I was recently talking with a first year college student at a secular university who shared with me the following, “Here’s my dream: I want to be a Christian leader on campus and make God relevant at my school.” I thought of all the things other peers of this student were dreaming of… a 4.0, raucous celebrations away from parents, earning membership in a desired social club, helping an athletic team bring glory to the school, kindling romance, getting into grad school, or seeing the world. What was it that spurred this student to want to lead as a Christian?
I dug a little further. This student shared with me that students had experienced Christian leadership as coercive, manipulative, and threatening. This student wanted to provide a more hopeful, authentic, welcoming, and transforming experience of Christ’s presence.
Many Christians have communicated God through evangelism practices that feel manipulative to those to whom they are reaching out. This does not mean we should not share the hope and life of Christ with others, but it does mean we should consider the way we do so. Eugene Peterson observes, “Only when the Jesus Way is organically joined with the Jesus truth do we get the Jesus life.”
This holds true not only for our personal encounters with others, but for the way we organize our faith communities, and lead out within them. Several decades ago it became much more en vogue to borrow principles and procedures from the business world in hopes of making our churches more efficient, effective, and prominent. And indeed, there are skills and strategies that can be adapted from the corporate world to strengthen our churches.
Yet it hasn’t been without cost. Increasingly the image that leaders within the church use to view themselves has shifted from that of shepherd, servant or prophet to CEO. We love how successful, adaptable, and relevant these ministries and ministers have become, but we bemoan how scandalous, chameleon-like, and numbers driven they seem. It may be we are glimpsing unintended side effects of attempting to integrate the Corporate Way into the Jesus Life.
The writer of 1 Timothy wanted to impart leadership principles that would help the life of the community of Christ flourish in a distinct and transformative way. The Way of Jesus. There are many practical examples of ways the life of Jesus should be transforming the lives of leaders. We all may not see eye-to-eye on the application of these specific prescriptions to a first century church to our twenty-first century communities. For instance, what does it mean for a leader’s children to obey them? If a church leader has a child who is rebellious, then does this disqualify him or her? How rebellious does the child have to be? What if the leader is single or does not have children? Are they disqualified? If so, then you may want to stop reading as I am neither married nor a parent. But it is my hope we won’t disqualify whole classes of people on account of cultural or life circumstance distinctions.
What does become clear to me is that the Way of Jesus is intended to make a real impact on the lives of those who follow Jesus. It seems further clear that our leaders in the church community are not merely to be the most skilled proclaimers, singers, teachers, or administrators. Nor is the primary qualification centered around the leaders success, power, wealth or influence. We want skilled, competent, and thriving leaders.
We also want leaders who are allowing their personal conduct and closest relationships to be shaped by the Way of Jesus. Leaders who aren’t prone to quarrel. Leaders who aren’t relying on unhealthy things to cope with reality. Leaders who are gentle. Leaders who aren’t greedy or selfish. Leaders who “hold fast to the mystery of faith with a clear conscience.” And that’s really a good summation. Leaders who are humble enough to acknowledge that the Jesus Way though simple is a mystery. Leaders who are sensitive in their own conscience to the promptings of the Spirit, sincere concerns of Christian community, and the challenges of the Way of Jesus revealed through scripture. These leaders haven’t figured it all out. Nor are they perfect. They are humbly and faithfully holding on to mystery of God’s Life as it seeks to shape and reshape their own.