Being the Temple for the World, #5

 

Here is the complete series: 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6.

dore-garden-expulsionAs we saw in the last post, humanity was created in God’s image and likeness to be God’s representative in the world (royal-image), and to be God’s very representation in the world (cultic-image).

God’s presence had been given to humanity (indeed, to the entire cosmos since creation is God’s temple-dwelling place), and God’s presence was supposed to spread and fill the earth through the faithful agency of humanity (Gen. 1:28). But all this was lost in the Fall, which is the topic for todays this post.

Failure to Keep God’s Presence: Genesis 3

I’m going to skip the details of what theologians call the Fall, when Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, of why they did it and what it did to them. I’m skipping it not because it isn’t important, but because it is so familiar that we forget that in a sense all of Genesis 3-11 is the record of the Fall, recording the effects sin and death on individuals (Gen. 3) to institutions (Gen. 11).

The most important detail about Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden is not the fact that they are being kept from the Tree of Life. Rather it is the fact that the way back into the Garden is guarded by Cherubim (Gen. 3:24).

Let’s think about this. If I said two security guards are in front of a door you would think something valuable was behind it. If I said two of Secret Service were in front of a door you would think the President was there. If I said two dragons were guarding a door you would think something magical was there. The kind of guards posted tells us about what is there.

So, if who is guarding the door tells us something about what is being guarded, then perhaps the fact that Cherubim guard the Garden tells us something more than merely that humanity was not supposed to eat of the Tree of Life.

Cherubim are almost exclusive found in the very presence of God (around the Ark of God’s presence in Ex. 25: 18-22, and in heavenly visions like Ezekiel in Ez. 10:1-20). We need to understand, then, as every ancient reader would have, that the Cherubim are guarding the presence of God from those who have lost the ability to bear the presence of God. In the Fall, not only do we lose the Garden-Temple and our Image-Bearing mission, but we lose the very presence of God.

In a very real sense, Heaven and Earth are now separated, with humanity being bound to the Earth, and Heaven becoming the primary place of God’s presence.

Failure to Gain God’s Presence: Genesis 11tower-of-babel

But this arrangement is not to the liking of those tower builders of Babel. That God is in Heaven and they on Earth is not tolerated. So they decide to build a tower that “will reach up into Heaven” so that they could “make a name” for themselves.

No longer does humanity want to be God’s representatives nor be God’s very representation on earth, but rather they wanted to make a name for themselves (presumably by overthrowing God from Heaven and installing themselves).

Naturally God does not think this is a great idea, not because God is threatened by such schemes, but because this tactic is the most destructive of humanity and human flourishing.

So humanity fails to regain God’s presence by storming Heaven, reinforcing the very real sense that now humanity (on Earth) is separated from God (in Heaven).

All is Lost! Or is it?

As the Lord’s Prayer teaches us to prayer that the things of Heaven will be on Earth (God’s Kingdom and Will), we have been wondering how it is that Heaven and Earth come together and what does the entire story of Scripture tell us about coming together of Heaven and Earth.

So, the question we should be asking ourselves at the end of reading Genesis 3-11 is “How will the presence of God come to humanity?” because it is impossible for humanity to bring itself into God’s presence (barred from the Garden and thwarted at the Tower).

Well, as we turn to Israel’s Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) we find that although humanity has fallen from Heaven God is going to appear and make a way for humanity to be “with God” and to again bear the image of God in the world.

To this we will turn in the next post.

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Here is the complete series: 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6.

Being the Temple for the World #1

Here is the complete series: 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6.

 

newjer_02_0On Sunday we started new class on “God with Us: Being the Temple for the World”

I know that not everyone at Life on the Vine could make it, and perhaps others on the inter-webs might be interested, so I’m going to try and write up quick summaries of each class.

We started with the question of “What does the phrase ‘God with us’ make us think about it”?  Answers ranged from this being a comforting promise to it being a truth that can seriously let us down.  Is God ‘with us’ in our ideas, opinions, our community, the world?  And really, how, when, and where is God ‘with us’?  Is “GOD with us” or “God with US”?  And what does this have to do with “salvation”, and “eschatology”, and all those other theological words?

God With Us

After this discussion I began to set the terms and outline for the class.  The first is “God with us.”

When we look at Matthew’s Gospel we see an angel of the Lord come to Joseph and tell him not to put away Mary for the child was from God.  Matthew then tells us that All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us’” (Matt. 1:23).

