Today’s Gospel reading deals with some marks of true discipleship. So in many ways this is an extension of yesterday’s gospel reading Reflection – so here comes round 2: Becoming Disciples Part II – Leaders Edition. Maybe the whole book of John is a reflection of DNA markers for true leaders.
The Church in the 21st Century faces many challenges. This is no secret. And as the Church continues to morph into this postmodern age through the direction of the Holy Spirit, we are discovering that those who are pliable and flexible to the Holy Spirit’s leading are finding more success in ministry. So upon reading John 7:1-13, and many of the previous John passages our lectionary has thrown at us, I developed a list for leaders. 8 DNA Markers of the True Disciple.
The younger generations especially see through BS fast. The Church demands disciples, who like Jesus, are willing to be honest, authentic in relationships, and build trust.
At the very least this means not sticking our heads in the sand when it comes to climate change, the age of the universe, and the reality of science. We all know the world is billions of years old, just like we all know babies don’t come from storks. So it is time to engage our minds as well as our hearts, and authentically come to people with a message that relates and that has power.
This also means keeping it real. Jesus certainly did.
For us keeping it real may look a bit different. We are broken people. We fall short. Puffing doesn’t last (…or work! Remember that seeing through the BS part?). Showing vulnerability can mean trouble in conflicted situations – with unhealthy folks going for the jugular. But in most situations being authentic means having a certain level of vulnerability. We are not know-it-alls. We are not Superman. We are limited and human. The more we act like it the better.
Most people gloss over this part of John’s Gospel. But in 7:7 an amazing aspect of Jesus’ humility is lifted up. “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil.” So Jesus doesn’t just speak the truth in love, but owns up to the reality: There are some things you can do that I can’t do. I have already burned my bridge with the powers that be here. You can take this message further in a way I can’t, he says.
That is something we rarely think about! Some might think of it as heresy. To suggest that God is limited in some way – powerless in this situation. I don’t think that’s what’s going on in this brutal honesty. He is keeping it real and saying “You all need to step up.” We will get to that one.
In John’s Gospel Jesus decides not to go to the Festival of Booths. This seems surprising and disarming, especially given that the Jesus we know from the Synopic gospels confronts the powerful at seemingly every turn. Here he trusts in God. There is a right time and a wrong time. This isn’t the time. Then he trusts his decisions. Furthermore, he doesn’t second guess himself, and flint off to the festival after mulling it over. He trusts things are going to play out in a way that will work for God’s purposes.
Easier said than done, right!?!?!?
4) True leaders know that participation in church activities doesn’t lead to people being engaged, but that engagement drives attendance.
For too long we have tried to put the cart before the horse. Some have been trying to recreate the 1950s. Was it really all that great? This is most evident when we think that if we could just get people to show up at church, then they will become engaged in our community. This is backward. Instead, it is engagement that leads to participation in activities.
What’s ironic about this, is that it has always been this way. This is nothing new. Engagement has always been first, then participation, even in the “glory days” of the 50s and 60s. Think about it. Did people just randomly come to church out of the blue? No. They came because they were already connected to their neighbors and friends, and someone invited them to church where relationships and faith grew deeper. They went to church because their friends were there. Nowadays, people connect on social media, and then develop relationships. Is that really any different? If people are engaged, then they will grow in participation.
5) Good leaders don’t count numbers. (Well, at least they don’t count like others do.)
For a long time the Church was obsessed with MEMBERSHIP. Then we became obsessed with WORSHIP ATTENDANCE. Thankfully those days are dying away. True leaders don’t count. They focus on the spiritual core of a congregation, equipping them, bringing people to spiritual maturity, and growing from the core.
In John we see a Jesus who is unconcerned with converting the masses. He is concerned about the truth. His following was small. At times they had to function in secret in order to travel in safety. This is OK. We need to focus on engagement, and on the Message.
6) Leaders have “Show Yourself to the World” DNA
OMG, it’s an introvert nightmare! (But don’t give up hope, fellow introverts!) If we are going to be true disciples, leading others to follow, then we are going to have to be known. No one follows by osmosis or magic. They need to hear it, see it – from someone.
In our digital world, guess how that is going to happen most effectively? Online is a good start, especially for those 35 and under. This is where many find connections, finding new friends and developing existing relationships. This might be the salvation for introverts. We don’t need to stand out on soap boxes shouting at the wind for the message to be heard. In the 21st Century, the ability to “show yourself to the world” as Jesus calls us to in John 7, is as varied as the brands of toothpaste in the toothpaste aisle.
Showing ourselves to the world can be personalized, customized, and can grow and change too. Experiment with new behaviors. Try something new in terms of how you relate to the world. Maybe it means stopping reading this blog right now, looking up from your mobile device and engaging in a bold new way. Or maybe it means venturing into a new social media, a new group, or a new place.
Jesus transcended boundaries. We best do the same.
7) Leaders Dare to Share
OMG, second introvert nightmare! In our pastor’s world, complete with Healthy Boundary workshops, Safe Sanctuary policies for our children, digital media releases for our youth, and plenty of horror stories about clergy killers, over-sharing on Facebook, or self-absorbed prosperity gospel folk, we have become a generation of clergy that is afraid to share.
The reality is that our people are increasingly isolated, lonely, and hungry for human connection. What better opportunity to do that than share on digital media or in the pulpit in a safe yet vulnerable way. Give people an opportunity to get to know you. Dare to share that embarrassing story, or a joy or sorrow. Trust me, the world will not come to an end. You might even find your ministry deepen.
In other words STEP OUT AND STEP UP!
The days of hiding in a hole are over. No more hiding behind the pulpit, sitting in your office, or thinking that a pastoral visit to the hospital means talking to just one person, and one person only – that person in the hospital bed.
God calls us to step out.
You know the Ninth Beatitude, right? Blessed are the flexible, for they will not be broken.