I’ve just finished a book called The New Parish, by Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens, and Dwight J. Friesen. I thought it was a wonderful account of churches and missional communities that are focussed upon their neighborhoods in ways that run counter to the way we’ve been “doing” church for the last hundred years or so…or longer. What they have been finding is that the neighborhood focus has transformed understandings of discipleship, mission, and community. It’s stuff I’ve been reading about for a few years and, slowly but surely, trying to initiate in ministry.
What I want to bring up is a chapter with Leadership as the theme, late in the book. The main point is that, as we look for leaders in the church and in our communities we shouldn’t necessarily be looking to the “bright and shining stars” of our church bodies. We shouldn’t just be seeking out those who are charismatic in their style or are the big personalities. These are often the types of folks who get the attention. As we look around us, we should ask the question: “What is worth following?”
Asking, “What is worth following?” is a helpful antidote to our cultural inclination to look for certain caricatures of a leader that may have very little to do with healing relationship, stewarding the land or anything else related to God’s redemptive vision. If we allow the broader culture to predetermine the qualities of a leader, we can easily overlook the very gifts, skills and character qualities that God desires for us to discover. These caricatures of leaders are what caused the Pharisees of Jesus’ day to miss the appearance of the Messiah. Think about that for a moment.
….[The Pharisees] desperately wanted to identify the Messiah, probably more than the average Israelite, and yet many of them missed Christ because of what they thought they should be looking for.
And it’s not just Jesus. Think of other examples of those in the Scriptures who didn’t meet the preconceived notions of what leadership looked like but God chose them and used them. It was just Noah and family with no support system. Joseph was the picked on kid brother. Moses didn’t speak well. David was small. And that list of the disciples from the New Testament is not a list of the movers and shakers you’d expect to build a movement around.
But each of them…EACH of them…were worth following. And that’s the way it was with Jesus. He was…and IS…worth following.
In United Methodist Churches, the “Charge Conference Season” is fast approaching. It’s a season when vision statements are polished, priorities are set, salaries are voted on, and leadership postitions are filled. In the small churches, like those I serve, the priority is often trying to find warm bodies to fill the seats. And I’m not sure if we can really get away from all of that. There are a lot of positions and not that many persons to fill them.
But as I think about my church community, “What is worth following?” rings in my ears. Who are those persons who have the faith, the character, the priorities in life that so that it’s worth having them lead others…because of their faithful presence…because of where following them would lead.
And we can take this line of questioning further to the surrounding community–which is where The New Parish heads. Who are the persons of character in the surrounding community who are faithful and good-hearted participant in the lives of those around them. They may not be the most extroverted or have the biggest business or be on the most committees. But they are worth following. They are leading people to good places; places of wholeness and peace and, even, faith.
And, we can bring our perspective down to the individual…to me. Am I “worth following?” That’s harder. Much harder. I can stand up and preach. I can throw together a study or lead a worship service. I can be there at the bedside of those who are hurting. I can sit here at my computer and write this blog post, U2’s new album playing in the background. But, do I exhibit the characteristics of one who can move others toward a common mission and formation with the body of Christ in our surrounding area?
I don’t really have an answer there. I’m not sure if I could ever provide an answer. That’s for others who see me to answer.
But, that very question, “What is worth following?” has given me pause.
I know Christ is worth following.
I want to be worth following as well.