This statement, Emmanuel, God with us, sets the tone for God’s work in Jesus, that now in a new way God is going to be with humanity.

And we see this confirmed at the end of Matthews Gospel:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matt. 28: 16-20)

In a sense, Matthew is telling us that God’s work of salvation is not so we can be with God “up” in heaven some day, but that God desires to be with us on earth everyday.

At the end of Revelation we hear of the New Heavens and the New Earth (as one).  A voice declares: “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (Rev. 21: 3).

Heaven and Earth

This allusion to Revelation leads us to our second guiding term, or terms: Heaven and Earth.

Just think of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, who are in heaven, hallowed by your name. Your kingdom come; your will be done; on earth as it is in heaven.”

Jesus understands the work of prayer, indeed, the work of God, to be that of bring God’s kingdom rule and kingdom will from heaven down to earth.  These are not mutually exclusive terms, but rather ones that are separated for a time but being slowly brought back together.

The question for this class is “Are there other places, other ways of heaven coming to earth?” beyond just Jesus in the incarnation and the final end, or the finalé, of all creation?

Place, Person, People

The answer is emphatically yes, that God has been and will be “with us” in different ways.  In the following classes we will broadly look at three ways that God has been with us.

First, God’s presence was principally located in a Place, the Temple of Israel.

Second, God’s presence was principally located in a Person, Jesus the Son of God.

Third, God’s presence was principally located in a People, the Church,  new Temple.

But before we get to all this, we are going to start with Genesis 1 and 2 and ask if we can see God’s presence dwelling with humanity at the very beginning and what this might mean for the rest of the story.

So this Sunday we’ll be talking about Genesis One.


Here is the complete series: 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6.

Grieving For Ferguson and Beyond

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(I’m in information overload about Ferguson right now. I can’t sort out my thoughts, which is rare, but I have an overriding feeling: GRIEF)

I grieve for those who think justice was served.
I grieve for those who think justice was ignored.
I grieve for those who lost property.
I grieve for those who destroyed property.
I grieve over death (every death).
I grieve for Ferguson.

I grieve for those confirmed in their opinion about black people.
I grieve for those confirmed in their opinion about white people.
I grieve for those who don’t feel they can trust our justice system.
I grieve for those who are in our justice system.

I grieve for those who do not want to understand the need to grieve these things.
I grieve for those who understand the reasons all too well.
I grieve for those who think they understand.
I grieve for those who know they don’t. 

I grieve that often it seems Black lives don’t matter.
I grieve that often the police see Black Men as enemies rather than citizens.
I grieve that often Black Communities see the police more as occupiers than servants.
I grieve because it is often thought that just because a police force is integrated this will make it trusted and trustworthy for a Black Community. 

I grieve that White people often only SEE the anger
but don’t seek to UNDERSTAND the anger of the Black Community.

I grieve for Mike Brown and his family.
I grieve for Darren Wilson. 

I grieve that I am not sure if I am even grieving the right things.
I grieve that I can’t trust my grief and I dare not to. 

I want to grieve as Christ grieved in the Garden of Gethsemane, over Jerusalem, how he still grieves for the whole world.Gethsemane

The Human Side of Prayer (along with Tim Keller)

I came across this on twitter and it caught my eye and made me think.

What do you think?

As a Reformed pastor and theologian I know Keller is seeking God’s Glory in all things, and rooting out humanity’s pride and arrogance in all things. I agree with this framework, to a point, in that in the Garden Adam and Eve fell because they wanted to be like God.

But this is only half the story.

Isn’t it also correct to say that Adam and Eve fell because they didn’t want to be who they were made to be?  They were trying to be other-than themselves, other-than created beings made in the image of God, designed for fellowship and communion with God. It is not just that they weren’t treating “God as God” but they weren’t treating “themselves as themselves” (I know that is an awkward phrase, but you get the point).

Returning back to prayer, I think it better to say not just that if we fail to pray we aren’t treating “God as God” but that in failing to pray we aren’t treating “ourselves as ourselves.”  When we don’t pray are not doing what we need to do to be truly human.  When we don’t pray we are becoming more and more sub-human (as it were).  It is not “weak” humanity that needs to pray, but rather it is “true” humanity that needs to pray.

This doesn’t make prayer all about humanity, but rather that true humanity is always a prayerful dependence on God, a prayerful seeking of God’s ways in the world.  True humanity always knows itself to be coming from and returning to God.

