I’m also beginning to see how much I assume as a listener. I assume I understand what the person is trying to communicate. So I don’t ask follow up questions. I assume they know that I know what they are talking about and therefore feel heard. But that assumption is pretty arrogant. It is pretty arrogant to think that I understand what they are trying to communicate without being clear about it. And even if I am right about what they are trying to communicate, it is pretty unkind if I don’t show them that I hear them. This is an area that I have been working on. I have really been trying to understand people. My need for ongoing growth really shows up when I vibrate (get anxious). In one of the spontaneous conversations I had this week I vibrated and went right back to old habits. I got competitive which means that I listened to attack and defend.Even in all that, I can honestly say that I am a better listener. Just a couple weeks ago my wife and I had a couple over to our house. They had a matter they needed help sorting out and my wife and I were helping them through it. After the couple left, my wife and I sat in our living room and “debriefed” the conversation. At the end of our conversation I asked her, “What did you notice about how you and I worked together?” Her response is still something I am proud of. She said, “I notice that you ask more questions than before.”
This week the new RCA Today magazine came out. In it is a short article I wrote about generating and sustaining creative tension. All of this comes from the Ridder Transformational Process that I have been a part of for the last three and half years.
This takes courage. It takes courage to purposefully create tension. It takes courage to intentionally rock the boat. It takes courage to accurately and truthfully reflect current reality to people who may not want to see it. For me personally, it takes courage because I have to face into my fears of failing, not being competent, and wanting to be liked. If I don’t face these fears, they will dominate what I do or don’t do. My actions will be driven not by my pursuit of Christ, but by my pursuit of protecting myself. I’m serving me.
I am no longer interested in growing the church.
For one, I don’t think that is my responsibility. I think it’s God’s. But theological perspectives aside, I am not sure how helpful the language of “growing the church” is, and frankly, I am not that interested in it.
I find myself in a wonderful, confusing, exciting, and anxiety producing situation. I pastor a numerically growing church. We are approaching a couple of different growth barriers regarding size and pastoral capacity. All this means we have to do something different. We have to expand seating capacity in the sanctuary, hire additional staff, and possibly go to a second service. In reality, we probably need to do a combination, if not all of, these three things.
As we consider the options and the practical aspects of these changes I have read countless articles and books on church growth. Many cups of coffee with those who have “grown” the church have been had trying to pick their brain and learn from their successes and mistakes. It is all good stuff, it is exciting to be in this situation, but early in the morning over a cup of coffee I have this nagging thought…
I’m not really interested in growing the church.
Don’t get me wrong. I want to see people come to Christ and I understand people coming to Christ means there will numerically be growth. I want to see the church impact the community to such a degree that it is seen as a resource and refuge to those in local proximity. I want the church to have, not just a local impact, but a global one as well. So please don’t hear me say I don’t want these things to increase or grow. I do.
Church growth, or “growing the church”, conjures up an image of people concerned solely with numerical growth. While there are instances where this is true, in my experience I have found this to be mostly a stereotype. There are many people who pursue church growth with very kingdom minded concerns who are not egotistical or just concerned with building a kingdom to themselves. But because the language of church growth has become associated with strict numerical growth I find myself having to constantly explain what I mean by church growth. So I think I will abandon it altogether.
Here is where I find myself. I am interested in strengthening the church.
Jesus told Peter to “feed my sheep.” In other words, “Keep the sheep healthy. Keep them strong.” To be a shepherd and to be successful is to work for the strengthening of the flock. Yes, that includes growing it numerically, but it is so much more. It is increasing the unity of the church so that manifold wisdom of God is proclaimed to the universe (Ephesians 3:10). It is discipleship, which moves people towards deeper obedience so that by the work of the Spirit they are transformed from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18). It is the equipping of the people to live into the purpose God created them for from the beginning of time (Ephesians 2:10).
Which, as pastors – better yet as Christ followers, is what our work as the church should be about.
So what do you think, is the language of church growth helpful? Is there a better way to describe this work?
I don’t know if I could have been Moses.
