The Vision of Oscar Romero: What Romero Says to CCDA and My Vision for Ministry [Part 6]

My vision for ministry has slowly come into focus over the past six or seven years. However, I hold the few pieces of vision I have been able to see very loosely because I want to remain open to God’s call and further clarification. My vision, as I currently see it, is to lead a Christian community development ministry in a rural town somewhere in the southeastern U.S. The notion of Christian community development was developed by John Perkins and focuses on meeting the felt needs of an underdeveloped community through a ministry of relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution.[1] The vision of Oscar Romero coincides well with my vision of Christian community development, but it also challenges this vision in important ways.

Romero’s vision challenges me to ground myself within an established church tradition that provides a structure of support, authority, and teaching. As was seen throughout his ministry and his pastoral letters, Romero was a man of the church – the Roman Catholic Church. His vision cannot be separated from the Catholic Church’s vision set forth by the Second Vatican Council and the Medellin Conference. While he did face criticism and disunity within the church hierarchy, these struggles did not keep him from living out his vision. The idea of submitting to a church tradition creates tension with my congregation-based, Southern Baptist heritage. While I was involved with a United Methodist Church for a few years during college and came to admire the teachings of John Wesley, I was troubled by the UMC hierarchical system. However, in my study of Romero’s life, I have seen how even the most corrupt and resistant hierarchy can be a source of mutual support and encouragement. The key for Romero was in refusing to sacrifice his commitment to the Salvadoran people, especially the poorest among them, in order to protect or appease the hierarchy. Romero’s vision calls me to root myself deeply in a faith tradition that inspires me and complements my vision.

Romero’s vision also deeply challenges my view on suffering. Romero’s context for ministry was full of suffering – murders, kidnappings, and extreme poverty. As a leader of the Easter church, Romero was called to proclaim the hope of resurrection precisely in the most crucified places; he fully expected to suffer in the process. However, he did not simply take on the suffering of others as if the suffering itself was the goal. The suffering Romero expected would come in the form of persecution. Entering into crucified places and exposing the structures of sin would inevitably create a backlash from those who profit from these structures. This distinction between suffering experienced under the oppression of structural sin and the suffering of persecution which comes when those structures are confronted is extremely important, especially when considering how suffering can be said to be “redemptive.” As archbishop, Romero consistently denounced the sins of the Salvadoran government and military which caused extreme suffering. He saw no redemption in the murders, kidnapping, and oppression his people experienced under these structural sins. However, his ministry does reveal how the suffering caused by the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ can be redemptive. Suffering, in this case, may be redemptive but it is not the source or cause of the redemption. The work of redemption is a function of grace, and grace abounds in the very places where suffering due to sin is at its very worst. Suffering can be redemptive only when it opens a person to the redeeming grace of God in the life of a community proclaiming and working towards the hope of full liberation in the reign of God.

Romero never shrank back in the face of suffering. He listened to the people and shared in their sorrow and their grieving. He did not protect himself or attempt to love his people at a distance. Instead, he cherished the solidarity he was able to experience with those under his care. This aspect of Romero’s vision coincides very well with the idea of relocation in the scheme of Christian community development. Perkins describes relocation as “moving into a needy community so that its needs become our own needs.”[2] The goal of relocation is solidarity. As I enter into suffering communities and join in the struggle against the sin at work in those places, I can experience the unity, joy, and hope that come as a result of shared suffering.

Romero called the church to be a sign and instrument of Easter to a specific people at specific time in history. The life of the world and its mass of suffering was not to be overlooked in order to pursue a purely spiritual vocation. Again, this aspect of Romero’s vision coincides well with Perkins’ development model. The ministry of Christian community development begins with the felt needs of a community and partners with the community to meet those needs first. As relationships of trust are established, the deeper, spiritual needs of the community can be addressed.[3] However, Romero’s vision of being the body of Christ in history calls the ministry of Christian community development beyond merely providing solutions to needs – physical or spiritual. Romero’s vision insists on the formation of a faith community centered on the Word of God which operates in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Christian community development principle of reconciliation, defined as being reconciled to God and others through the love and forgiveness of the gospel across all boundaries,[4] points in this direction but does not go far enough. This reconciliation should not be ad hoc, but should be experienced within a worshiping, practicing faith community.

