Friday, December 06, 2013

The Church Has Enough "Leaders"

In England, priests, vicars and other religious authorities are generally not trusted and seen as out of touch.

In the United States, a majority of Catholics consider their ecclesiastical authorities to be out of touch with their views.

Whatever the church needs right now for its witness to have impact on the world, apparently it's not another "leader."

By "leader" I mean people with positional authority, with whatever vestments and titles and ordination qualifications a particular denomination or tradition requires.

But I also mean people who assume authority--people who, in taking responsibility for some aspect of the church's mission, simultaneously assume power that they don't need over people who don't need another authority figure in their lives.

I'm pretty conscious of the fact that this sounds like yet another Gen-X rant against authority. And we can see how that turned out for Gen X. (Remember us?) I'm reminded of an insight from the great John Cougar Mellencamp: "I fight authority; authority always wins." But most of my rants against authority are particular and situational; I'm frustrated by a particular expression of authority under specific circumstances. This here is something more philosophical, more circumspect. The last thing anyone would expect of a church would be to eschew power, to lay down authority, to accept the influence of some powerless other.

Who, for example, would expect to see a senior pastor yield the pulpit to a theologically untrained layperson, even a visitor who hasn't yet cut a check to the building campaign? Who would expect a church's business meeting to be conducted without a prior agenda, with the head elder yielding the floor to any and all comers? Who would expect a church to go to a village board or neighborhood council meeting and just sit and listen--maybe pray quietly a little?

Strategically, these sorts of zig-zags would unsettle people's presumptions about the general posture of people in religious leadership. But there's another value to these moves: authority figures in the church might learn something new. They might be reminded that they don't somehow, magically, have all the answers to life's toughest questions tucked away in their sportcoat's breast pocket with their tiny little Bible. They might be reminded that they're human, like everyone else, and not required by God or anybody to be the final word on anything. They might reimagine the role of the church as humble witness to the faithfulness of God in Christ, who saves even wretches like me.

Just a thought.Do with it what you will.

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