Not because I don’t think I could go and talk to Pharaoh, or because I am afraid of a staff turning into a snake, or because I don’t think I could lead a group of people who grumble all the time. I don’t think I could be Moses, not because of the typical stories we associate with Moses, but because of a lesser known story; his interaction with Jethro.
If you don’t remember the story, let me take a minute to refresh you.
Moses had become the sole arbitrator of tension and conflict among the Israelites. Moses would wake everyday, take his seat as the judge and the arbitrate till evening. People would line up and mill around all day hoping Moses would get an opportunity to hear their case. When Jethro saw this he pulled Moses aside and said, “Your going to kill yourself! Pick out some people you trust to do what you are doing.” Jethro proceeded to outline a system for Moses to put in place so that he could serve solely as the judge between God and the people.
No longer would Moses be the sole arbitrator of the people. No longer would he be looked to for all the decisions. No longer would he be seen as the guy with all the answers.
That’s where it would be hard for me to be Moses.
It would have been hard because the moment Jethro would have rolled out his idea I would have known he was right. I know it would have made complete sense and it should be done.
And that’s when the voices would start.
“You idiot! Why didn’t you think of that?!?”
“How can you expect to lead the people if you couldn’t see that obvious solution?”
“Am I fooling myself in thinking I am the one God has chosen for this role?”
Much of my identity has been rooted in how well I perform. It isn’t just about performing well, but it also about being better than others. I have to be honest and say there is an inherent competitiveness to much of what drives me. The competitiveness naturally leads to a winner and loser. And if I am not the smartest, if I don’t come up with the solution, if I am not the strongest chain in the link then I am the loser. My identity then is based on how well or how poorly I perform.
This has devastating consequences on leadership. I have always been told that the best leaders surround themselves with the best people possible. But if you are going to do that, then you better be secure in who you are. Because if your identity is based upon being the best, then you aren’t going to put the best people around you lest they outshine you and dethrone you as the best. Our anxiety has a profound impact on how we operate in the world. More acutely, our anxiety can influence us to not make decisions that should be made because of our need to preserve a false identity we believe about ourselves.
I have yet to meet the person who is not allowing themselves to be defined by a false identity. What do I mean by “false identity”? As I noted above, my identity was often based on how well I performed. But that’s not who I am. I am not how I perform. That is a false identity. I am an adopted son of the most high God. I am the brother of Jesus. I am someone who was created for a unique purpose in the world. That’s the identity that should shape me. That’s the identity that should dictate and drive my actions in the world. Far too often I forsake my true identity for the false identity, and when I do, my leadership becomes as effective as a flashlight against the sun.
The only way I could be Moses and accept Jethro’s advice without hearing those demeaning and demoralizing voices is if my identity is found solely in Christ. Only then can I be who God has created me to be. Only then will I lead out of who I am rather than out of fear or anxiety.
And here’s my guess, the effectiveness of leadership laws or tactics or steps will pale in comparison to leading out of who God has made me to be.
This past week I engaged nine people in transformational coaching/discipleship. This is quickly becoming one of the my favorite things about being a pastor. I used to say preaching, which I love, but I am finding that preaching without the one-on-one discipleship is incomplete. This is not to say preaching has lost its place in the life of the church. To the contrary, I still believe the proclamation of the Gospel has a central role in the life of the church. Preaching, when done faithfully, holds the Gospel in front of people, calls them to continued fidelity, shapes the conversation of the church, and gives hope to the hurting. But, for far too long preaching has been overemphasized. Rather than being a component of discipleship (which is the mission of the church), it has become the sole means of discipleship. Of course we would never say that. But by and large, if you ask a pastor what receives the majority of his time during the week, most would respond with sermon preparation.
If we look at the life of Jesus we see him teaching the masses and proclaiming the nearness of the Kingdom of God. But we also see him sitting at the well with the Samaritan women and making his way to Zacchaeus house for dinner. He stands on the mountain teaching thousands, then retreats to a solitude place with his three closest disciples. In the life of Jesus we see a balance of preaching and one-on-one discipleship.