Romero’s vision of the Easter church calls for the proclamation of a gospel that brings good news for the whole person and the whole society. This gospel proclamation should lead to liberation from oppressive sinful structures and an empowerment for living in a restored, new creation life. Christian community development’s notion of redistribution provides the practical content of the liberating gospel proclamation Romero demands. Perkins describes redistribution as “[sharing] with those in need… a sharing of our skills, technology, and educational resources in a way that empowers people to break out of the cycle of poverty.”[5] While faithfully engaged in this work of redistribution, Romero would remind any Christian community development that the mission of the church is first towards God, and, because God has come to save us, the church should go out and boldly proclaim and embody this message of salvation.

As I conclude, it is vital to remember that Oscar Romero never saw his vision completed. However, this was not a problem for Romero because he knew his vision was God’s vision. God would complete the work; he only needed to be obedient to God. In recent times, a prayer has come to be associated with Oscar Romero, even though it has been shown that he did not author it.[6] In any case, it beautifully captures the humble trust in God’s greater work that Romero lived so faithfully. This prayer provides an appropriate conclusion to a paper on Romero’s vision:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own. Amen.[7]

[1] John M. Perkins, Beyond Charity: The Call to Christian Community Development (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 30-37.

[2] Perkins, 36.

[3] Perkins, 34.

[4] Perkins, 37.

[5] Perkins, 37.

[6] Scott Wright, Oscar Romero and the Communion of Saints (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2009), 154.

[7] Wright, 153-154.


The Vision of Oscar Romero: A Look at Economics, Ethnicity, and Ethics in America [Part 5]

oscar-romero-iconLife in the modern world is best interpreted through three primary lenses: economics, ethnicity, and ethics.[1] As Oscar Romero demonstrated in both his ministry and in his pastoral letters, the problems faced by a specific people in a specific time and place hold a primary place in the life of church which practices and proclaims the liberating word of Jesus Christ. Therefore, in order to move toward an articulation of my own vision of ministry, it is imperative to consider the economic, ethnic, and ethical dimensions of life in the modern society of the United States in the beginning of the 21st century.

In his book Journey to the Common Good, Walter Brueggemann names the controlling economic narrative within U.S. society as the “kingdom of scarcity.”[2] The primary characteristics of this kingdom are fear and anxiety, which lead to “entitled consumerism… in which we imagine that something more will make us more comfortable, safer, and happier.”[3] Consumerism, and the energy required to sustain it, leaves no room for working towards the common good; life in community is nearly impossible because everyone is too busy taking care of themselves.[4] When the pressure of consumer debt in America is considered, Brueggemann’s analysis provides a clear, powerful insight into a reigning economic force in the lives of millions of Americans.

The work of leading Greek Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas sheds considerable light on the ethnic dimension of American culture. According to Zizioulas, “there is a pathology built into the very roots of our [modern, Western] existence… and that is the fear of the other.”[5] This fear grows from our culture’s foundation of individualism, which comes to see other individuals as threats.[6] In this environment, “radical otherness is anathema” and “the fear of the other is in fact nothing but the fear of the different.”[7] This fear can only see differences as divisions, which create a society of institutionalized fear as these divisions are codified as laws.[8] Zizioulas’ analysis rings especially true when ethnicity is considered. Even today, fear of the racial other continues to divide American society.

Finally, the work of James K. A. Smith offers considerable insight on the ethical dimension of contemporary American life. Smith defines human beings as “liturgical animals” who are “governed not primarily by what we think but by what we love, what we desire.”[9] Human love is oriented toward particular “visions of the good life” through everyday habits that train human desire.[10] Some of these habits are part of a larger, more powerful practice that attempts to reformulate human desire at its most fundamental level and Smith defines such “thick” practices as liturgies.[11] He reveals three secular liturgies fully operative in American society – the mall, the stadium, and the university – which make “us the kind of people who desire a version of the kingdom that is antithetical to the kingdom of God.”[12] These secular liturgies demand a considerable amount of worship across American society and therefore exert a powerful force on this society’s ethics.

[1] Adetokunbo Adelekan,  Lecture, Truth and Transformation: Ethics of Visionary Leadership THLE624, Palmer Theological Seminary, King of Prussia, PA, October 25, 2012.

[2] Walter Brueggemann, Journey to the Common Good (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 29.

[3] Ibid., 28-30.

[4] Ibid., 7.

