Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Vision, leadership, service

“There is such an emphasis on ‘vision’ that if you have issues with that then you are encouraged to leave."

As another evangelical leader is removed from positions of authority amid allegations of bullying and manipulation, these words from a former member of his church (reported in Christianity Today) seem to be really important. I don't know the ins and outs of this particular situation, but that one sentence seems to me to get to the heart of many of our leadership issues in evangelicalism.

What is leadership? Isn't it primarily setting out a vision, rallying people to that vision? But then might there not need to be some policing of the vision? How might we treat people who aren't 100% on board with the vision?

'Vision' in this sort of discourse so easily becomes short-hand for 'the leader's personal sense of calling'. And although we typically separate between 'beliefs' and 'vision' - although we would maintain that our unity is built on the truth of the gospel and not any particular vision statement - it seems from experience that there is no stopping 'vision' from gradually occupying the central place. After all, programme is driven by vision. What we do together is only indirectly motivated by the Word of God as testified in Holy Scripture; the vision mediates everything. And then the conflation between gospel and vision becomes inevitable, and if you don't quite agree with the leader's sense of vision you are anti-gospel.

"I am among you", said the Lord, "as one who serves." Maybe it would be helpful for us to reflect on those words, spoken at the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed. He was there amongst his disciples as one who serves. He is here amongst his people as one who serves. Can ministers of the Word be 'leaders', when the Word of God is amongst us as one who serves?

What is my job, if not to lead?

Isn't it just this: to serve the Word? In the sense of being a servant of the Word, and in the sense of being a server of the Word - that is what I am meant to be. As a servant of the Word, I must spend most of my time in the Scriptures, reading, reflecting, meditating - making sure I am hearing the Word. As a server of the Word, I must simply dish out that Word - in one to one conversations, from the pulpit, at the Table. If there are disagreements, discord, how do I react? By ministering the Word.

No vision statement necessary. No new and exciting ways of being (or worse, 'doing') church. Boring old ministry of the Word. Preach a little here, pray a little there. Dish out a little bread and wine. Look for the growth that comes slowly from God, look for the barely perceptible change that comes through grace.

I wonder whether the language of leadership just needs to disappear altogether amongst us.

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