Still walking!  Well done.  In part two, I’m going to make a case that our leadership conundrum isn’t as simple as it seems….Let’s get to it. 

Baptists are freedom people:

  • Soul freedom
  • Bible Freedom
  • Church Freedom
  • and Religious Freedom. 

I want to focus specifically on Soul Freedom here (aka Priesthood of ALL Believers).  As Baptist, we believe that followers of Jesus are a priesthood of ALL believers. It means we don’t need an intermediary between ourselves and God and it means that we’re all on equal footing with one another. “Priesthood of All Believers” is a beautiful principle in it’s purest form and pretty awful when it goes amuck. As I’ve pondered how to best identify the opportunity and challenge here, I’ve come to see our dysfunctional deacon structure not so much of an identify crisis for a specific group of leaders and much more of a systemic crisis of identity. I believe that we’ve joined the majority of western christians in confusing disciple identity with democracy identity. 

DEMOCRACY:

Theoretically, a democracy puts all of us on equal ground: every person matters and every life is full of potential. Democracy supports the idea that we all work together to build a society that helps people live into their potential. Theoretically, in a democracy, every vote counts the same. We vote to give certain folks authority and those folks help enforce and/or create boundaries that respect the dignity of all citizens.  Here’s the thing, democracy is beautiful in it’s purest form and pretty awful when it goes amuck. 

Once somebody has been given authority, it’s pretty hard for that someone, or a group of someones, to resist onset addiction to control. If you’ve every seen someone in the world (or mirror) struggling with an addiction, you know the struggle is real. It’s doesn’t take much time for things to get out of control. 

In a democracy gone amuck, here’s what the addiction looks like. Those in the controlling party find themselves growing more and more fearful they’re going to lose control. In turn, those in authority justify their disfunction.  Dehumanization is the strange fruit born of addiction to control.  When we feed that addiction, we cease to believe that all people matter because we don’t really see “those people” as human and those in authority become less human every time they feed the addiction. Addiction to control creates a culture addicted to contempt. 

Keep walking. Stay with me, here

PRIESTHOOD OF ALL BELIEVERS? 

As Baptists, we are a Priesthood of ALL believers. It means we don’t believe anyone in a position of authority gives us access to God. It means that we don’t believe that any one person is more important than another. It means that every person, every voice, counts the same. It’s extraordinary when practiced faithfully and incredibly destructive when it isn’t. 

Here’s the thing, Church isn’t a democracy. “Church” is what happens when a group of beautifully diverse individuals, find themselves actively walking with the One that each of them calls “Lord”. A Priesthood of ALL Believers, by name and definition, fall under the authority of Jesus Christ.  In principle, we don’t have to worry about addiction to control because we understand that we aren’t in charge. On our best days, we understand that God is actively at work in the world to transform, something better than any of us could possibly offer.

Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done…..

I believe the problem we’ve experienced with Deacon Ministry points to a systemic problem, an addiction to control. The signs of addiction are everywhere.

  • When is the last time you felt as if you were standing on holy ground during a committee meeting or business meeting? If recently, did that feel like an exception or the norm? 
  • How often have you heard, or repeated, “Yes….BUT…..let’s be practical” in the middle of a conversation about taking a communal leap of faith?
  • In our heyday of our 140 year old story, the two major Boards of our congregation were full of successful white businessmen. We justified our decision to leave women and minorities out of the mix, based on an addiction to a literal interrelation of scripture. (aka Bible Freedom gone amuck). 
  • How often do we find ourselves delighted by God’s creative resourcing of the church only to sit around a table to discuss how me might best protect it for a rainy day. 
  • How much longer are we going to pretend that priesthood of all believers is actually just democracy dressed up in his/her/their “Sunday best”?

Yes, the church is a business.  Yes, we are citizens of two kingdoms.

AND

It’s not your business. It’s not my business. It’s God’s business.

It’s not “God bless America”. It’s God has called the church to be a blessing to ALL of the world.

The Kingdom of Heaven on earth cannot be confused with the Kingdoms of this world and the le church cannot be run as if it were a local government, bank, or a moose lodge. 

WE ARE CALLED TO BE A PRIESTHOOD OF ALL BELIEVERS

Which means everything we do begins and ends with spiritual discernment and faithful action, especially in the moments when the priesthood of all believers feels like God is calling us into reckless abandonment. If we don’t believe this to be true, we should stop telling the stories of all those first disciples and apostles that followed with wild abandonment. 

YOU ARE A PRIEST. I AM A PRIEST. WE ARE ALL PRIESTS.

  • We are ALL everyday saints and sinners. 
  • We are ALL priests on equal footing……under the Lordship of Christ and guidance of the mysterious Spirit of the living God.

A CHURCH LEADER IS A SPIRITUAL LEADER.

  • There is no such thing as a “non-spiritual” priest” and no such thing as a priest that others don’t look to as a leader. In turn, there is no such thing as a non-spiritual leader in the life of the church. 

LEADERSHIP IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS IMPORTANT.

  • There is no such thing as a Christian that isn’t called to be a leader.
  • Leadership is mentorship. The Jesus school of Leadership is 100% mentorship.
  • Discipleship is a process that helps people continually discover their unique giftedness and equips those people to use their gifts to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. 
  • If the church is full of leaders, the leaders must discern how decisions are to be made. Some of those decisions are so big, the entire church should make them together. Most of the other decisions need to made in smaller circles of leadership. Walking more intentionally brings awareness of the Spirit’s presence. In turn, the Spirit helps us build trust in one another. When trust is present, we will discover a tremendous amount of freedom in identifying which circle of leaders should feel emboldened to make specific decisions.

THANK GOD WE’RE NOT IN CHARGE.

All of this may not seem very practical because it isn’t. It may not be efficient because it isn’t supposed to be.  It may not be the way you or I would choose to run a business or a government. . Fortunately, the Church isn’t a bank, moose lodge or a democracy.

THEN WHOSE IN CHARGE?

God is.

Siblings in Christ, the first step in recovery is admitting we’re powerless over our addictions. We mustn’t continue to pretend as if we’re capable of managing the unmanageable. In these tender days of rebuilding, I pray we will all come to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore our hearts so that we might be healthy enough to participate in the restoration of the world.

We Make the Road by Walking,

Rev. Sterling Severns, Pastor

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