[5] John Zizioulas, “Communion and Otherness,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 38, no.  4 (1994): 349.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 350.

[8] Ibid.

[9] James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 215.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 92, 215.

The Vision of Oscar Romero: His Pastoral Letters [Part 4]

oscar-romero-iconRomero published his first pastoral letter on the occasion of Easter 1977 only a few months after his installment as archbishop in February of that same year. He would go on to write three more pastoral letters; all three would be published on the occasion of the Feast of the Transfiguration celebrated in August 1977, 1978, and 1979. In his first letter, Romero defined the church as “the sacrament of Easter”: “a church that is born of Easter and exists to be a sign and instrument of Easter in the world.”[1] His three subsequent letters would build on this foundation as Romero worked out the consequences of his vision of the church for the suffering, persecuted people of El Salvador.

While his vision of the church was uniquely embodied in his ministry, it did not arise out of a vacuum. In all four letters, Romero reveals his deep regard for the church and his dependence on its teachings; specifically those teachings put forward by the Second Vatican Council and the Conference of Latin American Bishops in Medellin, as well as Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi. In this way, Romero’s visionary leadership was a shining example of what L. Gregory Jones has called “traditioned innovation”: the kind of transformative leadership that preserves the wisdom of tradition and knows how to adapt it to empower the proclamation of God’s reign in a particular time and place.[2] As I examine Romero’s vision of the Easter church set forth in his pastoral letters, four interwoven themes arise as its foundational pillars, which will be explored in further detail: a continual conversion, a pilgrim journey, a liberating evangelism, and a persecuted service.

The Easter church envisioned by Romero lives in the redemptive power of Christ’s “passage from death to resurrection” through the Holy Spirit in a process of conversion whereby the church is transformed by a “paschal tension” which calls it “to destroy whatever is sin and to bring into being ever more powerfully all that is life, renewal, holiness, justice.”[3] Romero suggests that conversion must begin within the church itself, which is driven to inward examination by its encounter with the evil of the world through its ministry to the lowly, poor, and weak.[4] Romero offered this “change of heart that makes a person more human” to all people – rich, poor, and middle class, oppressed and oppressor – as an invitation to the kingdom of Jesus Christ.[5] For Romero, only the church engaged in the continual work of conversion can live out its true identity and therefore make its prime contribution to the life of the world: “to be itself.”[6]

The journey of the Easter church in the world is the journey of a pilgrim, of “a body of men and women who belong to God, but who live in the world.”[7] The process of conversion is essential to this journey because the life of the pilgrim church must be an illuminating presence in the history of darkness wherein God is at work.[8] As a bearer of light in a specific time and place in human history, the church is called to shine into all the dark places of sin – both personal and social – that it encounters in the world.[9] The church’s confrontation with sin, especially in its structural forms, may necessitate and inspire political action.[10] However, the church must be vigilant to navigate a middle-way between its political or socio-economic mission and its spiritual vocation; the church “must link true evangelization and human advancement” as it works out its conversion as the body of Christ in history.[11]

As it travels in history as a pilgrim being continually converted into the image of its final destination, the church’s “paschal origins” in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ place it under obligation to respond to the cries of a needy world with a liberating word “from the only Redeemer who can save them.”[12] Like Jesus, the church is to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God at hand, “especially for the great majority who, in worldly terms, have been estranged from it.”[13] The liberating evangelization of the church brings an awareness of true freedom and an empowerment for the work of liberation by involving the whole person, centering on the kingdom of God, proceeding from a scriptural vision of humanity, demanding conversion, and excluding violence.[14] At the same time, the church’s work of evangelization must not be reduced to either its religious, transcendent elements or to its temporal, immanent elements; both must be held in tension.[15]

Finally, as the Easter church proclaims its liberating message of good news to sinful persons and structures, it will face persecution. As the servant is not greater than his master, so the church of Jesus Christ will be persecuted as Jesus was persecuted.[16] The church is persecuted when it is barred from proclaiming the justice, peace, love and truth of God’s kingdom, when the sin of the world cannot be denounced, and when the rights of the people to whom the church is bound are abused.[17] When the church “is faithful to its mission of denouncing the sin that brings misery to many, and if it proclaims its hope for a more just, humane world, then it is persecuted.”[18] However, as the church suffers together in faithfulness to its common mission, it partakes of “the precious fruit” of unity, which is essential for its credibility and effectiveness in service to the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ.[19] This life of unity, of Christian love, as the fruit of common suffering, is the ground of Christian hope.[20]

[1] Archbishop Oscar Romero, Jon Sobrino, and Ignacio Martin-Baro, Voice of the Voiceless: The Four Pastoral Letters and Other Statements, trans. by Michael Walsh (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1985), 56.

