As spring continues to return new life to the world, we remember that our celebration of Easter is only just half over.
Easter is not a one-day, or even a one-week, "event." The seven-week observance of Easter is a good time to remember that we are still (and, of course, all year round) celebrating the resurrection of Christ. It is the permanence of that fact which allows our lives to be changed as well. We can love and serve one another sacrificially because we've been shown how. We can have a trajectory because of the joy that has been set before us. We have tasted and we can see that Jesus is Lord and He is the ultimate example of sacrifice and love.
In this issue of In Medias Res
we bring you an essay about how the church can practice sacrificial leadership, a translation and commentary on Psalm 12 by James Jordan, and some further information about our August 2013 courses in Birmingham.
For the Board of Trinity House,
A Meditation on Leadership
by Peter J Leithart
Leadership is transgression and love. Let’s begin with transgression.
By “transgression,” I mean that leaders need to cross boundaries, break emotional, imaginative, and intellectual barriers, and transgress settled habits. They must do this when the boundaries are evil, but not only then. They don’t transgress for kicks, but they must be willing to violate taboos when old ways and boundaries, however good in themselves, become obstacles to growth and maturation.
Jesus is the great example of transgressive leadership: He violates Pharisaical Sabbath rules, eats and drinks with the wrong people, interrupts temple worship, says outrageous things and puts the Jews on the defensive. Jesus’ barrier-crossing actions have an immediate effect not only on Jesus Himself but on the disciples. We can imagine Peter trying to restrain Jesus the first time he sat down to a meal with a known sinner, or the first time he started to heal on the Sabbath. “Don’t, Jesus! Don’t you see how this will damage our relation with the Jews? Don’t you see that this will damage our effectiveness?” Once Jesus crosses the line, though, then the community of disciples becomes the sort of community where these things happen, where Sabbath is for man, where healing can take place on the Sabbath, where sinners and publicans are welcome, where the temple is regarded a den of thieves. So long as the disciples stay with Jesus, they are committed to defending Jesus’ transgression.
In Acts, the apostles lead the church in similar ways. Peter and John refuse to stop preaching about Jesus despite threats from the Sanhedrin, and the church becomes a community that resists Jewish leaders. Stephen preaches against Jews, and they stone him, and now the church of the Crucified has become a crucified church.
Any action by leaders of the church has a similar effect. When pastors reform the liturgy, the church becomes a people that does this rather than that in worship. They teach and apply Scripture to the congregation, and the church becomes a community where these things are openly said, discussed, believed. New programs begin, and the church becomes a community that ministers to the elderly, or feeds the homeless at a soup kitchen, or has an evangelistic ministry to university students. When a member is disciplined, the elders are defining the church as a community that refuses to tolerate this or that type of conduct.
Transgression is essential, but without love it degenerates from leadership to grand-standing and attention-grabbing. One of the ways Jesus displayed His love for His disciples was by preparing them for the radical twist His ministry was about to take. He warned the disciples repeatedly that he was going to die. He prepared them for that transgression and the deadly consequences. Even so, the disciples did not follow immediately. In the end, Jesus goes a step too far, and the disciples don’t love him enough to take up the cross to follow. Judas doesn’t love him enough to remain among the disciples and he changes sides. Eventually, they return to Jesus, and prove themselves willing to take up the cross. When they see Jesus loves them to death, they love Him to death. An overcommitted leader who loves his followers will be loved. Without attentive, self-sacrificial love for members of the church, no church leader will lead successfully.
Leaders must regularly transgress settled boundaries because churches constantly redefine themselves in ever new circumstances and in response to ever new challenges, in a way that is faithful to Jesus and His Word. Official leaders might be the ones breaking barriers. If they are not, then the real leaders of the church are the ones who do. If no one is breaking through old boundaries, the church is implicitly claiming that it has reached the eschaton and that it has no more growing to do. It might as well shut its doors, because it is dead.
Yet leaders that don’t love their people, who don’t plow the ground they want to plant, who give no indication of which direction they’re headed, who head this way and that way without warning or reason, will fail. They may be blazing ahead down a new and promising path, but no one will follow. And without followers, no one can be a leader.
Printer friendly versions of this and other In Medias Res
Psalms will be available online soon.
We are continuing to work and plan for our upcoming classes. We've set up a sample of a daily schedule here. Take a look and see what your days could look like in August. Our courses, named after the seasons of the church year, are also up and posted on our website. Our August 2013 session, How to Read the Bible, is only the beginning. This academic year, our courses will cover Introduction to Liturgy, Genesis, and Holistic Mission.
Have you missed anything on our blog? The Trinity House Institute hosts articles from an array of our Fellows and other theologians. Click here to check out our archives.
Check back often for more ways to get involved. Online registration coming soon. If you haven't already, be sure to find Trinity House on Facebook and follow Peter Leithart on Twitter.