I worry that often times Reformed theology creates an “us” versus “God” dynamic (in this case it is prayer) rather than fostering an “us” with “God” perspective.

Why did Jesus Pray?

Let’s do a thought experiment and ask “Why did Jesus pray?”

Did he pray because he wanted to “treat God as God”?  Well, that seems funny because he already was/is God and so in that sens there would be no need for prayer.

Did he prayer in order to be a good example to his disciples about how to “treat God as God”?  Well, maybe, but again that would seem particularly disingenuous and inauthentic to fake prayers as an example (I suppose this would be something like a dad letting his kids win at a game).

Rather I would say we must not forget about Jesus’ humanity and this in his humanity (or better, as the “true” human) Jesus prayed because this is what he needed and had to do.  As the image of the true humanity living in faithful obedience to God, Jesus prayed to God for all that he needed (and even argued and pleaded with God, at least once in the Garden of Gethsemane).

Balance

So let us keep our understanding of prayer (and other practices) as balanced as our Christology (divine and human), taking into account both the human and divine directions of these practices (we could easily talk about evangelism, preaching, sanctification, etc).

For other thoughts about Tim Keller on prayer see Scot McKnight’s recent post on Keller’s Rules for Prayer.

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A Modest Plea for Coaches to Stay Pastors

When God called me to be a pastor I resolved I would never view the pastorate as a career ladder to be climbed.

Growing up I had seen and heard people talk about how some youth pastor had now become an associate pastor, with the implication being that someday he would be a senior pastor.  Or the similar idea was to move from a smaller to a larger church, and the really successful would become mega-church pastors, or at least staff pastors at a mega-church.

But with many in my generation of a pastors and ministers (I’m 36), dissatisfied with the church growth movement and its lack of growing mature disciples, I didn’t want to think of pastoral success in terms of butts (in seats), bucks, and buildings. I wanted to think in terms of faithfulness and longevity wherever God called me to serve.

And so I, like many others, had given up on worldly dreams of influence and success, and settled into a “long obedience in the same direction.

Or have we?

While it is true that in the circles I’ve been part of there is little ambition to be a mega-church pastor, I’ve begun to see something that might be analogous: the desire to be a church consultant/coach.

Over the last 10 years I have seen an increasing trend of those who talk about and then implement a “side business” of church consulting and coaching.  I saw this initially with those connected to mainline churches (probably because they have an established infrastructure for such things), but now more so within evangelical circles.

Certainly there are a variety of reasons one would become a coach: because you were asked, because you feel you have something to offer, you need a little extra income.

But I think there is also a more subtle ambition at work here.  It is sometimes expresses in words like “I feel God is calling me to lead leaders…” “I think God is calling me to greater influence…to influence the influencers…” “I want to pastor the pastors…”.  I have heard these and similar sentiments as justifications for becoming a church coach, which often entails an exiting of local pastoral ministry.

The trouble is, this is exactly how mega-church pastors talk about leading their churches, and how they justify the conferences they speak at.  Have we really come so far from climbing the pastoral “career ladder” when we sound like those whom we criticize for building their own kingdoms under the banner of building God’s church?

Read the rest of this post over at Scot McKnight’s “Jesus Creed“.

The poor you will always have with you.

jesus-whipping-bankers

For the poor you will always have with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish:
but you will not always have me. (Mark 14:7) 

From crude realism to hopeless resignation, this quote from Jesus is confusing at best and disheartening at worst.

What? So poverty and inequality are just a fact of life?  Things really aren’t going to change?  In Kingdom of God is really so ineffectual?

But Nicholas Perrin has helped me see a different perspective on this saying that revolutionized how I read it and how we should see the vocation of the church (in his excellent Jesus the Temple).

Counter-Temple Movement

Perrin understands Jesus and his movement as a “counter-temple movement”, and by counter-temple he doesn’t mean against the temple all together, but against the current sinful administration of the temple.  Jesus is against the temple as it is because it isn’t participating in and pointing toward the true eschatological temple to come (Ez. 37:26-27).  Jesus was seeking to establish a true and living temple centered on himself and his movement outside the jurisdiction of the current temple establishment (just think of the temple sayings and activities of Jesus and the temple imagery applied to the early church… I’ll post on this more latter).

In light of this, part of what it would mean to establish the true temple would be to instituted the jubilee practice of forgiving debts (Deut. 15:7-15; Lev. 25), an action that was supposed to be regulated by the priests through the temple treasury, which rarely, if ever, happened.

