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.