Wednesday, November 4, 2015

What Do We Mean by "Courageous" Leadership?

Teach me your way, O LORD, 
and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.
Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, 
for false witnesses have risen against me, 
and they are breathing out violence.
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD 
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD; 
be strong, and let your heart take courage; 
wait for the LORD!
Psalm 27:11-14

Recently a friend sent me an article titled, Six Reasons Why Pastors and Church Leaders Must Be More Courageous Today.” Here’s the list:

1. There have been dramatic shifts in culture, most of them adversarial to biblical Christianity. 
2. The position of pastor is no longer held in high esteem in many communities. 
3. Church critics can be vicious. 
4. Pastors must push against the “me” mentality of many church members..
5. Good church leaders must say “no” often. 
6. Ultimately church leadership is spiritual warfare. 

Two things came immediately to mind.

First, there are way too many blog posts and essays that give six or eight or five reasons why something is good for us, or bad for us, or really (really) important. What is it about lists?

Second, I am always suspicious when someone wants to talk about how pastors are courageous, or need courage to do this or that right thing. Sometimes it’s manipulative. No one want to lack courage or fail to do the courageous thing. Other times it’s just self-serving. 

At a conference I attended, one of the presenters, the pastor of a large church in the Southwest, talked about implementing change. He told how before he started a bold new program at his church he asked for the unanimous support of his board and they gave it. Later, when the changes went into the effect, one of the board members spoke out in opposition. The lesson, he told us soulfully, is that there is “one Judas” on every governing body. Seriously. I repressed the impulse to tell him that the wayward board member wasn’t “Judas,” and of a certainty, he wasn’t Jesus. 

“Courage” and “courageous” are words that should be used with care. The Psalmist speaks of courage "though an army encamp against me." That's not the same as facing a cranky parishioner on the church council.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was courageous. Jim Reeb was courageous. When we speak of saying, “no” to a parishioner’s request as an act of courage, we devalue real courage.

Make no mistake. It is not easy to be a pastor. And it is not easy to be faithful to the gospel in our culture. But I am always suspicious when I see someone talking about “biblical Christianity.” More often than not, what they really mean is “traditional Christianity,” and that is just another euphemism for maintaining a condemning attitude toward LGBTQ persons.

Some cultural shifts are adversarial to biblical Christianity, but in other areas we have made great progress. 

Proclaiming the Kingdom of God, as Jesus did, over against the kingdoms of this world is a radical undertaking. The vision of a world where the poor are lifted up, the last are first, where everyone belongs, where everyone has enough and no one has too much, has never been an easy sell. 

The most virulent critics of real biblical values are very likely to call themselves Christians. Beyond that, the broader culture is often just indifferent. And this is a challenge for pastors and church leaders and serious Christians. But church leadership isn’t “spiritual warfare.”

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