As Christian leaders, we NEED Easter. We need it because it reminds us of who we absolutely must be as clergy and laity guides in the Christian faith. It reminds us that we are entrusted with three (at least…) impossible tasks, made possible by the Lord and Savior we follow. These three irrefutable, unimaginable, and seemingly impossible tasks are:
- love sinners
- lead change
- create a counter-culture
If we as pastors and laity leaders are not doing these three things, then we need to get out of the way of people who will, because they are the basic characteristics of Christ’s ministry on earth that got him first, hung on a tree, and second, raised to new life.
Is this one really as hard as it seems to be? If Christ is the cornerstone upon which the kingdom of God is built, grace is the foundation. None of us — I repeat, NONE of us — deserves to receive the forgiveness and love of God. Yet, regardless of our sin, in spite of our inability to rise above our human nature, Christ opened the way back to God. And this is not a trick! It isn’t available to only those we approve of and a cruel tease for everyone else. It isn’t ours to give or withhold — it is God’s gift freely given. So why do we spend so much time arguing over who we will love, accept, receive, respect, embrace and who we will condemn, vilify, insult, hurt and do violence to? We don’t have the option to hate. We do not have the luxury of judging others. We do not have the resources to waste on divisiveness and destruction. Time is too precious. We need to love the unlovable. The church needs to be the place where all might enter in to know God’s love, and to experience the grace of Christ. And those who we believe to be the greatest sinners need to be inside the church most of all. We have built both physical and metaphorical walls around our churches. We need to break down both and take our faith back out in the world — not as a weapon of mass destruction, but as a redeeming, transforming, life-changing power for good.
Change is hard. Many people resist change in many unpleasant ways. It is easier to just accept the status quo… unless you’re a leader. There is only one good reason for a church to have pastoral and laity leadership: to become what it is not already. And that means change. Spiritual formation is change. Growth is change. Reaching out and receiving new people means change. Being equipped to become the body of Christ? Change. It is inescapable. To be the church is to change, and change will not happen by default. Change needs to be lead. And people who lead change put themselves on the front lines for criticism, conflict, and sometimes, crucifixion. There is no glory road that does not travel through Calvary, no Promised Land without a wilderness. There is no church that’s ‘good enough.’ Leadership means good enough is never good enough — honoring and glorifying God requires that we get better.
Create a Counter-Culture
Our dominant culture imposes an impressive set of values: materialism, individualism, anti-intellectualism, cynicism, nationalism, and a lust for youth, beauty, and power. The values of the Christian way are (or should be) significantly different. Church leaders have a brief window each week to offer an alternative to the worldly wiles. Generosity, community, hopefulness, a passion for learning, globalism, and a commitment to mercy, justice, and harmony are rare commodities, more valuable for their scarcity. If people do not experience these things at church, they are not likely to experience them anywhere. When all people see when they come to church are inferior reflections of the worldly values — celebrity pastors in huge buildings with high tech equipment and professional rock bands sipping designer coffee from the narthex coffee bar — there is really no reason to be there. We need to be different. We need to offer a quality alternative to the baser values of our American culture.
None of this is easy, and most of it is not fun. Ask Jesus. He put his life on the line for tax collectors, hookers, the poor and the mentally ill. He refused to bow down to the devil in the desert and the devils protecting the status quo in the guise of Pharisees and scribes. He challenged the values of his day and called disciples to a different way. Our task is not to make consumeristic Christian believers but to equip counter-cultural Christian disciples to be the body of Christ in the world. For our troubles we will be mocked and criticized and challenged and abused. And that’s okay, becuase we’re Easter people. No matter how hard it is in the day-to-day, God makes it all worthwhile. Easter celebrates the other side — what happens when all our best efforts to love the sinners (including ourselves), to lead change, and to create a healthy, vital, vibrant counter-culture pay off. Easter reminds us it’s all worth it. That’s why leaders need Easter.
AMEN from a friend and co-worker from 15 years in your past. I am now a local pastor with two churches. Both are small and were pretty much focused inwardly on fellowship and preservation. With but a little leadership/encouragement, both have blossomed into still small but vital congregations with an outward focus on evangelism, mission, and ministry. While some members have dropped away because they were not comfortable with the change, new persona have arrived, excited by what they experience when they come to worship. Not so surprisingly, both congregations are growing, praise God!
I have only now been referred to your blog. I look forward to checking in frequently. Shalom!
Wow, George, great to hear from you. I have often wondered where you were, and remember with great fondness your leadership and vision from our Jersey days. I pray you find value in the blog and look forward to online conversations in the future! God bless you.
Thanks, Dan. An Easter message I needed this day.
“When all people see when they come to church are inferior reflections of the worldly values — celebrity pastors in huge buildings with high tech equipment and professional rock bands sipping designer coffee from the narthex coffee bar — there is really no reason to be there.”
As a tool for evangelism, do you think there should be some familiarity for the seeker? I don’t mean to suggest that any of the things you mentioned should be values of the church… but couldn’t they be tools? The real reason to be there is to love God and others. But for those who’ve never been exposed to that message… and who wouldn’t dream of setting foot into traditional sytle church, does it ease their experience to have some semblance of the familiar?
Maybe what we do is repurpose those tools… the coffee bar supports growers and mission projects. The band isn’t professional. The pastor reeks of love and grace…
There is so much loaded into both my sentiment and your response. The “need” for these things is, in my mind a direct result of the modern view that evangelism means “getting people to come to us.” In earlier days, the acclimation to church happened before the person ever entered our doors. When Christians understood that the mission frontier was outside our walls, things were very different. Now that the burden of conversion rests with the uninitiated, we create comfortable environments to entice them — as one twenty-something put it to me, “like a Venus flytrap.” There is nothing inherently wrong with coffee bars and high tech — when they are tools. Too often, they become trappings — even tools misused can do more damage than good. I think it ultimately lies in intent — and sadly too many church leaders today aren’t even clear what their real intentions are. They only have all these “tools” because they were told they were important at some leadership seminar somewhere. You make very good points, and I want to allow that there is plenty of grey area here.
I need Easter because it is the completion of God’s redemptive work and through His redemptive work I am empowered to do his work.