This is also evident in the life of Paul. In 1 Thessalonians Paul writes, “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” It is one thing to share the gospel. And that is right and good. But it is another thing to share your life as well.
The question is, “Do we?”
Do we intentionally love another and share our lives with them?
Do we intentionally love another allowing them to share their life with us?
I am convinced that preaching the gospel explicitly is absolutely necessary. I am convinced that, in the proclamation of the God who took on flesh and went to the cross and rose again, conversion can happen. But, I am also convinced that true discipleship happens in the context of relationship. Without the delicate balance of proclamation and relationship, deep, “from one degree of glory to the next,” transformation will not happen.
I am finding that balance. I’m not there yet, but I am finding it. And it gives so much more meaning to what I am doing. My preaching is better because of my relationships with those I am discipling. And my discipling is better because of my study and work in preaching.
And here is the dirty little secret…this balance is transforming me too.
Relationships aren’t easy. In fact, they are very, very difficult. Even in relationships we value and enjoy there is difficulty. One of my closest friends can absolutely drive me nuts. They are overly intense, sure of themselves, black and white and almost always right. Drives me nuts. To the point that it can be annoying and difficult to be around them. Anybody have anyone like in their life? No…just me…humor me as I continue.
As I have thought about how to be in relationship with others, I have found that there are three things I can do when I am annoyed or bothered by another’s actions in our relationship.
1. Honestly assess if I am being overly critical. I need to be honest and say that there are times I am annoyed with people simply because I am overly critical of them. They may have a character trait, a way of being, or even a habit that rubs me the wrong way. And it is completely possible that way of being is okay. What’s not okay is my reaction towards them.
2. Share the impact of their actions with them. People will continue to do what they do unless they become present to the impact of their actions. A friend of mine once lovingly helped me become present to the impact I was having on him. He said to me, “I enjoy being around you and think you are great, but I have rarely left a conversation feeling loved by you.” Getting very present to the impact I was having on him, and on our relationship, affected change in me. Maybe the best thing we can do for someone and for our relationship with them is to help them, as gently as we can, become present to how they affect us.
3. Share what I need from them. This is along the lines of sharing the impact of their actions, but is a bit different. Many times what bothers me in the relationship is not what they are doing, but what they are not doing. In some relationships I need people to show more interest in my life. In other relationships I need people to be less competitive as I have enough of that in myself. From others, I need to have them show initiation in the relationship towards me as I feel as though I am always doing the initiating.
Doing any of these three things requires a lot of me. It requires humility to see myself accurately, courage to share authentically with the other person, and a willingness to have them do the same toward me. So maybe there is a fourth question, “Do I love this person enough to take action around any one of these things?” Because if I don’t love them, I’ll be content to be annoyed behind their back.
For most of my life reading was a purely mental exercise. What I mean by that is, I would read a book and learn a bunch of new things, but those new learnings rarely translated into new practices. The ideas learned were simply fodder to be used in conversations/discussion/debates to make me look well read and intelligent. What they didn’t do was shift how I thought, and more importantly, how I acted.
Let me add, this was also my approach to the Bible. I don’t think I am alone here. I believe this to be a massive problem within American Christianity. We live at a time where information is in excess. You can get your hands on books, commentaries, sermons, lectures, or studies easier than any other time in history. And yet for all the information that is available, there is little to show for how that information has impacted American Christians to live more obedient lives to Christ.
In effort to change my practice of learning, I am spending some brief time reflecting the five books that impacted me the most this year.
There is a mandate on Christians to have an impact on the world around us. This mandate was instituted in the beginning when God breathed life into the man and woman, who were created int he image of the Creator God, saying to them, “Work in the garden and take care of it.” While not identical, in our work to fulfill this mandate we mirror God’s creative act.
Since the fall, this work has taken on a restorative or redemptive nature, again, to mirror God’s restorative and redemptive actions in the world. In other words, we work to make this a better place to live as God redeems and restores. This work has direct impact on culture. Hunter goes into detail about the differing views on what culture is. For some, culture is the sum total of the values that are held in the hearts and minds of people. For others, culture is what is produced by society in artifacts, art, music and the likes. His explanations, critiques and proposals on thinking about culture were extremely helpful.