[2] L. Gregory Jones, “Traditioned Innovation | Faith and Leadership,” accessed December 15, 2012,

[3] Romero, Sobrino, Martin-Baro, 57.

[4] Ibid., 69.

[5] Ibid., 72, 111.

[6] Ibid., 128.

[7] Ibid., 66.

[8] Ibid., 67.

[9] Ibid., 68.

[10] Ibid., 100.

[11] Ibid., 60.

[12] Ibid., 58, 59.

[13] Ibid., 74.

[14] Ibid., 98, 99.

[15] Ibid., 130.

[16] Ibid., 72, 79.

[17] Ibid., 80.

[18] Ibid., 80.

[19] Ibid., 81.

[20] Ibid., 82.

The Vision of Oscar Romero: His Ministry as Archbishop [Part 3]

oscar-romero-iconThroughout his short ministry as archbishop of El Salvador, Romero embodied a vision of the church that stood in uncompromising solidarity with those who were suffering the most – the campesinos. He expressed this vision succinctly in one of his homilies when he described the relationship between himself and another bishop who had publicly challenged his pastoral ministry by saying, “in what is substantial we are servants of this church, which does not want to betray either the gospel or the people [emphasis added].”[1] Romero’s allegiance was never divided between the gospel and the people; for Romero, there was no gospel apart from the good news proclaimed to a specific people in need of liberation.

On several occasions as archbishop, Romero refused to betray the suffering people of El Salvador. After the murder of Father Grande along with two church members, he called a meeting of the clergy to vote on a proposal to close the schools for three days and hold a single national Mass at the cathedral as a sign of church unity and protest against the persecution of the church in response to its ministry among the neglected campesinos. The vote passed and Romero followed through with this unprecedented display of protest even in the face of stark opposition from El Salvador’s nuncio, the powerful diplomatic ambassador of the pope who was well connected to the government and the military.[2] A few months later he vetoed the nuncio’s plans for a religious ceremony, which would be attended by government officials who continually refused Romero’s pleas for justice and meaningful dialogue, because it would be “an expression lacking in solidarity with the sufferings of this church and people.”[3] He cited the same concerns for solidarity when he refused the same nuncio’s invitation to a church-government papal “coronation” ceremony in honor John Paul I, which prompted the nuncio to begin working with the cardinal and the president for Romero’s removal.[4] In all of these instances, Romero boldly displayed his unwillingness jeopardize his pastoral relationship with the campesinos, in spite of extreme criticism from the government, the media, and members of the church hierarchy.

In addition to these somewhat private refusals to betray his people, Romero regularly voiced his unflinching solidarity with the suffering, persecuted clergy and campesinos through his weekly homilies, which were broadcast nationally over the radio. As the government and its paramilitary forces continued their practice of kidnapping and murdering anyone they suspected of “communist” activity, Romero shared in the grief of his people by announcing the names of those killed and “disappeared” in his homilies.[5] In addition to this, Romero called in lawyers to investigate every report of human rights abuse and transformed his office into an open house for the people to gather and share their reports of murder and kidnapping, as well to receive advice from Romero over a cup of tea.[6]

Romero’s courageous unmasking of lies and his prophetic denouncement of violence and injustice grew directly from his ministry among the people as their pastor.[7] Even while the conflict raged, Romero’s time was mostly consumed with pastoral work concerning the ministry of catechesis, word, and sacraments in his archdiocese.[8] This pastoral dedication was a consistent feature throughout Romero’s ministry; one that would transform him from a pious, conservative friend of the powerful into an unabashed voice for justice and peace on behalf of the suffering. In order to fulfill his overwhelming desire as a pastor “to be faithful to what God asks,” Romero was willing to adapt his vision of the church in order to become a source of hope to his suffering flock.[9] The conviction with which Romero practiced solidarity with the poor and oppressed is an essential aspect of his vision. With every decision he made as a church leader, he carefully guarded his ability to minister faithfully as a pastor among a suffering people and always let their voices speak louder than his own.

