Leadership Courage Series
#8: A Culture of Cowardice (part four)
For the last month, I’ve invited you to consider whether, and to what degree, a Culture of Cowardice has taken hold in the Church. My purpose is to invite you, Christian leader, pastor, denominational executive to a place of uneasiness, even painful discomfort.
Pain is necessary for change.
We’d prefer to believe that an appropriately reasonable rationale, cloaked in kindness, is all that is needed for humans to embrace the adventure and uncertainty of the unknown. Since the Enlightenment, I suppose, societies have assumed that knowledge of what’s better will result in people making the reasoned choice to change. But, do they?
More to the point, do you?
One condition that’s welcomed the stagnation common to the church experience of most is that we who are in ministry leadership have forgotten what business we are in. Now, I’m no historian, but my understanding is that the Protestant Reformation occurred in the sweep of the Enlightenment—the Age of Reason—and we’ve been reasoning with our congregations ever since. Reasoning kindly with them about the truths of the Bible. We’ve been teaching the Word—as if we’re in the education business.
The problem is, education is not an end and an educated church person is not an end either. No more than an elevator is an end. An elevator is a means to the 11th floor. Teaching the Bible is a means to an end.
The Church is in the life-change business. When someone approaches you with “nice message, Pastor”, what is your reply? “Thank you”?
More often than not, when someone approaches me with a similar encouragement, my reply is: “Why?” I listen for how the person has been impacted. Then I want to know: So what? How will you live differently?
You see, if my teaching and preaching (or these blogs, for that matter) is not changing the way you live, I am wasting your time and mine.
If you’re not changing lives in identifiable, maturity-inducing ways, aren’t you wasting your time and the one who hears you? Multiply this by the 90 or 390 people in your church, then multiply that by the months and years and decades that you’ve been educating people whose lives are not radically changing and what do you have??
The Church in North America.
Which brings me back to pain. Minister, if you are in the life-change business, then, you are in the distress-bringing business as well. Many will argue that to bring distress to your congregation is unkind. But, is it?
The Message renders 2 Cor 7:8-9 this way: “I know I distressed you greatly with my letter. Although I felt awful at the time, I don’t feel at all bad now that I see how it turned out. The letter upset you, but only for a while. Now I’m glad—not that you were upset, but that you were jarred into turning things around. You let the distress bring you to God, not drive you from him…”
Paul wrote to change their lives. He explains that his previous letter was to see if they’d take responsibility for the church. [2 Cor 2:9] Notice that Paul’s discourse produced distress, upset, and it “jarred” them into turning things around.
When was the last time you jarred your people, pastor? How long has it been since your preaching provoked such sorrow in your people that it ignited a change-of-life the Bible calls repentance? Would you love your people well enough to provoke them to suffer—unto repentance?
In The Problem of Pain CS Lewis wrote: “Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness. Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering.” So consider: do you love your people, sternly and splendidly, or has it been your aim to ceaselessly rescue them from suffering?
This, I think, is a second condition that’s invited the spiritual lethargy that’s settled over the Church like the marine layer that engulfs San Francisco Bay. Our commitment to be kind has left our people immature and shallow.
Edwin Friedman suggests what Paul modeled: it is through challenge that we promote responsibility in our people. To be a leader who will jar your people to maturity you must raise your pain threshold.
And, here’s another jarring insight from Friedman’s book A Failure of Nerve: you must raise your threshold for the pain you cause in others. And, Friedman says, you need to de-sensitize yourself to their maturity-repressing sensitivities.
De-sensitize yourself to their maturity-repressing sensitivities.
Unless, of course, you care not whether those you lead become like Christ.