A Culture of Cowardice (part three)

I’m a leadership coach to pastors. Last time, I introduced a pervasive cultural condition that’s true of so many churches it’s become characteristic of the Church in America.

A Culture of Cowardice.

While there are many exceptions, compared to the whole, these exceptions are so exceptional that the description deserves our attention—particularly when the topic is leadership courage.

Edwin Friedman, in A Failure of Nerve diagnoses American society as chronically anxious. As he describes systems experiencing chronic anxiety—the Church in North America fits the description even more than American society as a whole.

Chronically anxious systems, Friedman notes, are toxic to courageous, well-differentiated leadership. So acute is the culture’s abhorrence of discomfort that it “knee-jerks” its way from one perceived threat to another, clamoring for instantaneous relief from ministers, who are pulled in all directions at once.

A pastor may have begun with a clear sense of mission. But, in short order that mission is overwhelmed by the demand that the “crisis du jour” be averted with haste. Ministers, instead of challenging the congregation to mature and leading them to take important new ground, become consumed with smoothing out the never-ending ruffled feathers of the flock.

Caretaking is not leadership.

cry 8A constituency that is so developmentally-regressed requires that a clergyperson do little more than accommodate the low frustration tolerance of the most immature.

And, to do this, they need only to answer the phone!

Ministry, for many, resembles the role of a caregiver in an overcrowded orphanage, wearily scurrying to soothe the baby screaming most loudly before she can comfort the next infant to bellow.

For many, the priorities of ministry are based more on responding to the immediate needs of church members than in steadfast obedience to the Audience of One.

A leader who remains resolute in pursuit of a cause greater than the good feelings of the congregation (for example, the maturation of the disciples and the mobilization of members for ministry outside the church) is seen as heartless, unresponsive, deaf to the cries of the downtrodden, and out-of-touch with “real people” within. Emotionally and spiritually emaciated church members have no stomach for a real leader…like Christ.

What if Jesus belonged to a typical American church today?

pigs 8To a member of a beleaguered minority he declared: “You have no idea what you’re worshipping!” [Jn 4:22] Embarrassed by Jesus’ insensitivity, the Church might howl: “How cruel, abusive, and bigoted! All-loving heavenly Father is nothing like him!”

After freeing the Gadarene [Mt 8:32], imagine the uproar from the typical church at the brutality shown the pigs. Animal rights activists throughout the Church would demand that Jesus be locked up. “How could anyone representing God mistreat innocent wildlife so maliciously?”

Jesus says: “Let the dead bury their dead” when a potential new member asks to attend his father’s funeral. [Lk 9:60] To this, the church would smugly declare: “How unfeeling, cold, and heartless! A merciful God would never say that!”

Cleansing the Temple 8When Jesus comes upon merchants in the temple, he goes nuts: vandalizing their property, abusing the animals (again!), and misappropriating their funds. [Jn 2:15] Most churches would get a restraining order against Jesus—after his 5150 expired. “God is a God of order—not chaos”.

Jesus is revealed in scripture as clear, decisive, and disruptive.

You might think Him a study in contrasts: compassionate to the adulteress and hair-triggered to critique the religious leaders of his day. He’d be branded a troublemaker (or worse) in most US churches today.

Jesus was resolute in His commitment to model, bring, and defend the Kingdom of His Father.

Are you?