Church leadership and BREXIT
Two recent events have given me pause to reflect on the nature and purpose of Church leadership. The first is my association with three retired evangelical pastors who all came into my life in quick succession two years ago. I have spent many hours in their company since. The second has been Brexit. Living in the U.K. has made it all but impossible to escape it.
Let’s start with the pastors. All three are first rate teachers with much wisdom drawn from their 70-plus years. They have clearly spent their life where God wanted them; guarding right doctrine and generously giving of themselves pastorally. However, over their 40 or more years of ministry the western Church has slipped from near the centre to the shadowy margins of western life. Where the Church was once the backbone of western culture it is now little more than an appendage. Where belief in God was high it is now slipping away. How did this happen? High on the short list of reasons, covered in my book Issachar’s Call (free off www.lastpost.net, or for sale on Amazon) was a lack of the right sort of leadership. The retired pastors I have come to know and respect were the Pauls, Apollos, Timothy’s Levy’s and Aarons of their time, they were not the Davids, Calebs, Joshuas, Jeremiah’s, Josephs Moses, Nathans, Elijahs or Noahs the Church also needs. These were men intent on going somewhere, on defeating their enemies and re-directing wayward people back to God’s precepts, according to the times in which they lived. A Church bundled into the wilderness by its enemies and content to stay there only need’s administrators and managers, people good at maintaining the status-quo, not leaders. Leaders look to the conditions and situation around them and actively leverage off them to move beyond where they are. They are looking over the next hill or horizon and doing all they can, with their people, to get there. My three retired pastor friends are not leaders, they are managers. There is a big difference. Why they never made the transition to leadership, or found people with leadership qualities to work alongside is an interesting question, addressed in Issachar’s Call. To be both a manager and a leader they would need to have embraced the example of a David or an Elijah, who were men of both doctrine and action. The Rev. Paisley in Northern Ireland would qualify as an example of such a man. My experience of life has taught me real leaders often go through a managerial phase but they are never content with that. They are restless goal seekers and boundary breakers.
Time to turn to Brexit. It started with the very laudable exercise of direct democracy - freedoms purest form of popular government. It features as the first of the 12 Reforms in my book NGC: Next Generation Church). A binding referendum was held on Britain’s future with the E.U. The people were told this would be a once and forever vote which would be implemented by parliament. Then there was Mrs May’s misjudged snap election in which the major parties re-affirmed their commitment to leaving the E.U. Legislation was passed to affirm it would all happen. It has been all downhill from there – no need to bore you with all the details. Suffice to say a majority of M.P.s have proved they were never genuine about leaving, other than according to terms they would find acceptable. They overturned legislation. Some abandoned the party’s under whose pro-Brexit manifestos they had been elected to parliament.
I have been struck, over the last lamentable two years, how the British Church has been impotently content to hug the sidelines throughout. This is because it has left the public square and clung to the wilderness shepherded by managers in the absence of leaders. It was a golden opportunity for the church to stand on biblical principle. God says do not bear false witness but many in parliament have been doing just that. God says let your yes mean yes, but the political class has been saying yes and ‘doing’ no. The exercise of the biblical free will principle through a referendum and an election (real democracy) has been betrayed. Peace through trust has been the chief casualty ignored. Power and privilege have been exercised for self-interested and partisan purposes. A Church in the wilderness has no need for the David’s and Joshua’s who would have taken the sword of truth into the whole mess and swept the battlefield clear with the sharp edge of principle and truth. Worse still, by failing to provide moral leadership at such a critical time in history the Church missed a golden opportunity these times presented for evangelism. A Church standing for principle in the public square is a Church that is relevant and respected. An evangelist is no longer a voice in the wilderness but someone to be taken seriously.
The Brexit situation in Britain is symptomatic of the Church’s parlous condition across the last four decades. It has had 40 years in the wilderness. In NGC I call on the Church to use the four-step evangelism strategy to do at a larger cultural level what it could have done around the Brexit issue. We are not talking here about engaging in politics. Instead it’s all about standing above it all with the Bible’s core principles expressed as a set of reform ideas to catapult churches back into the public square for the purposes of evangelism.
At various points in my books and blogs I go even further. Behind the Church’s malaise is the failure to take Jesus’ parables of the minas and talents seriously. Most pastors are passively waiting for ‘a move of God’, characterised as another revival. Apart from the fact that periodic revivals are good to see, they are not by themselves a sine qua non for Christian evangelistic effort and growth. That is made clear in the parables where Jesus reserves his praise for growth and progress made in his absence, not his presence. He expects his Church to act for him, because he has given us his Great Commission and his Great Command. Managers wait to be told what to do next, leaders know what needs to be done and look to multiply what they have. Jesus repeated the parable in two forms suggesting it is important to take it very seriously. His treatment of the laggard servants in both parables makes that clear. Unless western Christians can come up with something better they should be embracing the NGC evangelism strategy to build his kingdom – to occupy, as the parable of the minas says, until he comes.