I am often asked: When is it appropriate to challenge or confront my church leadership? There is a full spectrum of opinions about the definition and expression of leadership in the church. There is also a broad spectrum of opinion on if, when, and how to confront church leadership. Jesus is our example in this matter, whether we like His example or not. Take my little “Leadership Legitimacy” survey and discover what Jesus would have you do.
When people hurt one another it is difficult to have discourse beyond the passion of their pain. Ministry-type/leaders abuse people, and people abuse leaders. Abuse goes both ways. However, it is often difficult for those abused to see from the other side. Sometimes they cannot even believe there is another side.
When it comes to leadership, some believe there is no such thing in the church, that the very notion of leadership implies hierarchy and superiority, and that the kingdom functions as an egalitarian association.
On the other hand, there are those who think leaders are an enlightened class of professionals, entitled to rank and privilege, immune from criticism, untouchable because they are “God’s anointed” and the rest of us are not. (I have written elsewhere on the illegitimacy of this view).
For me, the former is reading too much of western democratic sociopolitical values into the text, and the latter is emotional extortion and spiritual imperialism. Neither are the kingdom norm. The kingdom norm is a family bound together in love with new-borns, little children, brothers, sisters, young men (no gender implied) fathers, and mothers. Of course there is leadership because fathers/mothers are different than little children. The question is: How is leadership defined and how is it expressed? What “values” and “methods” populate the term, leadership. That’s the debate.
Can we avoid both extremes of “open season” on those who function in a leadership capacity (defined relationally and functionally, not positionally), as well as perpetual immunity because of perceived calling and function? When is it appropriate to confront or challenge church leadership, regardless of one’s opinion about the bigger issues of leadership? I am not addressing here the whole church-pastor-clergy-laity system. Others have done so, thoroughly, and those resources are readily available. I am addressing “what is,” for better or worse as the norm for the majority.
My Jesus is not like that.
I once had a conversation with an elder’s wife. I pointed to some red letter stuff in Luke’s gospel. She didn’t like it because it challenged her western American 1950s values of what she considered to be “polite.” She responded to me:
“My Jesus is not like that.”
I tried to contain the shocked look on my face, but probably did a poor job of it. She is typical of scores of believers I have met, who have a functionally idolatrous image of Jesus in their minds–a Jesus they have made up in the chambers of their imagery as surely as Israel of old–a cultural Jesus, rather than a biblical one. The image of Jesus that many have is a pale and wispy cleric (Mr. Rogers with a beard as someone has quipped) who does nothing but offer pleasant platitudes of happiness and the secrets to the good life of self-realization, blessing, health, and wealth.
She and her husband left the church because “her Jesus” wouldn’t say or do certain things she found difficult and offensive.
The Leadership Legitimacy Survey
I trust that anyone reading this would agree that Jesus is our pattern, and ideal norm in all things. As obvious as this might seem, I want to emphasize this because it is not as obvious as it might first seem, especially in regard to the matter at hand: confronting established religious leadership.
In the spread sheet below, I have gone through the gospels and summarized in my own language, the issues Jesus confronted in the conservative, moral, religious leadership of his day, as well as the political leadership of His day. Jesus was severe with these people for the reasons I have itemized.
Here’s how you take the survey. Simply review each item, and put a check mark in the column next to it if your “pastor,” “bishop,” “apostle,” “elder,” “deacon,” “superintendent,” “board member,” “home-group leader” (Whatever you call him or her.) demonstrates some degree of the attribute described.
How did you do? Are you ready to be like Jesus?
No Check Marks?
Praise God! You have some legitimate leadership! Treat those folks like the gold they are and thank God for the blessing they are in your life, and be a blessing to them in return in every way: spiritually, emotionally, and financially!
A Few Check Marks?
Hey, no one is perfect, we can all grow in an area of weakness. You likely have legitimate leadership! Perhaps a gentle conversation is in order, depending on the implications of each individual check mark.
Five or More Check Marks?
There is reason to question your leadership. You need to have a conversation, now. With witnesses if necessary.
Close to Ten or More Check Marks?
Your leadership is spiritually illegitimate. A rebuke is in order, and you need to immediately get out of the group you are in if you are not met with repentance and a willingness to change.
Someone might say:
“Well, what about grace, aren’t we just supposed to overlook sin in others.” “This is so judgmental.” “This is performance-based religion.” “We are supposed to support our pastors.” “This is behavior management.” This is fault finding.” And so on.
I am just calling you to be like Jesus. If thinking, being, and acting like Jesus is a problem for you, there is nothing I can do for you other than to beg you to read the Gospels without your spiritually, theologically, culturally, and emotionally conditioned filters on your eyes.
Grace includes empowerment to overcome sin not perpetually turn a blind eye to it. It is not judgmentalism to address issues in leadership that is harming, or will harm, others. Leaders are held to a higher standard of accountability. “Supporting your pastor” does not include being “nicer” than Jesus.
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