What do you do when you find squatters on your property? I don’t have property and I certainly am not facing this dilemma in a literal sense, however I am realising how much it features in so many ways, less literal but just as destructive.
A couple of months ago a friend was sharing how she was told by a church leader that she could only really belong if she was committed to this leader’s vision. There was more, but to preserve the honour of those involved I will leave it at that. Just this week a colleague shared how a discussion amongst the leadership of a church pitched commitment to God against commitment to the details of the church constitution; the discussion went in favour of the constitution.
There are so many ways in which we as Christians blend in seamlessly with the system and values of the environment around us. In the area of leadership and authority, great swaths of the Christian community have embraced the values and practices of the business world and other systems; often our efforts to be relevant and attractive in our world has resulted in us looking very much like it. It was a sad, sad day when Israel asked for a king, the reason they gave was so that they could be like all the other nations. It didn’t go so well for them even though God redeemed the situation through David and ultimately through Jesus. Yet I know that the church tradition that I grew up in modelled so much of its life and structures on this and other similar aspects of the life of Israel. But actually, was this God’s intention?
In current discussions around how small groups can be a vehicle for effective discipleship, mission and transformation, questions around leadership and authority rise, quickly followed by those around ‘who’s in and who’s out?’. The assumption is that one person knows more than the others and leads the way for the group; the groups’ role is to follow submissively. That’s what we have been doing in the Christian community for a generation, and it’s part of what we need to rethink and redesign if we are to be part of God’s mission of grace and mercy into the future. If we look down the corridors of history we will find that this monarchic structure didn’t serve exponential growth or the transformation of society’s values very well. On the other hand models where God not man was central (really), where leadership was service to God and his people, and accountability was mutual with a shared passion to know God better and follow him better… a theocratic model… these had great effect.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we shouldn’t have leaders. I myself am a leader. What I am saying is that we need to make sure our models of leadership reflect God’s heart and nature much more than the systems around us. I am becoming more aware of the assumptions and habits I have that come from a value system that is different to the one I say I ascribe to. Like squatters who have taken up residence and become ‘part of the place’, it doesn’t matter how long they have been there and how entrenched they have become, they don’t belong. Like enemy strongholds in a newly conquered territory, until the stronghold is removed, the territory will never be fully conquered.
The Christian community is here to help with the great rescue plan of God on the world, we are here to help make all things new, to help bring mercy, compassion and justice, reconciliation and shalom. We cant do that if we simply melt into the background and become part of the problem.