We Are Glorious Ruins, Bent Glory

“To be like Jesus means that we must enter the complexity of both dignity and depravity.  We are made in the image of God–glorious.  We have taken on Adam and Eve’s hiding and blaming–ruin.  We are glorious ruins, bent glory. And it shows up in every moment of our existence until we one day see Jesus as he is and become pure as he is pure . . .

To grow character, we must not deny or hide from the reality of our unique dignity.  We are made in the image of God, and we are uniquely woven with awesome beauty.  We may be remarkably handsome or bright, possess great musical ability or a hysterical sense of humor.  We may possess remarkable abilities to encourage other or to read the nuances of relationships.  Whatever marks us with glory, we are meant to prize it and use it for the sake of others.

To grow character, however, we must also not deny or hide from the reality of our depravity.  Each of us has a unique way of hiding shame and blaming others for our failures.  We must admit the truth that we are a mess and that we mar everything we do with some stain of the Fall.  We are meant to grieve this and repent.  We are both awful and awesome at the same time.”

– Dan Allender in Leading With A Limp, pages 164-165.

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Leading vs. Serving

Steve Williamson has written a provocative article for the Worldview Church Website titled “Is Leadership A Healthy Christian Aim?” Readers of this blog will recognize that the article is a combination and further expansion on similar thoughts Steve has posted on this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

  • ‘Lead’ connotes a superior position rather than a servant posture
  • ‘Lead’ connotes ‘conquest’ rather than ‘submission’
  • ‘Lead’ connotes success as ‘number of followers’ or ‘size of influence’ rather than success as ‘faithfulness’
  • ‘Lead’ focuses on ‘what you have’ (to offer) rather than on ‘Who’ or ‘what’ has you
  • ‘Lead’ connotes ‘be’ or ‘do’ some great thing rather than ‘belong to’ or ‘participate’ in God’s great thing
  • ‘Lead’ lends itself more to an “it’s about me” paradigm than “it’s about you” thinking

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Christian Leaders Or Christ’s Servants?

In a previous post I put forth the question, Is Leadership A Healthy Christian Aim? I argued that “serve” not “lead” is the overwhelming Biblical ideal for the believer.  Yet “serve” is trampled in the Christian marketplace by the ever-pervasive call and challenge to become, to shape, or to produce “leaders.”Well, Steven,” one might contend, “of course we mean, ‘servant leaders.”

Then why not just call them servants?

Words are important.  With them, we codify thought, shape perception, and engender action.  Professor Richard F. Taflinger explains:

Each word has two definitions, the denotative and the connotative. The denotative meaning is basically the dictionary meaning, the one that almost anyone can understand who speaks or desires to speak the language.  However, of greater importance, particularly in advertising, is the connotative definition, the definition each individual conjures up in their mind in response to hearing or reading the word . . . Why is this difference between the denotative and connotative definitions of words of such importance? It is because the greatest impact of words comes from using the connotative meanings to affect the audience’s emotional response.

When the call to lead or to produce leaders is heralded, are we conscious of the connotative definition in the minds of our hearers . . . even when we nuance “leader” with “servant” as in “servant-leadership?”  Are we OK with the following connotations?

  • ‘Lead’ connotes a superior position rather than a servant posture
  • ‘Lead’ connotes ‘conquest’ rather than ‘submission’
  • ‘Lead’ connotes success as ‘number of followers’ or ‘size of influence’ rather than success as ‘faithfulness’
  • ‘Lead’ focuses on ‘what you have’ (to offer) rather than on ‘Who’ or ‘what’ has you
  • ‘Lead’ connotes ‘be’ or ‘do’ some great thing rather than ‘belong to’ or ‘participate’ in God’s great thing
  • ‘Lead’ lends itself more to an “it’s about me” paradigm than  “it’s about you” thinking

What are we teaching our people, especially the young, when we call them to be leaders?

Tim Keller writes in Counterfeit Gods:

Modern society . . . puts great pressure on individuals to prove their worth through personal achievement.  It is not enough to be a good citizen or family member.  You must win, be on top, to show you are the best . . . David Brooks’ book On Paradise Drive describes what he calls ‘the professionalization of childhood.’  From the earliest of years, an alliance of parents and schools creates a pressure cooker of competition, designed to produce students who excel in everything . . . the family has become the nursery where the craving for success is first cultivated. (p. 79)

Are we unintentionally but no less responsibly contributing to the idol of success?  Why not just call ourselves servants? The apostles seemed quite content with that:

  • Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God (Ro. 1.1)
  • For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (2 Cor. 4.5)
  • Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1.1)
  • Just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant (Col. 1.7)
  • If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 4:6)
  • Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant (Heb. 3.5)
  • James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (Jas. 1.1)

Oh God.  Captivate us with You that we may be small and rejoice that we know you and are honored just to be in the service of the King.

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Is Leadership a Healthy Christian Aim?

I hear a lot about developing Christian leaders for the next generation.  Many schools and churches target development of “leaders who will make an impact” as a necessity for their institution to survive in the marketplace of Christianity.  Christian parents and seminary candidates are attracted to slogans like “Preparing Christian Leaders for Tomorrow’s World.”  Clearly this kind of thinking sells because it is all over the place in Christian Day School, Christian College, and Seminary marketing.

One Christian University brochure states it plainly enough:

*** will engage the minds and hearts of students in such a way that they will be Christian leaders after they graduate.

That’s quite a promise.  But is it a good one?

Leadership is never an aim for the Christian in the Bible.

The English word “lead” occurs 128 times in 124 verses while  “leader” occurs 85 times in 80 verses in the English Standard Version.  The words “serve” and “servant” come in at well over 1100 usages in the ESV.  Word usage alone, of course, does not settle a question. However, it is interesting to note that never is a believer commanded to or even encouraged to lead (except when already in a position of leadership (Rom 12).  What is extolled and commanded is servant-hood.

Are there people who led others in the Bible?  The answer is certainly, yes.  Are there multitudes of others [often unnamed] who, with no position of leadership, made an indelible mark in the history of God’s redemptive work?  Again, yes.  I wonder, however, why do we not celebrate the second with same energy as the first?  Why don’t we extol the virtue of being like the young girl of 2 Kings 5:

2 Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” (ESV)

Here is a young girl quietly sharing the truth of God’s healing power and reign over sickness with the wife of the man who was most likely responsible for her family’s deaths. She is a hero of faith!

Consider those who later in the same story confront Naaman’s pride:

Then his servants came near and spoke to him and said, “My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”  (NASB95)

Where is the call to be the quiet, anonymous servant?  Mostly on the lips of Jesus:

Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

Church Historian John Hannah once stated, “Ultimately, the men that shape the world are the quiet people who touch the catalyst people: Melancthon’s influence on Luther for example.”  He later cautioned, “If we don’t develop a generation of people who are not afraid of anonymity, who are willing to be nothing as far as being unknown, who don’t see sacrifice as a crime, and who realize God has commanded contentment not happiness, then what will happen to the missionary enterprise in two generations?”  He said those things in 1989.  Now a generation later, have we the courage to be nothing that He might be preeminent in all things?  Have we the courage to serve even as the Son of Man came to serve?

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