Jesus and his movement, through living with and as the poor, and as those who attempted to be a clearinghouse for the redistribution of wealth, was in fact functioning like the temple as it was supposed to.

“The Poor You Will Always Have With You”

So when Jesus says, “The poor you will always have with you” he isn’t making a broad social observation about the current and future state of the world, certainly not one based in crude realism (as if he were saying, “There just is and always will be poverty in the world.”)  Rather, he is naming part of the inherent calling and purpose of his movement: “You will always have the poor with you because you will be the place that poverty is being overcome through the alternative economy of grace as the new temple”. 

Jesus is really naming a vocation for the church, not a reality in the world.

The church will have the poor because part of being the church is being with the poor.  If the church is not with and among the poor it is in danger of encountering the prophetic critique of Jesus himself through his Spirit, the same critiques he directed toward the temple establishment of his time.

The Work is With

This could mean all sorts of things for a local congregation: working in homeless shelters, educational programs, debt relief, or other practices of living an alternative, Kingdom-economy.

But we must remember this vocation is not just for the poor, it is with the poor.  This is not a vocation from a distance, but a work that is with the people.

Is your local church with the poor in some tangible way that makes sense in your community? If not, then perhaps you are not being built into the temple of God’s dwelling, a place in which God dwells among the fatherless and the widow, the downtrodden and the poor.

The Forgotten Lesson of Bonhoeffer, and the American Church

I am worried about the rising popularity of Bonhoeffer in the United States.

Very worried.

I’m worried not because of his theology, or his political views, or his activism.

I’m worried because so many people are interested in him…so many different people.

Some people laud him for his non-violent pacifism, and other for his violent attempt at activism. Some laud him for his commitment to community, and others for his religion-less Christianity. Some laud him for his non-metaphysical theology, and others for his pastoral care. Some laud him from the far left, and others from the far right.

When this happens we have to dig deeper and ask, “Is there something we are missing here?”

The Forgotten Lesson of Bonhoeffer

We often think of Bonhoeffer as a hero of the church, but I think of him more as a cautionary tale.

The forgotten lesson of Bonhoeffer is not that we should all strive to be more like him, but that we should strive to be a church that wouldn’t need him!

article_images-3_8_Pastors_Does_the_American_Flag_Belong_in_Your_Church_766070041I worry that people will either look for the next Bonheoffer or try to be the next Bonhoeffer in some heroic protest, rather than entering the more humble protests of daily life. I worry that people will think that large gestures of protest are the way to change the world, rather than entering on the difficult daily path of ordinary resistance.

You see, Bonhoeffer had to be Bonhoeffer because the national church in Germany failed to be the church at all.

This is the forgotten lesson of Bonhoeffer: The Church in Germany had failed!

Headed toward Failure?

So I’m worried that everyone interested in Bonheoffer might not be learning the real lesson: that we in America might be the type of church that, in a time of crisis, will capitulate to preserving the American Dream rather than living as a Kingdom Reality.

During this 4th of July weekend, are we Christians in America more American than Christian? How would we know? Does that distinction even makes sense? And if it doesn’t, then I worry that we have turned to Bonhoeffer into an inspirational story rather than a cautionary tale.

Let us not make Bonhoeffer merely into a Christian Celebrity…

Mastering Objectivity? Or Subject to the Bible

Tim Challies ended a recent post criticizing the practice of Lectio Divina by saying, “This, then, is a danger in Lectio Divina, that it may teach us to approach the text subjectively rather than objectively.”

But what is the big deal about reading the text subjectively as opposed to objectively?

man-inserting-memory-card-in-brain3 Subjects of Scripture

It is a typical concern of those defending expository or expositional preaching that they are seeking “objectivity” in their study as opposed to others who are succumbing mere “subjectivity”, but beyond the concern that such a simple opposition is wildly naïve philosophically and practically, this dichotomy often does the reverse of what it hopes to do (secure the authority of scripture from human manipulation).  

To understand this we need to remember the three ‘subjects’ of Scripture.

1) The subject matter = the text of Scripture.  This is the written word which is often equated with the “Word of God” without further reflection.

2) The subject (as person) = God who spoke and speaks through the text.

The true subject of Scripture, toward which our study ought always to lead, is God, who in Christ through the Spirit, is making all things right.

We read the first (subject matter = Scripture) so that we can encounter, know, and experience, the second (subject/person = God).

And all this leads to the third subject:

3) The subject = the reader, who is made subject, or is subjected to, or subjugated by, the text to God so that as to become slaves to God rather than to our own passions, desires, and deaths.

