Can the people you lead trust you to help them as a community of faith relate as God's people in God's ways? I've been thinking about this last week as I read through Paul's first letter to the house churches of Corinth for my devotions. Paul helps people be clear about what it means to live together in ways that reflect Jesus' teaching. It is the role of leadership to help set boundaries, cultivate norms and call people to be who they are in Christ. In short, Spiritual leaders cultivate God-honoring, healthy relationships – even insist on them.
Paul dealt with divisions of people because of competing leader loyalties. He addressed sexual immorality among them and how it was like yeast that spreads its way through the whole batch of dough. (Don't forget that for a people who celebrated Passover with unleavened bread yeasty was not a good thing!) Paul confronted church members about taking one another to court. He described Godly relationships between men and women. And he warned against our freedom in Christ becoming a selfish license that trips up people of weaker consciences. In short, Paul waded into the nitty-gritty of relationships in order to help people gain a positive vision of what it means to be Christ’s community . . . and then he called them to live into it.
We need church leaders today to do the same thing. Especially in times of high anxiety, it is no surprise that people are acting out in unchristian ways in many congregations. Yet, are we as spiritual leaders willing to do what Paul did for our people? In a recent blog from A Renewal Enterprise (ARE) (www.arenewalenterprise.com) the author spoke of leaders “cultivating positive and honest relationships.” Here is ARE’s list of behaviors about which leaders should be willing to stand up to and say, "This isn't how we are going to act in our congregation; this isn’t who God calls us to be."
o Complaining (ungratefully acting like the Hebrew children in the wilderness)
o Gossiping (confessing someone else's sins)
o Doomsdaying (hysterically predicting that the sky is falling)
o Withdrawing (pouting or taking your ball & going home)
o Threatening (giving ultimatums like: "If you don't do what I want, I'm leaving.)
o Bullying (trying to force your agenda on everyone else)
Our job as spiritual leaders, in the tradition of Paul and Wesley, is both to caste a positive vision of healthy God-honoring relationships and also carefully to call people out when they treat one another in ways that fail to love on another. We should be respectful and not heavy handed, of course. We should listen to their concerns, certainly. But we should also make it clear, "This isn't how Jesus taught us to treat one another and it’s not how we want to treat one another." (See John 13:34-35; I Peter 2:9-12; Matt. 18:15-17; Col. 3:12-17; Eph. 4:1-6)
How are the leaders in your congregation doing at cultivating God-honoring, healthy relationships? Is there a situation in which the Spirit is nudging you humbly to speak up?
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Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Office of Congregational Transformation