Here’s the message I preached on Sunday, September 14, 2014, titled “The God In-Between.” The lectionary reading for that Sunday was Exodus 14:19-31, and continues the story of God with the nation of Israel from Abraham through the Exodus experience. Click the arrow to play the podcast —
The news from both the Middle East and the midwest has been interesting lately. On the one hand, government leaders in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, and now Libya are being challenged by their own people. On the other hand, here in the heartland of the United States and the home of the Green Bay Packers another challenge is being played out as thousands of demonstrators oppose the budget cuts of a conservative governor.
Before anyone starts siding with or against Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, let me issue this disclaimer: I am not interested in the politics of either Wisconsin or Libya for the purposes of this discussion. What I am interested in is what both of these events teach us about leadership, especially church leadership.
Here’s my point: Egypt’s struggle for relief from the oppression of the Mubarak regime could have ended very differently. But it didn’t. Egypt’s leaders realized that common, everyday people had legitimate grievances. And when an attempt was made to crush the revolution by force, these same leaders were rebuked by world opinion. In other words, the leaders of Egypt, however reluctantly, listened to the will of the people.
The result in Egypt was a change in direction, and a new future which is still being formed. Other countries followed Egypt’s example when royal regimes in Bahrain and Jordan pledged reforms in response to demonstrations there. Libya by contrast, is a study in the use of force, violence, and propaganda by Gaddafi against his own people.
Here in the United States, conservative governors like Scott Walker are standing firm, refusing to talk with their opposition. Political intransigence has produced a legislative logjam, and it’s doubtful if either side will get what it wants. Politics aside, what are the lessons about leadership that we should be learning from these events?
Here are three quick observations:
First, leadership depends upon the consent of followers. Once the majority of the Egyptian people turned on Mubarak, even he knew his days were numbered. The same is true in churches. Just because you have the title of pastor, doesn’t mean you can exercise power without regard to the opinions and feelings of your church members. Leadership, by its very definition, depends upon the cooperation and support of those being led.
Secondly, force succeeds sometimes, but not all the time. China successfully suppressed the democracy movement by killing students in Tiannamen Square in 1989. Gaddafi is holding off the opposition with force for now. Pastors can push and cajole to get their way sometimes. But the toll in both the political world and the faith community can be very high. I have read that 1,000 pastors leave the ministry each month, and much of that has to be due to conflict.
Finally, how you get there is just as important as where you’re going. The journey is just as important as the destination, especially in churches. While dictatorships are a sure way to keep things under control, eventually that kind of government becomes unbearable for its citizens. The same is true for churches, and especially small churches. How we deal with difficulty, how we treat each other, and the means we use to accomplish our goals are just as important as the final outcome.
I do understand that churches need to change, that new people ought to be reached, and that sometimes the process is painful. But world events offer us a ringside seat on lessons of leadership. Listening and learning gets my vote. How about you?
Living In Exile
1 Peter 1:17-23 NRSV
17 If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. 18You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. 20He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. 21Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.