The second part of the book moves into how those on the theological and political right and left, along with the Anabaptist approach their efforts to influence culture. He highlights how both the right and the left utilize power and authority to legislate for their particular morality, and how the Anabaptist choose to withdraw from the greater culture in lieu of using authority or power.
But perhaps the most intriguing idea put forth by Hunter was his idea of a faithful presence in the world. After highlighting the shortcomings of each of the aforementioned approaches, he draws upon the incarnation as a model to approach culture calling it, “the only adequate reply to the challenges of dissolution; the erosion of trust between word and world and the problems that attend it.” Hunter’s theology of faithful presence calls Christians to “attend to the people and places that they experience directly…[it] gives priority to right in front of us – the community, the neighborhood, and the city, and the people of which these are constituted.”
I think Hunter’s work is profoundly important as we continue to live in a society and culture that is markedly post-Christian.
Friedman had my attention on page two when he wrote, “[this book] is for leaders who have questioned the widespread triumphing of data over maturity, technique over stamina, and empathy over personal responsibility.” That statement says a lot about the state of leading in our society. Friedman contends that throughout America there is a rampant sabotaging of leaders who try and remain a calm presence in the midst of a toxically reactive system. Rather than seeking emotional mature leadership, we have become a culture longing for quick fixes and band-aids that make us feel like a calm has been brought to the storm, but have done little to actually calming the storm.
This book challenged many of the assumptions I had about leadership, especially leadership in the church. To see such a challenge see my blog post here
The most challenging aspect to this book is that it will not give you easy solutions or techniques to make you a better leader. To become a better leader, one must better oneself. Leadership begins with who you are. If you are emotionally reactive, you can expect the system you lead to be emotionally reactive. As Will Mancini said, “You produce who you are.” A Failure of Nerve requires the reader to constantly look at self as they move through the content, and fight the urge to “fix” those they are leading.
Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times – Peter Steinke
I don’t think I have ever met a pastor who did not have a story about a congregation becoming anxious at some point. These stories are filled with other stories about frustrating, hurtful, obnoxious, and even sinful things people do in the midst of anxiety. Steinke actually says that according to his experience, four out of ten churches will face a moderate to serious conflict in any five year period. This book helps the reader understand anxiety and how it manifests itself within the system. This allows the leader to think systems as the move through and manage conflict. Steinke provides very practical suggestions in how to ones own anxiety as they seek to resolve conflict, as well as ways in which to minimize the negative effects of anxiety on the system.
My biggest take away from this book was two-fold: thinking systems when it comes to conflict management, and understanding that anxiety is not necessarily bad. Anxiety just is. Anxiety alone doesn’t hurt the system or organization. How the anxiety is managed, or not managed determines the effect of anxiety.
For anyone who has imagined a world that is not broken, but is as it should be, this book will fan that imaginative spark. Brueggemann looks at Moses and the Old Testament prophets efforts at creating a counter-community to what they experience in the world around them. We speak often of this in church. A world where status and ledgers don’t determine worth, but rather worth is determined by the intrinsic value of being a image bearer that all people have. We dream of a world where materialism and oppression don’t numb us to the world around, but we dream of a world where the imagination for something holy other inspires us to new living. Brueggemann encourage us to ask not whether “it is realistic or practical or viable but whether it is imaginable.”
I found the following quote to be especially challenging.
“The prophet does not ask if the vision can be implemented, for questions of implementation are of no consequence until the vision can be imagined. The imagination must come before the implementation. Our culture is competent to implement almost anything and to imagine almost nothing. The same royal consciousness that makes it possible to implement anything and everything is the one that shrinks imagination because imagination is a danger.”