[1] James R. Brockman, S. J., Romero: A Life (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2005), 96.

[2] Brockman, Romero, 12-13, 16.

[3] Ibid., 102.

[4] Ibid., 144.

[5] Ibid., 91,92.

[6] Monsenor: The Last Journey of Oscar Romero, directed by Ann Carrigan and Juliet Weber (2011; Notre Dame, IN: Kellogg Institute at the University of Notre Dame, First Run Features, 2011), DVD.

[7] Brian J. Pierce, “Romero, Resistance, and Resurrection,” Living Pulpit 14, no. 2 (April 1, 2005): 15.

[8] Brockman, Romero, 149-150.

[9] Brockman, “The Spiritual Journey of Oscar Romero,” 312.

Tangled Visions of Wheat and Weeds: Matthew 13:24-32

rootsMatthew 13:24-32 :: “He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’

Here’s a question I know we’ve all heard dozens of times before: what is your vision for ministry? It comes with the territory of being in seminary. It’s a daunting, yet very important question. Will you serve an inner-city church? A small town ministry in Alabama? A remote village in Asia? A seminary? An advocacy group? Will you preach, or teach, or develop outreach ministries, or practice development, or shape national policy? What kind of mark do you plan to leave on the world? We’re leaders and leaders have visions.

In this parable, we find a man with a vision – a vision of wheat. The parable is simple enough. A man owns a field and he decides to plant it with wheat. He goes out, by himself, and sows “good seed”, not the everyday stuff a poor tenant farmer could buy, but the good stuff. Unfortunately, this man has enemies; one of them sneaks up to the field at night and sows weeds just after the owner has planted his good seed. For a while, the weeds grow next to the wheat undetected; it was difficult to distinguish between the weeds and the wheat during the early growing stages. They couldn’t stay hidden forever though. When the workers notice them, they run off to the owner and say, “What happened? I thought you bought the good stuff? Your wheat field is covered in weeds!” The owner knew he planted good seeds. He also knew that these were no ordinary weeds; these were poisonous weeds which were actually illegal to plant under Roman law. This was an attack!

Immediately, the workers want to take action and save the wheat: “So we should probably go get rid of these weeds right away, don’t you think!? These are dangerous. They’ll ruin your harvest.” The owner surprises them, “No. You’d better not do that. You can’t see it but these weeds are now connected to the wheat. Their roots are all tangled together. You can’t pull up one without pulling up the other. We must let the weeds grow together with the wheat.” But the owner doesn’t lose hope. When the time for harvest comes, the weeds will be easy to recognize so they can be gathered first and discarded. Even when the field is covered in weeds, the owner never loses his vision of wheat.

Later on in this chapter, Matthew records Jesus’ own explanation of this parable, but I’d like to offer a different perspective. Let’s imagine ourselves as the landowner. The “good seeds” we plant are our very lives, our work, our service of love to God and others as ministry leaders.  For us, the “vision of wheat” is our vision of the fruit we hope to see from our lives, the mark we hope to leave, the transformation we long to see.

So, we have these visions of ministry full of pure, rolling fields of wheat glistening in the sun, right? We plant ourselves in love for God and neighbor, and one day we look up to see those “amber waves of grain” ripe for God’s harvest… If only it worked like that… Unfortunately, as leaders who follow a murdered, crucified Lord, we too have enemies and we need to be ready for the weeds… lots of weeds.

Yes, we’re good leaders. We do our best to be faithful, to love well, to plant the “good seeds.” But one day we’ll look out over our “field of ministry” and the sight may terrify us: poisonous weeds threatening our fragile wheat – conflicted communities, fractured families, disappointed disciples, flaky friends, corrupt colleagues, struggling sinners, hurt, pain, suffering, opposition, and yes, even personal attacks. Weeds. What will we do? It’ll seem like we’re failing, but it won’t even be our fault! But then our “workers” will come knocking, wanting answers: “I thought you were committed. I thought you would do better. What happened pastor? Is this your vision? Why so many weeds? Where’s the wheat?”

