew wasn't true.

I think that while ministers may feel like they have more to lose (and sometimes might risk their jobs depending on the situation) this is a temptation common to human beings. I've seen ministers and lay people work hard to maintain the facade. I've also seen minsters and lay people be open about who and where they are. Personally, I relate best to those who are open and respect them more for their courage and willingness to be vulnerable. I'm more likely to seek their advice because they might genuinely relate to my struggles.