Archive for February, 2011

the line is fine between zealot and jerk

Posted in Church, Leadership on February 9, 2011 by stephengardner

Mike W has a great post called gospel assholes which has prompted me to post some thoughts on leadership and jerkiness and how all too often the two seem to be intrinsically connected. Mike reflects on how easy it can be for a preacher/minister to take pride in any conflict/’persecution’ they might encounter – telling themselves ‘oh, its for the gospel’ when really it could just be because they’re being a jerk.

I am increasingly convinced that the number one problem in Christian leadership is a lack of clear, Jesus formed identity. To steal from Larry Crabb – this becomes a problem when one ceases to find their security and significance in Jesus Christ. Personally, as I look to head out into parish ministry, God willing, for the rest of my days, I know this is something I will need to keep coming back to, daily. The temptation to find security and significance in anything but Jesus is massive in Christian ministry. How much easier it is to have your identity shaped by your effectiveness, your successful track record of church growth, or even in Mike’s example, your jerkiness.

There are lots of ways we can see this insecurity in Christian ministry but, I want to suggest just two symptoms.

1. an inflated sense of your own importance

The minister/preacher/wannabe minister/wannabe preacher becomes the centre of the universe for his/her congregation, or anyone who will listen really. They must contribute to every conversation, they must not ever appear to not know the answer to someone’s question, they seem to delight in people needing their advice or wisdom and their status updates on facebook almost always seem to be about their next preaching gig. While this symptom is more funny than harmful it is still, I think, a sure sign of a lack of clear, Jesus formed identity. If your identity is threatened it feels desperately important to reassert yourself at any given time.

2. a suspicion of others

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 27-28).

This symptom is less funny and more harmful than the first, it destroys communities. When the pastor/leader acts towards a community out of suspicion, then that community will never flourish. The pastor/leader is again showing that he/she is deeply insecure – others, even their own community, become a threat to their identity. This is where Mike’s post is really helpful. When others threaten our security there is a temptation to go on the attack reasserting oneself over and against the other, perhaps accompanied with the comforting thought that ‘I am defending the truth and this person is just being subversive.’ Or you could just be a jerk!