At these moments, we’ll face a true test of our discernment. Will we respond in fear and anxiety, running run through our fields yanking up weeds and destroying our visions in the process? Or will we have the humility to confess that the weeds we seeing growing in the lives of others are actually the same weeds growing in our hearts as well? If we choose this humility, we realize that our visions for ministry have been and continue to be indelibly shaped by the sin and suffering we experience deep in our own lives and in the lives of others. Our vision for ministry, blurry as it may be, must include the weeds; we must flex, adapt, and make room to include the sin and suffering of others because the roots of those weeds are tangled up with roots of our visions. Like the land owner in our parable, our only choice is to let the wheat and weeds grow together. The harvest belongs to God; we will have to live with these weeds and take our stand on the faithfulness of the One who has called us and who promises to bring our “good work” to completion at the final harvest.

Discipleship is Imitation

I’ve been blogging regularly now over at the 6:8 Community Church blog for the past few weeks, so I thought I would re-post some thoughts from this week. I was thinking about leadership and discipleship in light of Hebrews 13:7

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

Here’s my conclusion on the matter:

In summary, let’s identify the leaders in our lives. If we can’t, we need to think about who that could be and seek that person out. Let’s remember our leaders by taking the time to be with them so we can get to know the “outcome of their way of life.” Let’s get to know what drives them and consider what it would mean for us to be driven by those same things. Leaders, what is your vision? Take some time to reflect on that this week. How are you living out of that vision? Further, who can you begin sharing this vision with on a deeper level?

I think the words of Jesus in Matthew 6, verse 33, are appropriate as we all consider what it means to be disciples and leaders: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Our vision is God’s vision: the Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. What is your role in that vision? How are you growing into the person God has called you to be in the Kingdom? How are you leading others to seek the Kingdom above all else?

If you wanna hear more, just click here to head on over to the complete post on the 6:8 blog.

The Downward Spiral of Leadership

This week at 6:8 we talked about leadership in the Kingdom. We looked at a passage from Luke 6 where Jesus spends all night in prayer and then chooses the 12 apostles. From there, we spoke more broadly about the nature of Christlike leadership. Essentially, leaders in the Kingdom are first and foremost disciples. Discipleship always precedes leadership.

Just after Jesus selects the 12, he begins the “Sermon on the Plain” by pronouncing 4 blessings and 4 corresponding woes. The poor, hungry, weeping, and hated are blessed while the rich, well fed, happy, and well liked receive woe. This is not a pretty picture of discipleship – poverty, hunger, pain, and rejection. It reminds me of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s famous quote about discipleship:

When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.

For me, this quote basically sums it up. Discipleship is following Jesus to the cross, dying with him there, and being raised with him to new life by the power of the Spirit.

If Christian leaders are disciples, then leadership takes on a very different character than what we see around us. Leadership usually comes with more power, more responsibility, and more influence. Leaders are respected and honored. They remove themselves from the “nitty gritty details” of their work and focus on the “big picture ideas.”

Its hard to be a leader in the normal sense of that word when we’re following the downward way of Jesus. What is the downward way of Jesus? Listen to Henri Nouwen’s description:

Is there a way for us to nurture that faith within? The answer is yes: it is the way of poverty, the way that Jesus himself shows us as he moves toward the cross. Jesus consistently refuses the way of power, influence, and celebrity. Always, he chooses the way of weakness, powerlessness, compassion, and obscurity — the way of the poor. And so every time we choose poverty over wealth, powerlessness over power, humble service over popularity, quiet fruitfulness over loud acclaim, we prepare for our rebirth in the Holy Spirit. This might sound gloomy, unnatural, or even impossible…

Gloomy? Yeah, a little bit. The downward way of Christ is not just for leaders; it is for all followers of Christ. But it is especially for leaders, because Christian leaders are not lone rangers – they work in a Body. They build community but not just any community. The community they are after is founded in the self-giving love of God, in the humility of mutual poverty, in the hope of new creation through the Spirit. As leaders follow the downward way of Christ, they are given new eyes to see God’s presence in those who are hurting, struggling, and poor – materially, emotionally, spiritually, or mentally. And then, as Nouwen says, something pretty cool happens:

Thus, the Spirit living in our poverty will speak to the Spirit among the poor. Our poor hearts will speak to the poor hearts of those around us. And out of this, a new spiritual community will be molded, not something spectacular, imposing, or world-convincing, but, on the contrary, something small, hidden, and very humble, scarcely noticed by our fast-moving world. In the midst of the world, but hidden from its view, something very new, very tender, and very fragile can be born.

The goal of Christian leadership is new birth and the path to new birth always leads through the cross.