I wrote this Church Leadership post almost a year ago and thought it appropriate to republish today. There were some great comments the last time around.
Let me state up front – although I am a student of theology, I am no theologian. My book shelves may be littered with the works of NT Wright, Stanley Hauerwas, Eugene Peterson, John Stott, Spurgeon, Lewis, Chesterton, McLaren (himself no theologian) and the greatest of all living English theologians, Adrian Plass – but I am still a simple Christian stumbling my way towards God. I invite you to join me as I stumble through this propositional post.
The idea for this topic began germinating quite some time ago, but the writing of it was kickstarted this past week when I happened to be listening to a West Coast pastor expound on the role of a Senior Pastor. This pastor has a particular viewpoint common to the independent, charismatic megachurch leader – in fact common to many megachurch leaders period. Let me unpack a little of it first before I name the lens through which I believes he views leadership – the lens through which he inteprets the Bible.
This man knew his bible – accurately quoting numerous scriptures from memory to prove his points (oft referred to as proof texting.) From Hebrews 13:17, he reminded his listeners to "obey their leaders." He spoke to us of King David and the people David gathered around himself (his mighty men) – how he had to first trust them before he would accept them. This pastor told of his own training up of young leaders to the point where they would respond simply by the way he inclined his head. He went on to describe the importance of the leader’s family and the special role entrusted to them in running the church – backing it up with reference to the views of a now dead hero in the faith. (Never mentioning Jesus response to his own earthly family.) This West Coast pastor’s message was well delivered, with mild self-deprecation and a stated desire to see "the lost won to Christ" – a desire best fulfilled, in his view, if the people would just be obedient, and let the leaders lead.
His lens – the lens of a king. I found it telling how often King David was referred to – I awaited his reference to David’s armour bearers – a book on that topic was probably available in his church bookstore. When he spoke of the New Testament, he tended to quote only Paul. (I recognize that the authorship of Hebrews is debated.) Jesus was only mentioned in our need to win people to Him.
Why would there be any problem with a Christian leader using King David as a model for his or her leadership? Is there anything wrong with the king model for the Christian church leader?
In fact, what might God’s viewpoint be on kings – from 1 Samuel 8:4-20. (As translated in The Message )
Fed up, all the elders of Israel got together and confronted Samuel at Ramah. They presented their case: "Look, you’re an old man, and your sons aren’t following in your footsteps. Here’s what we want you to do: Appoint a king to rule us, just like everybody else."
When Samuel heard their demand–"Give us a king to rule us!" – he was crushed. How awful! Samuel prayed to GOD.
GOD answered Samuel, "Go ahead and do what they’re asking. They are not rejecting you. They’ve rejected me as their King. From the day I brought them out of Egypt until this very day they’ve been behaving like this, leaving me for other gods. And now they’re doing it to you. So let them have their own way. But warn them of what they’re in for. Tell them the way kings operate, just what they’re likely to get from a king."
So Samuel told them, delivered GOD’s warning to the people who were asking him to give them a king. He said, "This is the way the kind of king you’re talking about operates. He’ll take your sons and make soldiers of them–chariotry, cavalry, infantry, regimented in battalions and squadrons. He’ll put some to forced labor on his farms, plowing and harvesting, and others to making either weapons of war or chariots in which he can ride in luxury. He’ll put your daughters to work as beauticians and waitresses and cooks. He’ll conscript your best fields, vineyards, and orchards and hand them over to his special friends. He’ll tax your harvests and vintage to support his extensive bureaucracy. prize workers and best animals he’ll take for his own use. He’ll lay a tax on your flocks and you’ll end up no better than slaves. The day will come when you will cry in desperation because of this king you so much want for yourselves. But don’t expect GOD to answer."
But the people wouldn’t listen to Samuel. "No!" they said. "We will have a king to rule us! Then we’ll be just like all the other nations. Our king will rule us and lead us and fight our battles."
The king lens is a lens of power and domination. It’s a lens of nepotism – the royal family inherits the throne. It is a lens that separates the people from a proper relationship with God – as God tells Samuel, "They are not rejecting you. They’ve rejected me as their King." The leader as king replaces the relationship God wants to have with His people.
And how does God respond to that rejection? A thousand years after Samuel, He comes Himself, in the guise of a baby, born to a poor virgin, raised in the backwater town of Nazareth, reveals Himself at thirty years old with a three year ministry that teaches us His ways, then reconciles we who have rejected Him – the reconciliation that takes place at the Cross. At the Cross, the Son of Man, very God of very God (as the Nicene Creed reminds us) becomes the perfect sacrifice for us – to reconcile us to Himself.
The Cross is the lens through which we need to view Christian leadership. Through the Cross we interpret the Scriptures. When Paul speaks of obeying leaders – he is seeing leaders through the lens of the Cross. The Cross is hard. It is the place where the Creator of the Universe, chooses to abase Himself, to make Himself the lowest of the low – that we who rejected Him would be won back to Him. Paul never loses sight of his Saviour on the Cross. As he says in 1 Corinthians 1:23, "but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles". When Paul speaks of leaders, he is speaking of those who are willing to lay down their lives for those they lead. Leaders who are right in the midst of their people. Paul views leadership through the lens of the Cross. To interpret his teaching any other way is to miss what he is saying completely.
And what does Jesus say of leadership in light of the Cross? When Zebedee’s sons, James and John, who still view Jesus through the king lens, ask to sit on his right and left in "glory" – Jesus asks them whether they are able to "drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptisim I am baptized with." (Mark 10:38 ) Jesus is asking whether they are willing to be crucified like Him – though they do not understand his question even as he has just explained it to them in Mark 10:32-34 – their lens is still the lens of the king. They still expect Jesus to take His throne at the Temple in Jerusalem. But Jesus knows where He is heading. And in Mark 10 he continues and tells His disciples what His leadership looks like, through the lens of the cross.
Mark 10:42b-45 "You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around," he said, "and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served–and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage."
Our experience, background, families impact how we see the world. We bring all that baggage with us as we choose our lenses. But the lens through which we view scripture – the lens through which we see biblical leadership is proscribed for us. It is the lens of the cross. I believe that any other lens takes us into territory that becomes heterodoxy.
Of course, I’m not a theologian. Perhaps I’m mistaken.
As I said at the beginning, there were some great comments the first time this was published.