I believe those advocating for the ‘objectivity’ in study and preaching desire that we would be slaves of the text, and God, rather than masters of the text, but through this opposition of objectivity and subjectivity, which all to often relies on faulty philosophical assumptions, this perspective ends up becoming masters of the text rather than slaves of it.

“Although I wouldn’t have known how to talk about it then, slowly but surely the Scriptures were becoming a place of human striving and intellectual hard work. Somehow, I had fallen into a pattern of using the Scriptures as a tool to accomplish utilitarian purposes rather than experiencing them primarily as a place of intimacy with God for my own soul’s sake.” Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms

So perhaps we should stop striving for a mythical “objectivity” through which God will speak to us, and instead embrace all the processes which we might become “subject” to the text, especially the meditative practices that lead to our own subjective un-mastery of God.  Indeed, this is to understand Scripture within the God’s power to save rather than just God’s information to teach.

And tomorrow, on the Missio Alliance Blog, I’ll be posting about why I’m “Against Revelation” because it obscures the power of God behind the desire to know stuff about God. Stay tuned.

And see Mark Moore’s great response to Challies in his “Is Lectio Divina Really Dangerous?

Platypus and the Anabaptist Tradition.

The evolutionary mut of the Protestant Reformation, the Anabaptist tradition is like the Platypus, hard to classify (see here for more). But, I believe, this tradition could be the secret agent of renewal everywhere.

Just like an unbecoming platypus could become “Agent P”, so too the Anabaptist tradition is on a covert mission. What do you think?

 

 

The Death of Leadership: Christ and Co-Leadship

 

In these postmodern times we are used to hearing of the death of the author, the death of the text, and even the death of the book (unless you have a Kindle).  Well, today, it is the death of leadership, for Christ our leader is the Crucified One, and what servant is greater that his master?  But many have not heard of this death.  It has been drowned out by the plethora of leadership books, even Christian leadership books, and I’m sure many of us, and myself included, have read them.  But while these leadership books, and conferences, and seminars tell of many helpful things, but they do not know of the Crucified Christ.  And this makes all the difference.  They lack a leadership that lives through the cross.  According to the pattern of the Crucified Christ I believe missional leadership must nurture new structures, new processes, and new people who will lead through living and dying in Christ.

Philippians Hymn

Few turn to the hymn of Philippians 2 as a leadership model, so hopefully we are on the verge of something indeed.  Here we find a pattern, or model of Christian leadership and community.  It is the narrative of Christ, of the incarnation, of the gospel.  And if leaders do not practice it, then the community will not follow it, and then the lost will not see it, and they will not get it even when they hear it.

Philippians 2:5-11

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had:

6 Who, although being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest placeand gave him the name that is above every name,10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

There is a three part pattern to this passage.  It is the pattern of althoughdid not—but. Although Christ has the very status, or being, of God, he did not take advantage of his status and use it selfishly.  But rather humbled himself in his incarnation (“being made in human likeness”) and crucifixion (“by becoming obedient to death–even death on a cross”).  And the result is that God works, God exalts, God saves in Christ.  This hymn to Christ reveals the pattern of our lives, the pattern by which we related with one another.  It is the pattern by which we learn the death of leadership.

Indeed, the apostle Paul who uses this hymn to exhort the Philippians to Christ-likeness.  But Paul did not leave them without an example, but rather understood and practiced his own apostolic ministry according to this same narrative pattern.  In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul speaks about the rights of an apostle to receive funds for their ministries.  But Paul did not exercise this right, but worked to pay his own way.  And he also claims that while he has the right of freedom in all things, he does not exercise this right selfishly, but rather became a slave of all for the sake of the gospel.  What does that sound like?  It sounds exactly like Christ in the Philippians Hymn.  And even within the very contentious issue of slavery Paul did not lay down the apostolic hammer on Philemon so that he would release Onesimus.  But instead he acted in love toward Philemon, seeking his consent on the matter.  This, then, is the death of leadership that Paul points us toward when he speaks of Christ, a cruciform leadership that lays down it rights and its status in love and becomes a servant to all.

At Life on the Vine

Because of this pattern in Christ I believe missional leadership must nurture new structures, new processes, and new people who will lead according to Christ’s example.  At Life on the Vine we try to live this out.