I despise, and I am not sure it is for good reason or not, books and teaching that are systematic. If something “7 steps to…,” or “5 sure-fire practices…” or “11 things to do…” I will most likely never pick that book up. That is why Tim Chester’s You Can Change was so refreshing. This is not a “how-to” or a “Step-by-step” book. This is simply looking at the truths of the gospel and living into them in new ways to experience transformation in an area of our life that has yet to be obedient to Jesus. That’s it. Every chapter ends with thoughtful questions to help the reader engage an area of their life where they would like to see change. And these aren’t your typical study questions. These are real questions that, if taken seriously, will help people experience the gospel of Jesus to a deeper degree.
Those are my top five books of the year. What are yours?
As a life long Lions fan the beginning of this season made me pinch myself again and again. The constant comeback wins (the one in Dallas!?! Come on! You don’t even have to be a Lions fan to like that win), the dominant defensive line, and a unstoppable connection between Stafford and Johnson that was shaping up to be historical. Lions fans had been waiting a long time for this.
And then came the San Francisco. While there wasn’t a lot in the game to signal the coming slide of the Lions, what came after did. After the game the coaches, Jim Schwartz of the Lions and Jim Harbough of the 49ers, met for the post game handshake. What transpired next is largely based on the account of the beholder, but regardless of what really happened, Jim Schwartz did not like the way Harbough handled the handshake and chased after him in what looked like an effort to fight. The two exchanged words and were eventually pulled away from one another by those who stepped in.
Fast forward to Thanksgiving day. The game between the Lions and Packers was anticipated by most football fans, and Lions fans especially. In the third quarter Nhandamkah Suh, after a play was well over, removed himself for a play by shoving the head of an offensive lineman for the Packers into the ground and then intentionally stepping on the player. Rightly he was ejected from the game and suspended for two games.
In the following game against the New Orleans Saints the Lions could not control their emotions and showed the immaturity by committing senseless penalty and senseless penalty.
Many have bemoaned the inability of the Lions players to control their emotions in the midst of the game. Much have been made of Suh and the number of personal fouls he commits. According to many analysts, Suh could be one of the greatest defensive lineman to play the game, but that legacy could be nullified by his stupid play. For Suh, and for the rest of the team, their age has been the excuse to rationalize their immaturity.
While players must take responsibility for their actions, I believe the reason this behavior has continued for as long as it has stems from their coach, Jim Schwartz. Will Mancini says, “You can teach what you know, but you only reproduce what you are.” While Schwartz may be teaching his players the nuts and bolts of the game, the offensive and defensive schemes, and even the rules they seem unable to not break, based upon his own inability to control his emotions during a routine handshake after a loss, he is reproducing what he is.
To apply this principle to the Lions, if Jim Schwartz wants to see his Team play more disciplined on the field with greater maturity, that begins with him.
As leaders we have tendency to blame the faults of others in someone other than ourselves. The question we need to be asking is, “In what way am I contributing to that behavior/attitude/immaturity continuing?” Another way to say it, “Is what I see in others a product of what is in me?”
In thinking about discipleship in the church we must not be concerned with teaching new information. While information is good and important, it has only limited potential to transform a life and create greater allegiance to Jesus. More important to giving more information to another is the personal work we do in becoming more loyal to Jesus and to experience transformation in our own lives. We produce what we are. We will only be able to take people where we have been. We only will be able to help people experience what we have experienced.
This is good news. Many leaders and pastors can become paralyzed at changing an organization or large group of people. The good news is you don’t have to. If you want to see change around you, change yourself. Become who you want to be, and who want to see others become.
You reproduce who you are. So who are you?
Edwin Friedman, in his book A Failure of Nerve, makes this observation regarding a pervasive problem in contemporary American institutional leadership.
There is a regressive, counter-evolutionary trend in which the most dependent members of any organization set the agenda and where adaptation is constantly toward weakness rather than strength, thus leveraging power to the recalcitrant, the passive-aggressive, and the most anxious members of an institution rather than toward the energetic, the visionary, the imaginative, and the motivated.
