We’ve always wanted a king, haven’t we? We’ve always wanted a leader to make our side clear, so it’s no wonder that the American church has a tendency to elevate the rich and put the poor in the corner. The rich and famous lead us to success every time. Jesus must have known we’d be this way, because He clearly flipped it upside down. He never stopped elevating the poor and putting the earthly kingdom in the corner. But aren’t we still looking for a king? Don’t most of us aspire to be known among the greatest of these, the ones with the biggest platforms, the ones with the longest reach?
Sometimes I wonder if we want a leader or a speaker or a writer to tell us what to do so intimacy with our God won’t be required, and serving out of forgiveness and love won’t be so hard. We don’t outright think these things. This is just the model we’re following.
The model we’re following is an old one. The model is an old wine skin, but we are asking here for the new wine. As I’ve written these posts about revolution, I’ve received several emails from those among you who have quit church or from people in the pews who experience Sunday mornings as their spiritual low for the week. The life has gone out of so many in the American church because often we go as consumers. We’re going to buy a message. The responsibility has landed on the people in leadership to package up something good and sellable. When we talk about the church in these cases, we are not referring to ourselves. We’re referring to the leaders, what level of spectacularness they’ve acquired.
Before I describe this top-heavy model, let me ask that church leaders to not assume that their perspective of their congregation is the correct one. Ask the single girl or the widow who sits alone every single Sunday. Ask her and the ones that come in smelling nasty. Ask the one without an education and the one who doesn’t know anything about style. Ask the one who is the object of our justice. Ask the least in the congregation if they are being equipped as ministers of the gospel. Ask them how many times they’ve been called and treated as “sister.” Are the gifts of the Spirit celebrated in these? Don’t waste time patting yourself on the back until you know.
Often those in the pews are waiting for those on stage to open the gates of ministry to include them, and until then the pew-dwellers are consumers of messages toward which they are either numb or angry. People just want to be known. We want a place in the kingdom, and we all know that if Jesus sets the table, we’re supposed to have a place at it. As we desperately want out of this numbness and anger, we aspire to be included in the only model we know. This is why we need revolution.
Highest esteem and honor belongs to our elders and all servants of the Lord, obviously, but something has happened as we’ve syncretized with our culture. The people have aimed for the stage and the throne. We have hailed some as Moses and said get us out of here and take us to the Promised Land, and we have wanted to be Moses taking people to the Promised Land, as if the least of these don’t already have the Spirit of God leading them to the Promised Land, as if every single person doesn’t have everything they need for life and godliness.
There are people in positions way up front on pedestals like thrones, and many line up to associate with them. They are hailed as great prophets and teachers, preachers with motivational fire in their voices. Among them are ones who love the position. Not all do. They love to be called “leader” when they’re out in town. They have a tight network of “leaders.” If we could just get in with these leaders, then we will have a place in the kingdom. This is the American way. Our royalty are the ones who’ve made themselves famous, especially to each other. It is no different in the church, how a platform means more followers, and “more” makes us worthy of honor. At feasts and gatherings, these are the ones who long for the head of the table. We all want this, to be known as important.
When Jesus addresses the Scribes (writers) and Pharisees, He tells us this:
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:1-12).
Do what they say, but not as they do. Certainly do not aspire to do as they do. Do not aspire to build a platform and have such high position that you are placed at the head of every table. Do not aspire to be popular, though we should do our best to be at peace with all people.
I am writing this because I know it to be true, but I am the guiltiest one among us. This is not about blogging. This is about our culture and how the church has mixed in, but often I have viewed this culture and the church through the window of my screen. When I first started blogging, I followed a group of bloggers as they visited a country in need. These were amazing women, women that I would be honored to know and call friends. These women are humble followers of Jesus. It broke me in a million ways to read their stories, and it showed me a window into the powerless, a way to help. But in another way, it showed me a group stateside to call leaders, a group whose platform grew with their stories. They were a people to follow who had earned a status on which I could set my aim. I didn’t mean to. It’s the American way. I took their good and turned it into the model for how to use my voice for the gospel. Mixed in with aspirations to change the world, syncretizing like flavors marrying, I took a taste of power in the platform. Those women did not build the platform. I did. Those were the beginning days, when the blog-world and book-marketing world were doe-eyed. Now platform building and personal marketing is a common way of life.
Now I loathe the day I called myself a leader of anything, though as I abide, I will bear fruit, and these fruits are what the Kingdom of God is made of.
When St Cyr said that he is only a servant, I hadn’t realized that he was repeating the words of Jesus.
Think of the Shepherd. Think of the Sheep herder. Think of Him as he makes a dirty path to the water. Think of how low He lies with his sheep.
“though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).
Photo credit: Galantucci Alessandro