For us, leadership at the highest level is structured as a co-pastorate.  There is no ‘senior’ or ‘lead’ pastor where the buck finally stops, where the decisions are finally made, where final authority resides.  While our community was planted by one person, David Fitch, he very quickly brought me on as a co-pastor.  And then later we brought on a third co-pastor to balance out the giftings among us.  Now Fitch is preparing to relocate and I serve alongside my wife and Ty Grigg.

We did this in order to spread out the ministry, offer opportunities for younger leaders to grow, but most importantly, as a structured model of shared leadership.  As co-pastors we had to practice the pattern of althoughdid not—but.  Although we were called as pastors and therefore elevated by a certain authority, we did not, we could not practice unilateral power, but mutually submitted to one another as we lead the community.  This was embedded in our pastoral structure because Christ-like leadership is not merely servant leadership.  Rather we have given up having a ‘lead’ anything at all by creating an alternative structure.

In addition to having a structure of co-leadership, we practice various processes of communal discernment that hand leadership to the entire community, or parts of the community.  For example, according to the same pattern, although all the pastors were in complete agreement regarding how we should move forward concern the issue of women in church leadership, and we had the authority to make a decision, we did not lead from position and privilege.  But instead we submitted to a year long process where different members of the community presented biblical perspectives on the issue, culminating in a 2-month long council to discern the issue.  In another case, an issue with someone on our shepherd board, the pastors were again in complete agreement in how to proceed, but the person involved was not receiving things particularly well.  So we brought the whole issue to our shepherd for their discernment, trusting that Christ would lead through this process and that all involved would both be formed into Christ-like character and that the issue would be resolved not through the imposition of a position, but through the constant relational work of the Spirit opened by practicing the death of leadership.

Personally

And while these types of processes are bolstered by a structure of co-leadership, it really comes down to practicing the death of leadership on a personal level.  This is living without having to justify yourself, without having to constantly defend yourself to others.  It means not needing everyone to always understand you.  In the midst of arguments it means just sticking to the issues without getting personal or taking things personally.  It involves actively creating spaces for other to flourish while not receiving any credit and minimal appreciation.  It means giving over tasks and responsibilities that you really enjoy to someone else so they can grow.  It means submitting to others in the little things even when you have a sense they are wrong, and then only forcing issues when it is essential for the group to move forward.  In all these ways following Christ through the death of leadership entails overcoming personal insecurity and immaturity, so that one can rest in the work of Christ in the community rather than seeking to manage and control everything that is going on.

Now, you might be thinking that every Christian leader should exhibit these characteristics, the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit, no matter the structure of leadership.  Of course!  But it is much easier to hide immaturity and insecurity, to mask a lack of the Spirit’s work in your life in a hierarchical leadership structure which does not demand processes of communal discernment.  When someone knows exactly who is their superior and who is under them, then they know exactly how to get whatever “ego” fix they need, whether it is seeking approval or asserting authority, perhaps even masking it as a servant leader.  It is for these reasons that missional leadership, under the sign of the Cross, must nurture new structures, new processes, and new people who live, lead, and die, laying down their rights and status in love and becoming a servants to all.

Missional Leadership

So, then, how is the death of leadership also missional leadership?

First, the structure of co-leadership, the processes of communal discernment, and the practice of personal cruciformity are all ways of saying the same thing, namely, that this community is marked by the gospel, by Christ-likeness.  As I said before, if leaders do not it, then the community will not do it, and then the lost will not see it, and they will not get it even when they hear it.

Second, communities marked by the death of leadership will always be marked by brokenness growing into life.  When you lead this way it is impossible to put leaders on a pedestal, which opens the door for everyone to lead out of brokenness and into life.  When everyone is emptying themselves as Christ did, it has the strange effect of raising everyone up as they are deployed in creative expressions of the gospel.

Let’s Fly a Kite

This kind of leadership is certainly not from the top-down as in a hierarchy, nor is it merely from the bottom up, as some form of leaderless organization, nor is it a leading from the front as those who have gone before, as some missional books describe it.  But it is leading from below while running forward, as if one were trying to fly a kite when there is just not enough wind.  You are down on the ground, down below, yet moving forward, hoping for the church to rise up on the breath of the Spirit, roaring high.  And people don’t watch the person holding the string, they watch the kite in its glory, rising to new life and love, and at the center of its frame it bears the sign of the cross.

My reading of Philippians is based on Micheal Gorman’s Inhabiting the Cruciform God.
This is my contribution to the Despised One’s Synchro Blog on “Leadership, Celebrity, and Power”.