When I first read this quote by Friedman I wasn’t sure I agreed with it. It makes great sense if you are leading a company or organization, but I lead a church. To me, it didn’t seem like this idea had any place within congregational leadership. After all, Jesus described what he came to do by telling the story of the shepherd who left the 99 sheep to go after the one. Or there is Paul’s teaching in Romans 14 that we should be mindful of the weaker brother or sister and not do anything that would cause them to stumble. With this in mind, I assumed it unloving (and therefore poor leadership) to do something that would leave a brother or sister behind.
For example, I have been pushing our congregation to become more involved in discipleship and mission. Becoming involved with these things requires a lot of change, commitment and sacrifice. At one point a member of the congregation came up to me and said, “What you say, and what you are asking of us, makes me uncomfortable. I don’t believe God wants me to be uncomfortable.” Everything in me disagrees with their idea that God doesn’t want us to be uncomfortable, at least in how they were defining comfort. If God didn’t want us to be uncomfortable he wouldn’t have had Moses go stand before Pharaoh, or the Israelite’s wander in the desert for forty years, or make the disciples take the lunch of a small boy to feed five thousand people. I think God is less interested in our comfort and more interested in our continued growth into the image of his son, Jesus Christ.
But I didn’t say this to the person standing in front of me.
I don’t remember exactly what I said, but what I said was in effort to make them feel better and to calm their fears about the church moving in a direction that would make them uncomfortable. Why did do this? Because, in my mind, this was a more loving thing to do.
Friedman states I am not alone here. The trend he noticed in American leadership is leaders won’t move or make decisions unless the most anxious, the most unwilling to move, are willing to go with them. In an institution that values consensus, like a church, this sounds like good leadership. The problem in catering to the demands and fears of the least motivated is that the most motivated individuals are demotivated. In the long wrong, the institution suffers, movement/change is minimal, and the potential impact of the leader is sabotaged.
So what do we do with the idea that Jesus goes out of his way for the one, and instructs us to look out for the weak?
First, I think having concern for the weaker brother or sister in light of Romans 14 as a basis for institutional leadership is bad exegesis. But I won’t get into that here.
Second, and more importantly, God doesn’t want the weak to stay weak. Together Psalm 139 and Ephesians 2:10 tell us God uniquely wired us and gifted us according to his plan, to do good works which he prepared for us to do in advance. That doesn’t sound like a God who wants the weak to stay weak.
Nor is it loving to let the weak stay weak. What parent doesn’t want their child to grow in independence and confidence and ability and courage? Is it not loving for a parent to give their children opportunities to grow? Is it not loving for a parent to call those traits out of their children? Of course it is. So why don’t we do this for children of our heavenly Father?
This isn’t just about leadership in the church. This is about discipleship. Leadership in the church is simply disciples making disciples. In the church, leadership isn’t about learning a new technique to cast vision. It isn’t about learning how to gain consensus for a new program. It isn’t about learning new language for conflict resolution. It is about discipleship. And discipleship is about teaching people to live like Jesus. Discipleship isn’t about teaching people more information about Jesus (although that’s part of it). It isn’t about teaching people new behaviors (although that’s part of it). Discipleship is about calling people to live bigger than they currently are. Think of it, who were Jesus disciples? Fisherman. Fisherman who changed the world. That sounds like a bigger life than most would have guessed out of fisherman.
Leadership in the church isn’t about letting the weak stay weak, it is about giving grace to the weak so that, through discipleship, they can be strong.
Which means they aren’t catered to, but they are called.
And often uncomfortable.
This post is largely inspired by the talk given above.
No one can deny this simple truth: the world we inhabit is amazingly complex. Think of everything going on around you right now. Think of the sounds you hear, the things you see, the complex reactions happening enabling you to see; the light hitting your retina and cones, the signals being sent to your nerves and to your brain, the brain processing that information allowing you to see. Simultaneously, your brain is telling your sympathetic nervous system to send signals to your heart to keep it beating and your diaphragm to keep you breathing. There are complex chemical reactions happening to metabolize the food you had for lunch so your body has the energy it needs to do all the things it does. This is just your body. Now if you are sitting next to someone double it. And if you are sitting on the lawn add in photosynthesis. And if you check your phone add in the signals being sent back and forth…..
You get the point. Our world is wildly complex. And part of the complexity is the interconnectedness of everything. Never before in human history has the world been so connected. Just pay attention to our stock markets. What happens in Japan or Europe has immediate implications on US markets and vice versa. This increasing connection simply adds to the complexity.
The complexity of the world we live in makes it impossible for us to know how everything works with any certitude.
In the video above, Harford very clearly makes this point. And I believe his conclusion is spot on. The complexity of the world is such that no one can really know how to fix problems. Hartford uses the example of Unilever’s process of developing a nozzle to create detergent to illustrate this point. Unilever hired an expert to create a nozzle that would perform the necessary function. But it didn’t work. Unilever resorted to a trial and error method that eventually led to a working nozzle. And no one knows how or why it works.
Apply this idea to bigger problems. Can a single person fully understand the depth of the global final crisis to be able to solve it? Or even the American recession? Of course not.
The solution according to Harford? Trial and error. Built into the system of trial and error is room to accommodate what it is that we don’t know. Especially what it is that we don’t know we don’t know. When you assume that trial and error is necessary to solve a problem you aren’t as discouraged when you fail. In the failure there is learning. We learn something we didn’t previously know, so we create a new trial and do it all over again. However, if we operate with a god-complex, assuming we know all there is to know and have come up with the lone solution, our ability to adapt to new information dramatically decreases.
(As a side note, his example of a politician who would voice this and refrain from the god-complex of “I alone fully understand and have a solution to X” would indeed be extremely refreshing. Maybe even restoring my hope in politics. But I digress)
This idea isn’t groundbreaking. But don’t we see the antithesis of this everywhere? I think of how often I hear someone in the church say they have the solution to all the problems. There is a part of me that finds it even more laughable when those who confess to love Jesus claim to have the answer. We claim God alone has wisdom and full understanding. We believe “there is a way that seems right to man, but in the end leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12). And yet we claim with confidence, “If people would just read their Bibles more” as if that would solve problems. Let me be clear, it won’t hurt, but the idea that it would solve all problems is a little oversimplified.
Don’t get me wrong, there is much we can know and understand. We can know the person of Jesus, the love exemplified on the cross, the power of the resurrection, and the transformational work of the Holy Spirit on a life. But there is much we don’t know. We don’t know why God allows devastating diseases like cancer to ravage a child’s body. We don’t know why God permits destructive tsunami’s to destroy so many lives. We don’t know why a husband leaves his wife and children. And claiming we do is nothing short of claiming to have the mind of God, and that is a dangerous claim.
As pastors, the pressure to have a god-complex is even greater. People want certainty. People want to make sense of the world around them. People want answers. The pastor is in a unique situation where they can provide people with answers and solutions and certainty, and when we do, the adoration can be intoxicating. Crack cocaine may not be more intoxicating than adoration.
Or perhaps, because there is a desire among the people for certainty, it is much less scary to provide them with some band-aid presented confidently as the antidote to an epidemic than to claim you don’t know the cure. It is so much easier, and satisfying, to say, “I am a god and understand everything perfectly” than to say, “I don’t know.” It is so much more comfortable to not fail, to not be seen as imperfect, or to not be seen as someone who knows than it is to say, “I haven’t a clue.”
Admitting uncertainty, fallibility, and failure comes with pain. There is a necessary humility to live publicly with one’s own inadequacy. One has to have given up any pretense of rightness in order to be wrong again and again and the fail towards a solution. But isn’t this grace? Isn’t this what we as Christians hope so fiercely in? Do we not believe that despite our bumbling, despite our fallibility, despite our shortcomings, despite our missing the mark again and again there is grace enough to cover a multitude of mistakes? Yes! And yet, sadly, we fail to practice what we preach and resort to a prideful, “I alone know” response when faced with the complexity of life.
The courage to admit uncertainty, to be fallible, to make mistake after mistake is exponentially greater than the courage to be right. Being right is easy. Being wrong is hard. But being wrong might just be the first and most essential step in being right.